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

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on Jul 18, 2012
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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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452 Responses to “Why I Left Yoga (& Why I Think A Helluva Lot Of People Are Being Duped). ~ Irasna Rising”

  1. Prabuddh says:

    Wow..Judgey judgemental. while I agree with the fact that yoga has lost it's way in America you sure do generalize a lot. I am white and yes I chant in sanskrit and I have a sanskrit name. i didn't make it up. It was given to me by my guru to remind me of what I should be aspiring to become and it has helped me over the years remember not to stray to far from my spiritual goals. That said I'm not enlightened and have a long way to go. I have seen all of the trappings of American yoga from having worked in the industry and practiced since about 1994 but now I practice at home because I don't want to be involved in the scene anymore having seen to much stuff that I feel goes against why i started practicing. My guru has many many Indian followers and when i go to her US ashram there are more Indians than westerners although there are a good amount of those as well. What strikes me about the Indians I meet at the ashram is how kind, devoted, patient and accepting they are of others. Not saying this is true for all Indians or every single Indian there but the ones I connect with are like that. When i'm entering the temple and a little Indian boy tells another child to "say hello to Uncle" meaning me, I feel a small joy inside that i have an extended spiritual family. Being with my guru has not always been a piece of cake but i have gotten much out of it slowly over time. i am much different today then i was eight years ago when i began following her and hopefully i will be much different from who i am now in eight years future. I will be visiting the ashram in India this December where there no running hot water and people sleep on thin mattresses on the floor in small quarters. I am looking forward to it and there are no five star accommodations there. I am aware that this doesn't make me Indian and in India there are temples that will not allow me as a westerner to enter and Hindus who will not accept me and look down on me. That is their problem not mine. I'm not sure what you are so angry about, but yes you seem really angry towards "white" people. My guess is your issue is deeper than that. You come off as not only angry and judgemental but also as deeply cynical. and before you write me off as a rich white person because i can afford to go to India, I have been waiting for eight years because I didn't have the money for the ticket and I will be on bare bones budget when I am there but I feel drawn to go and I am following that calling.

  2. bennyk says:

    You make some good points but maybe you should try something other than Bikram. He's not exactly known as the poster child for selflessness or deep yoga practice.

  3. Marci says:

    Recognizing that something or someone we love and believe in is flawed and inconsistent is part of the journey. My guess is that you will come out the other side with more compassion and peace. I feel your pain and have been there. There are free and inexpensive classes and many many yogis of integrity. Joy to you.

  4. chad says:

    A. Why doesn't the author start free yoga classes for the American poor and dispossessed–working mothers, poor immigrants, all the people she's concerned about?
    B. Western authors recently have claimed that yoga as we know it is less than 100 years old. So, I imagine it is still evolving.
    C. Indians, such as those working the phones for Amazon, Apple, etc., have taken Western names, and even though India is still supposedly conservative, the rich there party and spend wastefully.
    D. Smart westerners know that they're being duped by Bikram, the Maharishi, John Friend, Yogananda, but keep on anyhow. People here want a spiritual framework outside of Christianity. I'm sure Indians still chant in Sanskrit.
    E. So many Indians in the U.S. are arrogant and elitist, like the author of this article. Maybe they need to take a humility pill.

  5. Boodiba says:

    I've had a lot of similar feelings about the yoga scene. For me, the solution has been a lot of self practice. I spent seven years working and learning in shalas, while practicing occasionally alone. I had a few bad experiences with teachers and then retreated to nearly 100% solo for the past nine months. It totally helped! I might return to a studio now but I think I'm refreshed and recentered and can shield myself from the aspects of the group that I DON'T want.

    You can leave the scene but keep the yoga.

    • earthenergyreader says:

      Boodiba, I'm pretty much doing the same. I left the scene but do my practice at home. I don't see myself returning to the studio anytime soon.

  6. meme says:

    I have read several rants on EJ about what irritates the writer in yoga class, really not what I want to pay to read. I was ready to cancel my subscription. Yet, here we have another writer airing their irritation, with several excellent and very valid points, and we are not willing to embrace their point of view? The author is entitled to expressing their point, and very good ones at that. The yoga community is overall very exclusive. I am a yoga teacher, a 54-year-old Caucasian, female and I feel exclusion in the local teaching community. I have stepped back from the teaching community because of the untruths, shallow practices and commercially driven training programs. I don’t use Sanskrit and have been looked down upon as “not really teaching yoga” because of I don’t try to use it. My students don’t speak Sanskrit so I have no reason to use it. There are a number of teachers that feel superior because of it. The yoga community constantly touts “yoga is for everyone” yet many expect them to speak Sanskrit and fit into size 12 or smaller Lululemons. I continue to teach as I enjoy serving underserved populations I work with. It’s not about the money, I love what I do. There are therapeutic benefits for my students; I will not walk away from them. I love them and I love what I do. I am sad to see the glossy consumerism that the yoga world and I thank the writer for saying what needed to be said.

