In short (for those who don't know USC) Urban Sports Club is a platform - a piece of software - where by becoming a member you pay a monthly fee that grants you access to a large variety of fitness related activities across town. For a user, it sounds pretty amazing, doesn't it? I totally agree! This is NOT the point I would ever argue, I totally support wider access to a variety of movement and health related modalities and teachers. What we - your yoga teachers - want to spread awareness of, is the effect USC has had on our profession and on the yoga scene in Berlin.
This piece is not written to shame or chasten USC-members or teacher/studios choosing to continue working with USC. It is simply to give you enough information and background story, so you can make a more informed decision whether you continue with them or not.
This is simply my own view, story and decision!
I want to zoom (pun intended) out for a moment and look at this issue in the context of the time we are living in - unprecedented, full of uncertainty, we are off our autopilots, our patterns and habits interrupted, more collectively united in our predicament than ever before.
On first glance this issue of ours with USC seems like a storm in a tea-class - tiny and irrelevant when viewed in comparison to the bigger crisis of Corona. Yet, if we are open to shift our perspective from only seeing the horror of the virus and become willing to explore some of the inherent messages it brings, you will realize how all these seemingly small life decision begin to shape what our new "normal" will look like. I hear people say this all the time: "when things are normal again", "when normal life is restored" - and I wince. I'm no prophet. Anyone who says they know what will come of all this, is full of shit. No-one knows! But what I know for sure for myself is I am not at all excited or hopeful to return to the same-old-same-old. The mindless consumption, busyness as a way of making meaning, productivity as the measure of success and companies like USC, Amazon, Spotify, Uber - consolidating middlemen - making better value for customers (and mega profits for their investors) at a huge expense to the people actually doing the work. The rampant consumer capitalism at the expense of the beauty and diversity of the natural world and true richness of our own souls ... I'm not so keen to simply "hit play" after this collective "pause" and get on with our gallop towards the extinction of the human race.
I have been feeling and hoping for a shift for some time now. When the massive fires engulfed Australia as we entered 2020, I thought to myself "this is it". I was expecting some natural disaster(s) soon after to hit Europe. I have not been overly hopeful about the odds for humanity to change their habits quickly and significantly enough to alter our course away from an ecological suicide.
And then Corona happened. I do not want to diminish or belittle the horror and grief that comes with it in any way. One of the teachers I have been following for over a decade - Adyashanti - often talks about building our capacity to "hold the opposites". The closer we get to the truth, the bigger the paradox. A mature spiritual perspective is able to hold the opposites without making one more significant, better or right than the other. This virus brings pain and loss, triggers our individual and collective fears around uncertainty, scarcity, lack and money. Each of us faced with ourselves in this vacuum and liminal space in-between - here lies the hidden gift of Corona. An opportunity for a deeper exploration of our "personal interior" (term by Thomas Hübl) our lives, values, choices, fears, programming and shadows. This is the yin calling (haven't you heard me say this in class hundreds of times!). The other half of the cycle - calling us to slow our rhythms, a time of disintegration, death, letting go of what is not essential, meeting the darkness within. A healthy wholesome integrated yang that is in service of the collective good, can only rise out of this deepened connection, reflection and pause.
On a macro level, the Earth is taking some deep breaths right now - the reduction of human created pollution is visible from space. This gives me hope! This excites me! This is why I want to keep teaching, as I believe our embodied practices have been preparing us for exactly this. Resilience is the capacity of our nervous system to stay present and calm in the eye of the storm, to discern what is fear, compulsion, self-abandonment while allowing for vulnerability and uncertainty and guiding our one next step towards choosing what really matters, fulfills, serves and restores us back to an interconnected relationship with life.
Yet, hopefulness and positive thinking alone are not enough to usher in the longed-for new world. Genuine personal change combined with wise and efficient social action is essential.
...The time has come when we are no longer able to disown any part of ourselves,
our species, or our planet. We are one being. To preserve this grand vision in all our actions is the formidable challenge before us today. (Georg Feuerstein written in 1992).
LETS LOOP IT BACK TO USC
I cannot stay true to my values and continue working with USC. It is as simple as that! Especially in this field I am operating in - yoga, mindfulness, increasing awareness - if I keep my mouth shut and won't stand up to an unhealthy power dynamic and monopoly that USC is brining to the yoga scene, how can I keep believing that a bigger shift towards human evolution and greater fairness is possible? Grass-roots, awake, yin-based leadership is what is needed right now - you and me aligning our actions with what are our non-negotiables. Respect, fairness, inclusivity, being in service of a collective are some of mine. What are yours?
I am scared to do this - don't get me wrong. This is my food, my rent, my means to keep teaching and learning. But I feel this seemingly small choice stands for something so much bigger. This is me showing solidarity to my community, this is my commitment to be part of creating a future that differs from what we used to call "normal".
