I can’t begin to tell you how many articles I’ve read lately on how yoga is, well, I don’t know how else to say it, so I’ll just say it plainly:
A sham. A joke. A commercial circus. Longtime practitioners are remarking, “I’m done with yoga. DONE.”
They say that there are too many teachers who don’t know what they’re doing and how we are spiritual snobs. “Judgmental, opinionated, narcissistic psychopaths with more issues than Vogue,” was one such description, which I find a bit incongruous. Another one I saw recently said, “Never fucking listen to a yoga instructor…they are full of opinions that may or may not be appropriate for you.”
Now I must clarify that I very much like and respect the author of this latter outlook and know where they were going with it – to listen to yourself above all others. Agreed. But it again forced me to deeply consider the question that has been dogging me for a long time now…
Where is this – this yoga thing – all going?
Ten years ago, when I opened my yoga studio, all I wanted to do was teach yoga. I didn’t set out to be a teacher. I didn’t have any certifications or training to teach for several years. I just loved it so much that when I would tell people about it, I guess I would get so excited that it was intriguing. Then they wanted me to tell them – teach them – more about my experience. Maybe it’s like when you tell someone about a place you’ve visited that you love and long to return to – your whole being changes when you recall the experience of the people, the food, the place you stay, the walks you take, the sights you see; and people say, “I want to go there!” That’s what yoga was like for me when I first started practicing and teaching. Now? I hardly even know what to say anymore, because it sometimes feels like that beautiful, bountiful, untouched place I loved to go has become overrun with strip malls and glossy billboards. The other day, when I was searching on Zillow for a house, in the listing I was perusing, up popped an ad for YogaGlo.
What is happening?!
It sometimes feels like yoga has lost some of its authenticity on social media the most I suppose. Everyday there are millions of photos, views, likes, comments and one-ups on our favorite social media apps that are shaping the idea of yoga today. I find many to be highly interesting and educational, which is personally what I look for. I look for a learning tip on how to alleviate back pain, or a good ratio of kale to strawberries in a smoothie. I look for an opportunity to appreciate someone by tagging them. I also look for inquiry into truth versus a pulpit discourse on how to live. I look for humor above all. All that being said, I really have no interest in dissecting the guts of social media. But I do have an interest in weighing in on all the good that yoga is doing. As a leader in the yoga community, it is my responsibility to speak up and protect the good. Liking a post or a comment that essentially judges the judger or rallies for all that has gone wrong is like looting a mom-and-pop grocery store during a social uprising, albeit safely behind a computer screen.
It’s not brave.
It’s not solving anything.
It’s not finding a new way or holding anyone up. It’s an insult to all of the people who have, over the past 15 years in this yoga explosion, blazed countless trails for careers, businesses, transformations, life changes, health improvements, healed relationships. The list of what is good about yoga is endless, and a courageous few were strong enough to lead the way, several of who were and still are my teachers. And people followed. And now, like all movements and leadership, it seems yoga and its constituents are starting to feel an almost political-like homicide.
Does that sound dramatic? Well so does the label of “judgmental, opinionated, narcissistic psychopath.”
So does the dominating communication tactic used widely in all scenarios of challenge today, of saying, “I’m done.”
To me, it sounds and feels like polished, professional bullying.
I’m a solution girl. If I were a character on TV, I’d be Olivia Pope, wearing my white hat and gladiating. Maybe in real life, I’m a Yoga Gladiator.
So what are we going to do in this new age of New Age? Because like all things, it can’t keep spinning like this forever. For now, yoga will continue to grow – more people will practice, more studios will open, more teachers will teach, more money will be made, more trails will be blazed. And that is all good. And, all of that means more fodder for opinion, judgment and competition. And at some point, enough people will see some dirt and decide that this just isn’t for them, that it’s just not why they got into it. And that’s when it will tip, because you can’t turn the volume up on something and leave it there forever. I predict what will really happen in the yoga world if it keeps spinning around glamour and grown-up bullying, among other less than empowering things, is simply resignation and indifference. And obviously, attrition. We see it already happening as people are quietly and not-so-quietly wandering away from yoga studios and finding what they used to find in yoga in other activities and communities.
I just looked up the definition of attrition. It’s defined as the act of wearing away or the state of being worn away; a constant wearing down to weaken or destroy.
What a shame. What a loss.
This makes me ask a bigger question: how are we contributing to the greater good of the personal development and awareness of ourselves and the people around us… What are we doing to elevate our communities and the human race, far beyond our own personal agendas.
That was a question. But I ended it with a period because I’m really fucking serious about this.
I’m so serious about this that I want to publicly declare what I have contributed to this phenomenon. I have contributed a business, a business model, taxes, and jobs. I have contributed teaching and sharing of what I have been taught. I have contributed to the Internet, social media and the advertising of yoga. I have contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars. I have contributed my opinion, my support, my thoughts and the sharing of my personal and private life to the global yoga community. I have contributed mistakes, judgment, lapses in judgment, pride, fear and contraction. I have contributed unfiltered selfies and professional, Photoshopped photos and posts that all make my life look amazing, which, even when I am sitting at my desk with my head in my hands, or on the end of a phone call with someone telling me I would be facing cancer, is. It is amazing. Every moment, even the painful ones. And I have contributed that. I am accountable for my contribution to the spinning.
