As yoga teachers, we all remember the wonderful camaraderie of our teacher training programs and the support and mentoring we received from one another. After the training ends, however, finding fellow teachers to connect with and finding trusted advisors to help us continue to grow and feel fulfilled in our profession can feel challenging.
So a little over a year ago, DC-area yoga teachers Carol Collins and Meg Artley launched the non-profit, Yoga = Union, as a way to build community and support the region’s yoga teachers, regardless of yoga school, style or current employment. Before 2018, there was no unifying organization in the DC area exclusively for yoga teachers.
Over the past year, the organization has led discussions on assisting in the era of #MeToo, an afternoon workshop on how to build inclusivity in the yoga community, a teacher yoga practice, and a discussion on the business challenges of being a yoga teacher today.
In continuation of its supportive programming, Yoga=Union, on September 22, will lead an afternoon discussion on the use of music in yoga classes. See here for more details.
As part of honoring the creation of this group, Collins and Artley – who met as fellow teachers at YogaWorks [previously Tranquil Space] – discuss Yoga = Union, how it was developed and their hopes for the future of the group, with DC yoga teacher and freelance journalist Bara Vaida.
Q: What was your inspiration for Yoga = Union?
Carol Collins: It was not long after we learned that Tranquil Space was being acquired by YogaWorks. As a full-time teacher, I relied on that community for my own nourishment, as well as for networking with other teachers, so I didn’t feel so isolated in the profession. I felt it was important to reach out and make sure I was keeping [up] those professional connections.
Meg Artley: For me, there was a need for community for sure, but it was also about finding the bigger yoga teacher community that was out there. The acquisition of Tranquil Space by YogaWorks meant that there was a much bigger community that is larger than the studio and this change meant that I should look for that community so that I could feel at home wherever I am.
Q: How did your thinking evolve as you conceived of Yoga = Union?
MA: Carol and I had lots of conversations about the diversification of the practice and [how] to take it beyond the studio to people who need it most in the community. The conversation quickly became how could we create a [yoga] community that really reflects the entire community in which we live.
CC: When Meg and I were talking about creating Yoga = Union, I was attending a lot of anti racial discrimination discussions in my community. I went to an open house for Black Lives Matter in DC and …they asked people to get into small groups and brainstorm about how does racism show up in your life and what are the small steps you can take to address systemic racism. I said: ‘Well, I see it in my yoga studio. I see mostly white faces and those are the
faces I have seen for 18 years.’ Meg was talking about wanting to reach out to a larger community and see how can we can be more welcoming in our teaching. That thought of wanting to be more inclusive and diverse is such a big issue in so many places. People are waking up to what ways [they] play a role in endemic racism … So that is why diversity and inclusion are part of our mission.
Q: What do you feel like have been your biggest challenges and accomplishments for Yoga = Union over the past year?
MA: One of the things we accomplished in this first year was understanding our challenges. In our profession, we are all so totally isolated from one another. Even [working as a teacher] in a studio, you may see [fellow teachers] in passing, but if you are teaching 10 to 12 classes a week…and trying to make this your full time profession, there is no time to chit chat at the water cooler or grab a lunch. So, how do you build community with people who are all isolated from one another and have little time because they are trying hard to make a living? When we have [led] our programs, you can literally feel, when 25 or 30 of us sitting together, there is this palpable sense of ‘Holy cow! I am here with people like me. I feel this energy and I am learning something.’ But then what happens with all of us, is we have lives and professions and [it is hard to keep that energy going.] I would say to anyone reading this, is that we need more people to be there and help lift [us up.] Anyone who feels they ascribe to the same values and feelings that we have, come to our programs. Figure out how to help build this community.
Q: Is what you are saying is that Yoga = Union is a kind of Sangha? A kind of community of friends practicing yoga together?
MA: Well yes and perhaps more than that. We are also advocates.
Q: What do you mean by advocacy?
MA: I mean advocating for inclusion and community building. There are also some things happening in our yoga community that are opportunities to use our voices and our collective wisdom. For example, right now yoga is caught up in this business model that creates bigger is better, churning out more teachers than there are jobs, and keeping yoga in studios in high rent areas of the city and suburbs. But yoga has been a practice that has been around for a millennium. It is supposed to be accessible to all. How can we do more to bring elevate our own teaching through continued education and ensure that yoga is getting to people in the community who are in need? I think community is where we can formulate the right questions and seek the answers together.
Q: What are some of your plans for the coming year?
MA: We developed a cool partnership with Woolly Mammoth Theater Company, with our board member Linette Hwu…. And it will be a home for our meetings in the coming year. Our offerings will be in line with inclusion and reaching out to the DC community at large. Our partnership with Woolly Mammoth allows us to offer all sorts of benefits to our members….including discounts to tickets.
CC: We have connections with Iona Senior Services and we are looking to work with them [also] as well as offering yoga to [more] people in DC through their programs for older adults in the city.
MA: There are so many other great yoga organizations out there, and we believe we can amplify their good work and their missions.
Q: How did you decide to focus your next workshop on whether to use music in yoga classes?
MA: I was thinking about how, despite the fact that I learned and currently teach flow with an emphasis on music, I so enjoy taking classes from long-time colleagues who used to use music and now don’t use it in their classes. We wanted to give everyone a spectrum of different opinions [on the use of music]. This is true for all of our programs at Yoga = Union. We don’t advocate one way of teaching. We want to create a forum where people can inform their teaching philosophy. Like in teacher training, we want a forum where we can discuss [topics in teaching] in a non-judgmental setting.
CC: [Another] hope I have for this organization is to foster the kind of growth that happens in teacher training programs, without it being a teacher training program. I know how many people need mentors and want continuing education and so that is my hope for this organization to be able to do, to be a forum like that.
MA: Nothing beats having someone that we can say to in person: ‘Hey, I need some help. Can you help me figure this out?’