Anti Yoga Blog. ~ Kevin Collins

Via on Feb 22, 2012
Photo: Diego Dacal

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Photo: 401K

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.

Photo: lululemon athletica

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.

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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.

 

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15 Responses to “Anti Yoga Blog. ~ Kevin Collins”

  1. Bryan says:

    Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. One's local yoga teachers are probably more likely to be positive transformational sources in a life than the superstar yogis. I mean no disrespect towards the latter, but it's a matter of time. I spend five hours per week with my local teachers. In some cases they've studied as long and as intently as any superstar, and their wisdom is a constant inspiration.

    • guest says:

      I agree! The time of the superstar charismatic yoga "master" is on its way out. The time of the practitioner is in! It is now about the individual making yoga their own.
      Your local teachers, the people who are there day in and day out with you, are quietly doing just what the author describes — offering their insights without expectation. WIthout need even of thanks.
      Beautiful article. Thank you.

      • guest2 says:

        I absolutely agree that it's the local teachers that will most likely have the most positive impact on yoga practicioners. At the same time I think it's important to note that the John Friends of the world are not isolated to big name yoga teachers. There are more than a few narcissistic yoga teachers out there in our local studios doing a lot of the same things JF is accused of. I think we all just need to be more careful about who we place up on a pedestal. As the saying goes, "If you meet the Buddha on the path, kill him." Look within, not outside.

  2. Shawna Turner Shawna says:

    Lovely. "Don't be shamed into silence". Word :)

  3. mattalign says:

    That was a really good article. Very well said!

  4. Andrew Gurvey agurvey says:

    Well said!

  5. Tanya Lee Markul Tanya Lee Markul says:

    Thank you Kevin!!

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

    Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

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

  6. guest says:

    Thank you! I agree..my yoga teacher is not always happy and shares her downs, not just her ups. Her honesty is what I love. And she (and her class) got me through the past year (she doesn't know)

  7. lyn says:

    if I hear the word manifest or blossom or brighten or intention or well the list just keeps going …..the comment above about it becoming like stepford wife culture is right on!

  8. Stewart J. Lawrence says:

    Thanks for stepping into grace! :o))))))

  9. [...] is nothing spiritual about it. It’s a cash cow and they are milking many Western followers of yoga for all they can get. Not always—I am [...]

  10. Stewart J. Lawrence says:

    Very well said, eh. People inside AY, especially the teacher corps, just don't get it. What you're saying strikes at the heart of their pretension, and the financial emotional and psychological investment they have made in their new self-appointed status. It's an addiction, and in some cases, comes close to a form of pathology.

    The author here thinks it's students are putting them on a pedestal. In my experience, that's just not the case, though it may appear that way. Mostly, it's teachers constructing a relationship with students from above" and students, their eyes rolling, often just playing along because they think the teacher is funny, cute, or good natured, and they do want to get something out of class. The fact is, a lot of the guru speak – even the daily reflection, or whatever else a teacher might think he or she is providing the "flock" – is quietly laughed off by the students.

    If the author here thinks there's a real pedestal he's on — however not "treacherously high," that's his limitation. There are students that do try to put you on one, and a good teacher encourages those students to embrace their own projection, assuming the teacher isn't addicted to that projection, which so many are, and can stand the ego deflation?

    The more I've been involved on the fringes of yoga cults like Anusara, the more thankful I am for traditional religious organizations – and 12 step programs – that are much clearer on how true spiritual authority is licensed, shared, and policed. Even great priests take off their robes after mass, and recognize that, when they do, they're mere mortals.

    Instead of endlessly ruminating on the state of yoga from our lotus positions, we need to move squarely and forthrightly to a discussion of how to "reform" the yoga industry. Teacher training especially, with the creation of licensing schools apart from any one studio or brand, as well as guidelines for commercial activity, and the transparency of yoga organizations, etc.

    It's really that simple. At some point, you're either part of the solution – or still just part of the problem. Some people calling for greater "reflection" in the abstract are just hoping that with the passage of time, criticism will fade, and they can just go back to business as usual.

    I'm not that cynical – they are. Namaste.

  11. guest2 says:

    I have read a lot of your thoughts on this scandal, including your piece on the HuffPost. While I agree with much of what you say, it seems too focused on Anusara. While they might have been an extreme (and quite a large group) in their cultishness, I see the very behavior in many small studios and with locally popular yoga teachers… even in your home base of DC. The problem is not at all isolated to Anusara and I think you need to expand your view and realize that yoga as a whole has a lot of work to do to shed these "pedestal"-seeking teachers.

    Keep up the good work, Stewart. I agree with much of your perspective, I just think your debate needs to be broadened.

  12. Stewart J. Lawrence says:

    My Huff-Po piece wasn't actually about Anusara — and in fact, neither are my comments here. Anusara became the peg, so to speak, because of the recent scandal and its aftermath.

    Anusara, though, has certainly constructed a distinctive internal authority system, and a unique cult of individual personality. It has also insisted on promoting itself as the super-elite of the yoga world

    So, in a sense, one could argue — "the harder they come, the harder they fall."

    But beyond that, though, why not discuss some of your own experiences in the yoga world, since you seem to suggest that you are familiar with "many small studios and locally popular yoga teachers." Otherwise, I might develop the sneaking suspicion that you simply want some of the "heat" off of Anusara.

    I have written about yoga broadly in the past, and again — broadly here. The issues are endemic to American yoga culture, no question, refracted through Anusara in a distinctive way.

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