By Ed Staskus
Ask any army navy marine air force officer recruiter chief of staff what is important about basic training and he will tell you it prepares recruits for all aspects of martial service, physical, mental, and emotional. Most important and far-reaching, however, is it forces individuals to put personal freedom aside and act as a group.
Ask any corporate recruiter what they look for in new hires and they will tell you the ability to make decisions and solve problems. Nevertheless, the skill they most look for is the ability to work effectively in a group.
Ask any yoga teacher whether it’s better to practice alone or in a studio setting and most of them will say yoga is an individual practice. It isn’t supposed to be groupthink. “Do what serves you” is often said and heard. In other words, think for yourself.
Singing from the same sheet of music doesn’t necessarily serve you.
But, they will point out, there are many valuable lessons to be learned exercising in a studio beyond just discovering the nuts and bolts of the practice, such as gaining insights and corrections from experts, sharing energy and purpose, raising consciousness, taking you out of your comfort zone when practicing mat to mat with different kinds of folks, and breathing in union with like-minded people in a dedicated space.
It unifies everyone in the studio in the team spirit of yoga. You can still be yourself, no matter the size of the flock, or so the thinking goes. Singing from the same sheet of music can make great choral societies.
Practicing solo at home, of course, has its go-to reasons.
“If you are self-conscious around other people, being in the safety of your own home can be comforting,” explains Mia Togo, a Yoga Works certified teacher and Life Coach.
However, going at it at home brings with it inevitable distractions, your family, your friends, your pets, your smart phone, and your own physical needs, like hunger, the bathroom, and hitting the sack. On the other hand, you don’t have to wear hundreds of dollars of fashionable apparel to earn your wings.
A t-shirt and a pair of sweatpants usually gets it done.
When did Lululemon’s Reveal Tight Precision Pants become the first serious step in suiting up for a studio yoga class? Do the Reveal Pants have something to do with revealing the inner self? Whatever happened to the fun of wearing sweatpants?
Although it’s true they’re old-fashioned and nobody looks good in them, it’s equally true they are made for one reason, which is exercise, and they fulfill their reason for existing without breaking a sweat or blabbing on and on about airflow and wicking.
The famous fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld looked down his nose on them, saying, “Sweatpants are a sign of defeat. You lost control of your life so you bought some sweatpants.” Nevertheless, they trap heat close to your body and help warm your muscles up quickly. You sweat more, you burn more calories, and you get a great workout.
After all, that’s what most commercial yoga is all about.
When did yoga become a studio practice? The easy answer is when it became a $16 billion dollar business in the United States and a $30 billion dollar-plus business worldwide. The real answer is it happened when it became a multi-billion dollar business everywhere.
When it comes to dollars and cents, even meditation and mindfulness are raking it in, more than a billion a year in the last calendar year in the United States. Group meditation classes, oxymoronic as that may be, have sprung up nationwide, costing real money for going inward. The “Muse” headband, if you want to know exactly what’s going on in the back of your mind, measures brain activity during meditation for only $299.95.
It doesn’t take any brains to know that is $299.95 too much.
Just like it doesn’t take any brains to tease out what the wizard behind the curtain is up to.
There is great good feeling to be found in yoga classes. That’s why millions of consumers go to them. That’s why many of them go to classes twice a week-or-more. That’s why they are willing to pay $12.00 to $16.00 a class. In some cosmopolitan areas it is almost double that. The wizardry of yoga studios is their awareness of the mesmerizing effect unrolling a yoga mat has on many patrons.
Just about everybody feels better walking out than walking in to a yoga class. It’s not because they’re happy it’s over. It’s because their muscles have been lengthened and strengthened and because they’ve spent an hour breathing calmly evenly steadily. The flow of prana, or life force, has been unlocked balanced juiced by the practice
GABA is a neurotransmitter. Low levels of it are associated with anxiety, mood disorders, and chronic pain. Higher levels are associated with the opposite. One way to replicate the activity of GABA is to drink beer, wine, or cocktails. Alcohol binds to some GABA receptors in the brain.
Another way is go to a yoga class.
According to the Boston University Medical School, people who practice yoga regularly have higher levels of GABA. In addition they have lower levels of cortisol, which is associated with a higher propensity towards depression. More GABA and less cortisol let the sun shine through.
Who wouldn’t rather be on the Virgin Islands than, say, Siberia at night in January?
In any case, a sunny disposition always trumps a cloudy day.
Loosening and lubricating joints muscles myofascial tissue and the mind all feel good. Rubbing the Aladdin’s lamp of endorphins, releasing the genie, leads to feelings of euphoria, appetite modulation, release of sex hormones, and enhancement of the immune response. Endorphins interact with the opiate receptors in your brain to reduce your perception of pain and stress.
