March 8, 2012

Gurus Give Me the Willies. ~ Naomi Gottlieb-Miller

Photo: Sarah R.

As someone who grew up in Washington, D.C. and her suburbs, I have a reasonable respect for the law. I also grew up wearing combat boots, drove a car held together with duct tape and listened to hardcore feminist rock bands.

So it’s safe to say that I also have a strong disregard for the “establishment” and am suspicious of charismatic authority figures.

I’ve been in healthy relationships, as well as ones that were fairly toxic. This Anusara scandal is not my first rodeo.

The assertion that ignorance of basic yoga history is generating distress and upheaval among many within the yoga world is mildly offensive. The notion that we ignore the hidden “Tantric agenda” and therefore are open to “libidinal surprise” is a gross misrepresentation of the many people who chose to teach, practice and study yoga because of the immense benefits that have nothing to do with how awesome my ass will look in yoga pants or how my husband won’t ever need Viagra.

I don’t practice yoga in the hopes that it will make me better in the sack. I practice yoga because it makes me feel good about myself. God forbid, we women should feel good about ourselves, ever.

Yoga has taught me to trust my body in utterly transformational ways. My practice of yoga has taught me discipline, self-respect, compassion and an appreciation for creating boundaries.

Yoga has undeniably opened my hips, but more importantly the practice of yoga offered to me with enormous integrity by my own teachers, has taught me how to stand up for myself and to be a leader. If the “consequence” of this is that yoga also makes my physical relationship with my husband more electric, neither one of us is complaining.

The yoga I endeavor to teach contains the tools for my students to stand up for what they believe in, to make choices with dignity, to create healthy boundaries of their own and to love themselves without hesitation.

Photo: Naomi Gottlieb-Miller

If my students feel better after class than when they walked in, I believe I’ve done my job. If this encourages them to enjoy a more active and exciting sex life, I couldn’t be happier for the fireworks that yoga brings into their bedrooms or kitchens or the backseats of their cars, for that matter.

My real interest is to witness how this practice that encourages transformation and awakening consciousness, can also increase our integrity and accountability.

Basically, if we can learn to make confident, conscious choices on our yoga mats, can those choices also translate to similar decisions in life off the mat?

The truth is that John Friend’s indiscretions have nothing to do with the unsubstantiated claim that yoga began as a sex cult.

Nor do they have anything to do with the suggestion that he was worshiped as a yoga rock star guru by his students. His indiscretions, as well as those of the many other power abusers in history, have everything to do with his poor choices today.

When we continue to view yoga from the vantage of its origin and don’t offer the opportunity for evolution, we remain steadfastly in the futility of the past and we continue to hold the future hostage.

Just because the source of something might be a little smudged doesn’t mean that it’s current incarnation is poisonous. Or that all those people who choose to teach, practice or study yoga are snakes.

I don’t believe in Guru’s. I never have.

Maybe it’s a D.C. thing. Maybe I just recognize that we are all human and that it’s that humanity which is more appealing to me than a person’s contention that they possess a more direct line to God than I do.

Gurus give me the willies. Especially when they’re put into the context that so many people, including the current crop of yoga critics, have lately: a charismatic spiritual leader who dispenses feel-good aphorisms and is pedestal-ized by his many followers who blindly sell their lives away for a moment in his sunshine.

This does not describe my yoga experience. I personally believe that anyone can wear the mantle of Guru, but I tend to listen more closely to those who don’t.

I don’t believe in Gurus, but I do believe in wise women and men as leaders, sages, heroes, free thinkers, torchbearers, paradigm shifters, trail blazers and truth seekers. Some of these people are my friends; some are my teachers; two are my parents. Some of these folks I agree with and others I don’t. But I steadfastly believe that the key to radically affirming your life and living your truth has to do with how well we listen to one another and how skillful we become at disseminating that knowledge on our own.

The idolatry model of the guru is entirely unappealing to me. It’s not in our best interest as teachers or as students to perpetuate this unhealthy paradigm because it doesn’t seek to enlighten or uplift, but instead to keep “disciples” in their places, forever beholden to the guru myth.

This isn’t yoga, in my humble opinion.

The word, “guru,” has many definitions in Sanskrit, but one of the most common is, “brings one from darkness into light.”

Anything, anyone can illuminate you. Retain your right to drag yourself out of the darkness sometimes. Make the light we each possess a shared quantity within our communities rather than used as spiritual ransom.

Can we instead learn the art of listening, collaborating and empowering one another instead of just empowering the “one?”

If yoga is going to survive, the only answer is, yes.




Editor: Brianna Bemel


Naomi Gottlieb-Miller is a Washington, D.C. based yoga teacher known for her ability to creatively weave everything from pop culture references to comic book superheroes to Tantric philosophy into her yoga classes. She is inspired by the notion that yoga exists everywhere including the kitchen, in traffic, in the grocery store, at a rock concert and deep in the woods—you simply have to uncover it and bring it into the light. When she’s not in a handstand, Naomi is likely in the extolling the virtues of avocados, chocolate and kale to anyone who will listen, including her dog, who incidentally doesn’t seem to care.

To learn more about Naomi’s teaching check out her website: www.tothestickymatandbeyond.com


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