Why I Left Yoga (& Why I Think A Helluva Lot Of People Are Being Duped). ~ Irasna Rising

Via on Jul 18, 2012

Photo: Flickr/Eugenijus Barzdzius

For further reading:

Things Your Yoga Teacher is Dying to Tell You (But Probably Won’t). ~ 

9 Rules Every Yoga Teacher Should Follow.

Like millions of Westerners out there, I too joined the yoga bandwagon about eight years ago.

After trying out my first Bikram class, I moved onto Moksha and then settled at a hot yoga studio, which practices all types of yoga, in a hot space.

I too fell in love with how yoga made my body feel after a particularly tough workout.

I too fell into the pseudo-spiritual aspects of the practice.

And, finally, I too got burned out by the practice.

Disillusioned—and at times—even disgusted at the people who I thought should be setting an example to the rest of us. But, as it turns out, they are even more messed up than you realize—and yoga is just an effective cloak to hide their true nature.

For me, it was and always will be the health benefits of yoga which attracted me, and that still keep me around. But, perhaps in my naïveté,  I also thought the people who were a part of the scene would be as sincere as they appeared to be.

I had read just about every book out there, was thoroughly sick of the New Age charlatans claiming to have psychic abilities all in the name of Mr. Dollar—and selling their wares, whether it was books, weekend retreats or $1,000 seminars—and I became disenchanted with what the so-called “good life” that a Westernized professional was offering (it’s a formula, no more.)

With yoga, I finally felt that I found something authentic, based on authentic teachings…plus, I felt great afterwards.

The people seemed nice; they had read and kept quoting all the great seers and sages of the centuries: Aurobindo, Vivekananda, Ramakrishna, Rumi, Hafiz and more recently, writers like Eckhart Tolle. They were into the green movement, recycling and genuinely concerned about Mother Earth. They wore Toms and donated to legitimate foundations like Unicef, Right to Play and so on.

But a few nagging observations wouldn’t leave me.

1. First of all, I’m of Indian heritage. I’m brown. You look at me and you know I’m ethnic. I speak the language and still have many extended family members in India and I go back to visit often. By and large (and I’m generalizing, since it’s not always the case) but yoga in the West is increasingly becoming a trendy diversion for the affluent and bored—or those who are obsessed with the body beautiful and the cult of hedonism which follows that.

Now, I see yoga branching out into such things like chocolate yoga or trance dance yoga, where in short, the culture of the nightclub or rave is being super-imposed onto yoga.

India is still deeply conservative, socially; arranged marriages are still the norm in the villages and were also the norm in the big cities, until maybe 20 years ago. Binge drinking, sexual promiscuity and drug taking, which are elements of the club culture, are strongly frowned upon and considered socially unacceptable in many social circles in India. But yet, it is being passed off as something that is a part of yoga by North American suburban kids and marketers looking for the next big trend…when it just isn’t true.

I can barely make out one non-Caucasian at this Bikram yoga training session.

2. It is extremely classist. It lacks plurality and inclusiveness. I do not see many people of blue-collar backgrounds who can afford these classes on a regular basis—and many of them are precisely the ones who could probably benefit the most from yoga. Most of the studios in my city charge around $1,200 for an unlimited yearly membership. That’s serious coin.

I can hardly  envision a stressed out, single mother, trying to raise her kids on social assistance being able to afford that when she probably needs the benefits of yoga more than the pampered trophy wife who just returned form her five-star shamanistic initiation retreat in Bolivia.

If anyone can find a non-Caucasian here, let me know.

I walk into most of my yoga classes and I see nothing but a sea of white faces, with maybe the token black and asian. Some people may read that as a racist statement but I’m not trying to be racist—and this isn’t a reverse racism argument either—it is just my observation.

Yoga in North America caters to the affluent and is falling in line with the capitalist system of profit. It is increasingly distancing itself from the true roots of yoga.

3. It is really annoying to watch some white people try to act ethnically brown, when they are not…and will never be.

Pussy Cat Dolls

Intention is everything here. I can understand there is a difference between cultural appreciation and cultural appropriation, but when the Pussy Cat Dolls show up in saris at some premiere, you have to ask yourself: what is the intention?

Pale women with Shiva tramp-stamps do not look good in saris, doing Bollywood dance moves or wearing bhindis—especially if they have freckles (like, really.)

For Indian women, this is part of their cultural heritage and identity, not some gimmicky hip trend to try out and pose around in until the next trend shows up.

Ganeshananda—’m wondering how many Indian followers does he have?

