How Yoga Failed in Aurora.

Via Dr. Katy Poole
on Jul 25, 2012
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What’s the real goal of yoga—to perfect the body and mind for one’s own enlightenment or to inspire a world free of stress and violence?

I once posed a similar question to Swami Vishveshva Tirtha, the head of the Madhva Vedanta lineage in Udupi, India—a saint who started practicing meditation at the age of five.

His response?

“A yogi is a fish in water. (S)he purifies the society by eating all the debris.”

Traditionally, India has always revered the yogi as a benefit to society at large. Like a fish in water, it not only depends on the water for its life, it serves to clean the water.

The ultimate benefit of your yoga practice, in other words, is that it influences a larger collective field—if you can get beyond the self-obsession that dominates the individualistic Western embrace of the practice.

As an American yogi, I never believed that my daily yoga and meditation practice had any benefit other than what it offered my mind, body and emotional management—until I was sequestered in a remote central Indian village for three months while conducting my dissertation research.

I was staying with Nani (my best friend’s grandmother) where I shared a bed with five other women, bathed at 4 a.m. in the Narmada River (with the rest of the villagers) and helped milk the cow for my morning chai. Privacy was a luxury I resigned myself to sacrifice. And then I found it—an abandoned storeroom, which was a perfect sanctuary for my morning yoga and meditation practice. No one could bug me in there.

The first morning, I slipped out from under the leaden arm of one of my bedmates, tip-toed to my private sanctuary and unfurled my yoga mat. I relished the flow of each breath as I invoked the sun in my body. Alone with myself at last, I really missed being an American.

And then I saw them—many pairs of credulous eyes staring in at me through the windows. Where had they come from? How did they know I was here?

Ignoring the steady watch of their unflinching gazes, I continued with my practice.

But inside, I steamed with anger. Couldn’t I just be left alone for one hour? Was that too much to ask? I was really tired of being the village freak-show.

As I got up from my meditation, a sizeable crowd of onlookers who’d stared at me for well over two hours followed me as I made my way to the cowshed. They huddled around me requesting many things that seemed strange and out of place:

“Can you come to my field later today and bless my crops?”

“My auntie is very sick. Could you pronounce a mantra to help her get well?”

“Our daughter is getting married. We’d very much like it if you selected the proper bridegroom for her.”

I thought these people were out of their minds, until Nani explained something that changed the way I viewed my yoga and meditation practice.

“You are a yogini and you’ve come to this village. Because you are here, the people believe that the rain will be not too much and not too little this year. The fields will yield more food than we can eat. People won’t argue as much with each other. And we’ll all enjoy good health.”

The body of the yogi, Nani further explained, is a channel for the Divine to come through. The yogic practices purify the mind, emotions and ego until the individual sense of self dissolves. Ultimately, the presence of a yogi is a conduit for peace and non-violence.

“It’s said in the days of Buddha,” Nani concluded, “that his aura spread light across thousands of kilometers attracting followers with its magnetic non-violent vibrations. Kings stopped fighting wars and became monks. And India enjoyed hundreds of years of peace.”

In a real yogi’s presence, in other words, all violence gets subdued.

Hostile animals and people lose their aggression. A higher principle of peace dominates the collective instinct, which in its lowest expression is geared toward self-preservation and survival of the fittest. Yoga is ultimately an evolutionary system—to raise society at large up from its basest tendencies.

If this true, then why with so many people practicing yoga in the Denver area alone, did the worst public shooting in American history take place in its own backyard?

Perhaps we yogis have our focus in the wrong place. Perhaps the practice of yoga is too me-driven, when it’s really meant to surpass the demands of “I” and “mine.”

Maybe the shootings in Aurora are a wake-up call to really put our yoga to work for the collective good as it’s been traditionally regarded for thousands of years in India—the only country in world history, I might add, that won its independence from a major colonial power without firing a single bullet.

Because Gandhi was a yogi.


