Yoga is Like a Handbag Which Will You Purs-ue?

Occasionally I am asked what styles of yoga I teach, or I get a call looking for me to teach a certain style of yoga.  I am inevitably pressed with the question, “Well what’s the difference between X and Z Yoga?”

Honestly, there is really not that much of a difference between any style of yoga, at their cores.  Skeptical? Well look at it this way.  You are shopping for a purse (for yourself or a partner, I don’t care) and your options are as follows:

  1. Louis Vuitton Shopper Monogram Etoille $3500, a delightfully large shoulder bag with the signature monogram canvas design
  2. Coach Coated Canvas Large Leah Tote $358, another wonderful purse with room and the signature C’s
  3. or you can head over to Target and pick up a Limited Edition Perforated Large Tote $39.99, no monograms, no logos, but a large bag none the less.

There are obviously superficial design differences such as material, where the bag is made, who made the bag, color, etc.  In the end I have chosen bags that are relatively the same size and perform the same basic function – they carry your stuff.  So where is the difference? Perception, price and pride.

Are you someone who takes more pride in owning a bag that costs as much as some people make in two months? Do you want the perception of others to be that you can afford something better? Do you perceive the more expensive bag as being higher quality, or do you perceive the less expensive bag as a better deal – and a myriad of other things in between.  Can you afford the price of all, or only some of these bags?

Some people may be called to rationalize – “The Louis bag is better because it is double, triple, whatever stitched…” and I can’t argue what I don’t know about to be honest – but again I call to your attention perception, or lifting the veil on the little reality to see the big reality – they are all going to carry your stuff.  If any one of these bags gets left behind in a fire – they are each going to be incinerated, and in the end when you no longer want them, and if you don’t recycle them, they will wind up in the same landfill (well maybe not in the same zip code but you get the idea).

Yoga is the same way.  Yes, a Hot Yoga class will make you sweat, dehydrate you and push you to extremes, but the poses are the same ones I can teach in my Open Hatha Yoga class, and if we focus on muscle awareness, holding the posture longer, etc.  students get worked to the point of fatigue just the same.

All of the asanas are the same – certain schools may call them by different names, they may even emphasize a different focus for each posture, but it boils down to the same exact asana – I promise.  With yoga, as with purses, the 3 P’s prevail again. 

What is your perception?  Of yourself – do you think of yourself as a driven person who loves to push the envelope.  How about those around you – would you never be caught dead in a Gentle Yoga class because that is for out of shape oldies or a Chakra Yoga class because that is for New Agers? Do you perceive studios with expensive decor and yoga celebrities teaching classes as better than a local small studio with community names teaching the classes?

Price?  Does what you pay for a class directly effect your perception of the worth of the class.  Does what your instructor paid for their certification make them a better teacher? Would you never go to a class at the YMCA? Would you only pay for private lessons or lessons at a high end studio?

Pride? Do you take a certain amount of pride in saying I am a “XYZ Yoga Addict”, or “I practice at Teacher Z’s Studio”, or even “I have taken workshops with LMNOP”?  Would pride keep you from trying a studio in a less desirable neighborhood or from enjoying a class with a teacher if you found out they were certified through an online or weekend course?

I mention all of these things because I have had direct and indirect experience with them.  I have had other yoga teachers relate to me how they were enjoying a class with a teacher only to find out after the class that she had a weekend certification – which appalled them.  They had to then question all they knew about yoga because this teacher had seemed to have done a good job but was obviously not qualified – perception and pride spoiled their experience.

I have also personally, for years, shied away from classes led by men, only later to discover that just like women, there are wonderful male teachers out there, and there are some I would never go back to.

In the end, none of this really matters – scary right? If you believe you had a worthy experience, then you did.  If you believe you need to practice in an ashram or a swank studio in order to have a good class – then you do.  I have always been a realist – to me there is no difference between someone who enjoys a German Opera, or someone who enjoys Nude Mud Wrestling – as long as they both truly believed themselves to have a wonderful experience – who is to say which is better?

So why all the different styles? The same reason we have all the different purses.  Entrepreneurs and pioneers in certain industries see that there is a desire for something different, a desire on the part of the consumer to set themselves apart and a desire by the manufacturer to make money – pure and simple Yoga is entrenched in Capitalism (which appears to be the antithesis of yoga).  Why else would people pay $3500 to go to Mexico with the same teacher they take weekly classes with – does the teacher change once the weather hits 75 degrees? Again, we can rationalize and say it is a vacation – or a learning opportunity – but in the end you have only just changed the scenery (and I am sure it is lovely).  Or how about the $150 rhinestone encrusted yoga mats, and $200 leather bound yoga mat carriers? Maybe people honestly believe the bag will carry the mat better, or the rhinestones will somehow make you shine to your instructor – I don’t know and I honestly don’t care. Huh?

Yes, I own more than one yoga mat and a few novelty ones (a dragon mat, a Chocó kitty mat and a Hello Kitty mat – and all have matching bags) – but my perception of them is nothing more than a tool to get my job done and a cute/functional present that I asked for).  Yes, I have opinions and certain likes – but I try not to let them rule me or ruin me.  There is nothing wrong with choosing a certain style of yoga, a certain yoga mat, or even a particular purse.  Having an opinion is not a bad thing – but having a closed mind and a rigid idea about yoga can be.

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