And so I want to contribute to the re-route.
I don’t teach in my studio so much anymore. This is bad and good for business. Bad because I own it and it’s important for me to be there to interact and teach. Bad because I miss it. Bad because people don’t know where I am and sometimes the feedback is that they feel abandoned or like I’m never around. So sometimes they – teachers and students – go elsewhere.
But it’s good – it’s great – because to me it’s of utmost importance that my teachers get a chance to shine and develop themselves over me. It’s good because where I am teaching – in addiction recovery centers, crisis respite units and community centers – I am teaching to people who might never otherwise even hear the word yoga. I do this because teaching in these environments keeps my feet on the ground. It keeps me from floating too high into the spinning social-media-yoga-fantasy-land. It keeps me real and constantly – constantly – humbled. I may still be on the Internet doing an online class or advertising a training, but in order to balance that out, I must keep myself in the daily trenches, just flat having my ass handed to me. Along with so many other reasons, this is partly what keeps me from sometimes wanting to say, “I’m DONE.” Every day that I walk out of a respite unit, I want to do it all over again. I want to work fiercely to protect the good.
The other day, I started a new class at a community center down in a really tough part of Fort Worth. I had just taught a class to a group of women in a residential crisis unit up the street, and because there was no real parking at the community center, I walked from one place to the other. As I walked past prostitutes, homeless people and addicts, I remembered what the coordinator of this center said to me a few weeks prior when I was touring the facility with the Adult Programs Director. She said, “You’re going to teach what? Yoga? Here?” Then she chuckled, not condescendingly, but almost sympathetically. “Well, nothing has ever really worked in this facility. So good luck to you.” And she turned on her heel and went back inside the office that she shared with two others that was as big as my bedroom closet.
Inside the tiny facility were no less than 30 people seeking respite from the outside world. Some were watching the Price is Right on the super-loud TV; others were playing dice games. Several were walking around in filthy socks that were full of holes and hanging off of their feet like little kids’ socks do. One long-haired, lip-glossed man was fully-clad in his/her army fatigues – complete with boots and sunglasses and honor pins. Another sock-footed man, with cerebral palsy, James, was talking with his friend, William, who had wiped-off vomit all down the front of his shirt. And there I stood with my yoga mat, thinking, “I am in way over my head.”
My fancy photos and clever captions had no place here. My $118 yoga pants and my thoughts on chakra healing meant nothing to anyone here, not even myself. My knowledge about anatomy or Sanskrit or whatever other useless facts that I used to think meant so much – meant nothing. My ability to “choose” a positive response over a negative reaction didn’t mean shit to these people. If I sat down and tried to “life coach” them – then I can’t deny that I might just deserve to be told I was a narcissistic psychopath.
So I set down my mat on a chair along with the others that the department graciously purchased from their tiny budgets, and I just walked into the crowd of people, and started to ask them how they were. I just saw and heard them. That is all.
I wasn’t always able to do that; to be with anyone and just see and hear. I learned that from my yoga teachers, because that is what they were doing as well. I learned how to take a long, hard look at myself as often as possible, and ask, “who am I am being for other people right now?” I don’t always get it right. But I know that had I not listened to them – had I blown them off as opinionated or judged them as narcissistic – I wouldn’t have learned how to be for others. It was because of my time respecting and studying with my own yoga teachers and practicing on my mat that I knew what to do in that community center, and how I got four guys, including James and William, on their mat doing yoga that day.
When I walked out of that center, right in the middle of the hood, I cried. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, I knew that I was fulfilling my purpose, and that all the other craziness that we can sometimes see in in the yoga world – somehow, that stuff contributed to me being there in that moment. It all matters. You thought I was going to say, “none of it matters,” didn’t you? Wrong. It all matters. It all contributes. Everything people say and do matters. I decided to turn what felt like a cyber yoga bullying into something great. An opportunity to prove those conjectures false and hold this practice up to its highest. That moment of being for someone else far above myself was what will keep yoga alive for decades to come.
I got into my car and checked my phone, and saw an Instagram post with a girl doing a very advanced arm balance and it read, “I had one of my classes filmed last week for an upcoming project…I was terrified…and a friend told me to stand IN LOVE, not fear!” I sat my phone down and I looked around at the trash and the people sleeping on benches. I looked with a new sensitivity at all of the things in my immediate environment that could definitely induce fear, and I closed my eyes and was grateful that I was being shown both sides of life, and that we all go through the same stuff, just in different ways.
It’s all good. All of it.
Let’s stop tearing each other down.
A solution? How about we just keep sharing what we love. You don’t need a certification to share. You don’t need three years in an ashram to share. You don’t need to know how to stand on your hands to share what you love or ask someone how they are, or show them how to put their hands together at their heart. Committing to this, moment after moment, will just naturally force us to dig deeper, uncovering new moments where we see who we really are. We will learn our lessons as we need to, whether it’s from a social media post or at a homeless shelter. We will get humbled in ways only the deepest parts of our souls will know, that no one publicly will ever see or witness, and frankly, that’s nobody’s business to weigh in on, much less diagnose, but our own.