How to Tell if You’re a Yoga A-hole.

Via on Apr 19, 2011

I’ve known since the beginning that it was a risk.

Oh sure, this isn’t the first a-hole cultivating career I’ve ever been a part of—you only need to spend a few minutes killing time in the waiting room of the Actor’s Equity building in New York to know that actors can be jerks. But, I would contend that there is no brand of asshole-ery quite so egregious as spiritual asshole-ery. And so, when I began to make my very public switch from self-identified actress to self-identified yogi—I was on the lookout for it.

But my friends, I feel I may be slipping.

Exhibit A: I now spend most of my day in yoga pants. Not workout pants, oh dear Shiva, no…nooooo no no, I would not stoop to getting my exercise at a gym. My workout is a spiritual one, and I would like you all to know it. You should be able to tell by the trendy boot-cut at the bottom of my tan cotton stretchies. Also by the vaguely Sanskrit pendant necklace I’m wearing, the one that means something, um.  Something about Buddha?  Wait—that’s not even, uh, it doesn’t matter what it says, people, what matters is what it viiiiiiiiiibrates. But if you’re still confused, please just glance downward at my wood-soled clogs. That should seal it for you.

Exhibit B: Did you notice how I called myself a “yogi” in the opening paragraph? That’s right. I haven’t stooped to “yogini” yet, but it may just be a matter of time before I’m referring to my fiancé as my “beloved” and my female cohorts as “goddesses”.

Exhibit C: I have heard myself say, in front of a class full of people, a variety of vaguely spiritual (and totally meaningless) things like, “send the breath,” and, “open your heart,” and, “just soooooooften“.

Exhibit C, Subparagraph 1: I have also found myself using the following horrifying sound effects/phraseology during class:

1. putting an “mmm” in a pause between thoughts to emphasize either a. I just said something profound (kill me now), or b. you’re all doing a good job at—whatever you’re doing.

2. adding that galling quiet little “right?” after a sentence: “But the breath is portable…right?…you can take it with you anywhere.”

3. “You guys are doing so good!” I subbed a class the other day in which I must have said this a dozen times.  “You guys are doing so good!” Exclamation point! As if I’m teaching toddlers how to eat with silverware for the first time.

Exhibit D: And this is the worst one—I think there have been days in which I have forgotten, truly forgotten, that I actually do not know anything. I have forgotten that my role as a teacher has not been handed to me because I have any special wisdom to impart.  Days in which I have forgotten, that I am a yoga teacher 1. Because I paid $3600 to become one,  2. Because I love, love, double-love the practice of yoga and just want more legitimate excuses to do it, and 3. Because of numbers 1 and 2 above, there is a possibility that I can create a safe space in which other people can practice yoga as well. And that. Is. It.

My god, who knew it would be so easy to slip up? Who knew that one day you could be going along fine, minding your own business, and the next day find yourself waxing poetic about the alchemy of the breath?  (Don’t ask.) No one is safe, people, not even I—someone who prides herself on being as un woo-woo as possible—not even I am safe from becoming, dunh dunh dunh duuuuuuh—A Yoga Asshole.

I know.  I’m as shocked as you are.

And I want to tell you why I’ve come to this moment—to this place of recognizing my own part in some spiritual jerkiness, and to the simultaneous recognition that there is another way to roll, man. It comes down to the example of two individuals: Mister Bill Withers, and one of the dudes from The Private Chefs of Beverly Hills. Yes, Bill Withers—musical genius, and some dude on a reality show. Unlikely bed fellows but bear with me.

Okay, so—Bill Withers. Bill Withers is, without question, one of my favorite singer/songwriters of all time. If you haven’t heard him, I suggest you go and ITunes the heck out of him, right this minute. I suggest starting with this beauty.  Or this one.  Paul, my fiancé, and I are both big Bill Withers fans, and the other morning, we decided to stay in bed a couple extra hours to watch a documentary about him on Netflix.

I wish I could tell you the whole tale of it—how he one day in his 30′s just finally decided to start writing songs and immediately wrote “Ain’t No Sunshine,” one of the best f-ing tunes ever. How he, until that point, had been working installing bathrooms on 747 airplanes, and really had no intention of doing anything else, certainly not making his money as a musician. But how the universe had other plans for him and so he rocketed to stardom. And how he was never really interested in becoming anything other than what he was, and never really saw himself as anything larger, even with all that fame, but did laugh about how much more handsome a fellow apparently gets when he has a hit record.