That’s why 91% of regular yoga practitioners are satisfied with their yoga studio, among other reasons. That’s why yoga can be addictive, like happiness can be addictive. That’s why you go with the flow.
There is great well-being to be found in yoga classes. It’s always been like going to the store and buying a light bulb. The top two reasons people do yoga is its impact on health and stress. That’s what is behind what yoga studios market, often without actually marketing it. That’s why there are almost 14 million yoga practitioners over the age of 50 in the United States. Many older adults have three-or-more chronic health conditions. As we age, not only does existence become more painful, we become more sensitive to pain, as well.
Who isn’t up for an elixir?
It’s more than a tonic for what ails you. If the key aspects of life are physical, spiritual, intellectual, and emotional, then yoga is the three-point shot goal kick touchdown pass, all rolled up into a home run.
“Yoga, with its philosophical roots, flowing movements, and capacity to aid in regulation of our thoughts and feelings, hits all of these elements to provide an overall sense of well-being,” explains Sarah Sung in ‘What Makes Yoga Feel So Good’.
Yoga is about getting you feeling good in your own skin.
But why don’t more people, after they’ve mastered the basics of the practice, down dog their skins at home? Why march through rain snow sleet to the studio when you can throw on your sweatpants and roll out your mat in the rec room? Why go with the flow when even dead done fish go with the flow?
Why not get it done for yourself?
Even though 65% of yoga practitioners say they have practiced at home at least once, fewer than one out of four yoga practitioners in the United States have practiced yoga on their own in the past 12 months.
Yoga teachers stress it is important to be attentive to every individual in class so every individual can get the most out of their practice. That is easier said than done when there are a dozen-or-two people in class, much less fifty or a hundred. The larger the class the more cookie cutter it necessarily becomes.
Yoga studios advertise trust as an essential of their business. That’s the problem. Studios are businesses. Mutual trust devoid of mutual interest is sentimental nonsense. When yoga becomes a mutual transaction, it becomes a problem.
Just like guppies and most mammals, we are admittedly herd animals. When you’re in a herd you base your decisions on the actions of others. If you’re a guppy or a cow, that strategy works just fine. If you’re trying to walk the eight-limb path, that strategy is self-defeating.
Even though everyone in a herd is a self-serving individual, crowds are the phenomenon of people all acting in the same way at the same time. In a yoga class, the teacher on the platform is the opinion leader influencing persuading and leveraging. If you’re good at headstand, that’s good for you. If you’re not, make sure you let your neighbor know.
Herd behavior is all about being harnessed.
Who wants to live all their life with the bit between their teeth?
The key to creating lasting change is to do things on your own. Developing a personal yoga practice is part of that package. Doing what everybody else is doing in yoga class week month year after year, which doesn’t take too much willpower to do since it’s follow the leader, makes you just like everybody else. When you’re a member of the team, you rely on the team.
That’s why everybody knows there’s no ‘I’ in ‘TEAM’.
Self-practice, which takes no small measure of self-discipline, makes you into you.
“I think self-discipline is something, it’s like a muscle. The more you exercise it, the stronger it gets,” points out the cognitive psychologist Daniel Goldstein.
If yoga is a personal journey, as is touted far and wide, no one can truly be oneself in a flow yoga class. It is impossible to be yourself in the middle of a herd. It’s like sporting events, religious gatherings, and riots. Everyone goes with the flow. Getting down with the group mind is antithetical to standing up for oneself.
The private self in the public world is always at risk of being subsumed by the mass of marching orders of congregation corporation government.
Standing up for oneself is not up to a public vote. What you make of your yoga practice doesn’t have anything to do with studio classes or influencers. It’s OK to listen to others. It’s not OK to become a follower. It’s not a team game. It’s an individual game.
The biggest mistake anyone can make is to believe somebody else is pivotal central or crucial to one’s development. The best thing anyone can do is own their own practice. Watch the parking meters. There’s a reason there’s a slot for your money. Follow the leader long enough and you end up being an old abandoned car being towed away to the junk yard.
It isn’t about what you ought to be. It’s about what you can be.
Can you get the same results doing yoga at home as you can get at a studio class?
You’ll never know until you try it. Making oneself specific original and a conscious human being means marching the other way, away from the marching orders from on high, whether it’s parents teachers leaders ringleaders or bosses.
Shepherds are for flocks of sheep.
Bust out the dog-earred loose-fitting sweatpants. Just don’t look in the mirror. You might not like what you see. Are they chill? Yes. Are they all the rage? No. At least, all alone on your mat, there won’t be anyone around to judge you in your sweats and own original skin.
Click here to see more writing between fiction and non-fiction by Ed Staskus.