Is Groupon Ruining Yoga?

I’ve been reflecting upon the year gone by and I find myself particularly drawn to the status of yoga in Palm Beach County.  I’m very concerned about the over-saturation of the market in this area.  There are other factors that make me wonder if this area is getting further from yoga’s traditional teachings.  But as I’ve been ruminating, I keep coming back to one thing:  Groupons.  

Most yoga studios are small businesses.  As with all small businesses yoga studios are always looking for a way to get their name out to the public and draw in more students.  When Groupons first started they were looking for businesses with whom to partner and more than one yoga studio put out Groupons.  In fact, so many yoga studios have tried Groupons and Living Social and other social marketing deals that a new breed of yoga student has evolved:  The Yoga Groupon Groupie.

I understand the economy has been difficult for several years.  Its great that students are working hard to find the right deal to fit their budget to get their yoga.   I also understand the connection and deeper level of learning that takes place when a student attaches to one type of yoga and one studio.  Having a mentor is one of the most fulfilling parts of a practice.  But is attaching to a studio, type of yoga and mentor becoming a luxury in these days of Groupon-fueled yoga?

Its hard for studios to compete with, for instance, a gym where for $50 a month you can attend as many yoga classes as they have scheduled.  Small studios run many in-studio specials, particularly if there are several studios in a small area and they end up competing with each other.  Adding Groupon and Living Social deals to this mix actually changes the way we are practicing yoga.

Some students find a studio, teacher or type of teaching that resonates deeply and they stay at a studio. There are students who buy passes on a whim, or with all good intentions of practicing yoga regularly.  Or the happy day when you find a Groupon for your home studio.  An increasing number of students use their pass and move on to the next deal at the next studio.  Some might argue that this gives a student the opportunity to visit different studios and sample different teachings.  

Occasionally you will meet a student who is making their way through Palm Beach County yoga studios to find “the one”.  Great use of deals.  But for the larger percentage of students who are moving from deal to deal I would suggest this:  slow down.  If you like a studio, stay for a month beyond your deal.  The advantages to practicing one type of yoga cannot be understated.  The advantages to having a particular group of teachers learn your practice and your body cannot be understated.   Think of it this way:  how many seeds take root if they are blown from place to place to place?  But if a seed stays in one place, it has the opportunity to take root, grow and flourish.  

Most studios offer in-studio deals.  If you check around, make a few calls and check websites, you’ll often find a studio with which you are familiar offering specials that are as good as those you’ll find elsewhere.  Be an informed consumer, even with yoga.

As you can probably tell I’m pretty torn on this issue.  I can’t help but feel that while these deals may attract new students to yoga, I also feel that studio-hopping with no intention of staying put is in the long run diluting the message of yoga.  If you have a particular physical ailment, not having regular teachers keep an eye on your physicality can actually be dangerous to you.  If you are attracted to yoga because you are living with an eating disorder, anxiety, depression, menopause or are seeking mental peace, unless you are a very special kind of person, it is so much better for you to have a single teacher or studio with whom to work.

There are many, deeper reasons to find the studio that resonates with you and stay there.  I guess the bottom line is this:  if yoga is your exercise and that’s all you ever want or expect to get out of yoga, then Groupon or similar deals is probably great for you.  I would still suggest that you check out a studio before you buy the deal, make sure the teachers are certified and the studio is well-reviewed.  

If other aspects of yoga are also attractive to you and you’d like to further your meditation practice, or have some guidance through some of the sacred texts of yoga, or deepen your physical practice by slowing down and taking yin classes, then find your home studio.  

I guess as with everything there are good an bad sides to this position.  To me though, I do believe that the bad will eventually outweigh the good and these deals may be the final bit of commercialization of yoga.  While full classrooms means that more people are coming to yoga, through this warehousing process we are actually losing yoga.  Surely, as a yoga community, we can find that happy medium.

Five Reasons why I keep coming to Yoga:

Why do I keep coming to yoga?  Before it was my vocation it was my avocation and I’ve been blessed to have the ability to make that shift.  There are days I walk into the studio not feeling myself for one reason or another and after teaching or taking a class, I feel an excellent shift in my energy, physical self and mental well-being.

