Friday, June 14, 2013

What Does "Community Gift" Mean?

Let’s face it: we cannot monetize what is most valuable to us. Capitalism has managed to monetize many of our material needs, like water, clean air, and land. Still, our most essential needs cannot be quantified or measured in dollars. Loving relationships, spiritual teachings, a beautiful summer day, a conversation with a friend, life itself….. all are priceless.

The practice of yoga used to consist of a sacred relationship between a teacher and student, involving not only asanas, but a whole lifestyle and philosophy. In the USA, yoga has become a fitness activity for the middle class. If you have the money and time you can go to class everyday, or hire a private teacher/personal trainer to come to your house and make you work out. If you have several thousand dollars, you can become a yoga teacher in a matter of months, or even weeks. That is, yoga has become a commodity.

Meanwhile I consciously strive to restore yoga to its sacred roots, while making it accessible to the widest possible population. After all there are no shortcuts to enlightenment and liberation, the ultimate goals of yoga.  The well yoga draws from has no bottom, and I am deeply indebted to BKS Iyengar, Geeta Iyengar, Prashant Iyengar, and the senior teachers here in the USA for their many decades of dedicated practice and teaching. What they have generously given me, I pass on to my students and my community.

I do not teach yoga as a hobby. Yoga teaching is my profession and my spiritual calling. Practicing since 1996, traveling every 2-3 years to India, and studying on a never-ending basis with the best teachers in the known universe, I feel I have something to share. For the first 12 years of my teaching path, I charged fees like other teachers in the USA. However, after the 2008 recession hit, many of my students lost the ability to keep paying for classes. I increasingly welcomed alternative forms of payment, and received quarts of soup, garden vegetables, massages, artwork, and much more.

I noticed that as we became more flexible and creative about payment, our community became stronger and more diverse. I wondered about the many friends and strangers who would come to a class given half a chance, if cost were not a factor. I thought about places of worship and spiritual centers that run strictly on donations, and wondered if a yoga school could do the same.

My move to Detroit was largely motivated by a desire to test this new model. Because my living expenses are relatively low, I can teach, practice and study, while taking on other community projects. Is it working? Yes and no. With a few classes, I earn about as much money as I did when I taught on a fee basis. Other classes may not even cover gas money for a day. (It’s a good thing I bicycle!) However, we are all on a learning curve as we wean ourselves from capitalism. I’m certainly not giving up on the Community Gift way of life.

So what does this all mean?

A Community Gift is NOT:
• A Freebie
  A hobby I am sharing with you
  A gesture of charity

A Community Gift IS:
• Beyond measurement, not quantifiable
• Meant to be passed on: having received, pass it forward in some way
• A free-will, heart donation that will be determined by you
• A creative, spiritual exchange I am making with you
• Sustaining my practice so I can continue to teach

What I want from my students:
• Dedication and some level of commitment. Even if a financial commitment is not required, make a spiritual commitment to the practice. Come to class regularly and practice a few poses on your own at home.
• Pass on the merits you have gained from the study of yoga. If yoga has given you a quiet mind, do a fovor for a stressed-out friend.
• Spread the love and tell others how yoga is benefiting you. Bring a friend to class.
• Support other Iyengar Yoga teachers in the community and go to their classes. My teachings come from a tradition with roots in India and the Iyengar family. Other Iyengar teachers share this lineage, and the profound, transformative lessons they have gained.
• Recognition that your teachers, even if they have chosen a spiritual path, also have material needs, like housing and food. Cash helps!

Learn more about gift culture and sacred economics here.

May we all learn together as we develop healing paths.