Why Yoga is all about “Giving Back”
Did you know that Yoga is supposed to be all about ‘giving back’? A practice whereby teachers pass on the precious knowledge and teachings of yoga to students. Such knowledge has been passed down from generation to generation for a period of 5,000 years or more. It wasn’t all that long ago that I, too, was a student of yoga. In fact, I am still very much a student of yoga, but I now have the opportunity to teach it, too.
SHARING A PASSION
Yet, much of what we see of yoga today is far from the precious practice that is at its heart. There’s a perception, for instance, that in order to practice yoga, you need to be ‘flexible’. You need to be ‘strong’. You need to be able to do things which to the average person are not accessible. Part of my mission in becoming a yoga teacher was to change that perception. To lead by example, especially as a male, in what is currently a female-dominated industry (the irony being that originally yoga was just for men).
So, when I was given the opportunity to offer yoga classes on-site on the premises of Deutsche Bank, my employer, as part of its ‘People Strategy’, I knew this was my chance to reach many more people who otherwise would not step forward in a yoga studio and begin their yoga journey. I already had my private class for my immediate colleagues, but the opportunity to reach a much wider audience really made me excited.
What’s more, given that I already have a full-time job as a director in the Finance division, the classes were never about making a living or receiving an income. I am fortunate, since for the majority of teachers, making a living from yoga is a priority, simply because they have to. This dichotomy often plagues those who practice & teach – how can I do what I love doing and share this precious practice, yet make a living out of it? In some circles, yoga classes are offered for free. Teaching is seen as providing a service, or ‘giving back’ to the community.
Yet, is this realistic for the modern teacher living in a big, expensive city such as London, who still has bills and rent to pay, and generally needs to make a living? Yoga, after all, is a big business these days, worth billions of dollars annually. Is it not fair that teachers share in some of that ever-expanding pie? Fortunately for me, I don’t have to worry about the financial side of yoga, since all my basic needs are met, and I can be of service to my students. This is truly a place of ‘giving back’.
GIVING BACK BY PAYING IT FORWARD
That said, the practical aspect of offering yoga classes on-site means that some contribution from the students is reasonable. The bank already provides yoga classes through Nuffield Corporate Health, which is on a paid basis. It was fair that a contribution from students was required. Yet, if all my needs were met, what purpose would the class proceeds serve? The answer: ‘Charity’.
As part of the bank’s Corporate Social Responsibility, it already supports a number of charities, and its current charity of the year is ‘Hospice UK‘. What better way of contributing to this great charity than through our employee-led yoga classes?
The yoga classes now support two purposes: (1) the wellbeing of employees, and (2) charity. Could this be what yoga is really about? Have we found a way in which the idea of yoga being about ‘giving back’ is met in a very natural and beautiful way? The teacher gets to experience the pure joy of teaching, whilst the employees and the charity benefit. I could hardly believe it when the plan was hatched. When I started Yogibanker, I really wanted to share what I had learnt and experienced through yoga with my colleagues. Now I get to do it in a very authentic and real way. My purpose – giving back – has been met.
A SENSE OF ACHIEVEMENT
That said, it’s one thing to start in-house yoga classes, the other thing is to make them work. I always had in the back of my mind that I would offer two classes a week, one for ‘beginners’ or those new to the practice, the other for those with some prior experience of yoga (or an ‘intermediate level’ class). Yet something clicked – perhaps running a ‘Yoga for Beginners’ course would be more appropriate. In the age of courses, being able to start something and complete it marks a sense of achievement. How about doing the same with ‘yoga’?
The response was immediate. As soon as the classes were announced, the initial ‘Yoga for Beginners’ course was over-subscribed: I could have sold it almost twice over, such was the popularity. I said to myself, where were all these people? Why had they not been practising or trying yoga in their local studio?
The feedback I got was relatively understandable. The average yoga studio can be quite ‘intimidating’ for beginners. After all, most studios want to create the atmosphere and vibe that they are serious about yoga and its philosophy. It might be a ‘shoes off policy’, the aesthetics may be filled with images and statues from Buddhist or Hindu philosophy, and what’s more, it is generally filled with fit-looking guys and girls. For the average beginner, making that first step to register for a yoga class can be daunting. What’s more, which type of class – vinyasa, Iyengar, ashtanga, yin etc…? Who knows where to start?
That’s where starting off on a beginners’ course comes in. There’s structure, there’s completion of something and attainment, and what’s more, by practising with your peers who are all learning in the same ‘boat’, there’s a sense of being collegiate – about sharing the experience. It summarises perfectly what motivates people – to achieve something and feel they are part of something.
In addition, by providing the service on the bank’s premise, the accessibility is greatly improved. Employees can easily move from their desks to class in a matter of minutes, without the hassle of having to take public transport to and from the studio.
TIME FOR REFLECTION
So, what’s been my experience of the course so far? Well, first of all, I believe every new person who starts their yoga journey should take a beginners’ course. I didn’t, but in hindsight I realise why this would’ve been useful. In a beginners’ course, you learn the very basics of yoga. You learn how to breathe in the yogic way, you learn the foundations of posture, and you learn how to ‘flow’.
That’s how I summarise it: ‘breath’, ‘foundation’ and ‘flow’. It’s something that’s worthwhile investing some time in at the beginning to get the basics right. You get to appreciate how yoga feels in your body. What it feels like to breathe, move and also be still, which is the key part of it. From there comes the perfect opportunity to explore and go deeper into the practice of yoga, to see how you can further integrate much of the teachings and refinements.
What’s it been like, teaching beginners? It’s true to say that when someone discovers yoga for the first time in their lives, something ‘lights up’. A switch, a realisation, a new way of living, moving and ‘being’. It’s a beauty in itself that in some respects is unique. It’s a feeling when the body and mind become connected, a true sense of self emerges. As a teacher, to witness this makes the practice all worth it. It summarises perfectly why teaching yoga is all about ‘giving back’.
The question then arises, for those students who completed the Yoga for Beginners course, where to from there? I initially felt that they could transition to my intermediate level class, but at the same, did I think this was fair? I honestly felt to myself, probably not. My regular class is quite a dynamic vinyasa style of yoga, emphasising elements of ‘steadiness’ and ‘flow’. It can be a challenging class, whilst accessible, so it does require some level of experience and familiarity with the practice.
I, therefore, decided to offer another class, and I called it ‘Yoga Foundations’, in addition to my ‘Yoga Flow’ class. A time slot specially designed for those who just completed the ‘Yoga for Beginner’s’ course. You see, just like anything, it’s all about ‘progression’. Taking the small steps to master the basics and lay the foundation for a lifetime of practice and self-inquiry. I’m really pleased to see that so many of the people who have taken the beginners’ class want to continue practising. They have experienced how good yoga feels in their body and in their mind.
REAPING THE REWARDS
Giving back has been rewarding. Many people have commented to me how different they felt, after being stressed out from a busy day at work, leaving the class space feeling relieved and stress-free, all from one hour of moving their body and shifting their state of mind. Going back to the original purpose of changing the perception that yoga is all about being bendy, strong, and super flexible, it has left me feeling satisfied.
You see, when I go back to the humble beginnings of my own yoga journey, it was the sanctuary, or refuge, that the class gave me after a busy, and often demanding, day. I really got to appreciate my yoga class for the space that the practice creates.
Now I am returning that ‘favour’ which yoga gave me all those years ago and giving back in more ways than one. So far we’ve raised over £1000 for Hospice UK, as well as starting off the yoga journey for many people who may not otherwise have begun it. In this context, if I think of purpose and meaning in life, then one can definitely find it through the tradition of yoga.