“The Downside to Down Dog”.

Via on Aug 16, 2010

Introduction by Bob Weisenberg, Associate Publisher

This is one of the best stories I’ve ever read about Yoga, no, make that “one of the best stories I’ve ever read, period.”  It’s a little long for an Elephant blog, but I encourage you to take the time to really enjoy it.

Kelly’s story originally appeared in Yoga in America: In the Words of Some its Most Ardent Teachers.  Publisher Deborah Berstein has generously made the entire book available free online and encouraged me to post selected chapters here on Elephant.  Thanks, Deborah!  We are grateful.  

The Downside to Down Dog

by Kelly Grey

“Neti Neti” is a practice in Jnana Yoga–a way of discerning the real from the unreal. In my yoga practice of 25 plus years, I have mostly discovered what is not yoga. And, I have tried just about everything, from living in the more austere ashrams (where you need special letters from your guru and years of service to their ashram to be allowed in, and they still may tell you to go away) to devoting my life to the “spiritual mother”.

I have stood on the banks of the Ganges, the Colorado and complete insanity. I have chanted the 1008 names of the mother and sat on rooftops in South India chanting the Maha Mrytunjaya mantra 108 times every morning and every evening for months on end.

I have reached my goal of completing 2nd series in Astanga yoga, only to wonder why, and I spent 8 years doing Bikram yoga every day, hating almost every minute of it (for at least the first 4 years), just trying to find my feet.

I have stood on my head, high on hashish and lain in the dirt channeling Neem Karoli Baba while I was stoned on mushrooms. For days after, I walked barefoot all over the dirt fields surrounding my house singing “ma, ma, ma, ma….” and laughing, and laughing and laughing.

I have been yelled at by swamis, cast out of spiritual groups, shunned by “yogis” and have lain on the stone floor of the Kali Temple in Trivandrum, India, sobbing and shaking for days, realizing that everything I was chasing was the unreal.

About eight years back, I had it all–everything I had been pursuing, desiring. I had a thriving yoga studio, I had students who respected me, and I had my rituals, my guru, my community, my faith. The man I had been waiting for all my life walked into it finally, asked me to marry him, asked me to have a life together, to teach with him and to travel to India.

We lived in my little one room solar house, hidden down a long dirt road, taught yoga classes together, made love, dreamed. I followed him to the UK to live, excited about the possibility of starting a whole new chapter in my life and I reconnected and reaffirmed my commitment to my spiritual teacher at that time, very intent on serving her and her work in the world.

And as all good stories go, it all fell apart, started to unravel… dissolve. I had the man I wanted and loved and I wasn’t happy. I had the faith and the roots of yoga deeply set in me from this life and many lifetimes of practice, and I lost my faith.

I stood in a sweaty little room in Mysore, India, day after day, practicing one of my favorite practices of Hatha yoga –Astanga vinyasa, and while in Chakrasana, Sheshadri, my teacher, crawled under me, picked me up by my feet and swung me up and down over and over, before landing me on my feet (dizzy and shocked) for the 50th time that month, and I just kept asking myself “why?”. What was the point? I had gotten really solid in both 1st and 2nd series (as many of you know, no easy feat) and I could care less.

I sat with my Scottish friend later that day in the courtyard, drinking masala chai and with his lovely accent and brilliant smile, he laughed a big rolling laugh and talked of the irony, how we as westerners come to one of the most screwed up countries in the world looking for enlightenment.

The next day, that too familiar, uncontrollable sobbing and shaking set in. For several years I had been experiencing long bouts of endless crying and shaking and heat and pain in my body so intense at times I would actually pass out from it. I wandered up to an Osho center, walked in, wild eyed, still racked with pain and told the man behind the desk that I needed something, anything, now!

Osho was known for his wilder side and more active meditations and this man suggested that we do the “No Mind” meditation. He took me into the back room, put on a tape and we spent the next 40 minutes pacing and gesturing and talking in complete gibberish. After this, a gong sounded and we were to sit silent for 15 minutes and then lie in savasana for another 15.

In all my years of yoga and meditation practice, I had never experienced my mind so completely empty, where I could actually watch the words trying to form, unable to, and the energy behind the words slowly trying to rise and build.

After we finished, the man told me how foolish he thought westerners were, traveling half way around the world, in often hard circumstances, wasting so much money searching for meaning in life. Before I left the center, he told me to go home, plant a garden, have a family, do simple work, be content.

Instead I wandered through India some more, through temples and holy towns and the dirt and the heat until I found myself way down at the southern tip of Kerala, lying on the stone floor of the Kali Temple sobbing, while a very intense priest chanted the names of the mother and bathed and adorned her in her many forms.