    • earthenergyreader says:

      Thanks meme, I completely understand where you're coming from and I think it's great you're teaching those less sexier populations and groups. I'm not a teacher, but if I were, I'd probably be doing the same.

    • elephantjournal says:

      There are 100s of thoughtful, positive, serious yoga articles for every controversial article about the past, present and future of yoga on this site. Both play their role in establishing and forming our present and future. We can, again, re-learn to engage with those we might disagree with (and in an independent, reader-created site that we sometimes disagree with) without leaving. We don't need to be sycophants or haters, here: we can be ourselves.

  7. Tomasz says:


  8. Theresa says:

    1. You can find authentic teachers not all are frauds about how they live their life, investigate your teacher first, just like in India when searching for a guru, keep searching, you may have just been in the wrong classes. Anything where turning the heat on in the room suggests that the teacher is not understanding the essence of the practice is generating heat from within through the breath. Same with classes that use music, the aim is for focus on inside not via the senses.

    2. 1200 a year for yoga is money well spent, many people can find that cash for cable TV, cars, cinema, drinks and inner out, etc no matter what they are earning, for some people it is a matter of priority in life and that is when it becomes what it is meant to be.

    3. Agreed on the sari and bindi wearing thing it's ridiculous and probably more prevalent in the USA than Western Europe.

  9. What does the Pussy Cat dolls dressing up like Indians have to do with Yoga? They dressed like that because they performed the English version of the song "Jai Ho," for the blockbuster movie, "Slumdog Millionaire." The movie had nothing to do with yoga and neither did the song. I know people who can't stand yoga but who love Bollywood. It's not the same thing. You are comparing American social trends such as clubbing to yoga the way your friend mistook an Indian Sikh for an Indian Muslim. You do not like it when people generalize but you are doing it in this article. In fact, the philosophy of yoga can easily be compared to other great philosophies in any culture. Making into an "Indian" thing is superficial in of itself.

    So there are white people in your yoga class. Does that bother you? Why does the color of someone's skin bother you? Underneath, we are all the same. I'm not a white person. I'm not brown or black either. I'm human.

    Of course, I have to agree with some of your examples such as yoga teachers threatening to cut people off for not being vegan, etc. Obviously, this is not the way an enlightened person acts. Of course, this isn't a reason to give up yoga. I've been to those circles but yoga and life has taught me that there are many other teachers and schools who aren't as "glamorous" but that fit my personality better. These days, I surround myself with more local students and teachers. I teach at a local YMCA where parents can take yoga while their children take other enrichment classes. The Y offers financial aid to people who can't afford membership and they offer unlimited yoga class. So even though you claim that:

    "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."

    I have learned otherwise. Yoga has taught me that anything is possible. I just want to help people take some time out of their day to meditate and connect with themselves and their bodies. If people do this for themselves, they will find their own answers. No need to complicate matters. The rest is just "maya." They are distractions and a part of life. Yes, people can be annoying at times but yoga has actually taught me to tolerate them better than not.

    • CarolineChildOfAScot says:

      After reading (and liking) many of the comments here, the one that says it best for me is you, @HeroesTraining.
      By the way, I am a single mother on social assistance. I am also white. I'm really kind of offended by a lot of what this woman wrote. She obviously feels superior to me but I submit to her: I'm a freelance artist and hustle everyday for the next paying job; I rent Yoga videos from the library and my 8 year old & I enjoy posing along with them every morning- when I can, I clean a studio for free classes-and take what I learned home to my eager daughter; oh, did I mention that I am raising an awesome, kind, funny, empathetic, smart and beautiful child? Alone. Who is really superior here? I'll answer my own question. Neither of us. Because, at the end of the "day" (meaning life) we both will someday take our last breath- albeit in different places & circumstances- but our last, just the same. Until then, can we refrain from judging others the way that so many of us do? I'm guilty of it as much as the next person; but, at least, I'm aware of it. Are you, Irasna?
      Look, it's called the Human Experience. Enjoy it while you have it, lady!

  10. Lori says:

    I get what you are saying, as a Yoga teacher in the northern burbs of Chicago I see so much of that here, but I do see many teachers changing their classes to donation also, and offering free classes to the unemployed and suffering. So maybe it is the direction you are looking. There is good and bad in this World we live in,we choose what we want to see.

