Guest Post · yoga

What has happened to my Yoga class? (Guest post)

‘Do not kill the instinct of the body for the glory of the pose.’
Vanda Scaravelli 


When I first thought of writing this article, I struggled as to how to get my point across without sounding like I was whining about how things have changed.  Change can be a good thing.  Some of the changes I have seen over the years have made Yoga more accessible to those who would have never attempted it in the past, which is of course, a good thing. So then, if the changes have brought good things then what is the point of bringing up the things that aren’t so good about what I like to call the “Lululemonization of Yoga”?  Well, I think bringing the not so good things to the forefront can also be a good thing and that hopefully we can be made aware of and will, hopefully change our views and actions.

Now, I know there will be those who will not be happy with my title.  I am not blaming Lululemon on the demise of Yoga, but there is a correlation between the rise of Lululemon paralleling the rise the Yoga in Canada and the United States.

I began practicing Yoga in 1998.  I had been injured running and saw a poster on a local telephone pole for Yoga at the church in my neighbourhood in Hamilton.  At that point in time, I believe there were one or two Yoga studios in all of Hamilton and maybe a few classes at local recreation centres. After moving the chairs out of the way at St. Cuthbert’s, the ambiance was perfect for Yoga.   The teacher was fresh out of her teacher training and was warm and welcoming.  She doted on each and every one of us as if we were the only students in her class.  The class was filled with a diverse group of mainly women, although there were a couple of men in the class even at that time, and of varying size, shape, and athletic ability.  The hour and a half long Hatha class was anything but slow moving.  Although Hatha Yoga is labelled often as gentle, the class was challenging but non-harming, which I fear is missing from today’s typical repertoire in most Yoga classes, my own included.

At the time when I began my practice, Yoga was still a fringe activity that was not a ‘workout’ enough for most people.  Yoga was for the old throwbacks from when the first wave of Yoga made its way to the west in the 60’s or for those who were looking for some stress relief.  As the years went by I saw the classes become more popular, which is when I first noticed the other trend beginning; the rise of the Lululemon.  Admittedly, at first I thought the gear was cool.  Although it was expensive, I thought it was great that Yoga was growing in popularity and everything that I loved about it would spread like wild fire to the public.  My preaching about what I was getting out of my own classes would finally be understood.  When I said, ‘I do Yoga’, I wouldn’t be looked at with a questioning stare, but others would be able to comprehend where I was coming from when I talked about Yoga.  What was so wrong about Lululemon?

In 2006, I began teaching Yoga after receiving my teacher training certification from Sheridan College.  This was a two year, night school program that was very comprehensive and included 4 units of philosophy as well as asana work.  I started my teaching by instructing classes for many different offices on their lunch hours as part of employee health promotion initiatives.  The students were eager and very open to learn.  They were looking for stretching, strengthening, but mainly for stress relief.  They were surprised when they would find some of the poses challenging and we often talked afterwards about the different poses and what the benefits of each were.  The students were warm and welcoming, much like my first teacher was.  There was no Lululemon worn at any of these classes.  Coincidence? Maybe.

Then came the emergence of Hot Yoga.

About 5 years ago, I attended my first hot yoga class.  Now, this was not a traditional Bikram class, which yes, is supposed to be hot.  Bikram was developed to mimic the hot, humid, weather of India for those who were not able to practice there.  The heat, they also believe allows for the body to sweat out toxins.  Lululemon was fast to jump on this band wagon because it meant a whole new line up for sexy new Yoga clothes.  Soon after that, some studios stopped offering not hot classes as the popularity rose for the sweat filled, music thumping, Cirque De Soleil type classes.  In fact, if you didn’t offer hot Yoga, your studio was soon falling behind the times.  Now we see studios that offer no traditional Hatha Yoga at all and only offer their own brand of Yoga taught by teachers that are only trained by them.

Fast forward almost 10 years and if I allow myself to look back, I have mixed feelings about this Yoga evolution. Whether I am a student in a class at the local studio (one of at least 10 in my end of the city, not including the classes available the gym and rec centres), or teaching at a studio, Lululemon is present at each and every one of them.  As a student, I have had teachers who have minimal training taking us through poses with the exuberance of a drill sergeant, only to have people praise them for the great ‘workout’ they just had.   The feel of the class is dramatically different from the St.Cuthbert’s classes I once attended.  I feel that the warm and welcoming openness is lost in the sea of spandex and crop tops.  My own practice alters during these classes as I force my body into poses it has no right being in, ignoring old injuries all for the sake of fitting into the model Yoga student profile, complete with Lululemon ensemble.