Editor: Brianna Bemel


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About Dr. Katy Poole

Katy Poole, Ph.D. helps yogis who have a thirst for deeper experiences of samadhi discover it in Sanskrit, which is not a dead classical language that only geeky academics who hang out at Berkeley or Harvard can decipher. Rather, Sanskrit is a vibrational technology with which to enter higher states of consciousness. It's the gateway drug that causes addiction to effortless meditation. And it aligns your biorhythms with the pulse of nature at its source. Dr. Poole offers a free online introduction to Sanskrit video course that you can access at her website:


72 Responses to “How Yoga Failed in Aurora.”

  1. Harleigh Quinn says:

    I'm sorry, and I understand the intention of the article, however I am working on another article.
    This one explains how there is no spirituality in yoga.
    Yoga has ONE purpose:

    Preparation for longer and deeper meditations.

    It is a form of stationary calisthenics that we have allowed to jump the shark into la la land.

  2. inspiredyogagal says:

    This is a beautiful and well written story that I will be sharing with my teacher trainees tomorrow in training. Thank you for sharing such a powerful piece. With gratitude and lovingkindness :-)

  3. Liz says:

    I've practiced yoga almost daily for 5 years. I teach it. I do believe in reacting as your higher self, helping your fellow man, and making choices that not only benefit you but those around you. I'm also agnostic. But I believe in spirituality. We all have a "spirit", whether it's a life force or our personality. You define this for yourself.

    However, I don't believe that around an enlightened individual all creatures and people fall into peaceful, loving, non-violent states. Otherwise, why was Gandhi assassinated? If you believe in Christ, why would he be crucified if he radiated so much peace and love that it changed all the people around him?

    If I read this article, and were a yogi residing in Colorado, I would feel like you just told me that me and my fellow yogis aren't doing enough. We aren't good enough because something bad happened in the world around us. I highly disagree with this line of thinking. It's superstitious and can be found in the minds of over-religious zealots everywhere. After 911, people blamed the "sinfulness of America". There are many scapegoats in the world.. Muslims, Christians, gays, women, men, Republicans, Democrats. I understand, but don't support, why people do this. It's because they can't make sense of something. A horror like the theater shootings is unfathomable. But it's really quite simple… there are depraved, snapped, mentally ill, or just hateful people that exist in the world. No yogi, or other person, is at fault for that.

    That being said, I have no problem with you encouraging people to be their best self. Cause and effect, otherwise known as Karma, is real. And the more love and goodness we provide to the world, the more the world will be a better place. It's just not a "cure-all" and it isn't a guarantee against all of the bad in the world.

  4. Sonyata says:

    YES! This is the spirit of yoga. Thank you for this moving and revealing article. I am saddened by the response of some of those above me. Their cynical attitudes and spirits are symptoms of the illness that is pervasive in our society.

    I have a small story to share, and it was while I was living in Las Vegas. I worked at a mini-mart/laundry mat owned by a family from India. When I first started working there, the place was over-run by local thugs, drug addicts, prostitutes alcoholics, pan handlers and shoplifters. The owner, an aging Indian man named Pal, was beside himself. His spirit was beaten, and the shelves in the store were nearly bare. Whatever he stocked the store with got shop lifted. At times, people would walk in the store, take something, and walk right out laughing "What you gonna do? Call the cops?"

    Some of the store's employees were giving cigarettes to their friends, giving alcohol to their friends, selling twelve packs for five bucks out the back door and keeping the cash for themselves. Pal did not know who to trust. I watched the people who came in the store for a month, to get to know them. Then I began to kick the bad customers out. It did not go over well at first, and I was at times threatened. But being a Marine Combat veteran, I was prepared to do my duty. When the sun went down at night, I could feel the evil come rolling in. I could sense when one of the thugs was approaching the store, and developed an innate sense of danger when bad customers were in the store. I sat at the counter reading the Dhamapada, the Teachings of Buddha.

    One night there was a young man snooping around the store. I put down my book and went over and stood next to him. He looked at me, and began taking things out from under his shirt. "See." he said to me. "I could have stolen all of these things." as he looked in his hands at several items. "Yes, you could have." I replied back to him. "But really, you would have just been stealing from yourself." I stated. "Yes, you're right." He said. "I believe in all that karma stuff." He gave me the items. "I do too." I responded back to him. "Have a great night!" I said to him as he turned back and waved at me. "Bye."

