Mean Girls. Meaner Adults? ~ Heidi Broecking

Via elephant journal
on Mar 9, 2012
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{Judgement disclaimer: I have been tumbling the idea for this blog around in my head for awhile. I went through my own judgement phase (acknowledged) then moved into observation and question mode pretty quickly. This blog is based on personal experiences, observations, questions and maybe conclusions. I do not know, I have not got to the end in my head yet. Sit back and get a drink, it may take a while.}

I use the word “adult” in the title rather than “grown up” with intent.

There is a distinct difference in my head. An adult is what we all physiologically grow in to over time, a fully developed animal. Grown-up is an adjective that describes our behavior. That may not be correct by definition but that is how I have it defined in my head.

I have attended classes at more than a couple of studios.

Each studio has it’s own vibe. Some are more mellow, some are high energy, some cleaner, some are light, some are darker, some more positive, some flat, some just plain weird and some just wrong for me. Its completely subjective. If you’ve practiced for awhile, you can tune in to the energy of a studio after a few classes and know if it’s the right place for you or not.

After venturing out into the greater universe of Yoga, I have become fascinated by the amount of judgement I have come to see in some Yoga classes. Especially among women. And it isn’t just judgement, it harks back to a very definite developmental time for all of us, high school. The first time I observed it, I wondered to myself,

“Self, are you attaching personal feelings to this or are you just surprised to see high school level herding and culling behavior manifest in adult women?”

I determined it was surprise mixed in with a little disbelief. Especially because we are all in a Yoga room, supposedly doing Yoga, together, in a room, doing Yoga. My expectation is that when we are in a room, together, doing yoga, we just do our own yoga and don’t freak out on other people’s yoga or yoga stuff.

I am an almost 48-year old woman. It’s taken me a pretty long time to become mostly comfortable with who I am. I say mostly because who I am is an ongoing process. I change every day so I need to observe learn, every day. I don’t even know who I am so I actually find it pretty hilarious that others think they do know me by just:

1.  How I look

2.  What I wear

3.  How I speak or

4.  How I practice Yoga

It my understanding that in the United States, the largest percentage of people who practice Yoga are women.

I don’t have a number but I’m going to guess it’s a boatload. Most classes I have attended 95% of students have been female. When you get that many women in room together and there isn’t alcohol or chocolate involved, two behaviors can happen:

Sisterhood and/or Mean Girl.

The ratio is directly dependent on the adult vs. grownup factor. Here are some descriptions of observations/experiences that reminded me of above mentioned high school behavior. I should say now, it is not lost on me that I have created my own generalizations:

The “Stuff” People

These are the people who check you out when you walk into class.

What brands are you wearing and who made your stuff? Is it lululemon? Athleta? Hard Tail? Target? Jade? Manduka? Gaiam? Purple mat off the roll? Toms? Crocs? Clogs? Tank, tee or sport bra? capris, shorts or tights? Low rise? High rise?

I was at a pretty high brow studio a couple of months ago, wait, that’s not accurate, it was seriously luxe. I’ve never seen a studio like it. It was so utterly fabulous, I feared sweating on the very perfectly finished hard wood floor beneath my feet. I received interesting looks sitting on the linen covered bench above the cubbies into which I placed my well-worn Doc Martens 10-holes. As I set up and got my props, I could see casual glances at my mat and at my clothes. Who’s the new lady and what’s she got? It was the most extreme example of stuff inventory taking I’ve ever seen. And, I believe I am uniquely able to say that as I grew up in Darien, CT the first 18 years of my life. The Land-o-acquistion-and-judgement.

The “Clicque” or “Multi-Mean Girls”

These are people who attend the same classes, together, all the time and want you to how awesome they totally are. They stand together. They giggle. They whisper. They giggle again. They create a huddle in the room. Physically cutting themselves off from the rest of the community in the room. It’s like the popular girls in gym class.

The “Competitor”

Behind you or beside you. This is the person who is checking out all your asanas either first hand or in the mirror. When you move, they move. When you lengthen, they lengthen longer. They stay longer in every pose. When you fall out of a pose, they smirk and give you they “oops!” face with a shrug of the shoulder.