Forget about USC for a moment and think BIG - what would you like the "new normal" to look like? And then as importantly - what are you consequently doing/choosing to usher it forth?
Nothing is ever purely evil or purely good. In order for me to be completely transparent with you, I have to also say that I have benefitted from USC over the years. Many of you probably have found my classes via USC. I consider myself lucky as I already had a stable following before USC entered the scene. Plus the spaces where I teach are big, so the loss I had by lower USC rate was compensated by having more people joining the class. I am not great at self-promotion, so via USC I most likely got more exposure than I ever could have managed through my own means. And I am grateful for that. Yet the classes began to loose their intimacy and community feel, the lines behind studio doors like night-clubs where people had to come half an hour early to get a spot, many regulars stopped coming because it was getting too crowded ... the hype was on. Yoga had become a product to consume - following the consumer capitalist path of "consume as much as possible by paying as little as possible"!
And then Corona hit ...
Having already established monopoly, USC was free to dictate terms to continue profiting from a crisis on the backs of others. A fact from USC's on Linkedin profile - their growth in the last 4 years has been a staggering 5840%. WHAT?!? In the context of health and ecology, things that grow at an unnatural rate like that are considered parasitic or cancerous ("How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy» by Jenny Odell). This growth is earned on the backs of studios and independent teachers not receiving a fair pay for their work. Period!
We have lived for so long in a culture that worships growth over fairness and sustainability. We can change this! In this big collective pause, we can clearly see who are the people, organizations, companies that rise up to support and who are pushing only for their own self-interest.
SOME DETAILS TO PONDER OVER ...
Beginning of this year I started to pay VAT and USC refused to add that 19% on top of my already quite low rate - so my income fell 19%.
At the end of last week, the majority (but not all) teachers collaborating with USC got a bulk-email, notifying us about the new rates for our online classes which were a joke and a slap in the face. There were no negotiations, I had a phone conversation with my representative there just a few days before and there was no mention of this. There is now a maximum limit on how much they pay teachers per class per month (regardless how many people join).
The points below were originally drafted by my colleague and friend Valerie Hartwich. I've added my own edits. Once more .. this is not about shaming or chastening USC-members in any way, but simply to give you enough information and background story, so you can make a more informed decision whether you continue with them or not.
- We understand and welcome people’s desire to have a diverse and more generous range of practices, as this can be very healthy and can create a system of referral between studios/teachers.
- Use your USC membership as a temporary tool to explore Berlin’s yoga world and when you’ve found your favourite studio/teachers consider supporting them directly. Our individual choices can make a difference in shaping a responsible living.
- It is a fact that both studios and independent teachers can’t work without USC anymore. It is a fact that today USC is a monopoly dictating terms and prices. Teachers individually have little bargaining power, collectively we might have a chance, with your support change is possible!
- Did you know that USC is not transparent about how much they pay teachers/studios, and why there are such stark differences, ranging from 5€ to 10€ for an M member for example. USC can unilaterally change the rate of pay at any point and the contract with them specifically states that partners should not be involved in bad publicity of USC, despite unfair and unequal dynamics.
- Teachers and studios are increasingly reliant on it because people are getting used to a one off low price for a vast and generous amount of movement and sports options
- The low pay means that teachers and studios have to aim to fill up their classes, leading to packed environments and lesser attention given to individual students.
- In most cases the rate paid per student by USC is vastly below the drop-in price most studios or teachers need to make a living.
- As a user, did you realize that the money paid to teachers/studios covers a lot more than just the actual class. It has to cover all the other costs/work required to run a class, as well as all the education/trainings necessary to teach safely and skillfully
- How do you feel about paying 60 to 100€ for a pair of leggings, yet knowing your independent teacher gets paid 6€ for a class by USC?
- In many cases individual teachers are happy to find solutions with students if money becomes an accessibility problem. Currently my classes are all donation based, anyone wanting yoga has access!
- Know that teachers are uniting, not only complaining. We are actively in collaboration with each other and wish to offer you a healthier, more sustainable alternative to USC. But this will take time and won't happen overnight. Until then you can still choose what your euros support.
Thank you for reading!
Just that you know - I am no bad-ass revolutionary. I had to write this ... whatever the outcome. I listened to a podcast with Stephen Jenkinson recently where he speaks about what it means to be a "deeply claimed person" and how to stay faithful to what you are born into. In the same podcast he describes how a generation becomes a generation due to the claims the times they are living in make on them, and whether they undertake the spiritual work asked of them or not ... This has stayed with me deeply! These questions - what are these times asking of our generation? Am I faithful to what wants to move through me? How about you...