4. Sanskrit, like Latin, is a dead language. Let it go already.

The Catholic Church let go of the Latin Mass after Vatican II back in the early 1960’s. Chanting in sanskrit does not make you look cool nor does it make you an automatic Hindu. Or, an authority on yoga, Vedic studies or Indology (yes, that is a real academic subject.)

Nor does having a made up Sanskit-derived moniker name make you any more real either with names like Blissananda, Ganeshananda, Serenityananda etc.

5. Just because it’s exotic does not mean it’s real or more authentic. Real Indians, in India, make fun of many Westerners behind their backs and are making money off of their ignorance.

Do you see real, native Indians, in the fancy expensive ashrams in India? No.

Do you see many native Indians “following” your Guruji? Probably not.

Do you see many Indian women at these open air clothing-optional Tantric weekend couples workshops in Hawaii?

Did you ever ask why not? I’ll let you in on a little secret: many of these so-called gurus and God-men (and women) of India are scam artists—but because their ashrams and centres bring in so much much-needed cash and tourist dollars, the Indian government looks the other way. And in fact, they are in on it too.

There 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 generalizing. There are some authentic teachers left in India—but they’re usually just minding their own business and not interested in selling anything or proselytizing people. Unfortunately, the former is happening more frequently than the latter.

YouTube Preview Image

Another yogi who pretty much indirectly admits Caucasians are inferior to Indians is Bikram Choudhury. In his 60 minutes interview, he said that the intense physical aspects of Bikram yoga is more “suitable” to North Americans because they need to discipline themselves physically before they can start on the spiritual and psychic—and that it’s not necessary for Indians. That somehow, the physical and mental make-up of Caucasians is different from Indians and therefore, they need to do an additional step of rigorous physical training before attempting anything spiritual. Does anyone see the double-speak and double-standard here? (at 1:15 and 10:10)

Thai Forest Tradition Buddhist monk.

They are promising you enlightenment just as long as you pay up or keep giving enforced “donations”—but it doesn’t work that way.

Why do you think celibate Buddhist monks devote their entire lives to living in monasteries under vows of poverty, living off of alms, trying to achieve enlightenment?

Because it’s excruciatingly hard work—and it takes a lot more than a weekend retreat or two, plus reading a best-seller, to get there.

6. Yoga can become cultic—very quickly—and the levels of self-absorption and narcissism can sky-rocket easily if you don’t watch it…so keep your radar tuned in. I have heard stories of certain Jivamukti yoga instructors threatening to cut off friendships with other yoga instructors from other traditions because they were not completely vegan.

Really folks?

That’s all you can think about?

A woman runs from anti-riot police during a demonstration in Athens, Greece.

There’s a nuclear reactor in Japan which is about to fail and spells disaster for the West coast of North America. Workers in Greece, Spain, Ireland and Portugal are on the front lines fighting technocrats and bankers who are trying to rob them of their right to live in some semblance of dignity and respect. There’s a Maoist insurgency in central India and peasants are trying to keep their land from mining companies and this is what you choose to bicker about?

7. The level of cultural awareness among some of the yoga set is pitiful at times. And yet, this is the same crowd that tries to come off as cultural and spiritual mouthpieces for Indian sub-continent.

It is truly a subcontinent, with vast differences in culture, religion, diet, language, customs and history. The only commonality you will find among Punjabis, Gujaratis, Marathis, Rajasthanis, Bengalis, Tamils, Goan, Keralese, Nepalis, Uttar Pradeshi, Kashmiri, Assamese, Ladakhs, Orissians etc is possibly the brown skin…if that.

Once upon a time, all these provinces and territories were their own kingdoms and countries. They were amalgamated and consolidated into one state and created into India by the British. Think of them as entirely different countries with their own unique identities—you wouldn’t mix up a Pole with a Russian (and if you did, they’d probably punch you), so why should you mix up a Tamil with a Punjabi?

You have no idea how annoying it is to hear some girl at the yoga studio look at you and say, “Oh, I have an Indian friend and her parents made her get married to some computer engineer in San Jose and she had to get this thing signed with witnesses. What’s that about?”

Me: “Was she Sikh?”

Girl: “No, I think she’s Muslim.”

Me: “Well, I’m Sikh, so I’m not really sure.”

Girl: “But she’s Indian, just like you.”

Me: “Yeah, but we have many different religions in India and practice things differently.”

And it just goes downhill from there.

In the end, I began to see how vacuous the scene was becoming and has become.

I still love the feeling I get after doing a session but I just can’t stand to be around the high-school popularity contest atmosphere which has permeated many of the studios these days—and some of the more vapid personalities who are claiming to be instructors and taking advantage of their privileges.

