What it means to be a Recovering Yogi.

Via on May 25, 2011

Hint: it don’t mean I hate yoga.

I used to be a skinny, flexible, popular yoga teacher. I was in a photo spread in Yoga Journal. I launched a successful Power Yoga program at a busy studio in the Bay Area. I worked for a superstar yoga teacher and traveled the western hemisphere helping spread the gospel of yoga to the masses. I was a yoga missionary. It was my heyday as a yogi… or so I thought.

I was entirely focused on getting “better” at yoga. I spent most of my practice time in classes obsessing over how many more times I would be able to come to yoga that week, or calculating how long it might take me to touch my head to my toes in paschimottonasana if I kept at it with my current level of drive. I kept track of how often I practiced by marking it on a calendar on my wall, where I would often gloat in the knowledge that I was being good and perfect. Those little notations on my calendar meant more to me than the experience of practicing itself.

And as a teacher, I loved to bitch to my other yoga teacher friends about that one student who never listened. We’d say, “I’ve told him a million times to bring his feet together. It’s like his legs aren’t connected to his brain!” And then inevitably, one of us would say, “You know, you can say something a million times, but until the student is ready to hear it…” And then we’d all nod our heads sagely.

Photo © Marty Sconduto

I was in my early thirties, and I thought I knew everything about yoga.

Over the years I came to realize that true yoga is not about how awesome you are at asana. It’s not about how many days in a row you’ve gone to a yoga class. (40 Days to Personal Revolution, anyone?) It’s not about your mastery of the Master Cleanse or your gold medal in the yoga Olympics (or, shall we say, the Yoga Journal Talent Search?) And it’s sure as hell not about being perfect at—or even “good at”— anything.

If those things are your bag, good for you. But thank Krishna that’s not my Type-A yoga anymore.

I met a wise vinyasa teacher once who, when pressed, claimed to practice yoga “every single day”… but not always asana. In his mind, going for a sweet surf session was just as much “yoga” as hittin’ a few down dogs. And to his credit, I’m sure he was just as present and zen and at one with the universe while on his surfboard as when on his mat… if not more so.

I am now a Recovering Yogi

What does this mean exactly? Well, the most important thing it does NOT mean: it does not mean that I do not do yoga.

I do yoga.

Photo © Andyfreeberg.com

So do my co-founders, Vanessa Fiola and Leslie Munday. In fact, one of our project ground rules is that we commit to a personal practice of at least one class a week (ambitious, I know) and two retreats or workshops a year. I got my workshops out of the way early on. I’m actually at my third one, right now, writing this. Because the truth is, I love yoga.

Being a recovering yogi is not about being anti-yoga. Here’s what it is:

◘ A refuge for the spiritually disenfranchised

◘ A humor web site devoted to bursting the bubble of pretentious, over-serious, judgmental Western interpretations of yoga and new age culture

◘ A tongue-in-cheek reference to the addictive, culty aspects of the yoga world

◘ A place for yogis and ex-yogis with senses of humor to tell stories

◘ A forum for creativity and self-expression

◘ A dialog

Ironically, creating Recovering Yogi has brought me closer to yoga than I was before. It has helped me to strip away the vapid lingo, the judgmental and competitive asana ‘tude, the Type A mentality of overachieving in ways asana, dharma, and karma. It’s helped me come to peace with my limitations and stop trying to be always better, stronger, nicer, purer, gooder. It’s been humbling and empowering all at the same time.

This article was originally published on Lexi Yoga.
Genius artwork up top by Vanessa Fiola.

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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29 Responses to “What it means to be a Recovering Yogi.”

  1. Amelia says:

    Love it! And I think so many people can relate, at least on some level. Do you think it's a necessary part of the evolution of a yogi, Joslyn, to go through the fire of dogma and make it out the other side? Is it possible to experience as deep learning if one simply bypasses the self-betrayal stage? I wonder these things. I think whatever is present in our characters has to be magnified to its greatest extent and then burned away, either by 'betrayal as fierce initiation' as Jack Kornfield calls it, or by some other kind of awakening. So grateful for your bravery in creating Recovering Yogi (and Vanessa and Leslie too of course) <3

    • Amelia, far be it for me to say what is good for the rest of the yogis, but I know what worked for me! I really love hearing other people's stories — some of which I relate to and some of which are eye-opening. A big part of Recovering Yogi is giving other people the chance to tell their stories and not feel like they have to be super positive politically correct yogis all the time.

