Red Dirt Yoga

Having been sick with some kind of random influenza that made my eyeballs ache (as well as every other part of my body) for the past 10 days, I’ve spent a lot of time reading yoga blogs and looking at yoga websites.

It’s also been appallingly cold here in Alice Springs: 14 degrees Celsius maximum through the day (for those in the US, that’s 57F, which in Alice Springs, is termed ‘ f@%&ing freezing’). Which of course means I’ve spent even more time inside on the web, instead of sitting outside in sickness-induced contemplation of the endless blue sky.

 And I have some comments about one particular facet of yoga culture inspired by Other People’s Blogs: yoga snobbery.


The dry and dusty little town where I live is 1500km from anywhere more significant than Uluru or Tennant Creek. Here, you can do Ashtanga yoga, Iyengar Yoga, Satyananda Yoga and at least 4 versions of classical hatha. We have a small yoga ashram (Satyam Kutir) where you can go to kirtan on Sunday afternoons, if it so pleases you and partake of a fire ceremony every so often as well. You can do Body Balance (for US readers: Body Flow) in two different gyms, or pilates in a pilates studio. You can mediate with Tibetan Buddhists, or undertake Mindfulness courses based on Jon Kabat-Zinn’s truly amazing work. You can even go to workshops with people trained by anthropologist-shaman, Michael Harner.


Surprised? Well you shouldn’t be. For many years, Alice Springs has been a chilled out, slightly alternative oasis in the middle of the desert.


Still don’t believe me? We have the Beanie Festival. Satisfied now? Good.


Ok. Let’s get on with the rant.


Here in little old Alice Springs, Outback NT, lots of people go to yoga. They practice yoga (in precisely this order) at the gyms, the ashram and various halls, dressed in the same clothes they painted the house in last January. Men come in daggy tracksuit pants (another subject altogether – but some advice here guys: if you’re Mr Pointy, don’t wear track suit pants), women in daggy-baggy Thai fishermen’s pants or something really bad from Kmart’s sportswear department. Yoga in Alice Springs is not snobby. No one here has heard of Lululemon Athletica and no one here give a rat’s @rse about it. Sally the Iyengar teacher does not kick beginners out of the Wednesday night intermediate/advanced class and no yoga gods have ever turned her into a pile of charred ashes.


Which leads me to the yoga snobbery point. There are just as many people doing yoga at the gyms here as there are in the ashram and the halls. That’s right: yoga in gyms. OMG!!! How can that be? How DARE you go to yoga at the Y and say it’s really yoga?


I’ve been reading some posts on other yoga teacher’s blogs that say something like: OMG!! I can’t make ends meet as a yoga instructor. Woe is me, I had to resort to teaching yoga at the gym/health studio/fitness centre just to help pay the bills. You know, yoga in gyms is just treated kind of like -heaven forbid!- an aerobics class. And you know, there’s aerobics instructors getting qualifications and starting to teach yoga… OMG! This is soooo not yoga … the end of the world is nigh. Blah blah blah.

Got the picture?


I take umbrage at this position. Extreme hell-angle* umbrage.

*(To understand what ‘hell-angle’ truly means, you have to have grown up in the Sutherland Shire in Sydney’s south).


I came to yoga and all its benefits because I was (and still am) a fitness instructor. Prior to undertaking Body Balance training in 1999, I had been to yoga about three times in my life. And it was a very very different kind of yoga back in 1980’s Australia, either being taught by Swami Sarasvati and her followers, the ultra-daggy physical culture ladies or that funny little Indian guy in Caringbah who was also into TCM and gave your very own mantra when you went to his classes. Indeed, it was Les Mill’s version of yoga, Body Balance (Body Flow), that really tuned me into the benefits of yoga.


Unfortunately for the yoga purists, the same is still true. People flock to yoga in gyms because they feel comfortable at gyms – not at the yoga ashram full of dippy vegans and pictures of Hare Krishnas or the yoga studio full of twenty-something uber-flexible yoga babes in their Lululemon schtick. Yoga is cheaper at gyms – often included in gym membership and is placed on a timetable that is easily readable and easily obtainable. Also, yoga classes in gyms often have creches for the kids and carparking facilities that yoga studios don’t have.


Another issue that seems to pop up here is this: the yoga taught in most gyms doesn’t include philosophy, pranayama or chanting. This appears to be the biggest whinge that yoga purists have about the kind of yoga taught in gyms. And they’re right. No, the yoga taught in gyms doesn’t include these things.


C’mon, let’s face it. Most punters who come to yoga classes don’t want a bar of that stuff. Now, I love chanting and pranayama and meditation. My favourite part of the yoga class is the chant at the end. (True!!). But most people don’t get off on it. And sorry to say this, but the market really does decide. Not that many people would go to a chanting class, and those who get off on it will find their niche anyway.


But -and here comes the clanger- has it ever occurred to anyone that some of those aerobics-instructors-turned-yoga-teachers might actually know a thing or two about how to instruct people on how to undertake physical exercise? Last time I looked, to get a job in a gym in Australia, you needed at least a Certificate III (a diploma) to get your foot in the door. To teach yoga in Australia, you don’t need diddly-squat.


Now this is going to sound like a plug for Les Mills training, but it’s simply the truth. If you’re trained to teach a Les Mills training program, you’re trained how to instruct safely, correctly, and positively (please excuse all the crappy adverbs). You actually learn the basics of good communication. You also have to pass a test by sending away video of yourself teaching before you are cleared to instruct. You have learn how to effectively tell someone they’re performing a dangerous move and correct them in a manner that leaves them feeling good about themselves, not defeated. So before you diss someone who’s been an aerobics instructor and is now teaching yoga, stop and take a moment to think: this person might actually know a thing or two about communication and the correct instruction of physical exercise.


Ok. That’s one point.


Next point. Traditionally, yoga was done in all manner of odd little places. I do yoga most often at my home. True, I have an awesome yoga space – a room between my bedroom and ensuite which I suspect was designed as a parents’ retreat/home office, but hey, it’s my yoga space now.


And get this yoga purists: yoga was meant to be done with the neighbour’s dogs yapping, the chickens squawking in the back alleyway, your son’s new baby screaming, and the woman next door sticking her husband’s head in the tandoori oven. This is salt of the earth stuff. The real deal. There was no Lulumon, no yoga mats, no luxe studios, no holier-than-thous. You did yoga with your teacher (guru) then you went home and practiced. End of story.


The moral of the story (rant):


If you think you’re above teaching yoga in a gym, perhaps you shouldn’t be teaching yoga.


If your definition of yoga is so narrow that it doesn’t include the yoga taught in gyms, you might be taking yourself a tad too seriously.


And most importanly of all: isn’t the yoga espoused by Patanaji, the yoga of life? You know, yoga in the supermarket queue, yoga when your 11 year old son refuses to clean up his floor-drobe, yoga when your elderly mother is telling you for the fourth time that it’s -42 Celsius in Vladivostok Base in Antarctica?


What’s that Amanda? Life as yoga practice?


Here endeth the rant.



One thought on “Red Dirt Yoga

  1. hi-
    i like your commentary and views about teaching in health clubs. i taught in them for years, i don’t anymore. not because i am above that, but because i do not like gyms, the atmosphere, the students are often rude, but you can definitely say that about yoga shalas, too, right? it has given me some food for thought at least.
    it has been years since i’ve done it, but maybe i should try once more. after all, i met my best student teaching in a health club.
    and really, when alls said and done, does it really matter where you teach yoga? i mean, it’s 4 walls and a floor.

    you have much to say. i dig this blog.

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