Monday, June 20, 2011

Confessions of a Closet Yoga Bum

"Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life."


Disclaimer: Before you go on to read this post, and possibly get some mistaken ideas about what I feel about my professional life, I should make one thing clear: I am presently productively employed. I am quite happy with my job, and the meaningful interactions and numerous opportunities for self-development that I encounter everyday in the course of my work. (Of course, if you happen to be a Marxist, you will probably say that I am suffering from false consciousness, but hey, this is a yoga blog! As such, this is no place to engage in Marxist debates about the nature of work in capitalist society.)

Now that we have gotten this out of the way, I would like to tell you a little story. A couple of months ago, I was having a conversation with a friend (let's call him H). The topic turned to the question of what we would really want to do with our lives if money, putting food on the table and all that jazz were not an issue. Without too much hesitation, I said that it would be really nice if somebody could pay me, say, a hundred thousand dollars a year just to do yoga everyday (and maybe also blog about it).

Fast forward a couple of months later. Yesterday, I met H again, and this topic came up again. Here's how the conversation went (roughly):

H: "Oh, I remember what your dream job was, the last time we spoke: Don't you want to open a yoga studio and teach yoga, and make, like, a million bucks doing it?"

Nobel: "No, you misunderstand... I want to just do yoga and get paid, say, a hundred thousand dollars doing it. If this can happen (I don't know how this is going to happen, but this is not the issue), I'll be very happy." 

H: "Oh, so maybe you want to make this super-yoga-video that will go viral on the internet, and maybe go around the world, give a whole bunch of yoga talks, and make a lot of money?"

Nobel: "No..." [Thinks to himself: "Why don't you get it, H? Opening yoga studios and teaching and making viral yoga videos and giving yoga talks, while wonderful in themselves, are still WORK! What I really want is to just do yoga, not have to work at all, and still make a lot of money! Is this really so hard to understand?"]

Can you tell that there is a certain disconnect between what I was trying to express, and what H was thinking I was trying to express? And really, I don't think we can blame H for not understanding what I was trying to get across. After all, in our contemporary capitalistic society, the predominant paradigm is: "You don't work, you don't eat." How can such a society have any place for bums (yes, even closet bums who masquerade as respectable working people) who only want to do yoga and get paid?

But well, there you have it: Now you know what I not-so-secretly want with my life. When I first started practicing yoga, I really looked up to all these celebrity teachers flying all over the world teaching big classes and having hordes of adoring followers, I mean, students, and I thought: Wow! Wouldn't it be so nice to be like one of these teachers? But over the years, through my interactions with a few of these teachers, and through listening and observing things around them, I have come to realize that being a celebrity teacher is actually a lot of work. I mean, how would you like being in one time zone today, and being in another one tomorrow, and still being expected to give your adoring students everything that they perceive you to be? This can't be easy work, can it?

But this realization did not change my love of yoga, and everything that it has done for me. So right now, what I not-so-secretly want (it's not secret anymore, because you are now reading this, and are thereby complicit in my desire; ha! now you are in on my, ahem, "secret" :-)) is to just be a yoga bum, practice to my heart's content, and still get paid a Sh%*load of money!

Well, if you think all this sounds hopelessly naive, it is! But unless you, uh, have been living under a rock somewhere over the last few years, you won't need me to tell you about the failures of capitalism in allocating human resources. In our present far-from-ideal capitalistic system, many of us have "real" jobs which we are more or less happy with; but we also have dream vocations. Now ideally, if resource-allocation in the capitalistic system were perfect, most peoples' "real" jobs would also be their dream vocation. Why? Because in an ideal capitalistic system, the invisible hand of the free market would work in such a way as to ensure that somebody who genuinely wants to do something in his or her life and has a passion for it will produce something that is of value to others; others will then pay for whatever it is that this person produces, and this person will then be able to make a decent living doing whatever it is that he or she is passionate about.

But of course, we know that things mostly do not work in this ideal way at present (indeed, when was the last time it mostly worked this way?). Because of this, most of us are unwilling to part with our "real" jobs in pursuit of our dream vocations because we perceive, rightly or wrongly, that we may not be able to put food on the table and pay our bills if we do so. Indeed, as imperfect as the system might be in so many ways, it is very successful in at least one area: Indoctrination/socialization. Most of us (including, I think, my friend H) have being socialized to believe that there is NO respectable way of being in this world that does not involve making a lot of money by selling something that the masses want at this very moment in time.

Of course, I also know that there are some fortunate people out there for whom their "real" jobs also happen to be their dream vocations. Well, I congratulate you on your good fortune. But this post is written primarily with lesser mortals like me in mind...

Or maybe I'm the only person who thinks this way... After all, I suppose one might say that if I were a good yogi, I should trust that the universe would provide me with all the abundance that I seek, and I should therefore go forth boldly and do whatever it is that my heart desires. And so and so forth. Well, maybe I'm not a good yogi, in this way...

