The Plague of Woo Woo.

Via on Nov 19, 2010

Signs that your friends have chugged the yogi kool-aid

It’s not that I don’t believe in the profound healing qualities of yoga. It’s not that I don’t think that having a good attitude is better for one’s general health and stress level. And it’s for sure not that I don’t truly understand that lululemon makes better yoga clothes (albeit ones made in China).

I just think there is a line of sanity.

Here in the Bay Area, yoga is not just a hobby, an exercise method, or a stress-relief tool. It’s an entire culture. Now, you might argue that yoga was always intended to be a holistic lifestyle choice. After all, yoga is an 8-limbed path—not just an asana class. I respect, admire, and appreciate those who truly get the fact that “Ashtanga” actually means (in Sanskrit) “eight limbs” [of yoga].

Like many people, my first attraction to yoga was about how it made my body feel. Not being a natural athlete, yoga was the first type of “exercise” that resonated for me. My yoga practice began about fifteen years ago in Washington DC, with a weekly class at the YMCA taught by a Sivananda devotee named Avatar. (Yes, Avatar.) Along with a range of simple and under-strenuous poses, he would often throw in breathing exercises (aka pranayama) and esoteric nuggets of wisdom that went right over my head at the time.

Once hooked on yoga, however, I slowly came to truly understand the depth and possibilities inherent in the yogi life.

Asana is a doorway for Westerners, but once we’re in, we are offered limitless possibility in terms of self-growth, health, and spirituality… if we want it. There’s a reason people are passionate about their yoga: it has the potential to save us, to change lives. It’s understandable that yogis can be fairly righteous about their yoga.

But the yoga scene can be contradictory, and it can also be rather vapid. It’s the latter that from time-to-time induces eyeball-rolling seizures in an East Coast girl such as myself. Over my years of working and playing in the yoga world, I began to notice an insidious virus of woo woo turning people I once thought of as grounded, real human beings into platitude-spewing automatons in lulu shorts.

The following are some of the subtle signs I’ve documented that indicate a friend is becoming a yoga zombie:

  1. When they can’t get through one single dinner conversation without becoming verbose and impassioned about yoga asana. I think this is a phase all yogis go through, and I certainly don’t begrudge those new on the yoga scene their time. But at this point in my life, I don’t want to get stuck at another dinner party where 9/10ths of the conversation happens in Sanskrit.
  2. The next context clue? The name change to a more “spiritual” moniker. We’ve all seen it happen: a friend goes to India for three weeks, and comes back with a new name. Once “John,” they are now “Shanti Shakti Shivaya.” This is when the credibility tipping point has occurred for me. I have several friends who no longer respond to the name I’ve spent a good long time memorizing, or, even worse, refuse to cop to actually having a last name, making them real hard to categorize in my iPhone.
  3. And then, out of nowhere, you email them about some small thing and get back an auto-reply with the greeting “Namaste, blessed soul…” Not, mind you, because they are out of town, but because, with their busy local yoga teacher one-class-a-day schedule, God knows when they might find the time to email you back.
  4. Suddenly, every miniscule personal problem you might blithely mention is immediately and mindlessly addressed with a sentence that contains the words “abundance” and “positivity. And they start to refer to everyday activities like gardening and making soup as “manifesting.” And should you happen to be in a lousy mood or have bad luck for five minutes? That’s right, Mercury is in Retrograde again.
  5. When a yoga teacher (and isn’t everyone a yoga teacher these days?) pays big bucks to commission a web site illustration of themselves posing atop a pile of skulls with one hand in gyan mudra, the sanity line has been crossed. Although, I have to say that at least that particular person has a lucid and coherent biography of themselves up on their web site. Have you ever tried to choose a yoga class based on teacher bio alone? Most are composed almost entirely of adjectives strung together in one long, nonsensical run-on sentence that causes a mild epileptic fit in even an amateur grammarian. If you suggest to them that they might want it to, well, MAKE SENSE, they look at you with the dead eyes.

Because of all these things, I now consider myself a recovering yogi.

I still love yoga in its essence, as a practice, and even as a lifestyle choice. But when I look around me at the people that I respect, admire, and adore, they’re not the ones waxing poetic about the healing power of goji berries and trying to convince me that water molecules are happier if you talk to them nicely; they’re the ones just simply being themselves, and being real. And if those people happen to be yoga teachers, then score one for real yoga!

About Joslyn Hamilton

Joslyn Hamilton is a freelance writer living in beautiful Marin County, California. She is one of the co-founders of Recovering Yogi and also launched Creative Truth or Dare. Joslyn has an imaginary spice + skincare line called SimpleBasic. She is a functioning craftaholic and counts hiking, cooking, reading and rabid tweeting among her many chaste vices. Reach her directly at joslyn@recoveringyogi.com

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38 Responses to “The Plague of Woo Woo.”

