By Megha Bajaj
Yoga is becoming a viable and even glamorous profession, as more and more bright young things enter the fray. How is its new popularity affecting the practice?
What’s fast becoming the most popular four-letter word of the day – a word you invariably find on every second person’s lips? Love? No, post Valentine’s day, it has subsided into moony expressions and stolen glances. Life? Close, but not quite, since this has been a subject for debate since time immemorial. Yoga? Yes, you finally got it right! At gyms youngsters exchange yoga tips; at parks and gardens, senior citizens enthuse over its manifold benefits and at schools, parents and teachers are united in their advocacy of yoga for their children. Even mobile companies today are factoring in yoga tips in their models. In America, Doga is the vogue among pet dogs! Yes, dating back to over 5000 years, yoga today is cutting edge trendy.
And to promote and promulgate this sublime practice that heals, revitalizes and creates optimum well-being, is a whole new breed of yoga teachers. What was once the occupation of housewives and pensioners wishing to benefit society for little or nothing, has become the occupation of choice of thousands of bright young things the world over. Yoga has become a hip new career that is not just raising consciousness but is paying for itself. Teachers today can make a decent livelihood out of the practice, while there are some who have skyrocketed to fame and fortune on the strength of their yogic expertise.
Mumbai-based Zubin Zarthoshtima-nesh, is a striking example of the modern yogi. He started his career as a journalist for Mid-Day, a Mumbai-based afternooner, but today runs a yoga center in Matunga where he teaches about 350 students. Why this sudden switch? ‘It wasn’t really sudden as I have been practicing yoga for the past 20 years,’ he says. ‘Over time, as I got more and more involved and connected, I realized that I found fulfillment being a teacher and making people more aware of their body, mind and spirit. I had a sense of completion I didn’t find as a journalist.’
Jehangir Palkhivala was among the frontrunners of this trend when he gave up a flourishing legal practice for briefs of another nature. He says, ‘This is the most satisfying thing to do and I feel unbelievably blessed to do it.’ To his students in affluent South Mumbai, Palkhivala is clearly friend, philosopher and guide. All this, while making a handsome income out of the practice.
Life Positive columnist, Shameem Akthar, was a successful journalist working with Outlook newsmagazine and is today a dedicated yoga enthusiast, spreading the word through numerous columns on yoga as well as by teaching it. She differs, however, with the popular notion that teaching yoga is viable, asserting that it is only the affluent sections of society who can make money out of it: ‘A friend of mine spent two years learning at the Bihar School of Yoga, but she still makes only about Rs 10,000.’
However, considering that even 10 years ago, yoga was taught only within the annals of institutes for almost nothing, Rs 10,000 is certainly nothing to sneeze at.
Sheetal Oswal, a 19-year-old student of dietetics, decided to use her spare time to teach yoga. Starting with a single student, she now teaches over 20 people, including several youngsters, who report a tremendous difference in their health through its practice. Says Oswal, ‘I feel greatly satisfied when a person with health problems comes to me and after a few months, finds that not only has yoga tackled those problems but also contributed to an overall feeling of health and well-being.’
That one can make a living out of teaching yoga is clearly a positive development. In today’s consumerist culture, most of us are uncomfortably aware that we are making a living out of damaging the earth or humanity, by promoting a climate of unbridled desire. Our livelihood comes at a cost – and that is less and less acceptable to a growing tribe of people. For them, to make a living out of popularizing a practice that raises people’s consciousness can seem like a blessed option – a way of ensuring that our welfare and that of society are moving in the same direction. Hopefully, as society moves more and more purposefully towards Satyug, more of us will get the opportunity of earning our living through loving service to humanity.
Where does money fit into the whole thing? This is a vexed issue that many of us still have to get clear on. If service is the motive and not money, then that should be the dominating factor and money, the secondary one. The Vipassana model is a very worthy one in which money is not charged but is rather left to the participant at the end of the program to give what they wish to. By ceasing to exercise control, one is freed of the money motivation, in effect making the teaching a pure service. However, this is a difficult approach to adopt for it requires absolute faith. Another approach that many yoga teachers use is to charge a certain sum from those who can afford it and teach those who cannot for free. However, there is a section of yoga teachers who are influenced by the materialistic culture sufficiently, to want the same rewards out of teaching yoga as they would out of holding a corporate job. Is this realistic and what could the consequences of this approach be?
