Friday, May 25, 2012

Brand Identity

Well, here I am flying from Arizona to Tennessee. I haven't written in a long time it seems. I was in Arizona teaching the third part of The Shravana School of Yoga Path of Practice Intensive with Darren and I had a deadline I was working with for my next Yoga International article, which took up most of my writing brain power.

So between writing that article, teaching for 6 days straight,  and the whole Anusara situation continuing to unfold, I didn't have much left over with which to write.  I was deep in thought about the whole Anusara situation and  I figured that as I thought about it,  I might get more clear about how I wanted to contribute to the discussion. But oddly,  the more I sat with it the less I wanted to say, which, as we know, is sort of rare for me. So, here it is almost two weeks since I last wrote anything and I still have no real wish to comment on that situation and its current events.  I have had conversations one-on-one with people about it and have been able to respond personally to peoples' concerns but I have found my times on the front lines of that discussion to be more and more taxing to me personally. I know all the details are interesting and important to many but as I search my own heart, I keep coming back to the recognition that what I want to spend my time an energy on is what I am doing now that I have resigned my license to teach Anusara, not on the reasons why I left or the reasons why others are leaving or  why others are staying or what I think should happen to the brand, to John Friend, etc.

Like I have written a lot lately, I recognize that people need to process at their own speed and that people will move through the challenges of the situations at different rates and in different ways. Mostly, I am interested in the conversation that exists on the other side of that very important phase of work- the conversation that deals mostly with how best to continue to practice, study and teach. I am also in a bit of an inquiry about how best to conduct myself in the rapidly changing world of yoga where the notion of the day is "You are your brand" and personality so often trumps practice and we are putting our private lives on display and turning them into marketing tools to stay competitive as teachers. I am finding the whole thing  a bit exhausting from both ends.

See, I am not sure that I actually want to be a brand because I think that creates some pretty difficult boundary issues. I do not really have it all figured out so I am, like I so often am here, thinking  a bit out loud. But I keep wondering about what happens to me inside, once I exploit my life and practice for marketing purposes, and spend a lifetime selling  Christina Sell instead of asana, pranayama, mantra and meditation. Look, I get that yoga, in a lot of ways has always had a very teacher-centric thing going on and that the teacher-student relationship comes right along with whole package called yoga. I get that.  And I get that if someone is going to teach us something and we are going to endeavor  to learn something, its super great when we like the teacher, we relate to them, find them inspiring, compassionate, etc. No problem there.

But something inside me these days has an uneasy feeling about where we are as an industry and where we are going and how I want to participate in the whole thing and how I don't. It's so easy these days to see outer success and emulate the things we see certain successful teachers doing without asking ourselves if those actions are  right for us and if, what  the outcome those actions achieved for that person would actually be "success" for us.

I was talking about this in Tucson recently and using my own experience in Anusara as an example of why we need to be checking in with ourselves A LOT about what we want and not just allowing ourselves to be dragged in the popular current where trends and group-mind determine for us what we want, how we apply ourselves and what we get.  For instance, as an Anusara teacher I was handed a whole set of parameters to implement as a teacher- Classes were supposed to be fun, light-hearted, and inspiring. I was expected to use  heart themes in  a particular way and generally, to sequence in a certain way. Whether I liked it or not students were always clapping at demos, chatting in the practice space, expecting  lots of partner work, lots of talking and were used to an ongoing narrative throughout class rather than being inside themselves, with their breath and with their practice.  I was even beholden to an expectation that people needed to feel good when they left from having glimpsed their true nature,  etc. which is a fairly high expectation for a 90-minute public class, in my opinion.  But honestly, it's not like any of that, in and of itself, is some kind of major  problem for me its just that over time, I found the culture of all of it had a life of its own and felt less and less  like "me" as I continued to grow and change.