(Sigh.)

There is this one scene in particular in the documentary that really got to me, where after he gets finished with this very real, very honest, sort of sad explanation about why he’s just never been able to be a show-off, the filmmakers cut to all of these clips of other musicians talking about Bill Withers and how great he is. And I swear to god, every single person they cut to, even people whose work I know and who have in the past always struck me as sincere, in comparison to the preceding moments with Mr. Withers, all these other musicians look and sound well, like a bunch of blowhards.

It’s this incredible, visceral moment of comparison: this is what truth looks like, and this is what it looks like when you’re trying, even just subtly, to puff yourself up in the face of truth. It was astonishing. And also sort of skin-crawly, because I knew, without question, that in that scenario I would not be the Bill Withers, I would be Bono (or whomever) holding my guitar in my lap and trying to sound meaningful instead of, as Bill Withers was doing, just being full with meaning.

(This was my “maybe I’m an asshole” moment number one.)

Number two came later that same day, when the mister and I were poking around the Le Creuset store at a local outlet mall, and just happened to get there in time to watch a cooking demonstration by a quasi-famous chef, the aforementioned dude from the Private Chefs of Beverly Hills.

Was it his fault that he burned his first attempt at the pancakes he was supposed to be demoing? I don’t know. I’m willing to blame the equipment. Was it his fault that he was stunningly uncharismatic and delivered his entire demo to one cute chick in the front row?  Yeeeeeeah, yeah, I think so. But neither of these things—the nerves, or the lack of culinary skill—would have stood totally in the way of my liking him or his demo. Both things could have been charming, IF (and this is the big if) he had been graced with just a bit more humility. Because, the whole time, even though it was clear from a mile away that he was nervous and unprepared, he kept trying to sort of “puff himself up.” It was as if he had learned what the costume of “famous television chef” looks like, and was desperately trying to wear it even though it didn’t fit.

And when we finally snuck away, (after the longest 30 minutes of our lives) I had the unfortunate sinking suspicion that I too was trying to wear a costume that I had not yet earned.

I know just a sliver—even after many years of practicing—I know just like the tiniest little piece of what there could be to know about this practice called yoga. Why is your low-back hurting in that pose? I don’t know! I don’t have any idea! What’s your back-leg supposed to be doing in this other pose? I don’t know! I can tell you what my teacher tells me, but really, I don’t know! Sanskrit, anatomy, alignment, philosophy, lineage; I know enough about all of these things to sound smart at a party, but put me in a room with somebody who really knows their stuff—I’m going to look like a toe-twiddling goober.

And this is what I started to realize in the outlet mall parking lot and maybe that’s okay.

Because yoga, on scout’s honor, does not care. It does not matter who you are or how you feel or what you know. You can fail, you can be pissed off, you can be sorrowful; you can bring all of your brokenness and the practice will take you in. And if that is the case, and I know that it is, then I have got to figure that my one real job as teacher, the one thing that I really can do, regardless of how much I know, (or don’t know) about where your psoas connects, is to be honest. NOT because you will then learn some great lesson from me, oh grasshopper, but so that you can feel permission to be revealed, too.  And then all of us, all of us just hanging our tender stuff out there, might really be able to learn something from one another.

And then one of us, at least, might be able to stop being such an asshole.

About Lia Aprile

Lia Aprile is a writer, actress and yoga teacher currently living in Los Angeles, CA. When she’s not peddling her headshots or perfecting her handstand, Lia can be found tending to her yoga blog, Shanti Town, which is definitely about yoga, but mostly about life (the messy kind). And, because the nerdiness just keeps on coming, she has also recently begun interviewing teachers and yoga luminaries for the Shanti Town Podcast, which you can now find on ITunes.

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62 Responses to “How to Tell if You’re a Yoga A-hole.”

  1. I love you Lia!

    Such a great article, and such a treat to read it on Elephant Journal, and I'm so going to go an listen to Bill right now.

    Truth rocks, and I love the way you tell it.

    Keep 'em coming please!!!

