Dear Yoga Profession, Adapt or Die
By Kristine Kaoverii Weber | August 20, 2021
Ah, I remember the days when yoga teachers could just bop in and pick up a class or two at a gym, community center, or YMCA. Some of us were teaching full-time, lots of us part-time. We loved sharing yoga and, even if it was just in your basement or friend’s garage, it wasn’t all that hard to find a place to teach.
Now, with students and potential students struggling in so many ways – stressed out, freaked out, Zoomed out, and isolated – yoga classes are dwindling. Ironically, at a time when the world is in chaos and yoga should be booming, many teachers are telling me that their classes are anemic and they’re scrambling to figure out what to do.
Before the pandemic, the big dream went something like this: go to yoga teacher training, teach somewhere for a few years, open your own studio, be happy.
But now it’s looking a bit more like, “3 folks turned up for my Zoom class today – Awesome!”
The yoga teaching landscape is changing rapidly – and the yoga profession needs to adapt.
Before the pandemic the yoga teacher role was fairly straightforward – find a nice place to teach and give folks a good experience.
It was basically an if-you-build-it-they-will-come strategy. But that role has vanished like Kevin Costner’s stardom. So, if we want to survive as yoga teachers and if we want to survive as a profession, I suggest we start changing the way we think about our roles.
Right now, yoga teachers have the opportunity to move beyond the passive wait-around-for-people-to-show-up model and start proactively seeking out those who could most benefit from our work. A huge and important shift is moving from thinking like a fitness professional to thinking like a public health professional – prioritizing outreach, education, and advocacy.
Since there’s evidence that regular yoga practice is great for your brain, nervous system, and the prevention of many chronic diseases, we need to start shifting the conversation in that direction.
We need to step into our power – the power we have to play a significant role in improving the health of populations.
I suggest we stop conceptualizing ourselves as part of the fitness industry and start thinking about what we do as lifestyle health interventions. How can we create local, boots-on-the-ground avenues for collaboration with health providers, institutions, and organizations in order reach more people?
We need a mindset shift.
Right now these shifts are critical because we have a choice – adapt to the rapidly changing landscape or kiss our profession bye-bye.
There are so many initiatives happening in the health care world right now, some around the new infrastructure bill, many around the shift that’s happening in health care around prioritizing prevention, lifestyle medicine, integrated care (mental health + primary care), and wellness.
The US Department of Health and Human Services recently announced the “Opportunity To Become a Healthy People 2030 Champion” as part of their Healthy People 2030 initiative. This is the national disease prevention and health promotion plan.
When I read things like this, my head explodes with ideas for how yoga professionals can be involved.
The Healthy People 2030’s vision is of “a society in which all people can achieve their full potential for health and well-being across the lifespan.” Their very first objective is “Promoting and increasing access to disease prevention and health promotion activities.”
Isn’t that what you do? Why shouldn’t you be involved in this? Why shouldn’t organizations who apply for this Health People Champion initiative have staff yoga teachers or consultants?
Here’s another example – an initiative from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. They are funding research that expands evidence needed to build a “Culture of Health.” Couldn’t yoga practice be conceptualized as an integral part of building individual and community health? Wouldn’t it be cool of yoga teachers or therapists were involved in this research?
Instead of thinking of ourselves as a sliver of the fitness industry desperately vying for a small pool of students, why not think about ourselves as highly skilled specialists in and advocates for prevention and health promotion? As experts with an essential knowledge base that will help communities achieve health goals?
What You Can Do Today
Okay, I realize these are big ideas and you may want something more actionable.
So, here’s what you can do today.
Reach out to health care professionals – mental health is a good place to start, but use whatever contacts you already have.
Talk to human resources people at institutions. Make phones calls, send emails and knock on doors (and remember that typically you will have to knock on about 20 before one opens, so don’t get discouraged and give up).
Talk about how what you do is educational – you teach wellness, prevention, and health promotion. You can help folks:
- Regulate their nervous systems
- Take care of themselves
- Reduce their stress levels
- Reduce pain
- Improve mental health
- Improve mobility
- Feel empowered
Show health care professionals how you can help their clients and patients endogenously regulate their nervous systems safely. Your slow, mindful yoga is not risky. It’s low cost, able to be delivered in groups, and evidence informed. If they are worried about the word yoga call it “mindfulness in the body” or something. If they are worried people are Zoomed-out, tell them they can place a mat far from the computer and just listen in.
You can also help health care professionals reduce their stress load during this very difficult time by teaching classes specifically for them.
Find ways that you can collaborate with health care professionals, or at least convince them to recommend your classes to their clients and patients.
Also, apply to speak at health conferences. I’m serious. You can and should be sharing your message far and wide.
The more yoga professionals interface with the health care world, the more we start to shift (and save) our profession.
Instead of watching the house burn down, let’s start remodeling it. Right now.