  11. Mike C. says:

    You didn’t “leave yoga”, you have finally found it! I’m sorry you got duped into thinking Bikram would be a real yoga class just because it’s in the name, it isn’t, it’s just an exercise class where your likely to be insulted.
    The classes I go to teach me to honor and strengthen my connection of mind,body,and spirit. I love it when my teachers speak sanskrit, they also quote Buddha, Lao Tzu, Mother Theresa, Jesus, Lennon/McCartney, Roger Waters, and Snoopy to name a few. I agree that “Yoga” in Socal has become very commercial, but there is still enough beauty here to match anything coming out of India. Find me and I’ll show you, Shanti my friend

  12. warriorsaint says:

    I have been waiting for a piece like this for a long time

    I live in the Little India area of Jersey City, NJ. There are a few yoga studios in the area that I have visited. I was always curious why I never saw anyone from India taking classes. Over the years I had become friends with the many India women who both take and teach at my local Pilates studio. Seems (at least with N. Jersey E. Indians) in their culture yoga is on par with folk dancing or Polka in Middle America. An old, quaint art not a all in line with what educated Indians what to have associated with India. I thought this was an anomaly until I read this piece. Thanks for a confirmation.

  13. sandara says:

    I'm surprised it took you so long ( 8 years ) to come to these conclusions, some of which are quite valid. Discernment is important in everything we do,but no reason to be negatively critical.On one level its all totally obvious but on another its irrelevant.Observe what:s going on but don't involve yourself if its not for you.Just choose who YOU want to be, where you want to go, how you want to get there and follow your own path,Don't waste time and energy castigating what others are doing.
    Let go and move on.

  14. earthenergyreader says:

    "I almost want to say you owe people an apology not so much for what you wrote but for the negativity you added into the world."

    You might as well be more honest and upfront and say "You owe people an apology for having an an opinion which doesn't jive with me and I can't deal with , now be quiet and go away and let me live in my bubble"

    "If you believe in freedom of speech, you believe in freedom of speech for views you don't like. If you're in favor of freedom of speech, that means you're in favor of freedom of speech precisely for views you despise." -Professor Noam Chomsky

  15. kcain48 says:

    Please feel better soon. All this criticism and fault finding can't make you feel very good.
    You might take a look at the 'Open Letter to YA' article in this posting and note how someone can see room for improvement and put energy into positive suggestions rather than criticism and scorn.

  16. Lucy says:

    Your point is valid, but regardless of whether it's yoga, standup paddling, environmental causes or whatever it is. I think all those statements you made could be found in any thing that becomes pursued with a purpose of good intentions and then distortions occur. Just like dropping a stone in a pond ripples occur that no one can control. Rain falls on the just and the unjust. Doesn't make it good or bad. It just is. It is my belief we each have to make conscious effort to look inside and not get side tracked from our focus. The frustration is understandable but it's how we deal with it that is important.

  17. Ted says:

    I am a white male who can barely touch his kneecaps. I am in love with Kirtan and chant in Sanskrit to myself when driving, in my living room, in nature. I have no desire to be a Hindu (although I respect those who are). I believe it would be a terrible tragedy to "let Sanskrit go". I cannot explain why, but the Sanskrit words transport me and Kirtan has deeply changed me for the better.

  18. Plamen says:

    All said does not seem to have anything to do with Yoga. I believe, that it has been your Ego who wrote this- just do not listen to it. Yoga has nothing to do with Studios, Gyms and so on. It is very individual preferably daily practice- it is your true self which defines the pace and nobody can go all the way that you have to walk instread of you in order to find your real self, no matter how much cash you pay.
    Well, the way is hard … there are not only asanas (the physical part roughly said) … there is struggle within … Ego is the hardest opponent (masking as the closest friend) one would ever meet.
    It is really pitty that sacret words like Yoga and Yogin are used in a sense that they are not meant to be.
    With regards to Sanskrit … as we all know, it is a language based on the initial energy vibrations … it can be used as a tuner to tune you to these vibrations, but before all, you should be ready to be tuned in. Nothing is obligatory … there are so many ways … and this is Yoga.
    And please remember … the SOUL does not have colour!!!

  19. Gina Hudson says:

    My husband and I have been watching this debate and we're quite surprised at the level of hostility it has provoked, hostility among a set of people who are claiming to be “spiritual” and practicing ahimsa.
    Irasna, I think that you’ve stayed relatively calm in your responses to those who are foaming at the mouth, as you wrote earlier, you’re right, this is going to be a difficult conversation to have and walking through those “landmines” of race and culture is going to require patience, tolerance, responsibility and maturity – things I have not seen on display within the responses here. In fact, what it does sound like are a bunch of babies on the playground who suddenly had their toys taken away from them. Petulant, spoiled, petty…and sheltered or… angry that someone burst their bubble.
    I don’t agree with every point you wrote especially around Sanskrit and non-Indian gurus, but you have every right for expressing your opinion, even strongly. This debate is quickly degenerating and morphing into something different so I can’t say I blame you for not responding anymore to the reactions here. I’m Italian-American but my husband is African-American and even within our marriage those issues of culture and race are constantly thrown in our faces, we both decided that we were going to deal with it by learning from whatever it brought up. It's not easy, but it is easier if there is some form of mutual respect there. That has deepened and changed everything especially at how we look at things now. We didn’t find your article to be racist at all, I have no idea where people are getting that unless of course they’re projecting something of their own issues onto you and what you wrote. I think you’ve provoked some real soul-searching by pressing some of these buttons.
    I left a response on your blog too, in case the editors of EJ decide to take down this comment.
    P.S I had a HUGE crush on Rick Springfield also as a teen in the 80s, good for you on getting his notice with your article!

