February 19, 2012

Is Yoga Self-Serving? ~ Emelia Symington Fedy

Yogis are the most disconnected and self-serving people I know.

I can say this because I am one. Not just a yogi, but also a yoga teacher with two certificates under my belt. You can call me the average Jane of Yoga. You can call me generally “entrenched in the community.” I teach workshops. I fly to far away places to study with the teachers that inspire me. I have a strong home practice–although I have not gone so far as to get an Om tattoo.

I feel incredibly disconnected to the world and my own heart most of the time and this is why I practice yoga. I stopped going to public classes because I found they only enhanced my disconnected feeling. I would enter the room; start competing for the extra inch of space between my mat and hers. I would sneak looks at the ass in Down Dog in front of me and notice happily it was kind of chubs. I would see the woman in the full Lululemon uniform and seethe with judgment. What kind of person thinks that is yoga? How dare she glide in to this spiritual space and tout her commercialism and eating disorder for all to see. I wish I could get an eating disorder.


Only when I was going to two back-to-back advanced Anusara classes a day, feeling like a f*cking rock star did I decide to cancel my membership and opt for the lame-o home practice where my sweat glands decide to sleep in and I may pause to check my emails half way through the shortened practice. But at least I am only feeling the poison towards myself. At least I am not releasing this negative energy on all the exercise bunnies in the room.

This is what I am talking about, and I know I am not alone because I have talked to a lot of other practitioners.

We are all complaining about the same thing. We complain about how we are getting away from the spirit of which yoga was first intended and moving way too far into the cosmetic fame realm. One of my teachers (I will not name any names because there is no point) seems to be going farther and farther down this path, the path of yoga branding and gorgeous website design and merchandise for sale and complete internet saturation. I, however, am no longer racking up credit card debt to follow his workshop schedule. This is a person that I was so inspired by, I changed my life trajectory.

I quit my job and lifelong passion to follow a new career of study under him. I worked harder than I have ever worked in my life to get into the teacher training. I literally transformed by body inside and out. I was consumed with the teachings of this person. I would hang on his every word. I would take what he said to be truth. Because he spoke it as truth, because he branded it as truth, because his ego was so large that he believed he was speaking the truth. I had a major fall from grace one day when on Facebook actually, the teacher had quoted himself. His Facebook status was an “Inspirational quote” ~ his name. I thought, don’t you only quote people who are dead? Don’t you only quote other people? Who in their right mind quotes themselves? No one. This man had stepped off the path. And the sad and annoying thing is he probably thinks he is more on the path than before.

I have noticed that when I am practicing meditation and yoga on a more regular and hard core basis I can feel that it actually separates me further from the state of union I am longing for because now that I have a small amount of dedication and have heard a small whisper from the divine I am above. Now I am feeling a sense of peace, now I can taste a secret others cannot and I now am going to rush out and teach it! I am guilty of this also, teaching a bit before I know enough to teach–but not on the scale of the US of A. The difference is astonishing to me how Americans rush out with teacher trainings and workshops of skills they only just learned. Canadians are usually too humble for this. We are a bit to embarrassed- “what if someone does know more than me in the class? I better take a few more sessions before I start printing workshop posters…”

This fear is not such a bad idea. Having humility, being worried that I am not ready to teach when teaching yoga could be a trait to really cultivate. On the other hand, Yogi Bhajan has a famous quote (I can quote him because I am not him and he is dead) “The greatest progress in life is when you know your limitations, and then you have the courage to drop them.” I respect this and in many ways live my life by it and I guess I also think we have swung way too far with the pendulum now. I wouldn’t mind going back to the old school roots system where I didn’t teach sh*t on a stick until my master told me I could teach and that was probably decades into a fierce practice.

I’m going to go all Yogi Bhajan quote crazy now as I am a bhakti yogi at heart and I just love getting all up into blind devotion. He also says “Your job is to control yourself. Your job is to discipline yourself. Your job is to deal with everything in life with affection, love and kindness.” Now the controlling and disciplining myself part is on lock-down, it’s the affection, love and kindness that I struggle with. How do I be kind to someone who is, for example, making a ton of money teaching a brand of yoga that continues to affirm in every way that they are to be personally exalted. This sounds like a cult, this sounds like egos gone wild, this sounds like I am a very jealous and frustrated woman.

“Getting up for sadhana in the morning is a totally selfish act – for personal strength, for personal intuition, for personal sharpness, for personal discipline, and overall for absolute personal prosperity.”
~Yogi Bhajan

For me this is the entire point really, there is great room for selfishness in this practice, it is actually necessary and imperative. I have to put my personal practice higher on the to-do list than my co-op chore because if I don’t I will never practice. If I never practice I turn into a miserable, miserly, holier than though mess who hates everyone. If my teacher needs to be cut down to size that is not my job–it is God’s. And if someone in my class thinks she is cooler than she is than good for her. I’m sure if we all thought we were a bit cooler we might all get a lot cooler. If someone wants to dedicate their life to organizing a 5000 year old spiritual tradition into a manual that makes money then do it because that means more people will do yoga and then more people will get self centered and then more people will fall off the pedestal and then more people will start questioning what does union really mean? Really? And together as egocentric, imperfect, selfish motherf*ckers we will all rise up. We will get to see so much higher and get to go way down deeper.

Whatever the wonky method, yoga changed my life. I’m kinda’ over it now but I’m also much better for it. I’m still full of hate sometimes, I still roll around in agony when it’s time to get on the mat, but I’m trying. I’m doing my very best.

Photos:demsadhana.blogspot.com, sadhana-asanga-yoga.com


Editor: Kate Bartolotta

Emelia Symington Fedy is a theatre creator, writer, yogi, friend and popular raconteuse.
Her favorite quote at the moment is: “Live the light, spread the light, be the light” (found on a yogi tea teabag). This is probably because she has a penchant for darkness.

Read 4 Comments and Reply

Read 4 comments and reply

Top Contributors Latest

Elephant journal  |  Contribution: 1,375,490