Anusara yogis drinking the Kool-Aid?

Via Bernadette Birney
on Feb 9, 2011
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Last Friday I received this email from a colleague:

“…I want to connect with you on something; I am ever more disturbed by the phrase ‘she/he drank the Kool-Aid’ that I hear more and more to describe the lovely event of folks being ignited by and devoting themselves to Anusara yoga.

Just kind of makes me cringe every time, as I am not sure that those using this phrase casually are aware of the Jim Jones incident in the ’70’s from which it originated.  I know no one’s intentions are anything but good, and those using the phrase are affectionately referencing…the ways of our kula in a tongue-and-cheek manner but I still think we need to be responsible for our words, no?  Am I being silly?  I can’t tell.  Thoughts please.”

I sort of can’t stop thinking about it.  So much so that I’m writing this blog post instead of being fed peeled grapes, and fanned with palm leaves by shirtless men, as originally planned. The durned post just keeps poking to get written.  Blogs can be such demanding bitches.

I’m gonna be honest–I processed this email in layers.  In the interest of full disclosure I shall admit to having used, many times, the offending phrase in question.  Not only have I attested to drinking the Kool-Aid, I have described myself as one who pours.  When I coined Kula-Aid, I congratulated my own clever word play.

Unbeknownst to me, the Kool-Aid reference actually predates the Jonestown massacre.  Apparently it comes from a Tom Wolfe book written in the 60’s.  Maybe you had to have been there.  All this time I’ve used the term it has erroneously been in reference to Jim Jones.

More full disclosure–my very first instinct was to want to dismiss the email with an “Oh, come on–lighten up.  It’s just a joke.”  I mean, it goes without saying that I am neither actually drinking poison, serving poison, nor genuinely insensitive to loss of life via tragic poisoning, right?  Right?

Something you should know about me–I rely on humor to navigate this gloriously messy, sublime and fucked up world of ours.  When I report that gallows humor has seen me through some tribulations, I am talking about some real shit and guacamole sandwiches. Some I’ve blogged about; some I haven’t. Probably to a fault, I pride myself on my ability to find something to laugh about.

It is a universal truth:  sometimes we must laugh so we don’t have to cry.

From my mentor, I have learned that our greatest strengths shall be none other than our greatest weaknesses.  This is true every time and for everyone.  Each of us has tendencies that will serve well in some instances and undermine in others.

Think of a scalpel–it can be used to heal or to play Bride of Chucky.  So, too, are our strengths our very challenges.  Great yogins endeavor to skillfully discern–when, where and with whom are your gifts in fact gifts, and when do they become your Achilles heel?  Like that.

True to this theory, my sense of humor has been a light in dark places, but has also been known to get me in trouble.  Certainly, I have on occasion used it as a defense mechanism, or hurt someone I love with a poorly timed joke.

Professionally, humor serves me but it also sabotages.  I have made serious study of yoga for over ten years now.  I actually sort of–you know–know stuff.  Sometimes.  All too often, though, I undermine my own professional creds by clowning, or with a silly joke.

“Gotta quit doing that,” I kick myself, after the fact.

Cuz, the fact is that while taking things overly seriously is odious, I am serious about what I do.  I really believe in its value.  Lord knows I don’t get rich teaching yoga, or writing a blog, but I make an effort to remind people to connect with the best in themselves and others.  In some small way, I believe that makes the world a better place.  With my whole heart–my extravagant, silly, foolish heart–I believe.

So, why do I undermine the effort of my heart, and my life’s work, by likening it to drinking cyanide?

What’s up with that?

I wonder if, in addition to the self-deprecating humor in the word choice there isn’t something a little, well–dark.  To be in a room with John Friend is to be in a room with his powerful mojo.  John possesses and wields a charisma that few others do.  Almost ten years of study with him, and still I am often surprised by the way he sweeps me into his gravitational pull. He speaks of his belief and I believe too.

We are a culture, by nature, suspicious of power.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing.  It’s foolish to make an indiscriminate gift of trust.  I’m not even all that great at trust when it’s been well earned.

Lord knows, I’ve never identified myself as a joiner.  I’m not the type who goes willingly.  In grade-school, I quit the brownies because of my distaste for the authoritarian troupe leader.  No way was she going to make me her little cookie bitch.

Also, I detested the drab uniforms.