I know they are not all like that. There are some genuine, well-meaning people in the yoga community and some of them are doing some truly outstanding work.

But for me personally, I question the profit-driven, hedonistic aspects which seems to have taken over the subculture.

Yogadork recently had an article asking if yoga needs to grow up.

In short, yes. Big time.

*This pieced has been adapted from the original post on earthenergyreader.wordpress.com.

Earth Energy Reader is an over-educated but bored thirty-something who loves pugs, organic gardening, traveling to off-the-beaten-path places and pleasant surprises.

Likes: The Truther Movement, well-done astrology, 80′s alternative music, rainbows, flowers that smell like flowers, mashed potatoes, roasted garlic, wine and port, Indian, Thai and Greek food, Michael Fassbender, Viggo Mortensen, Sunday brunch, reading, Ryzsyard Kapucinski books, old Jean Paul Gaultier, red lipstick, leopard print pumps, vintage hats and David Bowie.

Dislikes: Hip hop, country western music, Nickelback, New Agers, Canadian winters, Stephen King, sheeple, suburban mediocrities, Mexican food, Mondays, jocks, himbos and bimbos, people who ride their bicycle on the foot path and pedestrians on the bike path especially when the two paths are next to each other, people who stand at the front of the bus and block the entrance when there are tons of open seats in the back. You get the idea.


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422 Responses to “Why I Left Yoga (& Why I Think A Helluva Lot Of People Are Being Duped). ~ Irasna Rising”

  1. Jessa says:

    I must say that this article is poorly researched (as a lot of dedicated yogis have pointed out in the comments. Also, Latin is still spoken in the Vatican and I currently live next to a cathedral in Spain where they hold mass in Latin once a week. Not implying that this is a great thing per se, just pointing out that you should not generate facts when making a point) and extremely racist and elitist. I’m not American nor Canadian, but I am a Caucasian woman that enjoys practicing yoga every once in a while- even more now that I’m pregnant with my half-Indian child. I don’t know honestly why you resent White people so much and I have hardly ever come across someone so unashamed of their blatant racist statements, but I feel like the person that’s suffering most from all this is you yourself. Your culture is not superior, neither is mine, nor is anyone else’s. I don’t laugh at the many Indians today that bleach their skin to imitate Caucasian beauty standards and I could not care less if I saw them in a medieval gown. Sure, I can be irritated by annoying people and the commercialization of things. But you said yourself that Indians were doing it too and exploiting Westeners (btw, may I point out that you said you wouldn’t throw a Polish person together with a Russian and here you go over and over again referring to everyone with light skin as if they are all the same) – which I don’t even see as exploitation only as a free market that brings money to an emerging country.

    For you it is even bothersome to have someone inquire about Indian culture (again, you said YOURSELF that there are still a lot of arranged marriages but then feel offended if someone brings it up), but then I’m sure you have never asked a White person if they are of German, Irish or Hungarian decent and how that affected their beliefs and cultural values.

    The lesson to be learned here is that many people do not take in your point because it was filled with hatred and you could have helped this by 1) researching properly what you are writing about 2) taking a step back and trying to understand rather than judge 3) not mix in racism, ethnic elitism and pictures aimed to underline your stereotypical views.

    I find it ironic as well that you complain about some people being too serious about living a vegan life, while this is purely focused on kindness to all living creatures and the planet, yet you took so much time out of your schedule to criticize and judge a traditional and spiritual practice that other people clearly enjoy and value.

    I think there are so many beautiful things about the Indian culture and I also love living in today’s diverse communities, but it’s people like you that make me raise an eyebrow and wonder why they choose to stay in the US, Canada or any other country where the majority is White (newsflash- over half of the world is Asian, technically Caucasians are a global minority!). I’ve been living in a lot of countries where I was a minority as well and I have friends of all colors that couldn’t care less if I was white, but perhaps this is just not for you if you prefer to be surrounded by only Indians (who by no means all practice yoga- nobody on the Assamese side of my family does).

    I hope you make the right decision for you and will find love for yourself and others within yourself. We are one species and we should focus on what we have in common rather than ripping each other apart for what’s different about us.

    Best of luck!

  2. Sgn says:

    I disagree very much. Sure, some of your observations about the yoga fad are true. But why do you have to be bothered by others? If there are still things you enjoy in yoga, just find your own personal practice and embrace it. Ignore everything else. Yoga is your own gift to yourself and you can choose how you practice and with whom.