The heat in my body was unbearable at that time and lying on that floor day after day, crying was the only relief I could find. I loved the temple and the priest who sang and yet some words of Osho kept creeping back into my mind and heart. He said to be wary of the priests, the politicians and the gurus.

Ultimately, he believed that the gurus and priests were the ones that would keep you from entering the temple (your own true self) because they would tell you that you needed them to arrive. You needed their rituals, their darshana, their blessings. He believed that these gurus would delude you into thinking you were soooo close, only steps from entering the temple and yet as long as you kept your eyes focused on them, you would always miss it.

I was struggling with this idea because I had a guru back home that I knew to be genuine, the real deal, and I was very devoted to her and her life work. When I arrived back in the states, I threw myself into her “work” even more. Finding myself a bit discouraged with intense austerities and Hatha yoga, I moved toward gentler forms and devoted my time to Ayurveda and karma yoga–service.

I soon found myself ‘hand-picked’ by the guru among a few others to serve her on a deeper level. I was to help spread “the work” around the country and most likely beyond. We were told the time, the people, were ripe to receive this profound work and that we were so karmicly blessed to be in her presence in such an intimate environment.

Two years later and thousands and thousands of dollars later, after leaving a relationship and choosing not to have children (because it might interfere with my service to her and the world) and completely revamping all of my teachings to be solely in alignment with her program (in other words not being able to read a Hafiz poem during a class I was teaching for her because it might be conflictual) I was told by one of her devotees (because guru was too busy) that the whole program was to be dropped, that it was all our fault and that we were to cancel all future scheduled programs immediately.

At that time I had eight programs scheduled throughout the country, one that was to start in less than two weeks. One week before I got that phone call, I had received a phone call from the same devotee telling me that I was doing exceptional work, that I was to go forward with all of my programs and was given “blessings” from the guru.

Having the “rug pulled out from under” is an understatement. How about completely shattered, disillusioned and grief stricken? How about having my faith so completely demolished that I couldn’t watch a clip of the Dalai Llama without being suspicious of his “real” motives? How about the kind of heartbreak that you don’t really ever recover from, but you just simply move forward with a few pieces missing?

The most disturbing part that I could not resolve was that this was the woman who gave lecture after lecture about accountability only to completely dismiss us and her own actions with the wave of her robes and titles.

I was once told by a friend and fellow yogini, when I was first opening my yoga studio, that it would be the ugliest business I would ever get involved with. While other businesses are more upfront with their motives (money and power), the yoga community ended up hiding behind the words “namaste” and “we are all one”, while still having the very human emotions of greed and fear rolling around inside, dictating actions.

Since opening that studio I have been threatened, yelled at and lied to more times than I care to remember. I had a famous teacher’s nephew contact me under the pretense of “networking” while he was really trying to get information from me so they could threaten to sue me (for teaching a practice I was certified to teach in).

I had another teacher, whose idea of meditation (as she put it) was sitting in an easy chair with a bong in one hand and a martini in the other, come into my studio and start getting both teachers and students high. During that time I was contracted to teach yoga to kids in a recovery center just outside of town and somehow this same woman manipulated the situation and took over, getting me fired because I wasn’t “yogic” in my thinking, because I refused to work with her, because she was smoking hash on her way to teach kids in recovery.

I was told that we as yogis should always be peaceful and get along. When I eventually sold my studio, I did it as honestly as I could, asking for the price I truly wanted and knew to be fair. I was met by a couple who served me tea, talked Vedanta and peace and then offered me a ridiculously low offer (the used car salesman technique) and then eventually came up a little because they really believed I deserved so much more.

It was still way under my asking price but I was moving on, committed to my guru and I needed the money to invest into her trainings, so I took it. Two years later, I found out they were selling the studio for at least eight times the original offer I got.

I was asked to teach at a Vedanta center and then was told I couldn’t because I had also studied under another teacher (along with them) and they felt it was conflictual. Both my teachers were Vedanta teachers (you know–NONDUALISM) but both deeply believed the other to be controversial.

My friend was right–an ugly business. And the words Neti neti repeat again and again as I wander through this experience called “yoga”. Not this, Not this.

And then the question is “what IS yoga?”. Mostly I write what is not.

I don’t believe it to be the woman in robes preaching ahimsa and accountability and then not being accountable–someone who is more invested in her status than in truth.

I don’t believe it to be in the devotees who are so invested in their status (being close to the guru) that they ignore or close eyes to the hypocrisies and conflictual events that almost always arise, excusing it because we simply cannot understand the real motives of a guru or enlightened one. In my journey, my walk, on this earth we are all human and we are all accountable.