  20. Simon Newton says:


    After 10 years in and around the new age movement, most of that being inspired by my teacher, I am now firmly entrenched in the knowledge that spiritual people just piss me off.

    They are so full of opinions, unwanted advice and, mostly, themselves that they are toxic to any rational, level-headed person.

    When I see yoga in the USA today it reminds more more of a political movement, the communism of the new century.

    Can't anybody realize that the essence of yoga is just to chill out and then get on with everyday life and hopefully share your chill as you go?


    Swami Blandananda.

    • earthenergyreader says:

      Great name Swami Blandananda!
      Great Swamiji, if you can explain to me how doing 108 Sun Salutations at a Peace Mala will help effectively stop the use of nuclear power in Japan or how having my chakras cleaned out and aligned will solve Middle Eastern conflicts in Palestine, Iraq and Syria I would forever be in your debt.
      On a more serious note, check out Chris Hedges' discussion on the New Age movement and how this magical thinking is actually more disempowering than anything else in his book "Empire of Illusion", I think BookTV and C-Span also has video clips.

  21. krishna Lennon k says:

    Hello my  name is Krishna I do not intend to offend or be hurtful I simply want to point out some basics I was taught, anything can be made a yoga.  MAHABARATA / GETA                                       (like attracts like)  perhaps despite being well read you have drawn into your path shallow and mundane teachers because you your self are shallow and mundane, ( the fault always lies within )
    I have also found that things like yoga are reaching new heights in the western world as we realize a need to be lifted up out of our mundane ways  perhaps your falling to take into account your teachers,like yourself  !!! sought a path of growth,strength and enlightenment as a result of realizing you lack the things. Stick with it, only when you have out grown your old teachers should you have the tools to draw in new ones.     I have hade a great many teachers appear in my path none however presented them self to me before I (the student) was ready 😉     Peace!


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

  23. Charlotte says:

    Life is a mirror and we see and reflect our own process and who we are at this moment in time. I agree with one of the other commenters that "Recognizing that something or someone we love and believe in [or ourselves] is flawed and inconsistent is part of the journey." …part of the journey of life in human form and part of the journey into the soul. We are all flawed and inconsistent, and thus anything of human creation is simply a reflection of our collective and individual humanity and vision. If I could, with compassion and love in my heart, offer a suggestion that the observations and experiences in this article seem to speak to a sacred inner journey (the Hero's Journey as Joseph Campbell would put it) of Irasna Rising's that is perhaps more about her soul's evolution at this time in her life than about the shadowy side of yoga (and many of us agree there is one). Perhaps getting curious about these strong reactions to something outside herself might help her find the key that opens the door to more of the soul's riches within?
    "…for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so." ~ William Shakespeare from Hamlet.
    Peace and Namaste, Charlotte.

  24. ConnyReu says:

    Whatever happened to respecting others & their choices & lives. Isn't that part of YOGA too?

    Sorry to sound brusque myself, but as a lot of people mention in the comments below the article, is just what everyone should think AND do: want matching clothes? Buy them. Able & want to pay for yoga classes? Do so. Can make a living out of it & spread the joy of yoga? Great for you!

    Yoga should be for YOU. It's YOUR practice, mind and body. Practicing it where it came from, in a studio or at home. DON'T JUDGE! Let everyone live his/her own "idea" of yoga: it SO does mean something different for each and everyone of us, caucasian or not. That's human. Be grateful that it is expanding so fast over the planet and that more and more people are practicing it. Because it actually can change something here.

    Enjoy your own journey. Does it make you feel good? Fisically, mentally? Perfect! Are you able to respect the person on the mat/chair/.. next to you, whatever s/he's wearing, color, race, religion, past?

    Now THAT'S what being a good person, "yogi/ni" and yoga is all about.

  25. Karlos says:

    There is change happening in the yoga community. Here in Vancouver there is a FREE yoga studio. Elephant journal wrote about them a month ago. Check them out http://www.karmateachers.com or "Like" them http://www.facebook.com/karmateachers

  26. Mrghy says:

    So wait: if they try to incorporate "American" values and traditions and points of view in the practice, that's wrong. But if they try to stick to what those maybe few Indian teachers told them, in English or Sanskrit or whatever language they were communicating in, that's also wrong.

