Raw, adjective: 2. not having undergone processes of preparing, dressing, finishing, refining, or manufacture

One of my pet peeves -- actually, more than that, something that really makes my blood boil, and hurts my heart, and weighs heavily on my mind -- is the increasing commodification of the yoga industry. It's so much about what you look like. It's so much about what you wear, which festivals you've headlined, which teachers you can claim, which DVDs you've produced, how many minions you've got following you around. (Thanks, social media.) Really gets my goat.

You a wee bit peeved by this, too? Well, then, first things first: revisit this sharp piece from the Atlantic a few years back. Absolutely ahead of its time in an analysis of an industry trend that's careening off course more quickly with every day. (Even the fact that I can talk about something in yoga as an "industry trend" gives me the shivers. Erghh. Capitalism.)

After you've done that, head on over to this recent article from The Interdependence Project. Love the IDP's voice, its sensibility, its reasonable approach to so many aspects of secular mindfulness practice. Dig into Dr. Miles Neale's follow-up to his interview with Newsweek on narcissism and yoga teachers. Neale asks the tough questions; he says what so many people fail to say: that ego is a helluva big part of this whole marketing-branding-industry thing, that so much of the photo shoot/DVD/festival ticket sales emphasis can quickly detract from the real teachings of this practice. He asks:

So what are the qualities of a true yoga teacher? What makes someone great in the yoga world, worthy of our admiration and devotion? If we cut through the appearances of the bright lights, glitz and glam, perfectly shaped bodies, well-marketed products, and the majesty of arm-balance and handstands that characterize yoga super stardom, what should we be looking for in our gurus?

Coming off a fantastic weekend in Vegas, I returned yesterday to my beloved SF with a renewed appreciation for the simple, the quiet, the unassuming, the low-key, the low-maintenance, the unaffected, the authentic, the real. In spite of the fun of the glitz and the splash and the hedonism and the unchecked joy (yes, joy) that can be so very present in that setting, I found myself hungry for a balancing dose of silence and simplicity and stillness and an utter lack of attention to things like sparkle or presentation. And that coincided nicely with this reminder that yoga -- and teaching yoga -- is at base all about the practice, the theory, the philosophy. Maybe it's because I came to yoga first, really, as a refugee from the theater world, which in spite of my unabashed adoration for it is highly self-presentation-oriented, or maybe it's because my passion for the philosophy outweighs my interest in the expensive stretchy pants that make your ass look extra hot, but I find, again and again, the most moving, most meaningful, most precious, most transformational, most comforting, most challenging aspects of this practice lie in the teachings to empty, slow, release, let go, to touch the void, the sorrow, the suffering that is the ground of all being, once all efforts at glitz and glare are gently set aside.

You don't need fancy spandex or a bright-shiny DVD or a magazine photo shoot to access any of those teachings. The humblest guru, the old bald hairy overweight one who certainly would never get a gig as a Yoga Journal model, well, he might just be your greatest source of wisdom. He might be equally full of hooey, this is true. But if there was ever a reminder to look past appearances, this is it. Your flexible hamstrings or your ripped upper body don't necessarily qualify you to teach what we laughingly call "master classes." Yogic theory reminds us that we are all always beginners, and that all things are teachers; all life is a teacher, if we let it be. Vegas is a teacher; loss is a teacher; love is a teacher; cookie dough ice cream can be a teacher, if we approach it mindfully and seek from it that which might allow us to live more truly, more fully, more authentically, with greater ease.
Ultimately a true yoga teacher is the door to liberation. It's not their perfect poses or well-packaged products, but the degree of their transformation, that helps us access our own potential for awakening. The hallmark of true yoga teacher is that they want absolutely nothing from their students, not pleasure, not fame, not fortune, not power. Since they have already found real contentment within themselves, what more could they possibly need?
What are your "doors to liberation?" If a guru is, really, that which brings one from dark to light, what are you finding these days as a source of light in the darkness, a source of revelation in the midst of the day-to-day grind? And where can you look to find more unmarketed, un-spandexed, un-Botoxed teachers in your own life? They're already there; I can guarantee you that. You just have to learn to see them.

Celebrity Yoga Teachers: Cutting Through Appearances and Discerning the Real (IDP)


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