  3. Radha says:

    It is said that among all of the senses, the tongue is the most difficult to control. The tongue has two functions; to taste and to speak. And of the two, the tendency to speak is particularly difficult to control.

    Sometimes it is explained that this human body is like a boat to carry us across the ocean of birth and death. A boat may be very big, but there is a part of the boat called the rudder. It is just a small part in the back – underneath. The steering wheel moves the rudder. The direction the rudder moves determines the direction the boat will move. The tongue is like the rudder of the boat of the human body. Although it is just a little organ, how you control it will establish the direction of your life.

    atah sri krishna namadi
    na bhaved grahyam indriyaih
    sevonmukhe hi jahvadau
    svayam eva sphuraty adah

    It is explained by Rupa Goswami that the beginning of devotional service is to control all one’s senses and keep them engaged in the loving service of the Lord, and that to control the senses one must begin with the tongue. Yoga means controlling the senses. Whatever the tongue does all the other senses will follow. So therefore, the process of hearing and chanting is the basic principle of our spiritual life.

    We must always strive to keep our consciousness within the realm of transcendental sound, beginning with what we ourselves speak. There is nothing more polluting to our consciousness than hearing sound in the modes of passion and ignorance particularly when they are coming out of our own mouth.

    Sri Krishna explains about controlling our speech in the Bhagavad-gita by defining how one should practice the austerity of speech.

    anudvega-karam vakyam
    satyam priya-hitam ca yat
    svadhyayabhyasanam caiva
    van-mayam tapa ucyate

    “Austerity of speech consists in speaking truthfully and beneficially and in avoiding speech that offends. One should also recite the Vedas regularly.” Bhakgavad-gita 17:15

  4. Radha says:

    "Be more humble than a blade of grass, more tolerant than a tree, always offering respect onto others and never expecting any in return"

    Chaitanya Mahaprabhu

  5. chloe says:

    I tend to agree with this article. I started noticing that several terribly nasty mothers in our town have taken to yoga. They’re all about cheering each other on at yoga event after event, going to or selling their expensive classes, looking for yoga donations. Money! I get that yoga may have helped them deal with overcoming their own self hate but that doesn’t make those they’ve hurt feel better. Strangely enough, I happened to come across a story submitted to elephant written by a mother in our town. While it may seem like a lovely story, it was full of self promotion; a sudden revelation, and seeking accolades. Individuals continuing to hide behind yoga to cloak their unkindness and sell their “look at me I do yoga” personas make it unsettling for those truly nourishing self harmony.

  6. R.R. Shakti R.R. Shakti says:

    I'm sorry you (and so many others) have had this experience of yoga. I understand some of your frustrations, and actually shared some of your realizations back in 2007: http://rrshakti.com/2/post/2007/04/are-yoga-class

    So, I did something about it. I founded Yoga Worldreach, and although it was not sustainable as a non-profit (That fact, too, comes with an entourage of frustrations and ironies, it has provided me an opportunity to bring yoga to underserved populations and to encourage others to do the same. http://rrshakti.com/2/post/2012/12/yoga-seva-scho

    I know I am not the only one who truly has a heart for service and a desire to inspire an authentic practice. I hope you will discover more encouraging yoga stories as a result of your impressive post. Not that it is imperative that you resume your faith in the practice, but a refreshing look at humanity is always nice.

    In Love,
    R.R. Shakti

  7. sam @pw says:

    Wow I must go to a very conservative yoga studio – I haven't heard of any of this. It's very basic yoga, we might use music every once and awhile but nothing crazy. They offerr $8 classes and childcare, and the room is usually very diverse. I guess I should consider myself blessed!

  8. Janice Henning says:

    Ummmm, maybe do your own thing and learn it at home like I am doing. I went to 1 yoga studio for a free class and will never return. I watch Ali Kamenova and Tara Stiles on YT and both are awesome and not arrogant.

    You seem embittered and I learned a long time ago not to follow others. I do my own thing, in my own way, in my own time and I am very happy.

    Yoga, the cult, is for followers, as in any type of cultist disciplines, just like Crossfit, just to name one. Do the exercise that you love and I am finding as I am slowing down in mid-life, yoga as exercise (for the body and mind (concentration) are just what I am looking for BUT ON MY OWN TERMS AND AT HOME!