    While I agree that most lasses are expensive, I also know for a fact that rent is expensive, at least in Nyc. Also, most studios have work exchange options…

    and while I agree that there is a majority of white participants in yoga classes, I've never seen a studio turn down any kind of brown person from a class. The offer is there and the doors are open, some studios here offer bilingual lasses even to reach out to Hispanic population. If they don't come, it's either cause they don't care, or cause they don't feel comfortable because there aren't enough brown people around. But they should acknowledge that it's them creating the separation. I felt the same when I went to Detroit MI to meet my now husband's very brown family and I was the only pink person around. I still married him.

    If you want to practice yoga like in India, you should go to India. I think that it's a fundamental part of the growth of the practice in the west that it gets absorbed in the local culture. Of course, many people will take advantage of it, both here and in India (the fact that the charlatans bring in much need money doesn't make their choice more holy… and I doubt the money goes for charity) but if you don't ant them pretending to be Indians, you should let them be Americans. Or Italians, or Japanese or…

  27. m p j says:

    Good way to keep yoga free of cost is to offer it in the public library, parks, senior centers. etc. It can be part of your volunteer services. I am of Indian origin and been sharing the Yoga with my fellow Americans for the past 21 years. I opened a Yoga center six years back after giving it for FREE for over 15 years. I have both good and not so good experiences while offering for free and after charging to cover the rent for the center. Experience taught me how to learn from any situation and keep doing what you feel rewarding.
    People want to experience the True Bliss promised by Yoga and hence they imitate various things that the Indians do, thinking 'that' might give them some peace. so please do not try to laugh at them. All are suffering in this world (Indian or not) and Yoga is for ALL. I do not think people should think twice for paying $12 for a rewarding class which will save on health care cost later…..well…they spend much more at some junk food restaurant and literally paying them to get themselves sick!
    What I think is people need to get educated on Yoga…so Please do your research and choose a class that will help you feel better. Namaste! (I bow to the divine in you)

  28. Leayogini says:

    A simple comment: Yoga has nothing to do with taking drugs & partying.This is well known, hardly interesting news. Anyone who tells you otherwise, in any culture or skin tone, lacks understanding. All systems teach refrain from alcohol and a Sattvic diet as a means of removing impurities.

    Getting the tools to do that is your journey – no one ele's. The teachings caution us to be wise, otherwise we use the wrong tool (i.e. for you – hanging out in a big club does not = santosha )

    Perhaps "Bikram" and these newer "fad" Yogas, while very popular, are lacking in proper instruction?

  29. m p j says:

    Good way to keep yoga free of cost is to offer it in the public library, parks, senior centers. etc. It can be part of your volunteer services. I am of Indian origin and been sharing the Yoga with my fellow Americans for the past 21 years. I opened a Yoga center six years back after giving it for FREE for over 15 years. I have both good and not so good experiences while offering for free and after charging to cover the rent for the center. Experience taught me how to learn from any situation and keep doing what you feel rewarding.

  30. Craig M Pnp Yoga says:

    great article, i agree with much of what you stated. I too wish yoga was more available for those who need it most, but i do see more and more non profit yoga happening and there are many teachers giving free classes, it just we do not hear about them. Since true selfless service means not to expect a reward for your service, those of us out there doing it don't even mention that we did it as that would be ego building.

    Bottom line though, anyone doing yoga anywhere is doing something healthy for themselves and many of us started it those types of places and actually did catch spirituality … so for me it's all good.

    i really appreciate the article. Namaste !

  31. Cat says:

    yes, don't 'em ruin anything for you. many classes are free where I live for people who can't afford them. I practice mostly at home because I met some really messed up folks at yoga studios, as anywhere.

  32. yogijulian says:

    i 100% support your intention to bring critical thinking to bear on the often nonsensical and superficial yoga community, but
    this is a poor argument and simply not true: "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."

  33. yogijulian says:

    pricelessly funny! "the pampered trophy wife who just returned form her five-star shamanistic initiation retreat in Bolivia."

  34. SCH says:

    This is a pathetic rant from a deluded person who seems to think that she/he has an accurate knowledge of everything yoga and more alarmingly, the "Indian"-ness of yoga! Sure, criticisms of cultural adaptations and mixing or for that matter any particular practice are important. For example, it is possible that "White"/ Caucasian people are likely to exercise more (and note – not just indulge in yoga as such) than other people. But that is because race and income are often, if not always, correlated. BUT that is not peculiar to the yoga world and is not a peculiarity of the US. In other countries too, this phenomenon persists. People who are poor either cannot afford to have a separate exercise regime, as their work takes every little energy out from their body or they might not have similar networks like the middle/upper classes that would push or motivate them to exercise. Oh! Don't know if this following information matters; but in this case, I think it does – I am an Indian, living in the US and I felt completely disgusted after reading this article. All I want to say to this writer is this: Please do not try to speak so strongly on behalf of any country and their so called "heritage." There would always be others from those very countries, who would not share your thoughts and would strongly disagree. Also, as a writer, it might help to know that there is a difference between productive criticism and mindless rant and polemic.