  1. Brianna says:

    Bravo!

  2. awesome!

    seems though it's not only yogi folks who get neck deep in woo (and what rhymes with woo?) – I see it in most New Age types, too, and even newish Buddhists

  3. Padma Kadag says:

    HAHAHA!!!! Can we be blamed though? Concerned only for the "outer"?… With every possible opportunity, here in the west, to gain an authentic spiritual realization and lifestyle…we waste it. Politicians forever are creating images "to appear as if…" Our jobs are unfulfilling and we consumerize happiness with accumulating "outer" things for our satiation. We make no time, we use our time for what is easy. A spiritual life which is diligent in really striving for realization is all encompassing. It is much easier to read a book or blog or "appear as if" with a name, jargon, and the clothes to match.

  4. To me it's like Tai Chi-it has measurable real world benefits, ie relaxation is caused by the brain telling the body to release chemicals, not (nonexistent) chi. Yoga without the woo is the same thngy. Awesomeness.

    Kriss

    • Scott Robinson YesuDas says:

      I dunno, Kriss; I think you've set up a false dilemma between chemicals and chi. When I taught a course on Music and Trance at an evangelical Christian university, I had to address the student's fears that I was identifying most of what they called the Holy Spirit as the result of their cultures and their brains. They feared that I was despiritualizing the world by focusing on brain chemistry and cultural expectations. But remember in Charlotte's Web, when Fern's mother asks Dr. Dorian what he thinks about the writing in the web, and he says that everyone says it's a miracle, but no one realizes that the web itself is a miracle? That's what I told my students: the web itself is a miracle. If chi is a product of neurochemistry, does that make it any less the divine energy of life? To my mind, it makes it moreso.

      Great fun to read as always, Joslyn!

  5. Gayle says:

    Simply excellent.

  6. Carol Horton Carol Horton says:

    Ha – helps balance out my coastal envy and make me happy to be in the down-to-earth Midwest. Not a whole hella manifesting here – some, but not too bad.

  7. I grew up in the Bay Area in the late sixties. Sounds like it hasn't changed much!

    I love your piece, and it really made me laugh. But my good friend Shanti Shakti Shivaya is deeply offended that you don't like her name.

    Bob W.

  8. Andrew says:

    I like the cut of your jib, Joslyn.

  9. AMO says:

    Fascinating post from the girl who thinks it's her cats Karma to kill birds…

  10. [...] Read all the signs that your friends have chugged the yogi kool-aid, on Elephant Journal. [...]

  11. nathan says:

    This is so funny! Thank you. I posted a piece about soto Zen zombies, inspired by your post, on my blog.
    http://dangerousharvests.blogspot.com/2010/11/sot

  12. ha ha~ love this!! especially the spiritual name change…so guilty of this! LOL
    you might like the new facebook group OMG things I wish I could say in yoga!

  13. Marcus says:

    A warning about that goddamn web site would have been nice. Sheesh! Scared the piss out of me. Bomast much? That music! he is too too too much.

    • Marcus says:

      That being said, Mr. Yoga is pretty damn hot. What? I'm just sayin'…….

    • Emmanuelle says:

      I agree, a "not safe for work" warning would have been nice, that music – and the pile of skulls – left me in shock.

      That said, me likey a bit of woo woo sometimes, there are some occurrences in life when you need to believe that everybody's a Carebear. Except when I'm having a bad day, which is when I reclaim the right to complain, whine and moan all day long (like today for instance)

  14. Blake Wilson Blake says:

    I see that I have won you over to the Dark Side!

    Namaste

  15. LOVE it. Up with yoga; down with woo-woo!

    Namaste, blessed soul (tee hee),
    Bernadette

  16. April says:

    Totally get this…since I live in LA and there is a lot of over the topness and lots of yoga teachers who are ambassadors of sports clothing retail stores whose clothes are made from petroleum, images of said teachers with celebrities and lots of cliched images of them in all sorts of poses that their students can't even preform…oh yes, they are all actresses, dancers,screenwriters and other industry types and they are really good at promoting themselves but not good actually teaching. Not true for all…I'm just being…dramatic…lol Lots of good teachers here..the best in the world really…but there is the residue of the wannabes and the less skilled..The path to yoga is not something that anyone should take the least bit lightly…but all is good and to serve from the heart but seriously wannabes understand yoga is a skill that should be preformed with the highest intentions and skillful actions…And really you don't need to change your name to be in alignment with the divine…Shakti Doo Doo Spitfire oxox

  17. KTA78 says:

    I loved this article! I, um…saw myself in one of those examples, too. I'm getting better, though!