    I worked for Pal for three years, while teaching yoga classes in the daytime. I know the power of peace. When a man of peace is in the room, people come to peace quickly. The battles I fought at the Rebel Mini Mart and Laundry Matt were difficult spiritual battles, fought during the Great Recession in a city whose primary ambition is tourism – that of gambling, alcohol, and the sex industry. It is the self proclaimed "Sin City". It was like a college degree in the mechanics of karma, and the ill effects of a society that is so steeped in ego centric views that they scoff at the idea that anybody should tell them what to do, or what not to do. That anybody has any moral authority over them, or that anybody should say anything when people blatantly and openly disregard the law, or the dharma.

    I don't see your article as a criticism of the yogis and yoginis in Aurora, Colorado. Rather, I see it as a calling for the same to go beyond the self obsessive, egotistical practice that is difficult to rise above in a society that is "me me me centric". A society that is obsessed with their right to stock pile guns and ammunition, and the corporations that are anxious to sell them to the masses. My teacher, Larry Schultz (founder of It's Yoga) always stated his vision as "A million yogis to save the world." What you are talking about is what he meant. The power of a yogi is in their peaceful resolve. When they find it, it spreads contagiously. You don't have to say a word.


  5. Sonyata says:

    Harleigh Quinn – I have seen your posts on other articles, and think I understand your take on yoga. What you mean to say is that "Asana" is but a single limb of yoga, and as stated in the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, its purpose it to condition the body so that one may sit comfortably for an extended period of time in meditation. Asana is but one of the preparatory steps for meditation. And that is most certainly true.

    Granted, there are many fitness center yoga classes that teach only the physical conditioning of yoga asana, and many "hot yoga" and other fitness oriented studios. Often, the Yoga Sutra and the philosophy of yoga is the last thing to be taught. But that is not the case in all of the studios. The studio I practice at teaches philosophy of yoga, meditation, and has weekly kirtan. It has arisen from meditation, not the other way around.

    You may want to read the Bhagavid Gita in order to develop a better definition of yoga. Yes – Yoga is unity, and that unity is found in meditation. It is the path to come to the Divine union of God. And so in our lives we should seek to experience that union with others, for really we are all manifestations of the same ONE. That is also another context of asana, or "seat". Think of asana as ones "position" in life, amongst the countless souls of others. Suddenly, Sthira Sukha (steady and comfortable) takes on a whole new meaning, as does the mystical pranayama. These are the higher spiritual truths of yoga which one may come to with determined practice.

    Of the three gunas, there are tamas, rajas, and sattva. Sattva is the enlightened balance of the other two. A yogi comes to balance between sun and moon, light and the matter, the spirit and the flesh. So I don't know what you are trying to prove – there is no spirituality in yoga. Yoga is the pursuit of the balance of our spiritual, eternal nature, and our temporal, mortal nature.

  6. An interesting consideration of the yoga purpose.

    Posted to Elephant Yoga and Enlightened Society on Facebook.

    Lorin Arnold
    Blogger at The VeganAsana
    Editor for Elephant Food and Elephant Family.

  7. Thaddeus1 says:

    I think this is a wonderful treatment and analysis of the state of yoga practice in the west delivered in a respectful and considered manner. Thank you.

  8. Ed Spyhill says:

    All forms of spirituality combined are no match the human race's propensity to violence. We ask the impossible of meditation, Yoga, Buddhism, Zen, etc if we expect any or all to change us.

  9. Katy Poole says:

    Just a quick correction on one of the links that the editor of my article imbedded. The link connected to Swami Vishveshva Tirtha leads to another unrelated swami—Swami Sadashiva Tirtha. Here's a better link to give some background on the former:

  10. Emma Magenta says:

    The kind of superstitious, magical, childlike thinking described here is actually working AGAINST the efforts of real activists to create demonstrable change in the world. Gandhi didn't change history by being extra special holy, and sending out extra special holy vibes. He changed it by taking ACTIONS.

  11. Emma Magenta says:

    Also, Katy Poole–are you really making the outrageous, incredibly historically inaccurate claim that violence in India ceased to be under the influence of Buddhism? That's garbage.

  12. disappointed reader says:

    this is easily one of the worst articles ever written here on EJ. Please show some respect to the victims and the tragedy by relating it to a group of yogis in the local area.

