I spend a ridiculous amount of time thinking about music and yoga. Aside from television, pop culture, and the impending zombie apocalypse, they are the two subjects that definitely occupy the most space in my mind. Today, while my class was in a nice seven minute long savasana, instead of sitting in meditation and quieting my mind along with my class (as good yoga teachers are supposed to do) I got a Weezer song stuck in my head, then began to compose a Weird Al-style parody of said song, and finally let my mind wander off on a crazy tangent about the somewhat parallel careers that musicians and yoga teachers can experience.
But the more I started to explore and refine these tangential thoughts, they became less crazy and more relatable. Much like music, the teaching and practice of yoga is an art form, and many of the forces that influence the artistry, style, and expression of a musical artist or band, as well as the trajectory of their career, can also influence the craft and career of a yoga teacher. From social media and commercialism to fickle “fan bases” and controlling labels, managers (or studio owners), musicians and yoga instructors are dealing with some of the same challenges and fighting similar battles in order to express themselves authentically to an audience who appreciates them and relates to their work. Some have let fame and fortune go to their heads, some are on the verge of burnout, while others have plugged along steadily, showing commitment and dedication to their work and the people they serve. But to a certain degree, all have struggled to maintain integrity in an industry that can tear them apart just as quickly as it builds them up.
I decided to have a little fun with this idea, so I created a rough typology of sorts for yogis and musicians. The list of types that follows is open to interpretation and is by no means all-encompassing or scientifically valid. As much as I try to avoid slapping labels on people, sometimes it can be fun to play a little category game if you don’t take it too seriously. So if you’re a yogi who can take all of this with a grain of himalayan crystal salt, you might just be able to place yourself (or someone else) into one of the following seven categories:
1.) The Humble Success Stories:
These are the highly respected, inspirational, and still very much down to earth, accessible teachers whose classes might be as well attended as a Beyonce or Justin Timberlake concert, but who manage to keep it real and avoid letting popularity or success turn them into a mean girl or douchebag (what exactly is the male equivalent of a “mean girl,” anyway?). These teachers are much like the pop stars or lead singers who still come across as regular people in interviews or in stage banter. They’re the ones you’d want to have a drink with after the show, or rather a green smoothie with after class.
2) The “Too Cool For School” Type:
Much like indie bands who quickly became a household name, blew up in popularity, and in some cases went on to win prestigious awards (i.e. Arcade Fire, Bon Iver) these super popular, sometimes award winning, teachers may have let the fame go to their heads, making them quite different from their cousins in the previous group. In an effort to stay fresh and maintain their status as Queen Bees, these teachers might an adopt an even stronger flair for the fancy pants poses, and perhaps unwittingly create an exclusive environment in their classes that’s geared toward achieving these rather inaccessible poses. Like the artists or bands who get a little too avant-garde or experimental for their fan base or who start sounding like pricks when the press interviews them, these teachers can start to become less relatable and accessible, thus alienating their once loyal student base.
3) The Comeback Kids:
These teachers have taken a path that resembles those traveled by bands like Weezer or Ryan Adams (& The Cardinals), who took many risks and detours and faced some pretty intense personal demons while struggling to stay authentic and relevant. They may have fallen off the map at one point or another during their initially successful careers and lost some of their original fans, but they’ve now come full circle and reconnected with their roots in a way that feels refreshing. Instructors who have switched up their style and hopped from studio to studio in an effort to find the right fit would fall into this category. Perhaps after flirting rather clumsily with a myriad of styles such as Hot Power Vinyasa, Hip Hop Yoga, and a Shiva Rea-inspired Prana Flow, these teachers have scaled back on the experimentation and found a renewed sense of appreciation for a simple, steady, but powerful practice like the one they began teaching in the first place. Much like the once beloved band who is able to use the missteps and misadventures of their careers to create a rejuvenated spin on their classic style, these teachers are reconnecting with a student population who craves a unique, but back-to-basics approach to yoga asana.