The “Competitor2”: I-am-a-way-better-yogini-than-you

They can also fall into the competitor category but it extends beyond asana. This is the person who has lost more weight, has a better acupuncturist, a better reiki master, has a way better ayurvedicmacrovegetarianveganglutenfreenonfat diet, a better chakra therapist, better books (even though they are the same books you have), corrects your sanskrit AND has a clearer mind because they meditate better than you ever will.

The “Mean Girl” Teacher

This one surprised me. Before a class, the teacher was part of general chatter which evolved into talking to the group about how yoga is practiced from the inside out. 

DIGRESSION AND BACK STORY! That day I happened to be wearing a necklace (see photo at the beginning of the blog). I wear it often. It is an “AH”. A Tibetan symbol which signifies the sound made in chanting that represents all the wisdom of all the Buddhas. My husband gave this to me when my son was 2-years old. It had been a truly horrible, no good, very bad ‘mom’ day. I had called him weeping while the Boy napped and confessed my hideous motherdom. He comforted me. When he got home he handed me a tiny box and said,”This is for you to wear and remember that no matter what, moms always have all the wisdom of all the Buddhas.” Yes. He is like that all the time and yes I am that lucky. I cherish this small silver symbol. The point is that it is NOT an “aum”. Similar, but totally not. Back to anecdote…

The teacher then started to discuss philosophy and how as yogis we need to practice from the heart, apply the yamas and niyamas and understand that all the trappings of Yoga are just trappings. Right down to “the little aums we wear around our necks”. She turned and looked right at me as did the other ladies in the room.

Wait. What? What? Seriously? What just happened here? Did you just do that? Why yes, yes you did. What was that? Make the new girl totally feel like poser so she knows who’s in charge?

It made me really, super uncomfortable. As class continued she pointed out students the with good and bad poses. Some students became visibly stressed. It was upsetting both as a teacher and as a student.  I left the class well before savasana (final resting pose).

For whatever reason, each one of these people has a reason to want to feel better and they do it at the expense of others.

I’m sure everyone has come up against that and not just in the studio. But, a really big but here, I have to say, in most studios there is an overwhelming sense of community. A feeling of generosity, tolerance and dare I say it? Love. The Yoga community is a wonderful community. A community we learn to be ourselves in and learn to allow others to be the same.

So what’s the point?

First of all, a yoga studio is a sanctuary. It is meant to be a safe place for all who enter and want to practice. It is the responsibility of every teacher and student in the room to create that atmosphere.

Second, stuff is just stuff. It doesn’t represent who you are. I don’t really care whose pants you wear in the room, as long as you wear them. The practice is for learning and applying that learning internally. Thinking you have a better tank top is not the place to start your journey of self-discovery. Aparigraha! My new one note Samba/Yama. Attachment will cause suffering.

Third, we are adults now. As adults and hopefully as grownups, we have to realize there is absolutely no more room in the world for more meanness. There is puh-len-ty. We need to practice mindfulness and kindness. The more we practice, the more we model it for others, especially our kids.

Lastly, it’s really simple. We need more Sisterhood, and a Brotherhood. We can lift each other up without tearing each other down. Our differences are our strengths. This doesn’t just apply to women. It’s universal. And if by modeling that, it makes one other person aware, that is awesome.

So remember, friends don’t let friends be mean because being mean sucks.


Edited by Tanya L. Markul

Heidi Broecking earned her 200 hour teacher certification in 2010 and is a YA-RYT and Level 1 Yoga Tune Up® teacher. She started practicing Yoga after migrating north of New York City with her husband and then 10-month old son in 1997. Her yoga journey began with Kundalini, Iyengar inspired yoga and evolved to a committed Hatha yoga practice. She was drawn to both the physical aspects of asana and to the thoughtful and meditative parts of the yoga path that guide us in our daily lives. Yoga dovetailed perfectly with her evolving Zen Buddhist practice. Yoga has helped Heidi, an avid cyclist, develop her concentration, focus, balance, flexibility, patience and strength on the bike. Her continuing education, specifically in Yoga Tune Up®, has enhanced her base knowledge of body awareness, biomechanics and human anatomy. She is inspired by her teachers Lena Madsen and Jill Miller, all things anatomical, and her son and husband. Heidi believes that a sense of humor is essential in both life and practice. Laugh loud and often.