    • Lia says:

      Kara-Leah,

      I love YOU!! Your articles are consistently amazing and I'm so proud to know you and double proud that you're a mutual fan!

      So much love,
      Lia

  2. C.J. says:

    So funny and true.

    • Lia says:

      CJ,

      Thank you for reading…it means a lot to me coming from you, as I feel like you and your writings are stomping out a-holishness all over the place. You come from truth, truth, truth, and I dig that about you.

      xo
      Lia

  3. Asha says:

    Brilliant!!! I love Bill Withers and I love you!! Ain't No Sunshine is one of my favorite songs ever!
    Creating one less asshole at a time (hopefully),

  4. Zina says:

    I have also spent many a day at the AEA building in NY and am also a yogi… By default I then am also on the road to a-hole-ery. Love it!

  5. yoga-adan says:

    glad i kept this tab up from yesterday, honest ;-)

    nicely expressed lia, thank you ;-)

  6. Adele says:

    So funny and true, thanks!

  7. Enjoyed this very much, Lia.

    I don't want to get too serious about your light-hearted critique of people who are meaningful, but I like to judge people on their actions and impact, not just how they come across on a video. Ask yourself, who has done more to try to make the world a better place, the humble Bill Withers or the "blowhard" Bono?

    Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

    Bob W.
    Yoga Editor

  8. Just posted to "Featured Today" on the Elephant Yoga homepage.

  9. Lia says:

    Oh my god, Josyln, I just read this…so gooooooooooood. Love that article, going to be visiting that site lots more!

    Thanks for the comment and the recommend!

    -Lia

  10. Lia says:

    Thanks, miss! Oh my gosh, those "what just came out of my mouth" moments are the worst! But I think you're right, that we just have to keep doing what we can do to stay as honest as we can.

    Thanks for commenting!

    Best,
    lia

  11. Lia says:

    Thanks, miss! Oh my gosh, those "what just came out of my mouth" moments are the worst! But I think you're right, that we just have to keep doing what we can do to stay as honest as we can.

  12. jj says:

    Omgosh I love this! The last two paragraphs describe exactly how I feel – for all my training I know *nothing*, and yet it's okay…

    • Lia says:

      It IS okay! I really think that it is. And then you just stand in that place and you learn more and you grow more until one day (I hope)…you finally know a thing. Or two.

      Thanks for reading, jj!

  13. Lorin says:

    Nice piece, but I mostly just want to say… I love Bill Withers :) Anyone who hasn't heard Grandma's Hands, but has a grandma, really needs to listen to it!

  14. Lia says:

    Right-o…beginner's mind, baby. It's a great thing to be open in the way you are when you're just starting out (or at least that's what I tell myself…).

    Thanks for your comment!

  15. Lia says:

    Thanks, b.b.!!!

  16. Lia says:

    Segovia! Nice to see you here! I love that you also have an inner goober!!

  17. Lia says:

    You're welcome…and thank YOU for reading and commenting.

  18. Love this! And so true, even as a yoga teacher, in the end I know nothing! Right :)

    • Lia says:

      Thanks Jennifer…I've got to believe that in the end it's better if we mostly know nothing, and then sort of know a little something. Just to keep us honest.

  19. Lia, I am a HUGE Bill Withers fan. And, I am a HUGE Otis Redding fan. Have you ever heard Otis cover
    "Ain't No Sunshine?" Oh. My. (Loved your article!)

  20. carrielaura says:

    This was one of the best things I've read on Elephant Journal. Thank you! You remind me a little big of Mark Morford of the SF Chronicle. Cheers!

  21. Carlo Alcos says:

    I may sound like a yoga asshole here, but aren't you doing an awful lot of judging? Of others and of yourself? Isn't one of the first things learned in yoga is to drop all judgments?

    Nonetheless, a very entertaining article and great points raised.

  22. Just posted to "Popular Lately" on the Elephant Yoga homepage.

  23. jonathan says:

    Great post. AMAZING smile. Well done YOGINI! lol

  24. Lia says:

    Thanks so much! I'm in total agreement…honesty beats introspection, any day of the week!

  25. ARCreated says:

    le sigh. why are so reticent to embrace our whoo hoo ness??? why can't we just accept that waxing poetical about the portability of the breath can in and of itself be a very honest real moment?

