The New Elite Class

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When we think about “elite class,” we imagine people who hold a disproportionate amount of wealth, privilege, and political power. Many of us probably perceive “elite class” as an old term, but we see the distinction among the rich, poor, and middle class.

But among these three categories, there is another one that might not seem so obvious. Highly educated people who consume organic food, and practice yoga, are creating a new group, which researcher Elizabeth Currid-Halkett calls “the aspirational class.” Whatever you want to call it, this new class exists—and you might be part of it.

This new elite class doesn’t hold a disproportionate amount of wealth, but it has enough money and time to buy organic food and go to yoga. The majority of people who follow this lifestyle don’t realize that they are considered an elite class—they simply think that eating organic food is good for health and practicing yoga is good for body and mind. The reality is that they make these choices because they can AFFORD them—everybody would love to eat well and nurture body and spirit—if they had money and the luxury of time. Scientists have also discovered that poverty changes the brain and the decision-making process is affected.

I buy organic food and go to yoga, but I never thought I was part of an elite class because I am not rich and powerful. In the West, yoga is seen as an activity for people who can afford it. In countries like India, spirituality is available for everybody, rich or poor—Yogananda, in his book “Autobiography of a Yogi,” says that spirituality in India can be found everywhere. People grow up learning yoga and meditation—we took their traditions and transformed them into an elite activity that people do if they have the money to attend classes. I wish that these disciplines were more part of our culture, and could make their way into the brain of poor people as well. If yoga and meditation were passed down from generation to generation, everybody would have access to them, and I believe that these practices would also help poor people cope with the difficulties they face.

If you want to become a yoga or meditation teacher, you have to attend courses, which are costly. You need to be accredited to teach, but this stands in contradiction to the core values of these disciplines. In India, ordinary people share their knowledge—we created a barrier. Highly educated people, who buy organic food and attend yoga classes usually hang out with other people who share the same interests, and that’s how the new elite was born—yoga contributed to the creation of this new class.

Yoga and meditation retreats are the ultimate elite treat; some people go to deepen their spiritual practice, others just to be part of the club. Have you seen the tv show “Enlightened” on HBO? The main character, Amy, goes to an expensive retreat in Hawaii and raves about it, but the truth is that she is lying to herself. She doesn't know the core values of spirituality—she was sold the promise of renewal in a beautiful landscape—that's all.

If you think that you are part of this new elite class, I invite you to think carefully when you talk about your lifestyle with people—they might not be able to afford your same choices. No need to hide, but be humble, don’t judge and acknowledge your privilege.