And "success" in that world involved bigger events, more traveling and so on, not necessarily, deeper states of consciousness, more profound stillness, quieter silence, more sophisticated conversations, etc. Again, I am all for yoga parties and events that are jovial, social and dedicated to the simple joy of being together and practicing and so on. I love to put on music and roll out a mat with a bunch of people and enjoy moving, breathing and being together in community and creating a  celebration through upbeat and extroverted asana. No problem. Anyone who knows me knows I love that.

But I also like the other stuff.  I like  the quiet practice space where I can hear myself breathe and where I am directed inward and not outward. I like the community support that isn't necessary verbal but is exerted mostly through presence, consistency and shared dedication. I appreciate  the magic that happens when people commit to  practicing  together over a long period of time and who understand that yoga community is not a social contract with cliques, games and politics but a spiritual contract to support one another in practice. I like the quality of energy that exists in a room after a practice when no one is talking, clapping or chatting.  And find I am craving this aspect of practice more these days as the pace of life is so fast and the speed of change is so rapid and the thread of emotion is so intense for so many.

So, while all the marketing folks these days are saying "brand yourself"  (and I get that on one level its true that even "not branding yourself" becomes your brand so its good to be conscious about what you are doing and how best to represent your work in the world)  I am also a bit wary of how that approach runs the risk of  taking us away from seeing that our yoga teachers are there to teach us how to practice, not to entertain us, amuse us, fascinate us, or otherwise take our attention off the teachings and the practice. And I think  that we also risk ourselves in the process of "being our own brand" if we do not have clear boundaries about  what part of us belongs to the public domain and what part of us is ours and what part is for the intimate circles of our lives, etc. Once we make ourselves into a "brand," we have to make sure that we are in charge of that brand and not the other way around. With social media being what it is these days, we can so easily give ourselves over to public consumption and be left with nothing  with which to feed ourselves.

So anyway, this isn't the cheeriest of postings today, but it is what is on my mind. See, this next evolution of teaching isn't being handed to us by Anusara or John and so we have a very lovely opportunity to author our involvement based on what the past has taught us. But I am finding that as I search inside for how to write the next chapter I am having to revisit and revise a fair amount. All in all, it feels like good work.

More soon.


Patti said...

Great post Christina. I too am very uncomfortable with the idea of "branding". I know as a business practice it is valuable and I see how others have capitalized on this idea in the yoga world (and I don't mean capitalized in a negative way necessarily) but I balk at the idea that what I have to offer and who I am can be contained in a name, a tag line, a logo. THat is partly because it changes and shifts just like my practice. It can be, as you said, lighthearted and chatty or more silent, serious and focused. What I want to be is a conduit for the teachings. I want to offer this practice to others and let them find what it means for them. There are advantages to having a brand so you always know what you are going to get (Starbucks, chain restaurants) but I am willing to set those advantages aside to open up to the possibility of what may come with the practice. Thanks again for a thought provoking post.

Christina Sell said...

Right- And I think the brand could incorporate the idea of fluidity and change but the more I think about "brand identity" I get a little nervous since I think there is this line we cross where we get "identified" with our brand and yoga is about the opposite! Like you, I get the purpose of being a good business person as a yoga teacher but honestly, I am not sure we are on the right track with this. Mulling it over.

And I know that some of the "branding" people are doing good work out there its really just that I am not sure we are not cannibalizing our lives more than is healthy.

Randall said...

This reminds me of a conversation I heard on NPR today. A marketing guy talks about his tireless efforts to increase his name recognition and influence, by raising his "Klout score"--once he learned of such a thing--and then finally abandoning it. Here's a link to the audio if interested:

Olga Rasmussen said...

So love this post! Similar to what my ideas have been of late!

You are doing great work!

With love,

Marcia Tullous said...

Thank you for this, Christina. I appreciate what you've brought up to think about. I am most definitely in that place of stepping back and checking in and am just not ready to jump into anything at this time. I am not interested in just jumping from one thing to the next. I feel I have to so much to work out and think about after letting go of Anusara and that path. Teaching feels good and strange all at the same time. It's a new beginning for sure, and I have much to learn. Of course, I feel like that is always the case for me. Anyway, I am totally rambling now. I will stop.