    I would also contend that the blowardedness and authenticity of an individual will be dependant on your vibration. I mean someone else might watch the exact same interviews and have a completely different experience. so the "realness" of a persons expressions is really dependant on the experience of the observer.

    I bet you know more than you think – and that what truly would make you an a-hole in my book is if you continued to belittle yourself and question the authenticity of your experience. My guess is that as long as you strive to learn more you are safe from true A-holiness. true confidence neither puffs up nor diminishes. beside yoga pants are comfy and working out in the gym smells bad :)

    • Lia says:

      I am in total agreement that waxing poetical can be totally honest and gorgeous and…transportive, even! But when it's not…oh man, is it not.

      Thank you so much for reading and commenting…and yes, yoga pants are soooooooooper comfy. Hence the danger of never getting out of them!

  26. daniel tanzo says:

    oh my the "right" thing after making a stament along with nodding their head up and down was one of my former teachers favorites drove me crazy, i wanted to yell hell dont you know your the one spouting this stuff ………lmao

  27. [...] people, we have to stop this. We must fight the tendency towards yoga a-holeness. Not just for us, but for the students who say, “I wish my girlfriend/boyfriend/husband/wife [...]

  28. hayley says:

    this is brilliant. thank you so much for sharing. i feel like this A LOT as a yoga teacher, like im faking something. i admire your honesty, and it truly makes me want to be more honest with myself and with my yoga. namaste from a fellow a-hole ;)

  29. Maureen Miller says:

    One of the best Ele posts EVA!!!! Thanks.

  30. Tara Baklund says:

    So enjoyable to read and a great "mirror" to do a little "check-up."

  31. [...] people, we have to stop this. We must fight the tendency towards yoga a-holeness. Not just for us, but for the students who say, “I wish my girlfriend/boyfriend/husband/wife [...]

  32. GuestDude says:

    Not that I sensed you needed to anyway, but to whatever extent it may have been remotely true, you have quite thoroughly de-assholed yourself with this article. Love the honesty.

  33. [...] my latest gut-buster — an article from the awesomeness that is Elephant Journal entitled How to Tell if You’re a Yoga A-Hole. I don’t know whether to laugh about or cry over the fact that I found myself meeting some of [...]

  34. [...] Yoga A-hole you may say? If you read Lia Aprile’s April 19th article with the Elephant Journal, How to Tell if You’re a Yoga A-hole, you may find yourself in many of her descriptions. I know I did and I hate to say it Vancouver, [...]

  35. [...] 1) There are a lot of effin’ yoga teachers in the world and we are all “certified instructors” and “self-proclaimed” something or others. [...]

  36. [...] way I see it, either he is recognizing the first glimmers of humility actually dawning in me, or else this guy should be running fast and hard in the opposite [...]

  37. melissa says:

    love this… " I would not be the Bill Withers, I would be Bono (or whomever) holding my guitar in my lap and trying to sound meaningful instead of, as Bill Withers was doing, just being full with meaning." sigh is right.
    sigh.
    goes right back to my mantra these days, speak less and think a bit more. or text / type/ email/ spam less and just go outside, for gosh sakes. anyway… what I mean is, stop worrying and trying too hard and just be yourself.
    cool,
    melissa
    fellow EJ contributor, http://www.elephantjournal.com/author/melissa-smi

  38. Very happy to hear my Gita blogs have been useful to you, Lia. That's music to my ears.

    Bob

  39. Lia says:

    Charlotte,

    Thank you so much for this…though obviously I was poking fun at myself, this is real stuff for me and I want very much to be able to be a bit more revealed, first and foremost to myself, and then to the world at large. I really appreciate your kind encouragement…very much.

    All the best,
    Lia

  40. Lia says:

    Thank you, Sasha, for reading and commenting…it's so so so nice to know that other people feel similarly.

  41. Lia says:

    Your car obviously has excellent taste, seeing how unwilling it is to give up ol' Mr. Withers! Thank you for reading and commenting, my lady.

  42. Lia says:

    Doug,

    I am in total agreement…I think that the entire practice has become for me entirely about softening….about trying to release resistance…physical and otherwise.

    Thank you so much for all your eloquence and thoughtfulness…

    Best,
    Lia

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