The concept of Ikigai and the drawbacks of yoga

(Part one of a five-part series on the yoga industry.)

In my previous post, I subtly mentioned I had retired from yoga.  That seemingly tiny mention was noticed by several readers.  (People legitimately read my writing – thank you to those of you who still do, I am grateful.)

I came across the concept of Ikigai some years ago then promptly forgot about it.  The word came across my desk again so to speak this past spring.  This time around, the concept stuck to me like bubblegum in little girls’ hair.

Collins Dictionary defines Ikigai as ‘reason for living’.

The definition implies finding your passion, a pursuit that can cause those of us who have multiple interests to go a little batty.  One passion?  Finding one seems like an insurmountable goal.  The search for one passion at the expense of ignoring the others can feel like we’ve severed an arm or a leg or a big toe* or all the above ridding ourselves one by one of arguably very important appendages.

When you look a little closer, you’ll notice that Ikigai asks us to evaluate our profession on four different spectrums: whether you love to do it, whether the world needs it, whether you’re good at it, and whether you’re paid for it.  Let’s take my experience as a yoga therapist as an example.

I’m very good at it.

The world needs it, especially where therapeutic yoga for chronic conditions is concerned.

But then there’s the shit sandwich.

Shit Sandwich

Elizabeth Gilbert calls the part of your job you don’t like the shit sandwich.  I loved the artisan bread part of the yoga sandwich made up of teaching, program design and implementation, training of other teachers, improved quality of life of its students, and the ability to bring people together especially those who felt ostracized by the stereotypical yoga clique.  On the other hand, I hated the shit sandwich filler of politiques, indoctrination, superficiality, ostracization, lack of regulation around teacher certification (anyone and their dog can offer and take a yoga teacher training program), consumerism, poor earning potential, lack of opportunity for further education that would increase said earning potential, and what I would consider blatant exploitation of teachers by studios and conference providers.

So what’s a yogi to do?  Follow the wisdom of Ikigai.

No matter the reason, a lack of two of the four Ikigai axes had broken me down financially, emotionally, and psychologically: what I could be paid for and what I loved.

I dig teaching, consider myself an anatomy and physiology nerd, and got off on empowering people and helping them feel better about their bodies.  On the other hand, I had nowhere to go with my own learning and career.  I wasn’t satisfied with being a Certified Yoga Therapist, I wanted more.  The kicker was that unless I wanted to spend ten years becoming a doctor or psychologist or the like, there wasn’t anymore.  What that meant was it was time to move on.

What is your Ikigai?

Take the next week to think about your current situation.  No, not the kind you Instagram about, the kind where you look at your life and ask yourself truthfully whether or not it’s really the one you want.  Whether yours is linked to work, as mine is, or family, or community, how does your raison d’être measure up?  Does yours hit the bullseye?  If not, I hope you find the courage to adjust your sights.




(*Incidentally, our big toes are more useful than we’re made to believe.  Crucial players in maintaining our balance, proper gait, and our running ability, our big toes are parts we want to keep.  I could give up the running though.  Who likes running anyways?  But I digress.)

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