  9. Dan says:

    I don’t necessarily disagree with anything you say (“Pale women with Shiva tramp-stamps” was absolutely classic). I don’t participate in any of the hedonism (I do not drink, smoke or do drugs; I do not date within my yoga community – I’m very clear why I’m at a yoga class and it is not to seek out a romantic interest. Honestly, I would not spend time in any yoga community that did emphasize such things. Like you, I really like the way I feel afterwards and it has been instrumental in helping me manage some very significant life challenges. Just like it is not my concern whether my asana practice is ‘better’ or ‘worse’ than someone else, it is of no consequence to me if someone attends class for the ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ reasons (and the right/wrong dichotomy is, of course, is a whole separate discussion). I think it is a mistake to leave something (anything) you enjoy b/c of a preoccupation with others. Find your community – they are there to be found. And do be curious and investigate for yourself why the pale women with Shiva tramp stamps (I couldn’t resist) cause such a reaction for you. I hope to see you on the mat someday – I suspect you bring an important and welcome presence to every class. I’d close with namaste, but I never actually say that – in class or otherwise (true).

  10. SatyamSundaram says:

    wow…I think people should chant "Om Shakti" instead of "Om Shanti"…its brutal out there in this world..

    And remember " East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet."…unless it melts into each other and spits out something different which works for all.

    I am a brown person taking yoga in a hot studio mostly surrounded by svelte white bodies ( many over 50) and my instructors try hard and they always come over and say something special. I really appreciate them. More people of all origins should get out and give it a try instead of pilling on the pounds ( I know many middle age Asians who are eating too much and glued to their Bollywood movies). Get out there and dance with others in this Western Yoga world. But be warned that the practice is hard and not for the faint of heart. It never gets easy. So I thank you all for working it to make money as well as help others. May the Yoga force be with you.

  11. Fiona Hare says:

    Meet Sonwabise. She’s 18yrs old and one of our Earthchildren in Khayelitsha, South Africa. This is her inspiring story of yoga for transformation… This is what Yoga can do – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V0xlMnv-8K8

  12. Yolanda Barker says:

    I’m a Yoga teacher and I studied at a very traditional ashram in South India. The Indian Yogi had a completely different attitude to what could be considered “Traditional Indian values”. He believed that life is a celebration that we are meant to live and be happy. If people want to have Yoga raves, let them. I’m not personally interested in them, or Ashtanga, or Hot Yoga, but I can appreciate that the beautiful thing about Yoga is that it is adaptable, and you can make it as physical or spiritual as you wish. THe asanas still work.

    As for the Yoga “fan base”… I can appreciate that there are people out there who are into Yoga for purely superficial reasons, but the students who come to my class are not in that category. They are down to earth, and enjoy a strong practice, but want the meditative and spiritual sides too. THe teachers and studio attract the students, and it sounds like you didn’t find the right teacher or studio for you.

  13. John Stoner says:

    “Oh, I have an Indian friend and her parents made her get married to some computer engineer in San Jose and she had to get this thing signed with witnesses. What’s that about?”

    One possible reply: “I have an American friend who drives a pickup truck, listens to Nickelback, and votes Republican. What’s that about?”

  14. baynham says:

    Observations or put-downs? Why are you so bitter? why all the spite? Live and let live!

  15. Shocked at this post says:

    I think that the author looks through a particular pair of goggles … BTW I know that there are plenty (at least in my neck of the woods) more affordable options, through the city, adult ed, etc. classes that are SUPER AFFORDABLE, some yoga studios have donation yoga, (not called that) where they offer yoga and you 'donate' what you can… WOW, this author needs a shrink much more than downward facing dog!

  16. Jane says:

    Comments are just "stupid" and "stupider" – for lack of a better word, it's just so fitting. People should refrain/abstain from using big words, big/small regurgitated ideas they do not understand.

  17. Desi and proud says:

    westerners did not bring yoga to the west. indian yogis brought yoga to the west. racist comments like this are why this woman wrote this article in the first place.

    and have you ever been to india? why are you insulting the place? your comment is hateful and even more of a crock of cow shit than the article, which i didn't even like.

    i'm an indian woman who has grown up all over the world though mostly in the US. i have had moments (years) where i disliked white people in indian garb or getting involved in traditionally indian things because many white people have this annoying habit (hello, does colonial legacy mean anything to you?) of unapologetically appropriating other peoples cultures.

    in saying that, i do think that this author is complaining and overly generalizing and that there are many many things that she could do to remedy the issues she has with the practice in the west. be the change you want to see in the world, right? i also agree with some of the comments above about this article focusing on material issues when all people in the world are one.

    but your comment is unwarranted and hateful. take a look at yourself before criticizing others.

  18. Rita Kirkpatrick says:

    Since you took offense to the article, you must know that its about people like you.

  19. Lakshmi says:

    Thank you for this!!

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