Well, I guess it was inevitable but this year is surely the watershed moment.
Anti-yoga has burst on the scene with a vehemence not seen since the explosion of the commercialized yoga it set itself against. Everyone from random bloggers to major media are joining the chorus of voices telling yoga teachers to quit their preaching about sharing light and manifesting intentions, stop being so intolerably happy and really just to shut the hell up altogether. We don’t want to hear about your veganism, your chakra balancing, your trips to India or your guru. Lighten up, have a drink and get out of my face with your condescending, life-affirming, Sanskrit-infused, here’s-what-you-should-be-doing nonsense already.
The New York Times and NPR say that yoga is going to hurt you. The John Friend debacle is proof that all teachers are going to abuse you. Wanderlust’s new ticket policies prove that it’s all about the money.
Twenty-two bucks for a drop-in? Are you kidding me? Our patience is wearing thin and the vitriol is revving up.
Before I dive into this, let me just say that I get at least part of it. Nobody likes to be preached to about what they should be doing differently, where we’re not living up to our potential. Yoga teachers are at least as flawed as everybody else (cue the old adage “we teach what we most need to learn”). There are real problems in the world, and real problems in your life, and no amount of manifesting abundance is going to pay your rent or get your boss to quit being such a jerk.
There’s also a cultural phenomenon at work that has been studied and written about a lot: we just don’t trust happy people.
We tend to think they’re less intelligent, less thoughtful and less realistic. The cool kids aren’t happy. The more dark and unresolved the movie, the better it is. At least one study showed that disagreeable and difficult people are perceived as being more intelligent and effective in the workplace. Happy people alone are irritating enough, but those who make a living trying to tell you to be happier and more aligned are really too much to take. Right?
But here’s the thing; as grating as the kombucha and kumbaya crowd can be, their snide and snarky antagonists don’t seem to offer a very good alternative. Defined primarily by what they’re against, these folks seem to revel the failures of others. It’s been disheartening to see the schadenfreude that’s come out around this horrible situation around the Anusara community. There’s an old admonition against making your light seem brighter by blowing out everyone else’s. When I read some of these diatribes, it often feels like that’s the only objective.
You see, the truth is that often, a teacher’s words in class do have an impact and mostly they won’t even know it.
I know “focus groups of one” aren’t the most reliable resource, but I’d like to share a personal experience on this because I believe it is likely representative. I taught at one studio for eleven years, and for six or seven years at two others. When we opened Groove Yoga, I quit those classes. Eleven years is a long time (according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average tenure in services businesses is two and a half years), and it was really hard to not be part of that community anymore. As my last class drew near, and for several months afterward, I had some heartbreakingly kind conversations with current and former students.
People who had come to class, done their practice and walked out without a word for years reached out.
They brought up things I had said in class years earlier that had stuck with them, talked about deep, lasting friendships they had made through the studio and told of some very tough times when rolling out a yoga mat at six o’clock on a Sunday night seemed like the only anchor in their week. I had people who up to that point had only told me when they thought the room was too hot or too cold, that I should play some rock-n-roll or turn off the music altogether, that savasana was too short or too long, all of a sudden recounting in precise detail stories I didn’t even remember sharing.
Teachers, you’ve got those people in your classes too. Lots of them, I suspect.
Most of us aren’t John Friend, Seane Corn, Bryan Kest, Baron Baptiste, or Shiva Rea—our pedestals aren’t all that treacherously high. But some people will put you on one, whether you want them to or not. Maybe the best course of action is to accept that and use it as motivation—to become better people, to look honestly at our shortcomings and to make sure we’re not putting ourselves up on one.
Teach from your own experience and from your own heart, and know that some are listening. Keep talking, yoga teachers—share what has worked for you personally, and for those who you’ve known. Don’t be shamed into silence just because the cynics are loud right now. You’ve got to be better than that.
Kevin Collins is a yoga instructor in Northern California and the owner of Groove Yoga in Berkeley. He was voted “Least Likely to Become a Yoga Instructor” in high school but he sure showed them.