As a teacher, my classes have changed as well, to a more Vinyasa (sequence) filled class to ensure that my students get what they are paying for; a workout.  I reflect on this evolution and feel disappointed with myself.  I have allowed the pressure to ‘perform’ cloud my judgement of how I would like my classes to be.  The Lululemonized class I teach now is not the same as it was when I first began.  When the guilt overwhelms me and I go back to my roots and how I was taught, more often than not, there is a student or two leaving never to return to my time slot.  The class was not fast enough.  The class was not challenging enough.  The class was not advanced enough; at least in their heads it wasn’t.  I can’t really blame them.  The Yoga they started with is not the same as the one I did but isn’t it my job to show them all Yoga can give them?  Am I just as guilty as Lululemon because I am forcing myself to fit in to not only their clothes, but their version of what Yoga is?

But from this evolution, can we learn anything?

I find that lately, perhaps because of this guilt, I make sure I instruct my students to attend many different classes.  I express all of their individual benefits, but encourage them to welcome Yoga of all types into their practices, just as Yoga is for all students. I reiterate to them that the mind must listen to the body, instead of the other way around. Most of all I try, and will continue to tell those who ask, that Yoga is just as much for the mind as it is for the body.  If we are moving mindlessly through sequence after sequence, then we are missing out on so much that Yoga can give us.

Sure Lululemon can’t be held responsible for the guilt in my own practice, nor can I point the finger at their clothing for what I see as a slide in the purity of Yoga, but I change the way I teach.  Change is good, after all.


Nicole Jessome lives in Hamilton, Ontario where she can be found running in the trails or down at the waterfront. Nicole has completed many 5km and 10 km races along with 9 Around the Bay 30km road races. When she isn’t at work, she is teaching Hatha and Vinyasa Yoga, baking and writing for


17 thoughts on “What has happened to my Yoga class? (Guest post)

  1. I hear you.
    As a result, I teach yin. People know going in that it will be slow and still, a form of meditation.
    I like vinyasa, and I attend many hot and power yoga classes, but it is in yin where I feel the benefits of the stronger asana meld with the mental relief of yin.

    I encourage others to find there softer side too. It is hard to get past the no pain no gain attitude.

    But I think it’s coming.

    1. Yes! Agree. I love teaching beginners because they still have that sense of caution. They don’t feel the need to ‘keep up’. Yin is an awesome way to slow people down. 🙂

  2. Reblogged this on CRAVE and commented:
    A piece I wrote for Fit is a Feminist Issue blog about the changes I have seen in my Yoga classes over the years. Please check this blog out for some great fitness articles and interesting opinion pieces.

  3. I agree with you. After taking several classes, I just practice at home. While I realize there are physical benefits of a grueling yoga class, I do prefer to ease into the postures, hold and create more of a mind body connection. That just doesn’t happen when I am racing into the next posture (for me). Wishing you luck on changing your classes to meet the needs of yourself and your students.

    1. Thanks. Yes, I know of some people that have moved from studio classes to an at home only practice. You are right, there are fitness benefits for sure from a faster, more intense class, but we have to ask ourselves if that is why we are here. Have an awesome day!

  4. I was the most unlikely candidate for enrolling in a yoga teacher training program. Although I had never practiced yoga, it annoyed me for the very reason that you discussed in your essay.

    I’m a runner. I even stopped running with a group because they talked about yoga too much. I could not listen to them sharing another blow by blow sequencing of their workout, i mean practice. Yoga was not for me, period.

    Then, in my mid-forties, my lower back was in so much pain that I could not stand up straight in the morning. It came on fast and I thought my running days were over. It was at a Christmas party when my neighbor convinced me to try yoga for my back.

    A week later I signed up for a beginner’s series at a nearby yoga studio. I was hooked by the end of my first Savasana. Within three weeks my back pain was gone and I was running and attending class or practicing at home almost everyday. A year later I was sitting in a 200 hour teacher certification program. I was the oldest person in our group to complete the certification.

    Austin,TX has a thriving yoga community and is bursting with certified teachers. From my vantage point, my peers seem so young and polished. Everyone around me appears to have mastered some kind of happening angle to their teaching style and mastered the gymification, fast-paced, workout model.

    I’m a body-specific, biomechanics, no frills, need-to-move-and-breathe-for-my-sanity kind of practitioner. When I graduated I felt like an old work horse, strong and disciplined, but not the most flexible or cutting-edge. I felt out of place and felt intimidated to try to find a teaching opportunities.

    Fast forward through a couple of years. I have continued with yoga and am re-thinking teaching. I have been encourage by see a swing to slower in our city’s yoga community. There are many more yin and restorative practice offerings, along with more yin and meditative practice incorporated into flow classes.

    I see the trend as helping to remedy the homogenized, Lululemon image by beginning to remembering the traditions and philosophy at the heart of yoga, of which asana practice is just one piece. Rather than striving to keep up with the effervescence of youth, spandex and enlightenment, I’m concentrating on just showing up on my mat. Yoga is for all bodies and minds, at all ages.