Thank you.

Lots of Love,

Marcia Tullous said...

Thank you for this, Christina. I appreciate what you've brought up to think about. I am most definitely in that place of stepping back and checking in and am just not ready to jump into anything at this time. I am not interested in just jumping from one thing to the next. I feel I have to so much to work out and think about after letting go of Anusara and that path. Teaching feels good and strange all at the same time. It's a new beginning for sure, and I have much to learn. Of course, I feel like that is always the case for me. Anyway, I am totally rambling now. I will stop.

Thank you.

Lots of Love,

Dina said...

I am definitely floating in this same boat right now. Thank you for sharing.

With respect,

HJCotton said...

It is a great post and a well thought one. Regarding branding, I think it is a personal decision to make between non-branding with less monetary rewards and more personal time for growth or the opposite. I have been enjoying you, Noah's and Darren classes at yogaglo after you left Anusara, and your Shalambasana class was a kickass. I feel that there is a liberating quality to your teaching after you left Anusara yoga as you don't have to abide by the script of open heartedness. Your 2/3 classes are well plannned, serious, entail focus and hard work, and the body feels good as a result. Your classes provide me with a stepping stone to improve my practice and be a better practioner.
My experience with the open heart theme is that I can feel ungrounded after class, and in Anusara 90 minute public classes, there is less emphasis on Inversions minus handstand, forward bends and twists.
In my opinion, you are such a skillfull teacher that you need no branding as you worked hard to earn your place in the yoga world.

Ran said...

Thanks for great information you write it very clean. I am very lucky to get this tips from you.

Thinking of Sellinga

Christina Sell said...

Randall- great link. thanks.

Olga- thanks- as we know, we are living in interesting times.

Marcia- I think many people are feeling that way- looking for a meaningful and productive way to step back, assess, grieve, heal, regroup and then move forward authentically. It takes time.

Thanks, Dina- nice to see you here.

Thanks, HJ- I have enjoyed your comments on the various blogs and forums over these last few months. I know for me I am enjoying a certain kind of freedom to "just teach" instead of having to "teach Anusara yoga". I think about this a lot and while I always felt that at the heart of all the protocols about Anusara was the intention to guide us into good teaching, the reality was that it all got constraining and limiting for me and I spent more time modeling how to teach than actually feeling free to teach. I could spin a far about that for sure as its part of the whole ball of twine that is unravelling now.

Glad it's helpful, Ran. thanks for reading and commenting.

Alex said...

I write from the perspective of a student. (I took a weekend workshop from you last December.) And a business owner.

And I am always interested in your posts and the evolution of the School of Yoga, but this particular post resonated with me differently, perhaps because of the student perspective I can offer.

As I read your post, my immediate and visceral response was "why would you want to market yourself?!? That's what John Friend essentially did, and look how that's working out." So as a first step, perhaps you may wish to reframe the question you are asking: "how do I brand the School of Yoga, as influenced significantly by Darren, Noah, and myself, but as an entity separate from each of us and not necessary tied into our identities of self?"

And I also encourage you to incorporate much of what you have been brainstorming into your mission, vision, and values, which of course inform your brand significantly. Part of what you were saying, about turning inward sometimes, about hearing your own breath, about community, and about so many other things can indeed inform the School of Yoga in very fundamental ways...and much of what I've heard (read) you say over the last few months seems to point to you wishing to be a mentor, sometimes guiding the students' evolution and sometimes having their evolution inform the evolution of the why not use that student-centered approach as an essential part of your brand?

After all, yoga is not about the teacher as teacher per se, at its very core.

Erika said...

This post rings so true for me. To read these words have only made it more and more clear why I was drawn to study with you now. There are no accidents and I am so grateful to dive into the vastness of this practice with you. Grateful for all of your willingness to speak honestly. Grateful to be walking this path with you.
So much Love

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