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25 Responses to “Mean Girls. Meaner Adults? ~ Heidi Broecking”

  1. Ashley says:

    Wow, I am a yoga teacher and really upset that you have had all these experiences. Yoga has become a fad for some and they spit out all the philosophies of yoga but aren't really practicing the true meaning "Non Judgement" Keep doing your yoga and try to focus on your own mat. Another part of yoga is to go within and to not let things get to you. Maybe sit back take it in and then let it go. This is an article that I can not relate to because I would never treat a yoga student in any of these ways. Yoga should be for everyone and it doesnt matter what you wear or look like walking into a stuido it's about being there and how yoga makes you feel. What has happened to this beautiful practice? We have majorly westernized it to our environment ehrn it's not the outside we most focus on it's what's inside that matters.

  2. yogasamurai says:

    Sisterhood is psychotic. No serious spiritual movement – no serious anything these days – is as gender imbalanced as the yoga world is. But it's the world you have created – in your own image. Enjoy it while it lasts. We're here when you need us. Just re-embrace the wholeness. Namaste.

  3. This is great and so true (unfortunately). Just posted to the main facebook page. Cheers!

  4. Yogatchr says:

    Gotta go with Ashley on this one. I don't get it. A have quite a cross section of women in my classes and they are lovely, funny, smart, and very supportive of one another and any new folks that come along. The "mean girl" point of view perpetuates a stereotype of competitiveness among women which I feel is highly flawed and sad. A teacher can certainly be wonderful or a real piece of work you wouldn't want to go back to whether they are male or female. And insecurity is gender neutral as well. Maybe your next mission could be to look around and see all the good that goes on between women in class. I'll bet you'll find way more than bad. I would enjoy reading about that.

  5. Continuallyamazed says:

    Place might have something to do with it. I started my practice in a small studio in a smaller city. The studio was run by a woman who had been teaching for 20 years — Iyengar-based, then ashtanga and vinyasa both. The studio employed maybe ten different teachers: vinyasa, anusara, ashtanga, vin. Yes most teachers and students were women, but the whole tone and feel of the place was down-to-earth, intimate, and adult. Now, in a much larger, "cooler" city,I got exposed to these enormous studios and am shocked by the glam-culture there. It's awful! So maybe it's not necessarily gender culture as much as WHICH gender culture we're talking about — there are many.

  6. Natalie says:

    This is why I go to the yoga studio that I go to. No judgement just love!! I have been to my fair share of studios that made me feel like I had no business being there. When you find a studio that makes your soul feel home cherish it

  7. Harleigh Quinn says:

    It absolutely is.
    It has been maddening. When I say narcissism has hit yoga, this is precisely one of the things I speak of.
    Also, there's this:

  8. Pat says:

    This is why I practice at home.

  9. Annie Ory says:

    "Sisterhood is psychotic"??!!??!!

    a) that doesn't even mean anything, and saying it doesn't give it meaning

    b) no it isn't – sisterhood is a beautiful and growth inspiring way of relating to other women that supports all the good in the world and moves governments, families, communities and individuals toward their highest possibilities – that asks each woman who would be a part of a community of other women to embrace each of the other women, and the women and men of the world – in love and acceptance

  10. Annie Ory says:

    I think you demonstrate the point I would make on this issue. This stuff is a community personality issue. The personality of a community is the responsibility of, and the result of, the Leadership of the community. Don't mistake that the Leader of a yoga community is always the studio owner, that's not necessarily true. Sometimes the studio owner doesn't take the Leadership position and a teacher, or even student, with a strong personality takes over. Regardless of where in your community Leadership is happening, or lacking, it is a Leadership issue when people behave in ways that are not embracing, compassionate, joyful and loving in your yoga studio. Yogatchr, you see more good, because you Lead from a place of expecting that and whether you know it or not, you telegraph those expectations to your community. That is Leadership.

  11. yogasamurai says:

    Don't be so sensitive, Annie. I really think that we need more elementary yogic balance in today's yoga, and that's not going to happen if women insist on treating it as a feminist firehouse.

