Just because I Practice Yoga doesn’t Mean I have to Like You.

Via on Jul 11, 2011

I love yoga. It is a foundation of my life. I’ve been practicing for almost a decade (I’m nearing 25 years old).

I was raised by a mother who practiced yoga and meditation. She taught me basic postures as well as concepts of loving kindness and service from day one. I had a pretty sweet pink unitard and pale green sticky mat when I was in elementary school, so I nailed my sarvangasana before I turned 10. I began studying the Tibetan Book of the Dead when I was in 6th grade. All through my adolescence I was fascinated by the mysterious and mystical, Eastern religions, and the American counter-culture. I started trying everything and anything, from the esoteric to the psychedelic. I eventually studied comparative religion in college, with a focus on Hinduism. I lived off and on at an ashram in Crestone, Colorado; I’ve traveled to India twice in the past few years; I’ve practiced lots of different types of yoga and completed two different yoga teacher trainings to date.

These days I’m fully committed to this path of yoga. I practice Ashtanga and Kundalini yoga for 2+ hours every day and I teach yoga classes 5 days a week. My partner is a serious Ashtangi and bhakta. He’s got more discipline than me so he spends part of every day studying yogic texts such as the Bhagavad Gita and the Yoga Sutra. I appreciate this, because he’s always dishing out some serious knowledge. I learn a lot from him.

Our life together is informed by our yoga practice. We follow the rules. We don’t make up our own yoga; we follow our traditions. We do what our teachers and the sacred texts instruct. We don’t eat meat. We don’t drink alcohol. We don’t practice on moon days. We chant and meditate everyday. Normally, when we comment on elephant journal we get accused of being “harsh” or “dogmatic” but we’re okay with this too, because ele (I love it, don’t get me wrong here) can get a little absurd at times.

All this is to say: I really love yoga – it’s legit and it’s my life path. I am certainly aware that my short years of practice have only taught me so much, and that I have a whole lot more to learn and so many teachers to learn from. I embrace this as well. There’s no end to where this practice can take me. I humbly and gratefully acknowledge this.

Even though I honestly realize that there is so very much I do not know about yoga, I still know more about it than a good number of people (not tooting my horn, just being honest). So that’s why I get super annoyed (transcendentally speaking) when someone without any knowledge or yoga experience whatsoever tells me how a yogi is “supposed” to act. This goes for anything, really. If you are a neophyte, be honest about it. Own your ignorance! There’s a lot of wisdom in saying “I don’t know anything about that,” rather than claiming knowledge that is not based in truth or experience.

Recently I had an experience when I was told that my behavior “flies in the face of all that I profess to practice.” So what was my behavior in this situation you might wonder? Well, I stood quietly listening to a very drunk angry woman scream her head off at me, call me names, and drop the F-bomb as a noun, adjective and verb. I never raised my voice, but rather lowered it when I did finally speak back to her, which was only to say (sarcastically, I admit), “blessing to you too” in response to her incendiary “God bless you” – aka – Go f*ck yourself, b*tch.

After this event, I informed this woman’s partner that I refuse to be around her anymore. I told him that it wasn’t emotionally or energetically safe for me to be around someone who holds such vicious and toxic feelings towards me. I encouraged him to examine her behavior and think about what kind of a person would speak in that manner to another person and whether or not this was a healthy and supportive relationship that he would want to maintain. His response was to accuse me of being “closed-minded,” “mean,” and “set on the destruction of their relationship.” In addition, I was told that I needed to “open my heart” and “be more compassionate and loving” towards this woman. And to top it all off – that I was pretty much a BAD YOGI for setting up boundaries.

Just because I practice yoga doesn’t mean I have to love all people and accept everything they do unconditionally and unequivocally. I believe it’s possible to have compassion for and recognition of each person’s inherent Divinity, as well as their suffering, while still calling into question their behavior. I strive to be a kind, loving and giving person but this does not mean that I need to open myself up to be walked all over by others in order to cultivate these qualities within myself. So what, it’s supposed to be, “I do yoga, therefore, come abuse me”? Umm, I don’t think so. When someone toxic gets near me, I say my protective mantras, put up an energetic wall and walk on by.

Yoga teaches me to see with more clarity. It opens my eyes to the universal soul of each person – the atman. I realize that life is challenging and doing the work to progress is hard and can be scary. I know this all too well. I recognize that the essence of each soul is clouded by layers of attachment, ignorance and suffering, some to greater degrees than others and that we are each on our own individual journey to clear ourselves and come to self-realization. However, I don’t necessarily believe the idea that “we are all doing the best we can,” because it seems obvious that some of us aren’t really trying at all. Most of us, in fact, could actually try a lot harder.