I don’t believe it to be in the yoga teacher who postures himself as the authority of your body (not much different than today’s western doctors) and tells 55 year old women what menopause is like.

I don’t believe it to be in the yoga superstars, the tantric sex gurus or even the austere ashrams (where I was very inappropriately hit on by two swamis and a bramachari and a Reiki master).

I don’t believe it’s in the ads, the new yoga tights, the namaste bumper stickers or the new approved herbal remedies that are 90 percent grape juice and less than 2 percent herbs.

I do believe it to be in the honest moments, the hard and the gritty and the beautiful. The moments where a man who loves you cares for you while you are sick and heartbroken because you followed a spiritual teacher that simply had a bad moment and can’t own it.

I believe it to be in the Mexican mother-in-law who knows absolutely nothing about yoga and is a bit overweight and struggles with her health, but has handmade tamales waiting for you every morning for breakfast simply because she found out you love tamales.

I believe it to be in this little back alley road, in an old gutted house with no electricity and wood floors that slope off and splinter, where people come every Wednesday night to offer a bit of a donation and chant and move and laugh together.

I believe it is the beauty and love and patience I see in my dog’s eyes every time I get so busy and wrapped up in teaching and work that we don’t have time for a walk.

I would much rather perfect my heart, to unravel and travel its depths, its unknowns and terrifying void and speak from that place, laugh from that place, love from that place, than spend the next 20 years perfecting my triangle or arguing about whether it should be five complete breaths in down dog before jumping back to forward bend or is it the exhale on the fifth breath where we jump.

Carlos Castaneda’s teacher Don Juan told him once that there is no path really, only heart. So basically, we can follow any old path we want and it will lead us nowhere. And if you follow a heartless path, that is all it will be. But if we follow the path with heart, then, when the day comes and we realize there is no path, we will have at least followed the heart.

Many years back, a beautiful Italian friend of mine died from AIDS. This woman knew five languages and had traveled the world studying with gurus, living in ashrams, practicing yoga and meditation. She was a body worker and healer and had gone through many forms of training in counseling.

In her last days, too sick to walk or run or stand on her head, she found so much joy in sitting on her porch and feeding the squirrels. She had also been an amazing cook, but could no longer cook for herself and so loved to at least feed someone still.

The day she died she wanted two things. She wanted to see her old boyfriend, a love of her life, one last time, and she wanted him to make her Tiramisu. She wasn’t looking for the key on how to do a perfect triangle.

The question is “What is yoga?” I believe the more appropriate question is what is your heart? Your voice? Your essence? What is your love, your deepest most personal truth?

We are all here together, to help one another, to grow, or as Ram Dass says, to provide grist for the mill. But when it comes down to it, in the end, I believe yoga (which means union) to be so deeply personal, that anyone or anything or any idea that stands between you and the temple should simply be removed.

(See all Yoga in America articles on elephant.)

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About Kelly Grey

Kelly Grey grew up on the east coast and wandered out west early on to find her home in the desert. She has been teaching, practicing and studying yoga since she was 15 years old, starting with TM and chanting with the Hare Krishnas on the Washington lawn, after getting kicked out of the Smithsonian for having no shoes. / She has advanced certification in Sivananda Yoga and as an Ayurvedic Practitioner and teacher. She studied Bikram Yoga and Astanga yoga intensively and is a Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapist. She is also a licensed massage therapist and Reiki master and received certification in India in Pancha Karma therapies and Abhyanga. / Kelly opened up and ran Yoga Shala in Arizona for eight years and started many programs still existing today in the local community colleges, private colleges and health clubs. / Her love is the river. Her guru is her dog, Penny Lane.

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71 Responses to ““The Downside to Down Dog”.”

  1. Don says:

    There is only one true path to enlightenment, and it is simply to live and accept the truth that is within all of us when we are born. There is no need to dwell on the past accomplishments of others. What one person did 2000 years ago is hardly relevant today. Find it in yourself and it will be true.

  2. K Sequoia says:

    How can there be no comments here? Am I in a small cave of the heart somewhere, gifted with this beautiful tale of devotion and tragedy – love gone wrong in all the right places?

    My life has been a struggle as well, to follow the path of the heart. Mine is so different than yours, but yet… so much the same…

    "But if we follow the path with heart, then, when the day comes and we realize there is no path, we will have at least followed the heart."

    Kelly, you ROCK!

  3. Tangled says:

    Very, very beautiful. Thank you for sharing.

  4. Kara N says:

    I almost stopped at "Osho." Ugh.
    It's usually a good idea to not assume people will ever be upfront about their "motives."

