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The changing landscape of the yoga scene in London

vastusamye chitta bhedat tayorvibhaktah panthah ||15||

वस्तुसाम्ये चित्तभेदात्तयोर्विभक्तः पन्थाः ॥१५॥

Each individual person perceives the same object in a different way, according to their own state of mind and projections. Everything is empty from its own side and appears according to how you see it.

A revelation is brewing in London. Over the past 5 years the yoga scene here has steadily built a following that is set to explode this summer, American style. The groundswell is tangible as yogis crawl out of the woodwork to run, not walk, to one of several new studios opening up their doors. More studios equal more yogis in the world – a positive force that can be celebrated and championed by yoga studios as the community is enlarged. If projects and events to benefit all beings begin to take on an inclusive approach, they will no doubt harness more success and more lives will be uplifted as a result. Look at Global Mala, for example.

Perhaps in time these types of initiatives will take off in the London yoga community.  At the time of writing, however, the approach by some (not all) appears more like the wild west than a love-in as studios lay their claim on teachers, students and product-partnerships, and teachers vie for the most lucrative classes and best promotional opportunities.  What was once essentially a few small yoga studios and a smattering of classes in church halls and gyms is set to become big business.

Yoga as business isn’t a bad thing in itself. At the end of the day if people feel better, connected, more empowered and more aware of their impact on the world and themselves, it is a business doing good.  The word yoga, afterall, means union, to yoke the small-minded, selfish desires with the connected, inclusive Self which we can also call Love. However, when right speech and intention is replaced by malicious behaviour; respect for one another is diminished by dishonesty or abusiveness; and serving others out of compassion is substituted by greed for power, fame or personal financial gain, the freedom implicit in the term yoga is thrown out the door like a musician under contract with a label. Long-live samsara.

Bringing a concept like yoga into the business place and introducing money into the mix is a tricky recipe to get right and in and of itself counter intuitive. Afterall, yoga is traditionally passed down from guru to student one to one when the student is ready — when the guru has presented him/herself. It is the student’s burning desire for enlightenment that manifests the shining light on the practice, not a cheque book. But this process can take time, over many lifetimes, and according to the ancient texts, we don’t have that time in today’s world. We’re living in the Kali Yuga, a time of discontent, a time when people are living as if blindfolded, busy doing, not Being. It is said that yoga as a practice helps one to find the path back to the source of happiness and freedom — to Yoga as a state of Being.

To fulfill the demand for yoga, more studios, more teachers, more variety of methods are available. Sadly, with this comes the western mentality of judging, criticizing and pigeonholing one over the other. Which studio is the most authentic and best located? Which has the best teachers, the best intro offer, the biggest studios, the most challenging classes?

The subjective questions are endless, all based on an individual’s perception, experiences and influences. There is no right or wrong, no one answer. There are different studios in different locations with different styles of yoga and different teachers – and that’s perfect because we are all different with unique needs and preferences.

Yoga studios and teachers should strive to represent and embody their business- the practice of yoga. Is the studio demonstrating non-violence, sewing the seeds of compassion and love through right speech and action? Are the teachers and employees kind to each other and all beings who come through the door and wish to practice? Do the actions of the studio reflect a peaceful intention for all beings on the planet including our environment? Are those at the studio truthful; is the brand an accurate representation of what one can expect in their experience practicing at the studio? Are the teachers at the studio respectful of teacher-student boundaries, and does the studio respect the confidentiality and wishes of the student? Is the yoga studio greedy, or are the classes reasonably priced with concessions for those who are unable to afford the full cost?

Yogis and studios, be not afraid of those moving in next door and down the street. Assume your new neighbor is the same as you, doing the best they can to cultivate and practice the yamas and niyamas. In turn, do what you do best, focus on creating an environment where it’s possible for students and teachers alike to ripen their practice, where yogis will run, not walk to join in.

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