    "If this true, then why with so many people practicing yoga in the Denver area alone, did the worst public shooting in American history take place in its own backyard?"

    you have to be kidding me?…are you all of you so wonderfully divine and magical that you never thought something like this out of your yoga bubble of good vibrations. We live in the USA… home to many dysfunctional families, schools, neighborhoods and media programming. Please wake up and realize this has nothing to do with yoga. Columbine had nothing to do with a lack of yoga either if you were wondering.

    "all these people got killed in a movie because our yoga wasn't good enough" – .a good example absurd of "me" type of thinking.

  13. disappointed reader says:

    by not relating it*

  14. Suri_k8 says:

    I totally agee with Emma, that the villagers thought you were some kind of enlightened being just shows how ignorant they are . India is submerged in poverty and misery, if yoga actually was this super special thing you are talking about India would be a paradise of peace and love …but it is not …The problem here as it often happens with westerners is that you seem to have this romantic view of India and eastern philosophy and you completely fail to see things objectively.

    Actually, India is one of the most dangerous countries for women, womens rights are like inexistent and they still cherish some very primitive traditions like forced marriage , child marriage …..if yoga has this enlightening power how come India is in the gutter in matters of quality of life and human rights????…

  15. __MikeG__ says:

    Magical thinking will not do any good. The villagers are probably nice people but it is beyond ridiculous for anyone to believe that performing calisthenics gives a wannabe acrobat the magical ability to control the rain.

    From there this article descends into a morass of ridiculous thought where the very presence of a performer of calisthenics can cause dogs to not chase cats and criminals to stop committing crimes.

    And BTW, Gandhi did not perform any magic in his work to free India from British rule. He took no violent action. But the key is he took action. At every turn he challenged British rule.

    You want to reduce violence? Magical thinking and belief in vibrations will always fail. Be like Gandhi if you want to make a change. Take action.

  16. Susi says:

    Wow, I don't know where to start. Even though I do believe that our intentions can influence external events, it's quite a stretch for anyone to believe that even the very best, focused intentions of any group can eliminate 100% of the violence in any area. Decrease it, sure, I'll believe that. And despite these murders being a terrible act, we'll never know what COULD have happened. Maybe 3 or 4 potential serial killers didn't follow through with their own plans. (I'm not being sarcastic. We really don't know.)

    The other thing is that sure, there is a superficiality to some people's yoga practices. (And not just in the US. There are superficial people everywhere.) But certainly there are many practitioners who are very serious, very devoted in the practice. Many practice metta on a daily basis, for instance. There might even be a few who became serious and devoted without going to India. I'm just not sure why there is an assumption that the yoga practitioners around the Aurora area are self-obsessed.

  17. yogasamurai says:

    The best thing yogis can do in the wake of this tragedy is to mentally prepare themselves to act if they ever find themselves in a similar setting.

    Think of how to maintain absolute calm and clarity when the moment to act arrives – when the killer's gun jams, for example – and have the presence of mind and spirit to spring into action and tackle and subdue the motherfucker?

    We're a nation of pacified, overfed, terrified sheep that sit in our little pens waiting to get slaughtered by a 24 year old moron without military training. It was 1 against 100 – do the fucking math.

    All yoga seems to have taught the suburban Stepford Wuves who dominate its ranks is how to bliss out, go on exotic yoga vacations, dip into their Infinity pools, and gracefully age with their wrinkles under the glorious banner of mindful detachment.

    I am reminded of the amazing rugby player who organized a group of male passengers to rush the cockpit in the last hijacked plane on 9/11 that was headed for the White House.

    Now there's a man among men. Oh yeah – and he was gay.

    But keep praying guys – because really it means so much!!!

  18. @Suri_k8 says:

    "Sanskrit is a vibrational technology with which to enter higher states of consciousness. It's the gateway drug that causes addiction to effortless meditation. And it aligns your biorhythms with the pulse of nature at its source."

    I would love to see some peer reviewed scientific evidence for that. Last time I checked Sanskrit was just another of the thousands of languages that exist.

  19. sweet_kitten_candy says:

    Gawd! Yogis are starting to sound like evangelical christians.