    There's a dark side to sisterhood, just as there is with brotherhood – which was the point of the original article I think?

    Your view is way too rosy. I was raised mainly by a woman and was also part of a strong feminist collective in my time. There's a role for same-gender identity building – largely as collective therapy, no question – but out in the public world we need more profoundly integrated structures if we're going to advance as a species.

    Simply put, women alone don't have the answer, and they certainly aren't THE answer. Nether are men. It's really high time that women humbly accepted that. Men already have.

  12. Nikki says:

    Its difficult to hear that an experience like that can happen in a yoga class, and I think you have every right to be upset and feel how you feel about yoga and about that class and maybe even, that specific community of people. I'm a yoga teacher in north jersey now. I did receive my certification in a larger city and I can attest to some personalities like the one you are talking about. I don't know if its the western idea of using yoga as a type of "gym" workout that brings a competitive edge to a class, but all I can say is that when you find a class where there is encouragement to find your own place within yourself, where you can meditate during a practice and where you can work through different things going on in your mind, body and life through yoga asanas, the practice becomes something so much more and different than a place where women go to gossip and be mean girls. One last note – I think alot of people are "called" to yoga for different reasons, and maybe those "mean girls" are there because they know they have a lot of work to do within themselves, it is pretty upsetting though that the yoga teacher would act like that.

  13. caroline says:

    I tend to feel the most judged by others when I'm the most insecure. When I feel confident and relaxed, people might be judging me, but I don't sense it because I'm centered. When I'm outside of my comfort zone (ie new studio), all I can sense are eyes on me, so I assume people are making judgments.

    But people probably don't actually care! I AM are the one making the judgments about myself at that point. Those eyes on me probably don't exist. Judgments themselves are all based on our perceptions, not reality. I think we are better off not getting preoccupied with external negativity. Instead of being sensitive to somebody being "mean" to us, we should focus on our own kindness towards others.

  14. Rebecca Jo says:

    I've been thinking A LOT about this subject as well. I teach yoga(mostly privately) and have had so many "mean girl" experiences in studios…as a student as well as while teaching…especially subbing in new studios. "Who is this girl? She probably has no idea what she's talking about. She's not the real teacher, so I don't have to listen to her…" Sometimes it feels as though I'm subbing 7th grade at an all girls private school. It's one of the reasons I rarely teach in studios anymore. There are, of course, wonderful studios who are supportive of your practice and loving in nature and I would never want to downplay the hard work, dedication and the level of care and generosity that the people who own these spaces put into their environment. But, being in NYC those places are becoming harder and harder to find. What I have found, however, is the bad behavior of others in the yogic environment…and the rest of daily life as well.. helps to remind me to be compassionate and accepting, to be grateful and generous when I am able, and to never place judgment on someone I've just met because you never ever really know where they are coming from and what sort of personal turmoil they are sorting through. Kindness is everything.

  15. tahuk says:

    "Don't be so sensitive…It's really high time that women humbly accepted that. Men already have."— wow. Just wow. I cannot even parse any good in what you're trying to share for all the sexism and dismissiveness in your tone and word choice. There's a ton of agression in what you are saying above… basically, I agree with Annie Ory, it is not 'sisterhood' or any 'strong feminist collective', as you say, that is at fault. Just pure human ego and hubris.

  16. paul says:

    Are there ever nice people in the classes, and do they get generalizations? Isn't "adult" just an expected point in a continuum? Did the author share her ཨ story with her fellows, even belatedly? (I'm usually too scared think on the spot.) Is the author's category the girl-who-never-participates-because-of-reasons? ..and I don't mean these rhetorically (maybe just a bit :)), the article has a lot of good observations but the solutions seem dictatorial, more finger pointing than transformative (for both the baddies and those subjected to them).
    Here is a story from The Onion on excess sisterhood, which I see a lot more of (from boys too) than the clique n' judge,

  17. eya says:

    don't worry. He;s a vicious troll.

  18. Leah says:

    I began practising yoga in 1993 and was a yoga teacher since 2002. In the last few years I began to find the yoga community increasingly vain, pretentious and hierarchical. I no longer enjoy teaching and only practise yoga at home as classes are far too competitive. To me the essencce of yoga has been lost. Of course thats not how it is everywhere but lets respect and acknowledge everyones experience without belittling it.

