A few years ago, I started looking for training programmes to deepen my knowledge of Yoga philosophy and concepts. It took me a long time to find teachers and programs that somewhat met my requirements. I have had many teachers but never had a Guru; I have taken my learnings when and where I have found them, often from unexpected sources.
On the websites I visited during my research, people who came for Yoga training were often pictured wearing expensive clothing, using top-of-the-line exercise mats, and performing complicated postures. Many Yoga teachers and schools were selling and promoting various branded Yoga products – mats, footwear, clothing, accessories, etc. I felt very attracted to all the beautifully designed mats and props and clothing being promoted but somewhere in the back of my mind was a weird niggle I couldn’t put my finger on for a very long time.
I was very disappointed when I realised I could not afford any of these trainings or brands and had to ‘settle’ for something within my budget. I wondered if I should not enrol for a training programme at all, but decided to go ahead with whatever I could and go from there instead. I also could not afford expensive mats and clothes and decided to go with simple cotton clothing and a handloom cotton and rubber mat. Looking back today, I am so very glad I did those things and didn’t discontinue my Yoga studies!
What is materialism?
The branding, the expensive products, and the aspirational nature of it all, I realised, was where I was becoming a bit lost. The materialism of it all was quite confusing to my mind at that point.
Materialism means an attachment to objects as a means for pleasure and happiness. It implies that an individual considers material possessions the be-all and end-all of achievement and progress in life. In philosophy, it implies considering the tangible world without considering or accepting other forces and entities like the presence of a God or a universal energy.
By itself, there is nothing wrong with this belief or living life in this manner. For many of us, it is a way of simplifying how we define progress – getting a job, buying an expensive handbag, buying a house, vacationing in expensive and fancy places, dining in high-end restaurants – linking progress and achievement to money and being able to afford a good, luxurious, comfortable life. It is a great way to know how far we have come from being a student and not having money of our own to being able to boast of a good bank balance; it brings a measure of security, a feeling of being prepared for life.
Yoga and materialism
The issue here, in my mind, was reconciling materialism with Yoga. Both of these are good ideas on their own, philosophies to live by. But when we bring them together, that is where a problem arises because they are diametrically opposing ideas.
In materialism, we talk about measuring progress with the things we own, can afford, or use. In Yoga, we measure progress with how much we are able to let go of attachments to possessions and focus on the inner self. As I began to understand the depth of meaning in what Yoga spoke of, the more these ideas became jarring. Whenever I saw Instagram posts of Yoga influencers promoting a brand to further the spiritual practice of Yoga, it confounded me more and more. How could someone claim to be a Yogi and, in the same breath, promote increasing material possessions and measure progress by the brands and products we could afford?
Before I proceed, I would like to clear the confusion about Yoga and money. At no point does scripture state that a Yoga practitioner cannot or should not aspire to earning money or attain financial stability. Yoga places emphasis on being self-sufficient and being able to care for and support ourselves in every way. So as someone teaching Yoga, I still aim to earn enough to support myself and those dependent on me, ensuring I have enough to sustain myself and meet everyday requirements. It is part of my Yogic Dharma, my duty, towards myself and those around me; it is in no way against Yogic teaching to aspire for financial stability.
However, when material progress takes precedence over spiritual progress or impedes the spiritual journey, that is where a problem arises. When my focus is more on the mat I am using and how my branded clothes look while I practise Āsana or how I appear to those looking at me, then I have lost the plot. If I am so focused on making more and more money that I forget to reign in my greed, or do not respect or empathise with those coming to me to learn, I am no longer a Yoga practitioner.
I need a mat that supports a simple physical practice, clothes that protect the body and give freedom of movement, but the focus of the practice should always be on the connection of the body, breath, and mind. Money is a means to fulfil responsibilities and requirements, but it should not become the singular goal in teaching Yoga because that is when we are led away from the spiritual path and onto a path of materialism.
The Yoga industry today is worth billions of dollars – workshops and training programmes, Yoga spaces, clothing, mats, props, books, jewellery, and the list goes on. It is more important than ever now to be clear on our goals and what it is we want out of life and everything we are doing today.
What is it we want to do? Do we want to represent brands and own wonderful things? If so, let us focus our energies on that goal and do the best we can to be really good at building ourselves for this role in our journey of life.
Do we want to work towards connecting with the self and understanding universal truths? If yes, then let us stay true to this goal and not aspire for branding and a high-end lifestyle. Both are goals to aspire for, just not at the same time because we will then do justice to neither. If we gain material wealth in the process of understanding the self, though, let us welcome it without any ill feelings.
If you wish to join me in a simple, happy Yoga practice, do reach out to me here or on Instagram and I will do my best to help you find your path and help you feel content with life.