Off the Mat & Into the Marketplace

posted by Brenton Levi

Yoga is an ancient practice that reaches far beyond asana and pranayama. Yoga is a way of being in the world.

Even though the uninitiated can tend to focus on the superficial facets of asana, it seems to be fairly common for people to begin a relationship with yoga for the physical benefits, only to find themselves confronted with the deeper psychological and spiritual effects of the practice. Once this occurs, yoga can become an integral part of people’s lives and identity. Out of this phenomenon has evolved an entire yogic sub-culture that permeates almost every aspect of the modern lifestyle. Everything from clothing choices, to food consumption, to modes of transportation, can be influenced by one’s identification as a yogi.

The unfortunate reality of this situation played out in a consumer-capitalist economic context is that many well-meaning yogis are left vulnerable to marketing gimmicks and advertising ploys. Commercials airing on major television networks have utilized caricatures of modern yoga classes as advertising for products as unrelated to yoga as beer and car insurance. This is not in and of itself a bad thing. The fact that yoga has reached this point of recognition and acceptance in the collective consciousness of our culture is fantastic. However, a problem arises when such imagery is coopted in a way that leads consumers astray. This can be even more clearly seen in the realm of product packaging. It is all too easy to just grab the product that purports in green lettering to be “all natural” or even “organic” and think that you’re making a more responsible choice; even if that is indeed the case you have still not truly exercised your power as a consumer.

An apt metaphor for this behavior would be when we inevitably find ourselves in a yoga class mindlessly going through the motions. You’ve done thousands of sun salutations in your life; it is so familiar that you could gracefully float back from a forward fold to chaturanga in your sleep (maybe you’ve actually done this after using Ambien?). Yet merely executing the vinyasa isn’t enough. That is not really yoga. Yoga is about inquiry. Yoga is presence with the ever-changing state of the body and mind. Yoga is investigating, feeling, and responding to whatever comes up. When practiced with this awareness, asana allows us to relieve physical and mental tension while avoiding injury and building strength and flexibility. This is a practice that empowers us to take responsibility for our physical and emotional wellbeing. What would happen if we were to engage this state of mindfulness in our consumption of goods and services?

The fact is that every dollar we spend is essentially a vote for the philosophy and practices of each entity involved in the manifestation of the product or service purchased. When we mindlessly participate in economic activity we give up our power and responsibility as consumers. In the same way that awareness empowers us to make the most of our asana practice, developing a consciousness around the impact of our purchases can empower us to make decisions that best serve the health of our communities, our environment, and ourselves. This isn’t to say that an in-depth research project is required for every trip to the grocery store, but that we merely try our best to make informed and responsible decisions based on the information available at any given moment. Just like we do in asana, we investigate, feel, and respond.

For example: if you are interested in the health of your local economy, buy produce from the community farmer’s market as opposed to the industrial farmed food shipped half-way across the world to the local supermarket. If you are concerned about toxic chemicals in your cosmetics you can find a manufacturer that uses simple, safe, organic ingredients. If you care about the welfare of the natural environment, invest in products that use hemp instead of plastic. The possibilities are endless. Again, this does not have to take over your life. We can start with small and simple decisions. Every purchase by each individual adds up and can influence the decisions of the most powerful organizations in the world.

Yoga is more than asana and pranayama. Yoga is a way of being in the world. Is it possible for us to allow the consciousness that we foster on our mat to permeate out into the world of stocks, bonds, interest, and debt? Can we take responsibility for what and how we consume? It is time that we step in to our power as active and aware participants in our economy. Every purchase we make can put us closer to creating the world we all know in our hearts is possible. This is the beauty of the democratic nature of our capitalist economy. In the end it is no one’s responsibility but our own to take charge of our own fate and therefore the fate of the world.

Brenton has been interested in the fundamental mystery of life for as long as he can remember. After exploring seated meditation, Brent had his first experience with yoga asana at Inspire Yoga's flagship studio. In order to deepen his practice, Brenton enrolled in Inspire Yoga's 200 hour training program. Soon after completing his training, Brent participated in six months of a residential volunteer program at Kripalu Center where he experienced the traditional practices of Hatha yoga, Ayurveda, and Shamanism. Brent's classes strive to engage students in mindful movement while dissolving self-imposed boundaries. In addition to yoga, Brenton enjoys preparing ancestrally inspired meals, engaging with wild nature, optimizing his health and wellness, and communing with loved ones.

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