06/10/2013 02:58 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Ira Israel: The Business of Yoga IV


How To Become A Yogalebrity

1. Be born in the 1960s (preferably in a First World nation)

2. Have groovy hippy parents who introduced you to Eastern philosophies, yoga, mysticism, and counter-cultural movements such as marijuana and free-love at an early age; or have repressive religious parents who unintentionally provoked you to rebel and find alternatives to their emotionally neglectful and psychologically damaging repressiveness

3. Be somewhat financially supported by these parents, or a trust left by your grandparents, or by a spouse - or have banked a large chunk of change in your previous mind-numbing soul-crushing Wall Street job - so that you don't actually have to survive on yoga teacher wages while becoming a Yogalebrity

4. Be an ex-model or at least be hyper-photogenic - was probably in a profession that required periodic headshots starting twenty years ago

5. Do a teacher training or expensive retreat (see #3) with a renown teacher who can make a phonecall and get you on the cover of Yoga Journal Magazine because you're an ex-model or hyper-photogenic (see #4)

6. Have survived a life-altering tragedy such as near-fatal car accident, death of a loved one, or cancer and be able to candidly, authentically and charismatically discuss how practicing yoga saved your life

7. Have been a drug addict or alcoholic who has overcome your addiction and be able to candidly, authentically and charismatically discuss how practicing yoga saved your life

8. Have been an incredible athlete or ballerina who was injured and discovered yoga as a means of convalescence and rehabilitation and be able to candidly, authentically and charismatically discuss how practicing yoga saved your life

9. Have been a spiritual seeker - jumped on an airplane to India because you were sick of hypocritical pedophile priests, convinced that the entire American capitalist house of cards was going to come tumbling down, would go to extremes to learn how people in distant cultures found happiness by means other than conspicuous consumption and momentary ego gratification... and be able to candidly, authentically and charismatically discuss how practicing yoga saved your life

10. Be an intellectual seeker - spent years passionately researching consciousness and the human mind (maybe including consciousness expanding drugs, see #7), become convinced that Western Philosophy and Psychology are misguided, find an Eastern guru or self-help mystic, realize it is part of your path to teach, spend the rest of your life trying not to be too self-righteous about how hypocritical and deluded most Americans are... and be able to candidly, authentically and charismatically discuss how practicing yoga saved your life

In "Outliers" Malcolm Gladwell convincingly describes how it is not a coincidence that technology leaders such as Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Sun Microsystems founder Bill Joy, and Google CEO Eric Schmidt were born within months of each other in the mid 1950s. He goes on to trace their paths and finds that they enjoyed similar opportunities and privileges that allowed them to be at the top of the new wave of personal computing in the 1970s and ride it all the way into shore for the last forty years. Timing and opportunities available due to outside preconditions - such as having the free time to practice a skill for 10,000 hours - play as large a role in most entrepreneurial success stories as innate talent does, according to Gladwell.

Similarly, many people in my generation grew up seeing residential homes as an investment and didn't realize that this was a twenty-five year aberration - a bubble - and not the norm. The norm is that you purchase a house to live in, not as an investment, but during the time of easy loans and low interest rates people were able to take out second-mortgages, buy additional properties, and use their real estate holdings as ATMs. This was all based on the fallacious economic assumptions that demand permanently exceeded supply and that there was an infinite supply of money that could be borrowed to purchase homes. Again, you may know people who made millions in real estate but when the housing bubble popped, it was easy to see how being in the right place at the right time played a large role for these outliers who rode the boom. (see "Ponzi Scheme" or "Pyramid Scheme" if you have any questions.)

Yogalebrities were outliers. They were not the norm. Only 7% of yoga teachers earn more than $60,000 per year. And I think we may be beginning - thanks to the stupidly sensationalized excerpts from William Broad's book in the NY Times, the John Friend sex-cult debacle, the Bikram rape charges, and the Encinitas trial - to see the Yoga Bubble split at its seams.

There was a confluence of events - including things beyond anyone's control like being born at the right time - that conspired to put a few yoga teachers at the top of a wave and allow them to ride that wave into shore for the last twenty-five years. That doesn't mean that they didn't work hard, sacrifice a great deal, don't have astonishing practices, aren't great teachers, and aren't ingenious entrepreneurs that found interesting ways to share the tools of yoga and its wonderful heritage and messages. It just means that being in the right place at the right time - as well as their personal histories and being photogenic and charismatic - contributed to their successes.

And because of the concomitant rise of certain technologies such as DVDs, Internet streaming and social media, a few Yogalebrities happened to earn a fair amount of money primarily advocating the physical benefits of Hatha Yoga. However, this has put them in an awkward position because many of them are also deeply spiritual people who are somewhat beholden to corporations such as Gaiam to teach yoga more-or-less as a fitness regime, not as a religious or spiritual experience.

When the trial in Encinitas legally decides if yoga is a spiritual and physical tenet of the Hindu and Buddhist religions, or if it is a secular exercise with the same physical and psychological benefits of all physical exercises, then maybe teachers and studios will learn how to work together to figure out a more sustainable business model and teacher training system before the state governments, courts, and corporations who can afford expensive lawyers decide for us.

But for now, anyone today who is actively trying to become a Yogalebrity may as well try to become the next Tom Cruise or Julia Roberts. (Ironically, many of them have.)

The wave has come and gone. The Yoga Bubble is bursting.

Please note that in the above list I am not poking fun at anyone except myself who speaks candidly, authentically and (I've been told) charismatically about my near-fatal car accident and how practicing yoga saved my life. I revere all of the teachers with whom I have practiced including John Friend. The only point I am trying to make is that the main reason anyone should become a yoga teacher is because it is one's vocation - one's calling - to help ease the suffering of others. And if you haven't sorted out your own psychological baggage before you begin teaching yoga, don't be surprised if Spirit or the Universe or God or Mystery or whatever higher power you believe in fast-tracks your spiritual growth by dressing down your ego a bit.