Yoga might make you a better person — you are not a better person because you do yoga.

Via on Jul 2, 2011

During my short trip home to Boulder I was granted the time and opportunity to indulge in almost daily yoga. And more importantly, though according to my own personal bank statements I am on the edge of poverty, with my mother’s help I had the funding to back this indulgence.

The week started with a three day yoga and meditation retreat at the Shambhala Mountain Center with Erica Kaufman.

I skipped out on some of the chanting and hand holding, but by the end of three yoga-filled days in such unbelievably serene surroundings I couldn’t help but open my mind to a more spiritual connection with yoga that I admit I have resisted.

Granted, In the past I have come close to tears in deep hip openers and many of my “life is amazing” moments have come with my eyes shut and body limp in Savasana. But, in general, I’ve approached yoga as I have most things in my life — open minded and enthusiastic but always grounded in reason and albeit a little pessimism.

For the rest of the week, with no homework or job and all of Boulders amazing studios and instructors at my fingertips, I had the liberty to explore this relationship further. And by the end of the week, during arguably the best class of my life with MC Yogi and Amanda Giocomini at the Hanuman Yoga Festival, I was so relaxed and happy that I wanted to kiss the strangers in downward dog surrounding me — sure that they felt as connected and open minded as I did as they were, after all, practicing yoga.

But, when I returned home elated from each class — skeptical of the judgment of anyone who does not do yoga — I was always brought back to reality with a poem on my mother’s fridge.

It reads like this:

New Year’s Eve, by: Carl Dennis

However busy you are, you should still reserve
One evening a year for thinking about your double
The man who took the curve on Conway Road
Too fast, given the icy patches that night,
But no faster than you did; the man whose car
When it slid through the shoulder
Happened to strike a girl walking alone
From a neighbor’s party to her parents’ farm,
While your car struck nothing more notable
Than a snowbank.
One evening for recalling how soon you transformed
Your accident into a comic tale
Told first at a body shop, for comparing
That hour of pleasure with his hour of pain
At the house of the stricken parents, and his many
Long afternoons at the Lutheran graveyard.
If nobody blames you for assuming your luck
Has something to do with your character,
Don’t blame him for assuming that his misfortune
Is somehow deserved, that justice would be undone
If his extra grief was balanced later
By a portion of extra joy.
Lucky you, whose personal faith has widened
To include an angel assigned to protect you
From the usual outcome of heedless moments.
But this evening consider the angel he lives with,
The stern enforcer who drives the sinners
Out of the Garden with a flaming sword.
And locks the gate

Though the poem has nothing to do with yoga I think it teaches an important lesson that too often yoga enthusiasts forget — privilege.

Instructors often talk about how as humans we are all born with a potential that you can harness when you dedicate yourself to your practice. Yoga promises to open your mind, that its meditative movement will make you feel better about yourself and thus you will have a positive effect in the interconnected web of life.

And I do not disagree with this entirely. Yoga has made me feel healthier, happier and at the end of a class a more positive person. This cannot be said of everyone, however.

We are not born with the same potential. Some people are born physically handicapped. Some people are poor and stay poor their entire lives. These people will never have the luxury of spending $500 on a three day retreat in the mountains. And in most places in the world people do not have the work schedule to fit in a 90-minute C2 at noon on a Monday.

And even those who do have the potential time and resources to spend on yoga may not live in beautiful surroundings that encourage optimism. They may have experienced or witnessed suffering that makes them doubt that sun salutations are the key to world-wide happiness.

As it says in the poem, consider these people the next time you practice. Consider during the speech by your instructor praising you for being so open and willing to explore yoga how lucky you are to have the means of doing so.

Yoga is a privilege not afforded to everyone. So, while yoga might make those who practice it better people, this does not mean we are better or more enlightened people because we choose to practice.