  5. Squirrel says:

    Absolutely brilliant. "Messiahs pointed to the door, but no one had the guts to leave the temple."

  6. mletag says:

    Beautiful & so powerfully honest. Thank you so much for sharing.

  7. WolfDancer says:

    Beautiful and brilliant. I didn’t find it sad at all. I found it touching, uplifting and powerful in its sincerity.

    Thank you very much for sharing.

  8. Linda-Sama says:

    love it. yoga is life.

  9. Aron Stein says:

    "Having the “rug pulled out from under” is an understatement. How about completely shattered, disillusioned and grief stricken? How about having my faith so completely demolished that I couldn’t watch a clip of the Dalai Llama without being suspicious of his “real” motives? "

    Is it possible that this Guru you put so much faith into was doing you a favor? It would not be the first time an enlightened individual pulled the rug out from under students who were becoming to attached to their duties. From your description it sounds like she did you a favor.

    It's sad that all of these things happened to you. But we all have to learn to not let things just happen to us.

    I read it twice to see what others were getting. Perhaps it was that they could relate. To me it was just depressing. Not the stories but the perpetuating cycle that none of us seem to be able to break with out some kind of ongoing tragedy.

    • kelly says:

      the saddest part to me is always the excuses for peoples piss poor behavior ~especially the so called enlightened… yes, ultimately this teacher gave me a depth of freedom that unless you go through this experience, i doubt you will ever fully appreciate. but it does not in any way excuse someones bad behavior.

      • Patti says:

        Exactly! That's my "take away" here – of course, we are all "gurus" (teachers) for each other. But a more highly evolved (dare I say enlightened?) individual should be a true role model and yes, while humans have frailties, at least acknowledge bad behavior. There is no excuse for that, not doing anybody any favors. I still believe in the old Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) saying, "Take what you like and leave the rest behind."

  10. Baji Milici says:

    This is so good, I agree with you. I love your journey, and this article is so very inspiring, I favorited it, liked it, shared it.
    Thanks so much ♥

  11. Carlos says:

    Always distrust figures of authority and always follow your own heart. Life does not wait for anyone. Life is now.

  12. indrasingh says:

    with love and MANY thanks for posting this x

  13. mksamui says:

    Thank you for sharing your life-experience with yoga here with us all and the openness within!

    At least you tried and walked the “path”!

    After all it’s all “grist for the mill” ALL!

    Or as Krishnamurti found that “Truth is a pathless land”!

    It’s what is all about, as you found out and presented here so beautifully honest.

    Yes, after all it’s still money, but money itself is not the problem, peoples attitude towards money, wealth, the imagined “security” supposed to come with it, fame, control all this is certainly big BS, it’s the people, their intentions, control freaks, greed, hate and envy… the three powers which keep the engine of a certain “World”, which many perceive as the “World”, but this “World” exist’s only in News, in Magazines, in Movies and the vivid Imaginations of those who are wrapped up in this incredible, but very simply material Dream of their very own desires, wants and wishes, bare of clouds, trees, wind, water and the heavenly bodies, the Gunas, the modes of Nature or the primary qualities of Nature, keep this all going, it’s the core software of everything in the universe and of the people roaming the planet.

    Ego, Ego, Ego – Prakriti, the three gunas at work!

    Those who haven’t conquered this, who only talk about it and try to teach others about, will occur to the watchful and critical as hollow and so the whole illusion will come crashing down, sometimes in full force on ones very self.

    After all it comes down to a very few very simple chores: be friendly, be good, hold hand, share your cookies, if necessary your pillow, your best dress with the one next to you, do your practice, Sadhana if you wish, (it does help, without the attachment) and keep smiling, detach!

    Iyengar once stated that:

    “You do not need to be going to the Himalayas, you can create the
    Himalayas in your own place.”

    As I wrote in my blog: This occurred to me one day many, many years ago, when people asked me why I am not going to India anymore, I answered: “If someone has realized what this “India” is all about, this “India” is everywhere!

    Guess we all are far away form being “perfect” sure, what ever we will try, every bird can fly through the air, we have to use airplanes, every fish can remain in the water, we build subs, every frog can walk on the water – we need ships… and today we even have full lenght to replace the eye with a camera, the feet with wheels, our abilities with zillions of tools and machines and mankind is just on the way to replace their brains with computerized gadget’s of all kinds, why do so many people walk around “plugged in”, I call them “plug-ins”… they are off and gone an iTunes….

    The question arose one day: “Why not just take it all “as is” and why not just be thank full that it all is as is?

    It’s already perfect, who want’s nay, who can perfect the perfect?

    Who?