  2. Kathleen says:

    Thank you for your raw truth. I am a recovering yogi-teacher. The ego got the best of me 6 years ago and I've been behind the scenes since. My aha, or rather, 'ick-ha' moment was when I was teaching a packed vinyasa class, we were so groovin' with psoas openers, preparing for hanuman and I checked the clock and knew we were going to run over our alloted time, but I kept on sequencin' anyway because I thought, "It's just a restorative class coming in next. They can wait."……… I know.. What a yoga snob. For me though, it was the straw that broke this yogi's back and I hang up my public teaching mat and haven't been back since… Ahh.. feels good to share it! Thanks for creating the platform to do so!!

  3. Brie says:

    I love this and I freaking love your site.

  4. peg says:

    a wonderful read and what drew me to your writing initially. refreshingly honest with a spice of humor and fun. though, it seemed maybe the recovering yogi/s might stray into a much darker realm, more snark and less fun – i'm glad to see you (all?) are back with more tongue in cheek and less teeth. :)

  5. Eve says:

    I enjoyed the article, too.. and then I went to the website. The "Words we Loathe" page is very mean-spirited.

    • rabbitrabbit says:

      I'd have to agree here. I'm all for self expression, and ranting can feel good. But its also addictive and destructive at times. Its almost like people are looking to complain about something, and something incredibly trivial at that. I really don't sense much gratitude for the teachers who may use this language in their classes, they are just being themselves and that's what we want from teachers right? Of course they're are teachers out there trying to be someone they think they should be, but shouldn't we still soften (or does that word piss you off too?) to the moment, understand that we're all where we are in our journey, and just enjoy our practice.
      I don't think yoga teaches judgment so harshly. The words a teacher uses doesn't ruin your yoga class, your mean judgmental thoughts do.

    • Leah says:

      Humor…anyone. Humor?

      • Thank you, Leah. The Words We Loathe & Abhor page is a democratic, collaborative art project. It's meant to be funny, nothing more. It's not everyone's kind of humor, though, and we respect that.

  6. Kristoffer Nelson Kris Nelson says:

    Jos -

    More reasons to appreciate you.

    Kris

  7. Love this, Joslyn.

    Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

    Bob W. Yoga Editor
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  8. Open Yoga Blogging Community Bob Weisenberg says:

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

  9. Jerry says:

    I enjoyed this article, especially the YJ photo but I must say that there is something about the RC website that feels vindictive. Most people just move onto the next stage of things but you seemed mired down in mocking the yoga scene. Devoting a whole website to this subject seem a bit overkill. I know you think you site is humorous but there are few laughs there for me (I know humor is subjection and I did get a few by the way). Rants about the same thing over and over gets old but it must be feeding you on some level. Best of luck to you.

    • Yogini5 says:

      Well, true enough, I see your point. And also not enough of a practical nature and on a yoga consumer standpoint. You know, the average Jane who just wants to take a yoga class and does not want to teach, etc. But I see exactly where they're coming from.

      I get the impression that they sometimes could be above it all, because they at one time had eaten the whole enchilada. They invested many years and loads of money in yoga, they bought into some kind of commercialized and millenarian yoga fantasy. They had been yoga teachers or yoga marketers who have been through the valley of the shadow of death and come out the other side, that sort of trope. Something nearly Biblical in feelings of avengement.

    • Sasha says:

      I tend to agree with Jerry. I remember seeing a couple of other web sites that make fun at yoga but they are more lighthearted and playful. They don't seem to have a yoga axe to grind while Recovering Yogi comes off kind of negative. But there are some funny posts there.