    • Seema G. says:

      I am Indian as well, from Karnataka and I found this article to be accurate about some aspects of "India fetish" . I am assuming based on the sages the author listed, he is Bengali or Punjabi Sikh. I would also remind you that you do not speak for the rest of us either.
      There are many of us in India who are tired of the "backpack" yoga types who come to India looking for a fantasy and hide in the ashrams to escape their military service back home, go to Goa for cheap marijuana or something like that.

      • SCH says:

        @ Seema: You are absolutely right. I cannot not speak on your behalf and that of many others – and that is very much my position. However, you did get into a discussion about what many other Indians, including you, think about some particular kind of people. I am unclear about the argument you are trying to make here. You and many others might be "tired" of the "backpack types" who go to India, but then the question is, so what? What exactly is the problem if the "backpack types," who seem to have "India fetish" go to India? India has no laws to restrict such the movement of such traveling people (thankfully!). But the question is, are you suggesting that the government should in fact restrict people with "India fetish" because some people in India are "tired" of them? If, that is what you are implicitly suggesting, then it is a dangerous proposition. And if you do not see any danger there, then, I am afraid, there can be no dialogue, at least on this forum, as I cannot engage with extremist positions.

  35. Anon says:

    So you expect teachers to give away a high demand product for free. Seems reasonable. I guess gyms should be free too… and everything… or perhaps studios should charge in Avocados and onions…

  36. @JaviValca says:

    Then just do your yoga in the comfort of your own home and find an online routine on youtube. Really all I read here was a lot of complaining. Sure there are scammers out there, maybe 75% of them, along with useless yoga clothing, accessories and basically anything one can think of. But guess what? No one's holding a gun to your head to buy any of that crap. All I got is a yoga mat. I'll usually go to a gym or look for a youtube routine ($0) so I can practice at home. It's all about what it internally does for you which is why I do it, I just ignore all the other crap.

    The same way there are many different cultures in India there will be different manifestations of yoga. But hey, at least you can CHOOSE your own practice. This is coming from a brown-skinned Puerto Rican by the way 🙂

  37. Frankie Says Relax says:

    I was LMAO reading this!
    Jeez, can't people see the humor here? Or do you have to live in Santa Monica to get it? I mean all irasna did was take the piss out of the lulu-new-age/yoga poser set, nothing new here, did you ever see that film The Love Guru?
    Laugh a little folks, it's good for you and probably better for you than that coffee colonic.

  38. Duped says:

    I'm crying while running to the nearest doctor to have the om tattoo removed from my skin. I thought I had chosen to believe in something that brought light and love to places in my body, mind, and soul that were previously shriveled and dark. Turns out, I might as well be an empty shell of a person. What's the difference? Maybe we should call what we're doing here something else … if not yoga, then what?

    I took it personally… woops.

  39. Maili says:

    Hiya, the only thing I disagree completely with is the Sanskrit point. When we use Sanskrit we universalize the practice. I can take a class in any language anywhere in the world and when I hear the names of the poses in Sanskrit I can follow along. This has been my experience.

  40. Rita Kirkpatrick says:

    I agree! The reason why its been hard for me to get into a regular asana practice at a studio is because I felt like it was a popularity contest and the girl with the cutest ass, in the most expensive lululemon clothes, and the best bakasana wins. The amount of money I've been paying is ridiculous but I've been willing to pay it because I have felt such a change in me that I never would have imagined from getting an amazing physical workout. I feel as though I have grown exponentially stronger not only physically emotionally and spiritually as well. I am getting fed up with the amount of money that I'm paying because I'm broke from wanting to have a regular practice. I want to learn more about the 8 limbs of yoga and the cultures that it comes from. I'm also a cultural anthropology major. I want to study where yoga came from. And yes I do want to become an instructor but it does get very hard to do this when I'm a broke student from a poor neighborhood with no support. I grew up poor and while I have a good job now, I'm still barely able to afford my yoga studio. I am not a bored white thirty-something looking for a more interesting life or crowd to join but as I've become more interested in yoga, I've definitely been exposed to the hedonistic lifestyle that you're referring to. Especially with living in Southern California where the hedonism and yoga go hand in hand.

  41. Irene says:

    we can argue and/or diplomatically discuss all in all about this article. nevertheless, i really appreciate it! one of the best i've read here so far. i would take getting paid in avocados and onions for my work. it will probably amount as much as i get on a phd student stipend. my grandparents paid my dad's school in tomatoes and potatoes from their garden — for real. i agree with marketing and target population being mostly caucasian in the u.s.a. i used to like reading the occasional yoga magazine but now all they are is >50% advertisement and sub-quality content. sigh. i love your comment on the bickering over being fully vegan or not vs. all the real life relevant things one can focus on. i think a lot of us sometimes forget that even right here or in some other far away geographies people either don't have a choice on food or any at all. there's not much we can do in a capitalistic society except to follow our hearts and strive for our best in our daily lives so we can be an example to others.