Anusara yoga is the first group I have voluntarily belonged to for any length of time.  A bit of a misfit, belonging isn’t first nature, or even second.  I wonder if my seemingly flip usage of Kool-Aid reflects this residual resistance?  Is it a way of keeping just a slight distance, a tiny armoring of the heart, a habitual arm’s length?  I think it’s very possible.

John Friend is an agent of good.  He has earned enough of my trust to make me think, consciously, about the yoga he has generously shared with me.  I have great respect for it, and for him.  His yoga ignites hearts, opens minds and heals bodies.  It is an honor to be part of such an optimistic, generous and intelligent yoga.  My life is so, so much richer for it.

So, even if it’s just in fun–I’m not going to say that Kool-Aid thing anymore. I am a believer in Matrika Shakti, the power of words. On many levels I believe in this power.  When I write, I choose my words carefully–very, very carefully.  When I talk about my life’s work, I’m going to do the same.

No joke.

PS:  Except for the Tom Wolfe kind of Kool-Aid.  That kind I might still drink.

PPS:  If you use the term Kool-Aid are you using it in reference to LSD or to the Jonestown poisonings?

Read more of Bernadette’s posts here.


About Bernadette Birney

Bernadette Birney is a dyed-in-the-wool, freedom-loving tantrika. When she’s not busy conquering the world, taking hostages, feverishly freelancing, working on her book, and posting on-line essays, you can find her practicing the art of life-on-purpose, and teaching in Connecticut. / Bernadette has had the good fortune of studying with the great ones: she’s a certified Anusara yoga instructor, and has long pestered her Rajanaka Yoga mentor, Douglas Brooks. Known for her poetic and precise articulation, she insists that you can maintain a hard-core yoga practice and a sense of humor, too. Her classes, immersions and trainings are steeped in a life affirming philosophy that will invite you into the exploration of your own potential. / Bernadette was one of the earliest Certified Anusara yoga instructors in CT, and continues to mentor the local teaching community, leading trainings and retreats. She has contributed to Yoga Journal, Fit Yoga, Elephant Journal and Srividyalaya Amrta. She is also a Lululemon ambassador, and the author of the quirky, award-winning blog .


23 Responses to “Anusara yogis drinking the Kool-Aid?”

  1. Carol Horton says:

    Well . . . The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test WAS a brilliant book – referencing that creative craziness (minus the drug abuse) is not, I think, a bad thing.

  2. I'm going to have to read it now (:

  3. Great blog, Birney. Really enjoyed it.

    Bob W. Yoga Editor
    (Join Elephant Yoga on Facebook)

  4. beejgalvan says:

    BB! Once again, your words ring the inner bells of Truth…

  5. toonmonk says:

    People need to get over their projections.

  6. elephantjournal says:

    It's up on , let's get this great writing some "likes" so it'll go into newsfeeds of yogis everywhere. I love this one, too. ~ Waylon

  7. Nancy A says:

    Honesty, humor and Tom Wolfe: a trifecta for sure! nicely done

  8. YesuDas says:

    Nice, Bernadette. I agree: words do have meaning, and they do have power, and we are responsible for how we use them.

  9. Lisa says:

    I related to this post so much, as a full time smart a#$ and self-annointed comedienne. Very wise and thought provoking – thanks much!

  10. My pleasure, Lisa! Thanks for your comment.

  11. Thanks a million, Nancy!

  12. Thanks as always, Bob.

  13. elephantjournal says:

    I love that you, alone among our many awesome writers, are making a point to reply to every comment. Many of our wonderful columnists reply to many comments. But you? All of 'em. The interaction will help your articles to double in readership, literally.

    Now, ignore this comment and make me feel left out. ~ Waylon

  14. Hi Bernadette,
    Love your quirky writing style and contemplative in focus.
    Actually, people used to put their orange owsley LSD into the kool aid in the 1960’s and so my first sub-cultural reference to this is from circa 1968 and a party I attended. Once people drank that kool aid, consciousness expanded…if you get my drift….
    The whole Jonestown episode 10ish year later kind of put a dark side on the term drinking the kool aid….to say the least…
    I totally love your reference to kula-aid, I think it is very cool. You are cool, keep considering and thinking 🙂 Thanks for the blog, I enjoyed it very much. Don’t worry what other people think…about the kula-aid….

  15. Who could ignore _you_, Waylon?

  16. Here's to the expansion of consciousness!

  17. Context, context, context!