    It is our inability to see, to perceive, it’s our mind that jumps around like a bunch of monkeys around Monkey temple in Hampi…

    It’s us, our very own struggle, the hunt for the guru, the craving, the longing, what precious motives there ever are – it’s still longing, desire driven, if this hasn’t been realized, there is still a long, long path to be wandered in wonder and despair, adorned with the crown of thorns of ever reoccurring sorrow and misery, laced with the adornement of tears and grim thoughts.

    Let go, there is nothing to be achieved, cause there is nothing really to be gained, nothing wrong with yoga, old scripts and temples, statues and stuff, they just are, it’s us, our very own mind, wrapping us in new illusions faster then the blink of an eye and holding us, our soul at random for ransom!

    There is nothing wrong with Ashtanga Vinyasa, the eight limbs… it’s certainly NOT about perfection of xyxyxyasana, as I call it 9999 ways of self torture, the ZEN of making ones limbs into a perfect knot.

    Just for the sake of this “I”, this “me”, this “I am” “one day I will become” a great yoga master, I attained: ^^$^$%&%#@ …. this is exactly what will hinder the journey into the “temple”!

    And it’s the way, not the destination!

    Like this exercise of “knocking out the mind” talking absolute gibberish and then relax, just to find an “empty” mind… I remember being a kid, doing these really outrageous things, like screeming the H_ll out of it and then when everyone was upset seeing all these stunned faces – I laughed my but off! On our conditioning of becoming an “adult” we stop doing these crazy things, society calls this “mature” – I call it a brain dead and affirmative robot in a human package – look around, all these unhappy people tied up in what they call “their” lives – they created their very own perfect material grave, including the casket, all, the walking dead!

    When death comes on swift and silent wings, where will this “me” this “I” all these accumulated possessions, titles, all the fame, the lovely garden, the house, the pool, the collection of gems and rare coins, antiques and art go?

    If one manages to go there now, he/she will have arrived, NOW!

    “…by definition Brahman is capable of manifesting within its absolute existence innumerable, limited, even distorted and contrary forms of its being. We may further deduce that an infinitely extended, infinitely diverse manifestation, replete with objects and beings ranging from the most unconscious, the most vile, to the most conscious, the most beautiful, the most divine, would be perfectly consistent with an existence that was Absolute….”

    - Aurobindo-

    …have some cheesecake, a masala chai, cheer up and get a life!

  14. Alison West says:

    A wise hermit near Mysore, the late Swami Nirmalananda, fed his guests abundantly and would advise them to stop being "seekers" and to be finders–to enjoy now the thing they were looking for. What one might call Atha Yoga.

    A boat cannot set sail without leaving the shore, a child cannot be born without leaving the mother. Great teachers point their finger to the exit door, which, in a monastery for example, doesn't necessarily mean leaving, but rather giving up dependence on another. If one is lucky, there will be someone there to offer pointers without trying to take the helm.

    The overall impression I got from your article is that you have an amazing gift for service, but perhaps lack the ability to stand up for yourself–selling your studio for a fraction of its worth, or being subject to abuse such as you describe ('"Since opening that studio I have been threatened, yelled at and lied to more times than I care to remember.") You seem to feel that these were things happening to you, and in which you had no hand.

    Just yesterday, a man who has no yoga practice at all answered my question "How are you today?" with a broad and cheerful smile, saying "Well, I'm above ground. The rest is up to me!"

    With any luck, your present direction will take you from strength to strength as you give expression to your true gifts.

  15. Alison West says:

    Yes, there are a lot of unappetizing things happening out there. And most often they are in fact swept under the rug.

  16. [...] posted a wonderful excerpt from Yoga in America (which you can read online for free here) called The Downside to Down Dog. Yes, I was intrigued by the interesting title. Then I started reading and went beyond intrigued to [...]

  17. barefootlotuss says:

    namaste

  18. mksamui says:

    The fourth Klesha: DVESHA – Repulsion, disgust, the other side of the coin!