  20. arthur says:

    these reactions are amazing! it is true and testable that hostilities cease in the presence of grounded non-violence. i was in a bar at 3am and a guy started choking me for no apparent reason, but it was ok cause i apologized and asked what was wrong, then the choker and i talked and it was a case of mistaken intention. it was not a case of coincidence (except that i didn't react violently), but a case of peace. it is a long road to real grounding in peace, and is one that has to be traveled constantly, beginning again and again, and almost always alone. our hedonistic, desire-fulfilling and need-ignoring culture is so opposed to contentment and peace even barbs like name calling seem useful and calming. it is amazing and we are all to blame for failing to bring peace, to ourselves and everybeing else! beginning …

  21. Padma Kadag says:

    Harliegh, Mike G, Suri K8, One consideration is where is the harm in the villagers acting in such a way? Why does this get you so upset? The villagers,culturally, have been suckled on religious stories of gods and goddesses and the holy people who embody them…this is a fact. Any person who appears to be "trained" in any kind of spiritual discipline wiill be treated as if they are a god or Buddha because this is their custom…because you just never know if that stranger is…. This is prevalent around the world…In Ireland they set a place at the table for the christ…and so on. Where is the harm in this? The villagers feel as if they have been blessed and it adds to their day or year in a positive way. And in fact the villagers have taken "Action" through their custom. Their reality makes them happy. Can you say the same?

  22. Padma Kadag says:

    Hey Harleigh! How have the "Tibetans abandoned us"?

  23. Harleigh Quinn says:

    There's this WONDERFUL book, I believe it is called "the history of yoga" that refutes this view point, as well as pointing out what is practiced in the west really isn't yoga.
    This dilution of yoga has done nothing but attract broken, narcissistic, self absorbed people now turned pious, bulletproof ego'd hedonists that have are now protected by a community that not only does not speak up concerning their abuses toward others, their ever inflating and grandiose egos now couched in "spirituality" so they can do such things as walk into a village feeling like a god, and not have any reason to feel or exhibit true humility, but also defend them in these actions.

    Modern yoga has helped support the problem of them bringing their problems into it with them, and converting yoga to a community of problem people who now feel they are "holier than thou".

    Until people learn to not pervert everything they touch, yoga has no purpose in the west except exercise.

  24. Pankaj Seth says:

    From the Charaka Samhita, one of the source texts of Ayurveda… a cautionary tale.

    "In the Primal Age, men and women were endowed vitality equal to that of the progeny of Goddess Aditi (Unbounded), exceedingly blameless and unhampered in their powers, had direct knowledge of the gods, the godlike sages, the divine law, sacrifice and ritual, possessed bodies that were compact and firm, had clear senses and complexions, speed, strength and prowess like those of the wind. They were devoted to truth, rectitude, compassion, charity, self-restraint, moral discipline, spiritual endeavour, fasting, continence and religious vows. They were free from fear, desire, aversion, infatuation, greed, anger, despondency, pride, disease, sleep, indolence, fatigue, languor, sloth and the spirit of acquisition; and lastly, they were imbued with unlimited longevity. For the benefit of these people of heroic minds, qualities and deeds, the crops were replete with wonderful taste, potency and virtue, for the earth during the dawn of the golden age was charged to the full with all excellent qualities.

    As the First Age wore on, those who were better circumstanced gave in to lassitude. Lassitude gave rise to indolence, indolence created the need for the accumulation of goods, accumulation necessitated acquisition, the spirit of acquisition engendered greed. All this came to pass long ago, in the First Age.Thereafter, the bodies of human beings failing to receive sustenance as before from the progressively deteriorating quality of food and afflicted by the heat and wind, soon succumbed to the attacks of fevers and other diseases. Thus, there was a gradual decline in the span enjoyed by successive generations.

    Thereafter, in the Second Age greed brought malice in its wake; malice led to falsehood; falsehood let loose lust, anger, vanity, hatred, cruelty, aggression, fear, affliction, grief, anxiety, distress and the like. Consequently, in the Second Age, virtue found itself deprived of a quarter of its plenitude. From this quarterly loss in virtue, there followed a similar deterioration in the duration of the succeeding Age and in the beneficent power of the Earth. It is in consequence of this deterioration that there took place a corresponding deterioration in the sap, purity and potency of herbs."

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