  19. Omiya says:

    I too began practising about 10 years ago. The studios got bigger and more expensive, fancier and focussed more on making money and projecting an "image". The students (overall, a broad generalization) at these big studios were shallower in their approach to yoga: more competitive physically, more focussed on looking good and getting "fit". People judging you on the brand of yoga clothes you wear is ludicrous. I intentionally stopped buying brand name yoga wear because of all of this. That was not enough. I just don't go to the big studios anymore at all, I practise at home or at very small yoga studios with dedicated and experienced yoga teachers, and a true yoga community (people who actually look you in the eye, say "hi", ask how your practice was, and are generally welcoming).

  20. yogasamurai says:

    You guys are funny. I'd love t have it out face to face – not sure you have the ovaries for it, though. xoxox

  21. tahuk says:

    I started my practice at home as a child (w/ Lilias on PBS) and it was decades before I stepped foot in a class, and that was in Europe. Even though I grew up in the USA, I don't believe I've taken a class there (I'm guessing the few postures done on a getaway meditation retreat don't count). And now I have absolutely no desire to!

    The whole scene sounds dreadful. But not to worry — these mean people, snobs and posers will move on to the next big thing when it hits. Yoga is not what interests them, but the 'scene' and being seen to be part of 'it'. When there is another big thing that has the next round of fashionable apparel to wear, these people will shuffle off. I don't think the studios will be empty again, but I think the atmosphere will improve.

  22. My reply to an article in Elephant Yoga called "Mean Girls. Meaner Adults?" If you take a tiny experience and imagine it to be a representation of a whole big broader trend, then you have often made a very big assumption. I think that is the mistake that this write may have made. On the whole the Yoga community here in Australia that I have been exposed to is EXTREMELY friendly and loving and warm and inviting. I have NEVER experienced any judgement or competitiveness, only warmth and openness. In my experience it is part of the joy of going to a class. As a Yoga teacher and practitioner of thirteen years I mostly practice at home
    🙂 But the chats with my Yogi friends standing in the car park after class in the morning sun is one of the things that would motivate me to occasionally get to a class. x

  23. Kona says:

    Awesome article. I've a flexible and fairly strong body after years of being a dancer/athlete and I come across this attitude all the time, even though I'm now permanently injured, 41 and very much grown past the competition thing after being humbled by cancer twice. One day I was in TT and the teacher says "Knee issues are usually related to the Ego." quoting Louise Hay – right after I'd expressed issues with my knees to the class. (I tried running in the snow for the JOY of it days before, and my knees were not so happy.) Funny how the teachers own physical issues were supposedly related to "Trying to control everything, and not trusting in the Universe" by the same author he quoted, but I was thoughtful enough not to bring that up in front of everyone. I also observed the "cliques" and cold shoulders to other women, not unlike myself – who appear strong and sure, yet are unwilling to play the a** kissing game, and are shunned for our independent thinking and questioning of ideas. I am pretty let down by this, and practice at home, until I move to some hick town where the studios are more "real." It's a shame really, since I feel the class may have been less divided had the teacher had a more open outlook and attitude. The class seemed to come together when another teacher took the helm, and guided us by her heart with passion and humour!

  24. Shadowgirl says:

    The phenomenon in general is a great exampe of the fact that we don't leave our own culture behind when we get on the mat — far from it! All this cherry-picking out of Eastern traditions can just serve to help us avoid our OWN cultural problems. Yes, the whole issue of female aggression and competitiveness is a problem, and it goes back as long as omen have existed. Yet how are we supposed to deal with it productively when, as women, we are not supposed to "have" those traits or feelings at all, and as yoginis, it's even more taboo? So it's out there, as another "shadow" the yoga community will have to deal with. Let's face it — as a shiny-happy-people-sexy-skinny-mostly-middle-class-whitegirl culture, American yoga is creating a LOT of "shadow" for itself. I'd say, watch this one carefully.

  25. […] me tell you what Mean Yoga Girls look like. They tend to travel in packs led by a truly mean Alpha which tend to suck in surrounding […]