    If we perceive something as wonderful, automatically everything which seems to be the opposite, turns into an object which we reject and thi swill lead to perceived suffering, it’s da machine inside the head.

    on the path it is very likely to happen that the student, the seeker will be confronted, with all the little “me’s and I’s” fighting for their existence, their survival, that can cause a lot of upheaval and emotional eruptions too…

  19. Annette says:

    Thanks for sharing Honesty; that's what I found to be the real gift of your contribution – the courage to speak truthfully and be open. Allowing the veils to be ripped of our existence is like gauze peeling away skin … everyone's wound is different, but it always hurts. For others to let-on that their paths are somehow less painfully honest might point to a less thorough self-contemplation of their own lives. I find it harsh and unnecessary and lacking the capacity for empathy for others to judge a piece of non-fiction, and more useful instead to transcend the knee-jerk response of judging to receive the grit and grains of truth that are buoyant in this piece. Rugs are pulled out when houses are being cleaned; it's necessary and messy but eventually the house sparkles, and the rugs themselves, wear out and are forgotten. Same goes for charlatans or any illusion we can think to be duped by- they themselves are mirages and externally unsubstantial. What is useful is to examine and contemplate our reaction, attachment and relationship to these mirage-like-projections of an idea of reality, as this will reveal within oneself the very unstable, unreal constructs out of which we have fashioned the thrones from which we rule our kingdoms of consciousness. Keep sharing, everyone !

  20. Linda says:

    In your life, you’ve taken on the role of the victim. Don’t dwell on the past and all of your so-called hurts. In true yoga fashion, “be present”, only now matters.

    • kelly says:

      you are forgetting the other mighty gems of yoga ~ truth, accountability, non-stealing, purity within and without…
      sorry you missed the point of the story… we all have a different path ~ mine is about truth, not denial and not pretending the world of yoga and gurus is anything beyond human. if you can find enligtenment in a bumper sticker ~ have at it!

  21. tamara says:

    I love your honesty. So much of what you shared resonated, although our paths are very different… I don't even know where to begin. Thank you, thank you for sharing your story in the way that you did. It is moving on so many levels. It brought me to tears.

    "And if you follow a heartless path, that is all it will be. But if we follow the path with heart, then, when the day comes and we realize there is no path, we will have at least followed the heart."

    This is one of the most beautiful lines I've ever read. Love to you.

  22. tamara says:

    I don’t even know what to write or where to begin. I want to spend an afternoon with you, lol. So much of what you shared resonated, although our paths are very different… Thank you, thank you for sharing your story in the way that you did. It is moving on so many levels. I am sitting here weeping.

    “And if you follow a heartless path, that is all it will be. But if we follow the path with heart, then, when the day comes and we realize there is no path, we will have at least followed the heart.”

    This is one of the most beautiful lines I’ve ever read. Love to you.

  23. Estes says:

    Thanks for posting. For other ‘seekers’ who read this – consider studying martial arts in addition to your practice. Anger is to be cherished. There are multiple instances in the story where perhaps the best advice would be to kick some ass. Ass kicking, thoroughly embraced by zen and the samauri tradition is an area where the western mind feels right at home. We’re all cowboys deep down. A real friend will have your back – no need for fancy titles or accomplishments.

    • kelly says:

      i love your comment! thank you so much! i so agree with your comments about ass kicking… i have a samoan friend who used to say when they were kids, if somebody was an ass, they would beat him up, and he'd stop acting like an ass…
      simple.
      my heros of past were on fire (christ, geronimo, crazy horse) ~ denial and dellusion doesnt work for me.
      i see owls in my dreams

  24. (From Elephant Facebook page:)

    Christine Baker Lmt
    Wow, this is an excellent story, I'm impressed. It reminds me why I go more with my gut than letting other people tell me how to "think".

    Jeanell Elizabeth Jordan
    Wonderful… So good I am going to share this with friends.

    Kim Sequoia
    This story reflects life, not just a 'yoga' life. Christine, I agree – I already speak to my girls (3 and 6) all the time, every day, about listening not just with their ears, but their heart, their gut. it treats the cause and not the symptom. Other people are more than happy to feed you symptoms.

    Kristen Young
    beautiful article.

  25. (From Elephant Facebook page:)

    Lisa Macedo Teixeira
    Ⓥ This.. This is awesome. So well written and how fortunate are we that she wrote this?! Having a mind that often reverts to being a wee skeptical, I'm totally comforted by this article. I feel reassured that going forth with an open heart yet a nice dose of "beware" is the way I'm going to happily continue along this journey. Om shanti.

    Kendra Bailey
    I love that story!!!

    Deborah Quartz
    I have been wondering alot lately about many of the things she speaks of and of course my heart was always saying "follow me"…it is nice to know we are not alone in our thinking.

  26. (From Elephant Facebook page:)

    Pilar Zalamea Kimbrell
    Excellent! Shows how often the so called teachers are far from that – and your dog is a true teacher…We all know this in our hearts!

    Scott Parker Mast ‎
    "Carlos Castaneda’s teacher Don Juan told him once that there is no path really, only heart. So basically, we can follow any old path we want and it will lead us nowhere. And if you follow a heartless path, that is all it will be. But if we follow the path with heart, then, when the day comes and we realize there is no path, we will have at least followed the heart."-from the article……this lady definitley knows what she's talking about. And here all this time I thought the music industry was the worst…….