  10. Oh, it's definitely not meant to be vindictive. If we wanted to be vindictive, we would tell certain OTHER stories. But we don't. We try to keep it pretty clean. We're actually still in the yoga scene, in our own way, and that's why we write about it. We get plenty of fresh material all the time! We make fun of ourselves as much as the next guy. It's all in good fun. But again, not everyone's thing. Anyone is invited to read our stories… or not read them. The choice is yours!

    On the other hand, we're not interested in being like the other sites in a more "lighthearted and playful" way. They do their thing; we do ours. Everyone wins!

  11. I can totally relate also as I am a type A in everything! I am a ballet dancer turned yogi turned ballet dancer, lol. I catch myself becoming preoccupied with perfection whether it's in ballet, yoga or in other aspects of life. I always remind myself of this question when I become frazzled: "How is is it suppose to be?" Then I realize the silliness of my preoccupations. :P

    Thanks for the great post! :-)

  12. Brent Binder drbinder says:

    Awesome… I have been a fan of your articles since joining ele this year, and although I could assume everything you mentioned on the list of "what it means to be a recovering yogi," it was excellent to hear your voice claim that you still in fact LOVE YOGA. And I highly respect your mission to take (your and others) yoga to another (very honest) level.

  13. [...] What it means to be a Recovering Yogi. [...]

  14. Ang says:

    My name is Angela and I'm just in the baby steps of the recovery process…I'd like to start by apologizing and trying to make amends to all of the people who I encouraged in class somewhat condescendingly. Their best was ok for them….I just demanded that my best be a little better, despite having shoulder surgery two months ago. Feeling like I needed to just step away from yoga all together until I could be perfect again. It's all about the asanas after all…..or all about me being an ass.

    What an honest and hilariously "close to home" article Joslyn. Even my rotator cuff was type A and eventually ripped apart under pressure, but not practicing for the last few months has been more enlightening than any class I've attended. Love the post – love your site – keep it up and thanks for the smile!

  15. Ang says:

    If I could only convey sarcasm thru text…The "How charitable – Aren't I the enlightened one?" was meant purely in a sarcastic way..Not a lot of enlightenment going on then or now when that's my attitude.
    I agree with you 100% – humility is the key. Yoga is such an intensely personal thing for me (again the fine line between "personal" and narcissistic) that it's even more of a bummer when you realize you have bought into a subculture you thought you were "above". It's just so important to constantly question and examine – I'm grateful for my injury to have forced upon me the exile I needed to start looking at things with some perspective and objectivity.

  16. Sandy Gross says:

    NAMASTE! (I am a follower of your blog:) Great stuff and happy you are getting more press!

  17. Yogini5 says:

    Yeah, Maryanne, and I eat cheese with it too! 'Cause I'm no vegan … :D

  18. Ang says:

    Thank you! Like-minded "kick your ass and tell you your being an ass" friends may just be the key to recovery…
    "Encouraging" teachers are tough – I was able to kick it up a notch though. I wasn't even a teacher. I'm a little to narcissistic for that. I needed to just be focusing on myself. I was the one who gave those reassuring comments in the locker room after class or the "you can do it" wink while you were struggling to reach your toes and mine are behind my ears. How charitable…Aren't I the enlightened one???

  19. Yogini5 says:

    Well, I guess you may be more "enlightened" than some teachers in that you see yourself clearly in these things.
    My one big (pardon the expression, but I'm not vegan … anyway) beef in many of my teachers, and some of my fellow students: lack of (real) humility. Not quite recognizing it, anyway.

  20. Ang says:

    If I could only convey sarcasm thru text…The "How charitable – Aren't I the enlightened one?" was meant purely in a sarcastic way..Not a lot of enlightenment going on then or now when that's my attitude.
    I agree with you 100% – humility is the key. Yoga is such an intensely personal thing for me (again the fine line between "personal" and narcissistic) that it's even more of a bummer when you realize you have bought into a subculture you thought you were "above". It's just so important to constantly question and examine – I'm grateful for my injury to have forced upon me the exile I needed to start looking at things with some perspective and objectivity.

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