Before Bindu Yoga Studio (www.bindu-studio.com) I practiced Sivananda for years, before that Bikram and hatha yoga. So a decade or so into my own personal practice my passion for yoga burns very bright although my focus has shifted. Here are ten reasons why I still love yoga and keep coming back:

1. Yoga makes me feel good: No matter what I walk into the classroom with, something usually improves physically during my practice and if it doesn’t, than a mental shift does.  I’ve never left a class feeling worse, both mentally and physically, than when I stepped into the classroom.  After spending the last two years battling physical injuries I finally feel like there really is a light at the end of the tunnel.  I ended up doing more yoga than physical therapy after my back surgery and feel like I am getting stronger every day.  Practicing vinyasa yoga gave me a rush of energy and eagerness to learn more and more.  Advanced poses, arm balances and other stretches were my goals …. until I couldn’t move my left shoulder and neck and there were days when just lifting my arms was a challenge.  Many acupuncture needles and neck releases later, those days are fewer and farther between so I revel in every arm movement I can make.  Same with my back – I’m nearly at my pre-surgery flexibility and I believe have surpassed my former core strength to hopefully keep that low back happy!  Yoga has been a saving grace for so many reasons, but above all, because it makes me feel good.

2. Its still practice, because I’m nowhere near perfect: And that’s not only okay, it is exactly what it should be. Since earning my Registered Yoga Teacher 200 hour designation, I’ve been diagnosed with arthritis in my neck, herniated disks in my low back, had surgery on my back and developed arthritis in my low back. Needless to say my changing physicality makes for a changing practice. I’ve always felt stronger in yoga class than in the gym. Targeted exercises in the gym for me, are a short term fix for an area that may need a little building. But in many yoga poses, particularly standing, finding the balance of strength, grace and release ends up strengthening more than the area that the pose targets.  Practice doesn’t always make perfect but it means some days my forward bend is far prettier than others.  Learning to accept yourself on a day to day basis is an important part of being a happy human being.  I find something in every class I teach or take that was an improvement upon the last time.

3. Physical Therapy/Yoga/Viniyoga: First of all, let me say that over the past few years I’ve developed a huge respect for physical therapists. They go through a lot of education and training, help people, hold our hands, prod us when we feel like the pain and weakness is going to win and they don’t make a whole lot of money. When I began attending and teaching classes at Bindu, we had a Viniyoga teacher, Emily Large, who was a breath of fresh air for me especially once my neck and I began doing battle. She made small suggestions and adjustments, strength building poses and movements and most of all, just a solid practical knowledge that got me through some painful days. As I got deeper into physical therapy for my neck and later my back, I came to realize just how many exercises and movements are related to yoga asanas and movements. I’ve been able to incorporate physical therapy movements into both my home practice and teachings.  I’ve shared class or taught students who are recovering from addictions, breast cancer, lymphedema, spinal injuries, sciatica, wrist injuries, wrist injuries and more wrist injuries.  Yoga is more than bending and stretching and balancing on your pinkie while tucking your toes into your ears (I kid, I kid – mostly) – it can help improve your physical self and rehab many injuries and diseases.

4. I’ve met wonderful people at the studio: I’ve met people who have passed through my life but been incredibly important while they were here; friends who I hope will be with me forever; people who I send a message to the Universe asking them to show up in class; students who do “turn the world on” with their smiles.  My mentor was an attendant in my wedding. A student did my (and my attendants’) hair on my (giddy) wedding morning.  Another student had suggested the venue. My pet sitter I met at a Simon Park Workshop at Bindu.  Officially, Bindu has permeated every facet of my life!  I’ve met students with wonderful stories to tell, students with stories of perseverance and injuries and surgeries and recoveries. Fellow teachers are joyful friends. Students and teachers exchange ideas, recipes, eggs and freshly grown or canned fruits.  Students who are emotionally or physically fragile can count on me for support, just as they’ve helped me through tough times with just their presence in class and relaxed smiles at the end of class.

5. Meditation means more than it used to: This is a big one. A recent (good) shift in my back pain has found me meditating even more than usual. Whereas meditation used to be a 5-10 minute practice a few times a week, I now find meditation a useful tool to not only calm my brain but also to calm my pain. My practice is expanding and near daily I am experiencing some sort of little epiphany. Next spring I’ll be attending Instinctive Meditation Training with Lorin Roche at Bindu, http://www.bindu-studio.com/id2.html, and I’m very much looking forward to it.