    Lana Winter
    oh man this just had me in tears at my desk

  27. (From Elephant Facebook page:)

    Stephanie Smolik
    this article has a lot of truth and valid points, although it is rather bitter sounding… i would say that for me, yoga is truth.. my truth for myself and how i live that truth each day. when yoga is taken as a religious practice, it gets very murky… as all religions do… devoting your life to a god, a religion, a guru, is giving up ones truth and swallowing someone else's interpretation of truth. i agree with many of the author's observations about the dark underbelly of the yoga industry, but it is, in fact, an industry, just like insurance and health care. everything has its downsides. thanks for posting.

    Zo Newell
    ‎"For those wounded by civilization, yoga is the most healing salve." ~Terri Guillemets

    Katie Marshall Noss ‎
    @Zo ~ right on quote. love that.

    Em Taggart
    Thank you so much for sharing.

    Tara Skye Goldin
    I love this. It is so right on. I have to share this.

  28. (From Elephant Facebook page:)

    Bob Weisenberg
    Waylon, I swear, Kelly's story still floods me with emotion and still gives me gooses bumps every time I read it.

    Kasey Luber
    I adore this.

    Dana Nicole Sweet
    Fantastic!

    Laurie Schafer
    You have such great articles on your site, I could just read your posts all day and never get a damn thing done. Thank you, Elephant Journal. I heart you. :)

    Alison Reid-Bretell
    Thanks for re-posting! It's an excellent article.

    Dana Langer
    Best article ever

    Tamara Levitt
    Loved this article! so beautiful. TY! posted a comment twice cause the website blacked out temporarily – oops! Feel free to delete one of them, lol.

    Rosalia Herminia Sequeira
    thank you!

    Heather Petty Weston
    Yes! Thank you!

  29. Janet says:

    Beautiful and amazing article! Thank you for encouraging a very important dimension in the practice of yoga =)

  30. kelly says:

    thank you claudia ~ i so appreciate the sincerity

  31. Kyle says:

    Great article.

    Having grown up in the Advaita Vedanta tradition I am all too familiar with some of these pitfalls, but thankfully did not experience many of them in such a personal, visceral way but mostly vicariously through watching others in our community in Southern India go through or perpetrate the same things.

    I think this is the real problem with some Eastern traditions, this somewhat antiquated teaching that you’re ‘required’ to have a guru on the path. Western esotericism does not tell one to do this. It engages one to find one’s own path and let the teacher(s) come when you’re ready, whomever they may be. (even if that means just waking up to the teachers all around you – your friends and enemies). Not that there aren’t a few clingy and cult-like societies in this tradition as well but I find more freedom in it, less dogma, as well as more cultural compatibility to my racial background. It’s more about becoming in touch with your higher self than following one individual or sangha on the same path. It doesn’t require me to reject my own ethnicities’ cultural background or take on some kind of white guilt or self-loathing as part of the process. I do my own thing, make my own ritual and meet my own teachers, all the time, and renunciation of anything is optional, not a litmus test of my devotion.

    I’ll say this.. I feel nothing but love for my family’s guru, and wish to this day that I had connected with him more and not rebelled like I did. I don’t feel the same way about certain members of his family or especially all the people around him, his followers who behaved in a cult-like brown-nosing manner, not at all of which was his wish. IMO they ruined the experience for me, as I was young and not quite mature enough to understand that I could experience him and his teachings beyond all the BS that was surrounding him.

  32. shashidhar sharma says:

    Sorrow is caused by thinking acts have motives behind them. Realize that there is no inside nor outside and you won't be sorry even while in sorrow….

  33. [...] is another of my favorite chapters from Yoga in America (see also Downside of Down Dog and Boiler Room Yoga).  This article is so good it would be perfectly at home in The New [...]

  34. Joie says:

    Thanks for sharing! I found it so deeply honest, because we are all in this journey finding who we are individually, what makes the difference is how we live that journey, so there is not good or bad, its just how we do it, respecting us first so we can respect the rest, we not always have everything so clear to know what's the best for us, so we can get "lost" or we can make "mistakes", mainly never have regrets just learn and keep on walking with a big smile.
    Yoga to me is a re-connection with me, that brings me peace, love and balance, and if i can share that to the people that i practice yoga with i will keep on doing it.
    Thanks.