The knowledge that yoga provides me does not mean that I must open myself up and loosen all my boundaries indiscriminately to all souls. In fact, to the contrary, my yoga discipline has given me a sharpened sense of discrimination. The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali supports this: “By the practice of the limbs of Yoga, the impurities dwindle away and there dawns the light of wisdom, leading to discriminative discernment” – 2.28 (Satchidananda translation). Through my practices, I am learning how to discern what is elevating versus what is degrading, what supports my growth versus what stunts it. The path of yoga teaches me how to make appropriate choices – what I choose to eat and drink, when and how I sleep and bathe, how I choose to waste or conserve my vital energies, how I engage my senses and my intellect and with whom I choose to associate. This ability to discriminate between what aids me on my path versus what pollutes the energy of my environment is invaluable. The more yoga I do, the less I want to be around big crowds of people, or people engaging in negative, toxic behavior. To be honest, I’m less and less interested in people who aren’t committed to self-knowledge or self- inquiry. Perhaps this is the kind of stuff Patanjali is referring to in Yoga Sutra 2.40 regarding sauca – purity. Vyaas Houston’s translation states, “Owing to sauca, there is a desire to protect one’s own body, being the non-contact with whatever is adverse to that.”

Yoga, as a spiritual path, is not the simplified-new-agey-peace-and-love-vibe-with-no-boundaries-or-restrictions practice, as perhaps it has been portrayed by, or might we say dumbed-down by, the mainstream media. In fact, I would argue that this confusion and mingling of yoga with the New Age movement is adulterating yoga’s true form. So many people seem to think that yoga is all about feeling good, expressing yourself, moving spontaneously, and using “radical acceptance” as a means to justify their faults and weaknesses. In the yoga community these days there’s too much of an “I’m okay, you’re okay, it’s all okay – Namaste!” attitude (all accompanied with a fake, “compassionate” smile and an expensive organic t-shirt with a lotus on it, of course!). Well, that’s not yoga. Call me a dogmatist (won’t be the first time), but if you’re just doing what feels good, getting drunk and then using a yoga class to help quell your hangover, well, you’ve pretty much got it all wrong! Yoga is a multi-branched rigorous path of self-inquiry. As Georg Feuerstein remarks in Yoga Unveiled: Evolution and Essence of a Spiritual Tradition, “These are liberation systems, that means systems that seek to free the individual from all habit patterns of the mind, the body, speech and to return to the authentic identity. . . . All approaches have at their core this impulse to go beyond the ordinary human condition.”

One of the greatest gifts yoga gives me is true authenticity. One of my Kundalini teachers told me something years ago that I now realize is correct. She told me that when you are walking the path and doing the yoga, you start to see through the murkiness, you cut through that stuff and you don’t feel the need to put up with other people’s BS anymore. Yes, it is possible to understand both that people are Divine at their core and working with what they know in this life, and that you need not accept unacceptable behavior from them. I can accept you for the soul that you are on your distinct path, without having to embrace and love your questionable and ignorant behavior. The latter doesn’t really serve me or you in the long run. Avoiding an important conversation out of fear of conflict does not promote peace; rather, too often, this merely enables more disordered and negative behavior and patterns.

So, returning to the story: for me to uphold a socially acceptable, friendly facade (as I’ve been told I should) to a woman who hates me the way she hates me is not only truly insincere, but it’s simply not possible for me at this point. I don’t bullsh*t and I’m not going to pretend to be something I’m not just to confirm someone’s silly stereotype of what a yogi is like. In fact, please don’t think of me as nice; go ahead and see me as the fierce, hard-core b*tch you think I am. I would rather be out there with my sword drawn, cutting through the veils of illusion and ignorance than standing on a marshmallow pedestal with my arms wide open ready to embrace you…and all your baggage.

About Frances Harjeet

Frances Harjeet was raised by a yoga mother and Republican father in a yuppie-hippie home and has spent most of her recent growing-up years adventuring around this beautiful world, engaging in various yoga, meditation and spiritual practices. Firmly rooted now in both Ashtanga and Kundalini Yoga, she values every day as an opportunity to delve deeper into these awe-inspiring traditions. A massage therapist, yoga instructor, musician and general admirer of all things beautiful, she loves sharing her passion for yoga, health and creative living with others through her blog Lila. here.

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42 Responses to “Just because I Practice Yoga doesn’t Mean I have to Like You.”

  1. Yogini5 says:

    I would rather give my business to a yoga teacher who likes me. Or does not pretend to like me because they have an agenda. Just saying.