  42. Tomasz Goetel [Hot Yoga] says:

    Good stuff.

    A great article, very valid points and many things are very keenly observed – but I'm not moved! Just take Gandhi's "You must be the change you wish to see in the world" quote – and you know what to do: let people do what they do, they're doing the best they can. I must take responsibility for everything I do, and everything that happens to me. This way things are clearer. 🙂 My recipe: take responsibility, be kind, be at peace, be generous, and get well pooped out in the morning before leaving the house!

  43. pinky says:

    what a bore

  44. Forget the people. Just follow the practice, it's perfect.

    mostly white guy, still not too flexible after 18 years of practrice

  45. Michael Dynie says:

    If we called it asana instead of yoga in the west, the author may have been less disappointed. The decision to embrace a full spectrum of yoga teachings, which are universal, is an individual quest that is generally not offered in depth in yoga studios. Reading the story of Krishnamacharya’s life and teachings, he understood well that there is no use teaching a student a particular philosophy or limb of yoga if the student is not interested. People want asana, that’s just about all that is taught, any many sincere instructors drop in hints on how it relates to the bigger picture. Sounds like the author is simply walking away from mainstream asana classes, but deepening her personal journey of Yoga though the path is not always straight.

  46. Friday says:

    I haven't even gotten through all of the comments, BUT I can say that I am "BLOWN AWAY" by the way people define THEMSELVES by their skin color- HONESTLY, "brown skinned"- and "white women" appropriating your culture? Are you people FOR REAL??What year is this anyway? I thought it was 2012? RACE and religion should not even be mentioned in a forum such as this, particularly but educated (?) persons. AND- calling yourselves YOGIS- and arguing over who has the "rights" to Yoga, and for Pete's sake who can wear a SARI??? WHY do you feel the need to LABEL yourselves, and others? Our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual bodies are so much MORE than that- can't you see? Then, to go on about how you are so "put upon" and discriminated against? Has it ever occurred to you that YOU are the ones creating the division and feeding the stereotype by your OWN prejudices? Damned if over 90 percent of you aren't flying in the face of what YOGA really is. May I say that the MAJORITY of you posting here, have TOTALLY MISSED THE WHOLE POINT OF YOGA. If I have to explain that to you, there is NO WAY you are EVER going to "get it". You can call ME judgmental, but I will suffer that for the sake of even one of you MAYBE realizing the deliberate division you have created here- which is the antithesis of what ANY school of Yoga that says. WE ARE ALL ONE. No deliberately divisive faction can change that, so we might as well learn to not further that MYTH. THINK ABOUT IT…~Om Shanti~

  47. […] reads that had me raising my eyebrow (but for different reasons) were these two online articles: Why I Left Yoga (and Why I Think A Helluva Lot of People Are Being Duped) and A Class for Every Yoga Mood. The latter may also qualify as a yuk it up feature, as it sure […]

  48. debradeangelo says:

    I pondered this article a bit… and finally decided that there's some disingenuousness here. Some racism and ethnocentrism, even. I wonder if the author objects to native Indians wearing blue jeans? Working call centers for American companies? Driving American-made cars? (I was told by an Indian man that a Chevy Impala is a status symbol in India.) Do you also make sweeping generalizations, like "dark skinned women just don't look good in bikinis."

    I decided I don't like the tone of the article: "No! Yoga is MINE all MINE!" And yet…. I have seen yoga beasts (my term for the lithe show-offs in trendy yoga outfits) ruin the whole atmosphere of a yoga class. And have also seen the gross commercialism of yoga and tantra.

    I guess, bottom line…. this article is like life. There's good and bad, light and dark, and despite the bits I'm not so fond of, all and all, a worthwhile experience.