  35. springstay says:

    Wow. That title is an understatement. While i am currently a complete sloucher on the spiritual path, maybe it was my upbringing or education which screamed critical thinking at me, but i have never quite understood the need for a guru or the idea that explicit teachings will have explicit results like…enlightenment. The one phrase that has stuck with me for about 20 years is….after enlightenment, chop wood, haul water. do Your work. Being on a spiritual path doesn't excuse any one of us from having to open up, examine, whatever you want to call it, our Own heart and mind and body. Not the gurus. And being a woman, the idea that i should listen to Anyone else about how my body should work, pretty much left me at the age of 15. Great article, but felt a bit sad that people have to go through SOOO much to find their own center. And push themselves so hard to do it.

  36. divineyoganista says:

    Holy shit! Talk about a Victim Archetype! About time this Sexy Goddess gains back her power!

  37. Kimberly Johnson kajyoga says:

    Dear Kelly,
    I am so glad that this was re-posted because I missed it before.
    Your writing and story is poignant and true and speaks to my heart.
    I am disturbed by the level of both judgment, arrogance, and righteousness in the comments. I am
    not sure why people feel compelled to offer advice or spiritual wisdom here. To me
    you sound like a person who deeply engages life, who lives with her full heart. I do not
    hear you eliciting pity nor a victims response but honestly conveying realities that people
    simply DO NOT want to accept about the world of yoga and spirituality. If read carefully, your story
    speaks of somewhere very brave and genuine, sincere in her desire to know the truth and willing
    to traverse many traditions and boundaries and lines in the name of that truth. I think of that
    as courageous, not victim-y. I don't feel sorry for you or sad for you. I feel like I am walking beside
    you in curiosity and awe of your strength.

    Thank you so much for sharing this!

    • Kelly says:

      thank you thank you thank you… yes, i also dont feel sad or sorry for me… thank you for getting it… and yes, the arrogance, the advice, the projections… its all mostly annoying to me as well ~ but so heartening when someone like yourself does get it.

  38. HermosaYogini says:

    Beautiful! Moved me to tears and reaffirmed what I already know to be true.

  39. lek says:

    What a trip, but she seems to have finely come home. All the best.

  40. Annette Trnka says:

    Thank you so much. Wonderful article.

  41. nutterbutter says:

    In your life, you've taken on the role of the victim. Don't dwell on the past and all of your so-called hurts. In true yoga fashion, "be present", only now matters.

    Exactly this ghastly attitude is why I am staying as far away from the yoga scene as possible. Kicking people when they''re down is not spiritual. Its nastiness.

    The seekers scene is dangerous because it cons us into divesting ourselves of our egos and ignoring that the scene is full of hungry sharks. The sharks have their egos but con us into thinking our own egos are the problem.

    Thats like getting rid of ones immune system before flu season

  42. Brandi says:

    Thank you

  43. Sabrina says:

    Enlightening! Thank you for your courage and for writing from the heart.

  44. OSL says:

    Loved this. Currently doing yoga training and calling bullshi*t on lots of the things that are being presented – dogma, people presenting themselves as spiritual teachers and then acting out & not taking responsibility for it. My question is however: what do you think it was that made you vulnerable to making another your 'guru', instead of listening to your own authentic voice, from the outset? This is a question I ask myself….

  45. Dearbhla Kelly Dearbhla says:

    Thank you for sharing your story and what a beautiful resolution in the lily pad at the center of your own heart. Two observations, which I hope come across in the sprit they are intended:

    1. it doesn't sound like in all of your decades of study, sadhana and world travel you actually came to an understanding of viveka – discernment, the ability to evaluate and make practical judgments about how to proceed in our lives..

    2. You really come across as a victim. I'm not sure if this is your intention, but your story is written from that viewpoint, at least with respect to your experience in the yoga world.

    Wishing you the best with all of your endeavors,
    Dearbhla

  46. Evania says:

    Thank you for sharing Kelly. Our journeys are definitely a sacred path that only we as an individual can sort out – with the help of all our teachers of course. But the greatest teacher is within. I had an epiphany one night (one of many, many) where I was told that "every THING and EVERY thing is a tool to find our way back home". 20 years ago after finding myself in the gutter of life, I was blessed with an experience where I believe I did go home – to a place of love, safety, all knowingness, light – and it has been my carrot to be the best I can be – not that I am not perfect and a being worthy of love – just that I can continue to be more full of light, more loving, more kind – and fulfil more of the highest potential that each of us has. Your story is inspirational and real – even if we are living in the unreal. :) Blessings.

  47. crowharp says:

    "If you meet the Buddha…kill him.' ~ Linji

    Thank you for speaking your truth, and giving others permission to do the same. Those who attempt to counsel you to let go of the past and see only the now may have forgotten that if we dismissed the past entirely, we would touch the beautiful glowing ember, over and over and over…

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