  2. Peter says:

    Frances, having seriously practiced a sadhana for close to 40 years, from this perspective, there is something so refreshing in simple naturalness. Whether that naturalness is anger or love or frustration, it doesn't really matter. What really chaffs me are people living out of concepts of how YOU are supposed to be for them. Oh, okay, I'll suppress my simple anger at an extremely unpleasant, aggressive woman because you are all caught in your concepts of what should or should not be for me! My guru tells a traditional story that gives a little insight into natural, spontaneous reactions. A chela and his guru are walking along and a group of boys start throwing stones at the chela. Some strike the chela, but he ignores them although he is angry at them. The guru and the chela come to a river along with the boys and both groups get into separate boats to cross the There's nothing wrong river. Halfway across the river the boys' boat begins to sink. The guru sees this and immediately slaps his chela hard across the face and tells him, "See what you have done? These boys are suffering the consequences of their karma that should have been completed by you by yelling at them or throwing stones back at them." There is nothing wrong with simple, authentic responses.

    • AnnetteVictoria says:

      I feel bad for that chela. First he gets hit with stones, then his guru slaps him. Perhaps the chela's simple, authentic response would be to slap the guru back. Then what?

      Frances, I resonate with a lot of your article. Thank you for putting this out there. The only caveat I have, since I do the same thing myself, is that there must be a better way to go about our business in the world without withdrawing or feeling the need to energetically fortify ourselves. I know I heard some teacher talk about this once, but I'm sorry to say I forget what the recommended course of action was. Anybody else have any thoughts on this?

  3. Kristi says:

    I just simply love this article. Thanks.

  4. mei mei says:

    hahahaha! how true how true, before i did yoga i was blind but yoga opened up my eyes, enough to realize how few ppl there are i actually like

  5. Lori says:

    Well said. It can be so challenging to convey this mix of vigilance toward self with compassion toward others. I'll choose authenticity over diplomacy any day. Thank you!

  6. Tanya Lee Markul tanya lee markul says:

    What draws us closer together versus farther a part? :-)

    Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

    Tanya Lee Markul, Assoc. Yoga Editor
    Like Elephant Yoga on Facebook
    Follow on Twitter

    • athayoganusasanam says:

      Authentic connection -This is essential for a grounded, supportive and truly compassionate yoga community.

  7. SriDTMc says:

    F#ck yeah! Rock on

  8. Kara-Leah Grant Kara-Leah says:

    Awesome – thank you! Hard path to walk… remaining compassionate with clear boundaries and expressing appropriate anger without attachment…. but so damn important for the dance we're all in together.

  9. redbarnyoga says:

    Totally relate to this, kung fu er come yoga teacher here. For me its about tuning into the authentic me and alligning with whatever helps nurture that authentic version of myself.
    Its about being strong enough to be yourself, finding freedom to live this life as you are meant to, in the highest possible way.

  10. Wandergirl says:

    Well said. Having compassion and being kind does not mean I'm a door mat! Thank you for sharing.

  11. Tanya Lee Markul tanya lee markul says:

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

  12. lisa cohen says:

    thanks for a heartfelt and especially insightful essay.

  13. [...] wonder about those gluey, stuck places inside our lives—Inside our writing practice and our Yoga practices? Those days we just can’t get ourselves to the mat, though we know we adore it when we get [...]

  14. Anita says:

    I don't know about the second half of this article because I simply couldn't stand reading it anymore, but I did not find anything insightful or heartfelt about the first half. All I heard was "me me me me me!" Not tooting your own horn?? I bet to differ… sheesh, was to write a novel about how great you are.

    • Anita says:

      way*

    • Yogini5 says:

      You are absolutely right … the culture of narcissism has invaded the yoga world and turned it on its ear … big time.
      But, what-the-hey, one could always dream about those stereotypical NICE yogis as one has yet another reason to continue primarily home practice … the teachers? the students?

      Maybe it will cycle back more to what it had been …
      Now if more of that RAGE against people we don't LIKE could be turned into RIGHTEOUS INDIGNATION and become KARMA yoga …

      • Thaddeus1 says:

        What do you have against someone who speaks up for herself in terms of drawing boundaries which she feels will benefit her spiritual path? By my read this is what this piece is about, but you obviously see something much different or perhaps you have an objection to the drawing of boundaries in general. Not sure, but at least you managed to read the whole piece before offering commentary.

    • athayoganusasanam says:

      "I am certainly aware that my short years of practice have only taught me so much, and that I have a whole lot more to learn and so many teachers to learn from. I embrace this as well. There’s no end to where this practice can take me. I humbly and gratefully acknowledge this." (Anita – Not sure if you got to that part yet…)
      The reason I write about my history and my practice in the first half of this article is to put this piece in perspective. This is not an egoistic expression but rather an important contextual foundation. I'm sorry it offended you.