    1. Elizabeth, thank you so much for the feedback and sharing your very similar experience. So many things rang true for me in your comment. I am hopeful that the trend here will move to a more slow paced practice and as you put it, a need-to-move-and-breathe-for-my-sanity kind of practice. I am sure I would thoroughly enjoy one of your classes! Have a great day.

  5. Thank you for the read. I started practicing Yoga in ’97 after my daughter was born, I found something at the community center and just needed to get out of the house for a few hours. Most of my yoga is self taught so I never got into the class aspect of things, but I have seen how it went from no studios to studios everywhere. Thanks for sharing.

  6. So appreciate this post, Nicole. I think it’s fair to call a spade a spade: Lulu made yoga a commodity in North America, locating a middle class, female demographic and telling them they needed new clothes, a “workout” in yoga form, etc. As a result we treat yoga like the gym, compete in our poses, compete with the clothes. Here in London, Ontario, the Yoga Shack has cornered the Lulu-style market, offering nearly exclusively hot yoga and catering to the upper middle class students at Western who come from the GTA. When it first opened it was a yoga studio: hot and not, small classes, welcoming, teacher-driven. Now it’s a business and a brand. After taking the only not hot class on their roster, which was an advanced asana class where we did handstand prep and similar, I asked the terrific teachers if we could have more. They were blunt: the owner would not let them offer more. And they were not even in the main studio!

    Spending time at an ashram in Kerala this summer changed my practice. I realized that Indian practitioners who practice for both bodily and spiritual health don’t do the yoga bullshit: no tight clothes, ceiling fans on to help with the humidity, careful, hands on work. Lots of chanting, but no “namaste!!” It’s part of life, not a performance of body and economic privilege. Now I’ve signed on with an iyengar studio here in town, Yoga Centre London, which is focused holistically and has absolutely no interest in yogic commodification. (Was Tracy’s recommendation.) I love it. And it’s not a “workout”: it’s a therapeutic practice that lets me protect my joints and recover, so when I AM at the gym or on my bike I’m working better than ever.

    Thanks again!

    1. Wonderfully put Kim. Agree so much with your comment. Thank you so much for sharing your experience. I hesitated when I wrote it but have been feeling this way for a long time. Thanks again for reading 🙂

  7. thx for your long perspective. I’ve only taken 1 beginner’s (hatha) yoga. I simply use certain exercises for stretching.

    But would agree with this in face of fashion trends: ” I express all of their individual benefits, but encourage them to welcome Yoga of all types into their practices, just as Yoga is for all students. I reiterate to them that the mind must listen to the body, instead of the other way around. Most of all I try, and will continue to tell those who ask, that Yoga is just as much for the mind as it is for the body. If we are moving mindlessly through sequence after sequence, then we are missing out on so much that Yoga can give us.”

    One of the simplest benefits of yoga for a neophyte like myself has been breathing and relaxation to de-stress. Either in bed or while biking a long hill.

    1. It is often beneficial for anyone, no matter where you are in your Yoga practice, do go back a do a beginner class. This often takes you back to where the poses and your mind should be. Thanks for you sharing your experience and reading too!

  8. Thanks for this post! I’ve been doing yoga for a while, but tend to practice sporadically– on recovery days and when my body needs some TLC. I’ve often had the experience of dropping in to an unfamiliar class to find a workout-driven, competitive and demanding practice that really runs counter to what I was looking for. Nowadays I prefer to attend ‘beginner’ classes despite not being a beginner, just because they go slowly and focus on the fundamentals. (A recent beginner class I attended spent 30 minutes teaching Warrior I, and the instructor walked us through each aspect of the pose and corrected our alignment as we went along. It was great!) I’ve never been to a yin class, but I’d love to give it a try!

    1. Awesome.. Thanks for reading the post and commenting. I do think it is a great idea to go back to a beginner class now and again. I love to have a fresh mind and see the poses again for the first time.

  9. Thank you for posting this. During Lululemon’s rise, I had the same feelings about the fashionization of yoga favoring the young lithe workout crowd over seasoned practitioners. Turns out Chip Wilson was just after sized zero women named “Ocean.” I became infuriated when they would use yoga philosophy to market their products. It is only fitting that Lululemon is now tanking in the stock market. Now the larger issue is the 200 hour yoga degree mills rubber stamped by Yoga Alliance. We need to have higher standards for our teacher trainings. Then things will return back to yoga classes that accommodate all shapes and abilities, not just the 20 year old cross fit crowd. Many blessings!

    1. Brilliant response! Thank you for understanding the idea of the article! I totally agree about the teacher training too. The program I took was awesome from a college and the instructors were so knowledgable. After all the studios in the area started to offer they version of training, there wasn’t enough demand for the one I took and they stopped it after 15 years. So sad to see. Thank you so much for reading 🙂

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