  49. Lakshmi says:

    I struggle with the issues raised in this article a lot, as well as many of the issues raised by the commenters. I'm an Indian-American yoga teacher teaching in a city in which yoga is still predominantly "a white people thing." This makes me uncomfortable because of my own personal issues. I grew up being one of the only non-white children in my school/neighborhood, and I had some pretty scarring experiences growing up. I was an introverted and sensitive child and so these things made me draw into my shell even further. I have to admit that I don't enjoy attending classes where I'm the only non-white person, and I really really struggle when I have to teach classes that have no people of color at all. I see so many comments by people who are offended by the idea that yogis should even acknowledge skin color at all. But I'll admit that I do. I do because during my formative years, my skin color never went unnoticed and I often felt excluded because of it. So when I find myself in that situation, it triggers a very deep sense of self-consciousness. Of course, I recognize that that is part of my spiritual work that I have to do. But I know many won't even come through the door (like my sister, for example) because they can't get through the discomfort of that situation. It's harder for us because we are Indian and yoga is supposed to be part of our spiritual heritage. We should feel safest and most at home here. And yet, sometimes…I'm just going to admit it…it feels like it doesn't belong to us anymore. I know people will say that yoga is universal. It belongs to no one. And of course that is true in a sense, but it is also the best part of our culture and heritage as Indians. If that's taken away from us, we are only left with the crap (which all cultures have). I don't know how to describe it, but I can only say that it is an incredibly awkward feeling to feel on the outside of something that you grew up with. That is why the cultural appropriation issue gets our chuddis all up in a bunch. Though this article is written with a lot of anger, I would be happy if the general yoga community were able to respond to it with acknowledgement of where the anger comes from…with understanding and compassion even if the words feel like darts directed at you. If I saw some of that in the responses, I would feel that yoga is doing its job in the West. I believe that when the Indian teachers of the past came to the West en masse, they did so from a calling to spread the universal message of yoga because the West sorely needed it. All people can benefit from yoga, but maybe white people (and I'm sorry if that term offends) need it the most because (in general) they aren't as grounded in spiritual tradition as most people of color (in general) are already….maybe.

    As a teacher, who grew up reciting Sanskrit prayers and can pronounce them properly, I still find myself feeling awkward chanting in a class because I feel like it's ok for a non-Indian to chant these quaint, archaic nonsensical syllables, but if I do it, then I might be pushing Hinduism or something because I, just because of my appearance, give the words a culturally specific context, instead of the new-agey, feel-good and dare I say, "white-wash" that other teachers give them. I've raised this concern with my students. Most of them assure me that they want my "authenticity." But I still struggle because the whole thing feels surreal sometimes…to go from being ostracized to being fetishized…none of it feels authentic.

    Cultural appropriation is real. It's not fair to say that Indians wear t-shirts and jeans, so Westerners can wear saris and bindis. Like it or not, there is a real political dynamic behind both of those fashion phenomena which greatly favors one side over the other. If people could admit that, I would feel like yoga is truly opening people's eyes. Unfortunately, I see that people use yoga's essential teaching of oneness and unity to cast a lovey-dovey fog over real issues of oppression and inequality that exist and I don't think that is at all the intention of yoga. I've had some really horrendous experiences with this in the yoga community. Gandhi saw oppression and named it and yet he still treated the oppressor as human and worthy of compassion and kindness. That was what made him a yogi. His eyes were open to the truth that all are equal and all are deserving of respect. Opening your eyes and acknowledging where yoga comes from and where it is going wrong will not mean you will be excluded from it. It will only make us all more connected in truth.

  50. Lakshmi says:

    Just wanted to add…I'm not saying Westerners can't wear saris and bindis…It's a beautiful dress and I know people genuinely enjoy wearing it. I"m just saying that it's not the same as Indians wearing jeans and t-shirts. Indians wear jeans and t-shirts because globalization means that jeans and t-shirts signify assimilation into a globalized (read Westernized) culture. But why do westerners wear saris? To look exotic. There's a big difference between trying to assimilate and trying to stand out as unique, right? I mean, why hasn't any Hollywood starlet worn a burqa to the Oscars? Or a hanbok? Or a buckskin dress? Or any other kind of culturally specific ethnic wear? Why sari? Because other communities might make a hoo-ha over their cultures being appropriated. Because Indian things being stripped of their Indian-ness is so commonplace, no one blinks.

    • paul says:

      I like your comments, because they are about what I think is at the heart of this discussion- the negative psyches otherness creates. But I think you overshoot, mixing yoga (and its universally available universals) for things unrelated, like competing cultures and cultural identities, while ignoring tougher ones, like why anyone wears saris, and the need we have for identity.
      Yoga isn't bindis or saris, and to my view both push heavy burdens. I do not see bindis encouraging introspection (or religiousness), but reenforce a cultural identity, and the sari is impractical and oppressive, a one-armed straight jacket. Ok, yes I am exaggerating a bit, but no more than comparing a sari (which are all fashion and can get expensive quickly) to a burqua (an explicitly religious garb), or styles no one wears except on special occasions. (ps- Sacheen Littlefeather!)

      • Lakshmi says:

        Saris are not all fashion…not at all. They are traditional dress worn daily by millions of women who can do just about anything in them and have been able to to do so for thousands of years. They are very practical for Indian weather. The reason the other types of dress I mentioned are only worn for special occasions is because of globalization. The sari is going that way too for certain segments of Indian society (myself included). Sacheen Littlefeather wearing her traditional dress at the Oscars was making a very different statement than what a non-Indian celebrity wearing the same dress would have (and I doubt anyone would dare!)

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