5a.  I don’t have batwings.  Yes, I practice yoga because I love it.  But no bat wings on my arms, tight triceps, biceps and a firm(er) body are nice side effects.

“I have been a seeker and I still am, but I stopped asking the books and the stars. I started listening to the teaching of my Soul.” —Rumi

My soul speaks to me the loudest when I am practicing yoga in one form or another.  That is really the biggest reason I practice yoga.

Your power lies within.  Breathe it, live it, love it ……

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My personal practice: How do I love thee, let me count the ways …

Given that meditation is the weakest part of my practice and always has been, its funny that my personal practice began with meditation.

There was always something exotic to me about meditation and especially the props and accessories one can utilize to draw oneself deeper.  I’m embarrassed to say that I’m shallow enough that it was the “bling” that drew me to begin meditating at home – I found a book on chakra meditation that suggested a mala (rose quartz?  sandalwood?  both?) and candles.  I spent more time and energy picking out the right combination of candles and setting up my first little meditation corner at home than I did meditating!!

As I learned the Sivananda series better (and my daughter moved out) I took over the “Florida room” for my home practice and expanded what I did.  There were mornings that I would do the entire Sivananda class and a bit of meditation and breath work, then as I got burned out on the series, I would just pick out my favorite poses or what I thought I needed that morning.  Eventually, and especially after spending a week at the Sivananda Center in upstate New York, my home practice evolved and deepened.  While my Florida Room did not face the east, I enjoyed practicing in the very early morning hours where I could feel the sunrise at my back and watch it slowly light up my house.  The animals were quiet and calm.

At its peak I would practice at home for 60-90 minutes each morning and I had a routine of breathing, meditation, asana and yoga nidra that I felt eased me gently into the world each morning.

When my path moved to Vinyasa, my home practice got a little more confused, but I took teacher training within a short period of time of switching styles and my training became my focus.  There was always a project, breathing or asana to be practiced, sequencing to learn – between training and taking the requisite classes at the studio, my home practice became one of necessity and practicality.

For the first year or so of teaching the sequencing of each week’s class would become my weekly home practice.  First I would sequence, then send to Angel (who showed infinite patience) for suggestions/corrections, then practice the class until I knew it by heart.  It was also about this time, 2009 or so, that I began to have the first symptoms  of the arthritis in my neck and my home practice began to shift into a therapeutic/anatomical focus.

Since I began experiencing physical challenges my home practice has really waxed and waned, becoming mostly physical until this year two things happened:  I had back surgery and was gifted with a bronze singing bowl.  After my back surgery I expected to be back at practice in a few weeks but in truth, two weeks after surgery I was challenged by sitting against a wall and bringing my legs into tree and butterfly shapes.  Physical therapy movements have merged with yoga movements.  I began to re-discover yoga nidra.   It was lovely, like dipping into a warm salt water pool.  When I’m lucky, I even feel like I’m floating during yoga nidra!

My personal practice has reflected the weird changes to my physicality as well as the mental challenges of dealing with two chronic pain conditions (although its really one chronic pain conditions in two different places – that sounds better!) the healing sounds of brass and crystal bowls entered my life.  Angel began incorporating crystal healing bowls into some of the gentle practices until she found a home for her bowls with the Yin class Tuesday afternoons at 4.  At first, I found a lot of the tone discordant and would literally feel my ears ringing.  As my body has healed the bowls and I have become friendlier and friendlier.  My husband’s gift of a brass bowl has brought me much joy as I’ve learned to play it.  They’ll be more blogs on the bowl.  For the purpose of this blog, it is impossible for me not to associate meditation with playing the bowl.  The vibrations move throughout my body – supporting hand, arm, speeding up my heartbeat and bringing warmth to my chest – and bring me towards a meditative state partially because of the amount of focus I place on the bowl.  When I stop playing, and those last few vibrations release into the universe, I can’t help but sit and be.  Not always for long periods of time.  But the bowl has brought my personal practice back to a full circle – with a focus on meditation, thanks to the work with the bowl.

Now that I feel like I’ve gone full circle with my home practice does that mean I’ll be giving it up?  That’ I’ve learned all there is for me to learn?  Not at all.  One path may be well traveled and looped back around, but that doesn’t mean that I won’t be stepping onto a new path tomorrow.

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