In the wake of a succession of passing luminaries in the yoga world, there is a void that remains unfilled. Recently in a training course, I was asked who the next generation leaders in yoga are. This is a question since the passing of Jois, Iyengar and most recently Desikachar, that is flummoxing to ponder. There really are no substantial yoga leaders outside of the realm of asana prowess that come to mind. Chances are the true greats are probably the ones you’ll never hear about and most likely will never know.
This feeling consumes me on many levels. Primarily, I just do not see contemporary teachers who are particularly inspiring or walking the talk in a way that engenders much confidence in their ability to effectively lead or shape the trajectory of future yoga minds or envision a more adaptive form of the practice. We see this in the business world every so often and no one bats an eyelid. It’s a leadership vacuum. As long as the masters of old were still kicking it and coarsely correcting budding Westerners, our bases were covered, maybe. But now they are all gone and the tunnel is long, dark and the dawn of its endgame unclear. We see it with startling alacrity but no one seems to care betwixt the beers, buds and goats. Yoga has segued some places from an enriching contemplative exploration of self to a three-ring circus. Most teachers are training in mimicry, not imagination or innovation.
There are pockets of sincerity and mature guidance. But the voices in our world grow steadily quiet as the yoga goes faddist and run the risk of fading away. A sweet Natarajasana doesn’t make the sting less painful; no amount of Paschimottanasana can cure yoga’s woes. We’re at the point where we can almost hear the pin drop. Now more than ever, society needs a strong yoga voice; ideally one that doesn’t also proclaim his/herself as God and does not exploit or sleep with their students.
From afar, I admire many strong teachers, committed to staying grounded, not getting full or ahead of themselves in the rat race of this billion dollar business. What I do respect are the gently spoken women of quiet power that are influencing the yoga world, namely through Seva-based initiatives and summoning sacred feminine ways of addressing societal and existential concerns. There is tremendous gravitas towards many of my teachers and an appreciation for others under which I have never studied. But the majority pretty much, well…
The power and promise of yoga evolution is not lost. Yoga can contribute pieces to the puzzles of chronic pain, resilience, emotional health, rehabilitation, addiction and influence overall vitality and well-being through all stages of life. It is thrilling to see momentum in these fields and it’s exactly here that I want to channel my intentions and efforts. Substantive practice is hard to come by, but where there are pockets, there is also recognition of its distinction. It isn’t about placing blame, or bashing people or the industry. The critique lies solely on the last generation of teachers failing its students with watered-down teachings, little to no practical or academic cache and less than exceptional standards.
There is a leadership crisis in the yoga world. The hyper-commercialization, the tepid at best proliferation of yoga alliance certification programs, and the self-aggrandizing platform known as social media has spun our Manduka mat world off kilter. There just has not been the raising up of excellent, emotionally-mature, non-egoistic critical thinkers coming into the yoga world these days. This is not to say the old-timers were perfect or enlightened, but they had substance. What? Namely staying power and relevance. The revolving door of relevant yogis reads like last year’s Vogue. As with any trend, things come and go. What is old is new again (ala the “new trend” of Nauli and Agni Sari making its way around Facebook), what was once new, is now getting progressively edgier: Brew to Vino to Whisky to Gin but not evolving any faster.
I have always considered yoga both an evolving science and a sacred art. These values are still held dear to me. I think what has changed is my assumption that Western yoga would pattern itself lock-step with my ideals. This is where my own ego teaches me blind spots and delusions. Today I remain grateful that yoga took me around the world to experience its various manifestations. Gaining appreciation both for what’s out there and what I have gained from the teachers I have met along the way.
Leadership is more than just a certification, a title or an assignment. Leadership is in demand anytime a few people meet, eager to be inspired, taught and guided. We need leaders to take us into the tunnel and get us to see the light within each of us. This should start with the economically impractical burning of the paschal lamb of studio income: 200 hour teacher trainings. Can we agree to call them, if not make them, something else that doesn’t engender another generation of the ill-equipped?
Recently, my personal choice has been smaller segment blocks, big on reading, essay writing and robust discussions. My students around the world join me on Skype building a cadre of highly-diversified people for many cultures discussing yoga and the world we live in. At any time, a dozen languages are spoken among us and many more countries lived in or traveled. No one looks, dresses or talks the same. You can imagine what gets birthed out of that hardly is the same cookie cutter stamp carbon copy. Whether they go on to teach public asana classes is not the point. They are being developed as leaders curating solutions to evolve individually, serve generously and expand their world view broadly.
When teaching a class, contemplate what principles of leadership you are exhibiting, model what you loved best in the example of leadership from your teacher or life mentors. Each day commit yourself to deep studies and meaningful actions. The promise can be kept alive; but we need to be the leaders to step up and do it.