About Adeline Bash

Adeline Bash is a Boulder native currently studying journalism at the University of Oregon in Eugene. Like all journalists, she hopes to make a difference through her writing by advocating for those who cannot do so themselves. Along with writing, she plans to spend her life climbing mountains, learning everything she can, traveling the world, and spending time with as many of its living beings as possible. You can see more of her ideas and writing at Trekking Through It.

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13 Responses to “Yoga might make you a better person — you are not a better person because you do yoga.”

  1. Jen says:

    Really beautiful! It is so important to remember to be thankful that we have the opportunity to do yoga.

  2. Enjoyed this very much, Adeline. Well done.

    Bob W. Yoga Editor
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  3. Maria says:

    lovely. thank you

  4. Tanya Lee Markul tanya lee markul says:

    Hi Adeline. Thanks so much for this. I do like to believe that we all have the same potential, although each of us are born into our own individual vessel and have different tools and environments externally…making each of our paths (or puzzles) extremely individual (yet we are all connected and our searching for the same thing: to find ourselves among the suffering). But, living the yoga 'life' is free of charge and doesn't require weekend retreats, expensive gear, etc. You don't even need a yoga mat to practice. However, I couldn't agree with you more – just because you choose to be 'practicing' yoga doesn't mean that you are better than anyone else.

    Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

    Tanya Lee Markul, Assoc. Yoga Editor
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  5. Yogini5 says:

    At the risk of going with someone "uncertified", I do still go to yoga class. I no longer support those teachers who have to teach embellished, "enriched" yoga classes primarily to a market that never sees a bank account dwindle into overdraft, who never finds themselves living paycheck to paycheck, or commuting a good chunk of hours just to have a job with inflexible hours.

    Not only because I can't, but also because I don't want to.

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

    Bob W. Yoga Editor
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  7. I think we understand yoga just in our primitive European way of mind – it's wrong

  8. lisa cohen says:

    Thanks so much for a lovely and thought provoking article! I am a person who scrubbed toilets for years in order to afford (or as I like to say, "creatively finance") daily asana classes. However, I also acknowledge that not everyone can even get to that point, which, for me, was simply my intro to the physical world of yoga. It was not for a long time after I adopted a dedicated yoga class practice that the deeper meaning of yoga to include so much more than just the physical began to unravel in my life. It is still unraveling and I would bet/hope, will continue to do so for a long time. I am grateful for the opportunities afforded me, and I see that ultimately, no matter what one's personal circumstances are, we each have a place where we can choose what do do with whatever hand we are dealt in life. As a teacher, I have taught all sorts of students. From a group of homeless men at a local shelter to wealthy professionals, and from the very young to those who are quite old, I see that while financial and physical situations vary immensely, when it comes down to it, each individual made a choice at some point to edge a bit out of their comfort zone and take a risk. I am grateful for my own willingness and for the willingness of others.

    What a great article to remind me to remain grateful and willing.

  9. addiebash3 says:

    Thank you all for your comments and feedback. It is a much more complicated and interesting topic than I thought. What is yoga really? Do we need these expensive classes and gear to be a yogi? I'm glad we are all willing to delve deeper into understanding these issues and we're so lucky to have mediums like Elephant as a way of doing so!

  10. Guest says:

    You are a better person because you are a better person, with or without Yoga.

  11. [...] Yoga might make you a better person — you are not a better person because you do yoga. [...]

  12. [...] Yoga might make you a better person — you are not a better person because you do yoga. [...]

  13. Yogini5 says:

    And remember this (and I have taken a couple handfuls of classes only – in over 4 years of frequent practice): as with Temple, the classes do send out prayers and intentions for all those "who could not practice with us in class today". To all of you: I am in receipt of all your kind intentions (at no extra charge)—YES! I'm finally going to take you up on your"word". That is a self-renewable and self-perpetuating promise…

    On the whole, after the first 10 minutes, the only thing reminding me that I am alone is, I have to change the music myself … if I even deign to use music …

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