4) The Classic Rockers:
These are your OG yogis, the ones who were teaching and practicing way before Instagram and Lululemon were even things. Hell, many of them were practicing yoga before the internet was even a thing, and their classes were probably held in church basements or community centers. Their classes aren’t fancy or flashy, and they might not be all about that bass or even that bakasana variation, but they are still faithfully serving and inspiring yogis of both the new and old schools alike while keeping the older traditions and finer nuances of the practice alive.
5) The Flavor of the Month:
Like an insanely catchy but overly repetitive and saccharine pop song that remains stuck in your head for a while, these teachers will lure in the masses with a flashy, athletic, youthful style that’s simply not sustainable for the long haul. Remember how you pretty much wanted to gouge your own eyes out after the 99th time you heard “Single Ladies” or “Blurred Lines” on the radio? Well, depending on your tolerance for pain and suffering, you’ll probably want to do the same after the 99th chaturanga pushup or bicycle sit up in these trendy, cardio style “yoga” classes, which are often taught by perfectly nice, but rather young and inexperienced instructors. These “flavor of the month” teachers and classes can often be found at the bigger chain studios, which pride themselves on being “the Starbucks of the yoga world,” offering a highly caffeinated, athletic, pre-packaged standard flow that, much like the songs that crack the Billboard top 10, get old pretty fast.
6) Not Quite A Household Name:
I feel like the majority of yoga teachers out there fall into this category. They’re the ones who have studied and worked hard to attract and maintain a loyal student base, but for whatever reason have not managed to attain the level of popularity or success (in terms of class numbers and compensation) that their cousins in the first two categories have found. These teachers are like the many mid-level indie rock and punk bands out there, who might have a die hard fan base, but will never be featured in Rolling Stone or even played on the soundtrack to a CW show. Maybe it’s a lack of concern with image or self-promotion, or a tendency to emphasize the simple over the flashy and fancy, but these highly skilled, uniquely gifted teachers will probably never achieve the handstand that would finally enable them to crack that yoga studio glass ceiling. Much like Drake, they “started from the bottom,” but unlike his rapid rise to superstardom, they’ve remained somewhere in the middle. And they’re usually okay with that. While their ass might not look “aahmaaaazing” in the latest size 4 Lulus, and while they might not get 100 likes on their latest Instagram selfie or make upwards of $100 per class, they’re out there doing what they love, faithfully serving the students who appreciate their style and approach.
7) The Masters of Reinvention
The teachers in this group have branched out beyond the physical practice and are doing some seriously focused work in fields such as ayurveda, mediation, yoga therapy, bodywork, or anatomy and physiology. They will often go on to teach less public classes and lead more workshops, trainings, and mentorships instead. In some ways their career path resembles that of artists who have masterfully reinvented and refined their sound over the years (Beck and Bjork come to mind), or those who go on to become producers or write film scores. Reshaping and expanding upon one’s teaching career can provide more sustainability and happiness, and I admire my colleagues who have gone on to build successful careers as yoga therapists, ayurvedic consultants, and teacher trainers.
As both a student and a teacher, I love the variety of teaching styles and studios I have to choose from. I’ve dabbled in almost as many styles of yoga as I have genres of music, having experienced brief love affairs with hot power yoga and hip hop yoga, just as I’ve had flings with pop punk and progressive house music. I’m happy with my “not quite a household name” status, and I feel like the teachers and bands who fall into that category, along with some “humble success stories,” are almost always my favorites. But regardless of which category we might impose on ourselves or someone else, we are all united by our shared experiences of growth and struggle. Yoga teachers and musicians alike will definitely experience their fair share of identity crises and growing pains as they find their voice and slip into a style that feels natural and authentic. All labels and comparisons aside, as long as they do their work from a place of truth and integrity, they will forge powerful, long lasting relationships with their students and fans. Who really cares if they’ve achieved Drake-level status or if they’re still somewhere near the bottom?