  18. Caroline says:

    Ommmmmmmmm…….

    You wrote EVERYTHING I was thinking for one long six months while taking a 200 hour teacher training. I love all aspects of yoga and truly praise it as a strong foundation for healing and thriving, yet I have no intention of becoming Shakti Kali Ganesh Shivaya who levitates each morning. I like my original name – Caroline – and I enjoy finding yoga everywhere (even in a cup of hot caffeinated tea), not just in an ashram with a guru.

    Namaste, blessed soul.

  19. [...] when I read Joslyn Hamilton’s very funny article, The Plague of Woo Woo: Signs That Your Friends Have Chugged the Yogi Kool-Aid–a heads-up for those of us who fear our yogi friends may have crossed the “sanity line”–I [...]

  20. Kar says:

    I'm sort of stunned by how judgmental this article is when the core of yoga teaches non-judgment. I'm finding this from a lot of Elephant Journal articles. I thought this was a pro-yoga, pro-mindfulness website, not a too-cool-for-anyone-sarcastic-self-righteous forum. Oh, I'm sorry, am I being judgmental? It kind of hurts, doesn't it?

    I understand that you need to make your money by getting published, but as a reader who comes seeking more information about yoga and kindness and conscientious living, this kind of article turns me off. I've been seeing a lot of them pop up on my Twitter and FB page. I'm afraid I'll be unfollowing EJ from here on out.

    • Hi, Kar. Thanks for writing. I'm glad you told us how you feel.

      Here at Elephant we bring on great writers and turn them loose to write whatever they like. Then we look forward to vigorous conversations that ensue. Naturally (and purposely) this results in a lot more controversial and edgier content than you will find at most well-read Yoga publications.

      In this particular case, I personally think Joslyn is being part serious and part tongue-in-cheek. You can see from the responses that she is spoofing her friends, not just strangers, and those friends seem to laughing right along with her.

      On the other hand, there are plenty of people who agree with you that this blog is insensitive and even cruel to those who love the things Joslyn is spoofing. (That could probably be said about any spoof.) What I like is that here at Elephant, that discontent and debate is an integral part of the action, not just an occasional letter to the editor.

      Were you aware that there was a whole other blog critical of Joslyn's blog and that it generated further vigorous debate? See Woo Woo II: The Yogi Kool-Aid Reconsidered..

      Obviously there are plenty of good choices out there for you if you want to avoid controversy and open debate like this. But here at Elephant we see it as part of our mission to foster this kind of discussion. I would actually argue that, far from signifying Elephant's decline, this is Elephant at its rambunctious interactive best.

      Please give me your thoughts on this. Or, if you prefer, feel free to write to me privately on my Facebook page.

      Thanks again for sharing your dissatisfaction with us.

      Bob W.
      Yoga Editor

  21. gigi says:

    Spoken like a true Marinian.

  22. [...] his quiet, unassuming, utterly woo-woo-free way, my Dad lives mindfully in the [...]

  23. [...] yoga. The briefest scan of EJ reveals a yoga mulligatawny: sour, salty, bitter, pungent, sweet (sometimes diabetically sweet), in a broth of questioning and cantankerousness. Yogging (not to be confused with Swedish jogging) [...]

  24. [...] conscientious, loving, caring human beings. I agree wholeheartedly. But, when he mentions the “woo-woo mystical atmosphere” many of us were attracted to, this is where we get into the “Yes, and…” part of the [...]

  25. [...] Yoga is no longer some fringe activity. It creates jobs, helps drive the economy and can make some savvy people very wealthy. The people that lead this industry/business sector/spiritual movement/practice—or whatever you want to call it—need closer scrutiny on the financial and ethical fronts. Like any multi-billion dollar industry riding on the trust and pocketbooks of the public, it’s prone to abuse. So please look at it closely. Ask hard questions just like elephant did on the Anusara situation. And please, before you drink that kombucha, make sure it’s not just Kool-Aid. [...]

  26. [...] and Joslyn piggybacked with some snide commentary in her latest Elephant Journal column, “The Plague of Woo Woo,” about posers who change their perfectly fine given name to something evidently more spiritual [...]

  27. [...] S.Y.P. (Spiritual Yogi Poser) Field. Your cloud of woo-woo swirls around you like so much Patchouli incense; why should I try to look past it into your [...]

  28. [...] 1,000,000. Equanimity: 0 and The Plague of Woo Woo both by Joslyn [...]

  29. Walter Mason says:

    I've got to agree. Cynical is as much of a pose as woo woo, and speaking purely personally, woo woo works a lot better for me.
    But Ben Hur yoga guy is fabulous!

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