    • NotSoSure says:

      Then why are you reading EJ? This is a blog. Articles written by people about their experiences and perspectives.

  15. lisa says:

    interesting how the same essay can be perceived so differently depending on who is reading it. I read to the end of it myself and would recommend the same for anyone who truly wants to come to a valid and complete assessment. I also took into consideration the age and life experience of the write. At the same age, I was a young mom and so clueless to my own feelings. I didn't even feel worthy enough to have a horn to toot, let alone to toot it. Namaste….

  16. [...] Just because I Practice Yoga doesn’t Mean I have to Like You. ~ Frances Frischkorn [...]

  17. kurlykim says:

    Beautiful Frances, I am new to the practice and I feel comforted by your authenticity…thanks x

  18. cocobobby says:

    I'm sorry but I find the Yoga culture here in the US a bit absurd. I practice Yoga and love it but each persons spiritual path is their own business. Those who judge others as not being this or that enough are completely full of shit in my opinion. If you think standing there and professing peace and love while someone is violently threatening you is spiritual then I'm sorry to say you are quite likely an idiot. Part of a healthy spiritual path is being able to express the entire range of human emotion fluidly and consciously as well as knowing when to set boundaries with people. God I swear some of these Yoga fanatics remind me of fundamentalist Christians and my best advice to them is go fucking get laid and have a beer and mind your own path.

    • Yogini5 says:

      We obviously are not talking about violent crimes and life-threatening emergencies. Everyone has the right to their own self-defense. We are talking about everyday chafes and differences of opinion, and the necessity to treat people fairly and refrain from gossip; not necessarily turning the other cheek, either. The judgment of a Solomon is always required here.

  19. Guest says:

    This sucked.

  20. Casey says:

    Very well put. Also, @cocobobby…I was thinking the same about Christians and them sometimes being so judgemental in ones path. All I say to that, at least I know who I am and don't need to pretend. Anyway, great article.

  21. TMer says:

    Thanks for a refreshing article. I liked it. I've been practicing meditation for 30+ years. The only thing which struck me as odd was your silent repetition of "protective mantras" when near someone you don't like. I recognize that you are relatively new in your practice and just want to mention that as you continue, you will develop an unshakable inner strength that no longer feels a need to protect itself, is invincible and unassailable. This then allows for true compassion in your heart towards the nasty ones around us (while continuing to dislike interacting with them :-)).

    • Yogini5 says:

      As someone far more advanced in my meditation practice than would be possible in my mid-range future with yoga, I would tend to agree. Although inner visualization could help (and it occurs in an instant) …

  22. [...] Just because I Practice Yoga doesn’t Mean I have to Like You. ~ Frances Frischkorn [...]

  23. [...] without the steadiness that yogic breathing provides me, I might snap and karate chop that asshole who cat-called me, or cut me off in traffic or was rude to my [...]

  24. [...] makes you happier” is one of the biggest misnomers I have ever [...]

  25. Emily says:

    "In the yoga community these days there’s too much of an “I’m okay, you’re okay, it’s all okay – Namaste!” attitude (all accompanied with a fake, “compassionate” smile and an expensive organic t-shirt with a lotus on it, of course!). Well, that’s not yoga."

    Even though this article is well-written, I do have to chime in about one part. I believe that yoga can be anything you want it to be. To have to subscribe to a certain practice or mental navigation is somewhat of a contradictory. Whether you're into Kundalini, New Age, Dharma, etc…I don't think that's the point. If whatever you're practicing is your true, authentic self–regardless of what popular-media preaches, then…do that! "Fake compassionate smiles" are only fake if you believe them to be–the person showcasing one of these "fake" smiles may be living their ultimate truth–with or without an "organic tshirt with a lotus on it".

    Fostering any sort of self-awareness and an energy of pure love is what holds the weight, at least in my eyes. Thanks for the article. :)

  26. athayoganusasanam says:

    Thanks Temple.
    I've read a few of your pieces too and really enjoyed them. You are correct that it is foolish to try to tell other people how to heal themselves or their relationships. It can be tempting of course, even aggravating to see others make mistakes, but indeed, such outside intervention is often unfruitful.

  27. Yogini5 says:

    If I have ever argued with a yoga person, it had never been coming from a sense of entitlement. I live with so much stress, noise, lack of sleep. Sometimes yogis' or yogi and other peoples' agendas clash.

    If a yogi is so honest to the point of being TACTLESS and lacking diplomacy, then there is something else going on … and probably that something else is what brought them to yoga in the first place …

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