Wow, that was a lot of ranting over not very much. Well, if you made it so far, thank you so much for reading this post :-)


  1. it's funny you mention this...I remember David Williams saying something similar at that workshop we went to a few years back...something along the lines of him never wanting to be a yoga teacher, what he really wanted was to be a yogi, just get up every day and do his practice.
    Maybe even the "celebrity yoga teachers" have gotten more than they bargained for ;)

  2. Yes, Christine, I clearly remember David saying the same thing too; which explained why he lived in relative obscurity on Maui (because he simply wanted to do his own practice) for more than a decade before he got "rediscovered" when Ashtanga became popular in this country :-)

    I can't say if the "celebrity yoga teachers" got more than they bargained for (I can't speak for them), but I think they are definitely doing something important in their position to spread the word of yoga (excuse this evangelical-sounding language, but I can't think of a better expression right now...).

  3. Know the feeling, if we could only do yoga, in times of busy-ness i fantasize about packing it all up and going and living on a beach in india, but i am rather attached to this lifestyle, which is as close to a yoga bum as i can get. . . . for a while anyways.

  4. So funny. I was thinking about this recently. It strikes me that some "celebrity" teachers do indeed travel quite a lot, while others travel less and teach at a home shala, and still others travel little or not at all. The thing I wonder is whether these circumstances (lots of travel, just some, or none at all) are by design, or just the way things happened to unfold. I suppose, like everything else, it varies widely depending on the person. Fun food for thought, though!

  5. I love this topic! There are so much I can say on it I'm going to have to write my own post. I would also like to be paid to do whatever I want. I've thought about getting paid to dress up all pretty every day, party lots, and occasionally do charity stuff now and then.. sounds like I'm describing the life of royalties. Guess I should have married a prince, LOL.

  6. This kind of begs the question as to what being a yogi all day would be like. There's a section in the Jyotsna commentary to the Hathayogapradipka about the day of a student. It's here right at the end of this handout
    but I'm not sure that's what you mean and your not talking about teaching as I understand your post just practicing.
    Surely you don't mean practicing asana all day, what a couple of hours in the morning, couple more in the evening, couple of hours of pranayama, few of meditation, some chanting, reading scriptures... guess you could fill a day up but what about the yamas and niyamas? Don't we get to work on those in our interactions. It's one thing working on the breath in tadasana quite another in kapo just as it's one thing being a yogi in a cave and another in the city. I'm lucky, as a repairer I get to work on my pranayama, bandhas while stripping saxophones but it's when dealing with difficult customers that I get to work on my yamas/niyamas Love the idea of being a cave yogi too but perhaps the day to dayKapo of our lives isn't such a bad thing.

  7. Hello Esther, yes, packing your bags and going off to live on a beach in India (Goa?) sounds sweet... :-) But it does sound like your present arrangement (teaching yoga in Yamagata?) is a very nice one too, and probably as close to being a yoga bum as most of us will ever get :-)

    Interesting points, Mike. I'm also not sure if the circumstances of particular "celebrity" teachers are by design or just the way things happened to unfold; I'm guessing it's probably a mixture of both, as most things are in life. But I'm just speculating :-)

  8. Your vision of your "bum" life is very interesting, Yyogini. Sounds like Princess D (minus the not-so-happy marriage). I look forward to reading your post :-)

    Interesting insights, Grimmly. Well, for better or for worse, my practice right now is mostly asana. So if I were to become a yoga bum, I probably would do asana for a couple hours in the morning (and maybe evening too), and then spend the rest of the day reading, writing, blogging, and essentially doing whatever the heck I want. Oh wait... isn't this what I am already doing right now? Maybe I am already a yoga bum, in some ways (minus the getting-paid-one-hundred-grand-a-year part).

    I'll check out the link to the Jyotsna commentary.

  9. Oh I'm with you. Once you find that person who'd pay you to do yoga, ask him/her if they'd be interested in sponsoring a yogini just for the sake of balance? =D

  10. Nan: I'll most certainly do that :-)

  11. Dear Nobel
    i share your dream, but it's difficult to achieve. you would need to develop a product that would generate an income stream without you having to do anything.

  12. Arturo: Hmm... very wise words. I think you are on to something, but I have no idea what such a product would be like. But I will keep my eyes (and brain) open...

  13. it IS hard-what you say about giving your all, time zones, etc. i taught in thailand for a few months. i taught 3 classes a day 6 days a week & also had to do workshops. same in tokyo. i ran the mysore program 6 days, taught night classes & had to do workshops. i don't regret it. but it was damn hard work. the money i made doing these things barely paid my expenses. it cost a lot to fly to both places, to eat, & if you are lucky enough to get free housing (which is also rare) you pay rent as well. i'm officially burned out of it. now i stay in sweet home chicago with my practice, my corporate classes & my life is much easier to manage. oh-i also make a living but not a hundred grand a year. i can live on the meager 20 grand. i'm not starving.

  14. Wow, Bindy, teaching 3 classes a day six days a week plus workshops; I would be so burnt out within two weeks! I'm happy that you are now teaching only in Chicago, and hopefully have more time to yourself :-)

  15. One question though, your dream is to be paid A LOT to practise yoga all day. I so understand this dream except for the "a lot" part. If really your dream is just to practise yoga, then you would just need money to cover your expenses which won't be that much right?