There is, of course, no easy answer. But there is certainly a possibility that the money factor could become the dominant motivation, in which case, one is back to the consumerist culture. Eventually though, one must accept that each has a right to define his own approach and value judgments are uncalled for.
A quick survey of teachers and centers reveals that while some centers charge Rs 300 a month for three weekly sessions, others charge Rs 750 for the same and even up to Rs 2,500 for the same period. At the zenith, there are those charging up to Rs 3, 000 for a single one-hour class of yoga. How do all these teachers deal with the question of money?
The Question of Money
Rajneesh Govind, 24, a yoga teacher based in Coimbatore, who had been taught yoga for free so he could go and spread his master’s message around the country, observes, ‘My mentor, Sadguru Yogasramam, has taught yoga to over 50,000 people for free. All he wants in turn is for us to learn the true essence of yoga and spread it. We are inspired to do just that and invest our entire day in teaching yoga. Now, if yoga doesn’t provide us with our bread and butter, what will? People make money by doing so many illegal things and harming other people – if I earn my living by spreading my guru’s messages and bringing happiness to people, what is wrong with it? Why do I need to justify my fees?’
Abhishek Sharma, 28, a photographer who also teaches yoga, says, ‘The way I look at it, if one goes to a doctor with a problem, would they expect to be treated for free? Are there any psychologists or psychiatrists who would do free counseling? Why then should yoga teachers not charge money? However, if I meet someone who needs yoga and is interested in learning, but is unable to pay, then I would teach him or her for free. But why not charge those who can afford it?’
Many believe that the student must pay for what he respects, and there is absolutely no moral issue involved in charging to teach yoga. A belief held by most of them was that free teaching would not be as valued as that which is paid for. Many students, they argue, equate the fee with the quality of the teaching.
Yet, many continue to wrestle with the issue. Fiona Nongrum, an attractive 31-year-old, was seriously considering a career in yoga but each time she thought of charging for it, something in her would freeze. Eventually, the dilemma compelled her to drop the idea of teaching yoga and focus on another livelihood altogether.
The fee structure does differ according to your preferences, though. If you join a class you pay less, but if you want a teacher to come home to you – it’s bound to be much more. However, several yoga teachers do not go to homes to teach privately unless the student has a genuine problem and cannot travel. Asks Zarthoshtimanesh, ‘Should a teacher go to the student or should the student come to the teacher?’ Others such as Anand, teaching in fitness trainer, Mickey Mehta’s gyms, will go and teach anyone, anywhere. ‘Yoga is such a good thing that more people should benefit from it and I will teach anyone who wants to learn,’ he says.
All in all, on an average, a yoga teacher can earn anywhere from Rs 10,000 to Rs 15,000 a month; and if he manages to make a name for himself, the sky is the limit.
In all this, there still exist institutions who charge little or no money. Founded 87 years ago by Sri Yogendra, the Yoga Institute in Santacruz, Mumbai, teaches yoga to about 1000 students, everyday. Maintaining a huge staff, teachers who are known for their ‘seva bhav’ or compassionate, serving nature, their charges remain minimal – a monthly fee of Rs 200 for classes four times a week. Why so? Hansaben Yogendra, the dynamic dean of the Institute, asserts that yoga is not a marketable product. ‘The aim of the Institute is to bring a positive change in people’s lives, not make it a commercial endeavor. The fee is kept low so that yoga does not become the privilege of the elite few who can afford it, but succeeds in reaching the masses, who can, in turn, teach and extend its benefits to others,’ she explains. Does it ever bother them that people learn from here paying so little, but charge a high fee in their turn? She chuckles, ‘Yoga teaches us to accept situations and make a difference where we can, and not bother about situations beyond our control. By getting bothered by such people, we hinder our own growth. We try our best to instill a sense of detachment and service through our programs, but if there are still a few who do not understand the essence of yoga, it is their loss. They may earn more, but somewhere their conscience will catch up.’
Fiona adds thoughtfully, ‘Even if yoga has become commercialized, some good has come out of it. More and more people are becoming aware of this wonderful ancient art and are practicing it; many people are getting a chance to become teachers, through which they can earn money by contributing to society.’
How do you recognize a genuine teacher from a wannabe?
The teachers say in one voice, ‘Your body will tell you the difference.’ After a few sessions with a teacher, your body should be able to tell you whether he is the right teacher for you or not. If not, at least your mind or your spirit will definitely guide you.
And since there is a plethora of teachers out there, keep looking until you find the perfect one.
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