No More Airbrushed Yoga! ~ Sarah Shapiro

Via Aminda R. Courtwright
on Mar 1, 2012
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A psychotherapist’s views on the John Friend story

Let’s start with the basics: the word yoga literally means “yoke” or Union.

How can we have union when we pit one training program against the other or one person against the other? There is not one school of yoga that is the truth or “better or worse” than the other. This comes from ego and ego alone. The “cult of yoga” proliferated in the West when yoga studio owners decided to differentiate their teachings from that of the masters and the sacred teachings such as Krishamacharya.

While most pay homage to the great masters (Krishamacharya, Iyengar, Bikram and Pattabi Jois), many have felt either financial pressure or some personal desire to imprint or “update” what had come before. To be fair, a few of these early 20th Century master teachers did decide to brand themselves such as Bikram. This branding process has led to all sorts of ego conflicts and suffering in the yoga community.

Of course we all have to pay our bills but there has become a “cult of ego” in the yoga community. We, in the West, are obsessed with the body and with the “speediest route to enlightenment,” sometimes at the expense of the feelings of others and our own well spiritual and emotional well being.

Many of these studio owners have talent and, either willfully or innocently, built up studios with massive followings. Unfortunately for some, the intoxication of power, money and sex lead some further and further from the spiritual teachings of yoga and their original intentions. They, along with their following or Satsang, became ungrounded.

We must not stop at looking only at the studio owners or “cult leaders.” We, as students, are just as culpable and we are responsible for our own choices and our devotion or non-devotion to the yogic principles. Many yoga practitioners may read the Yamas and Niyamas during the training or at a workshop but there are very few who embrace the study and implementation of these principles into all facets of daily life.

This is rigorous study. I repeat rigorous.

However, most practitioners believe that they have “got it” in one or two readings. Many do not reflect on their actions, thoughts or words on a daily basis and this is what is required to awaken. There is an epidemic of what I refer to as “Mc-Therapy” and “Mc-Yoga” that can sometimes undermine the beauty, truth and integrity of a four thousand year old system. This is the un-airbrushed truth.

In ancient times, the yoga master would not allow one to practice Hatha yoga until they studied and mastered the Yamas and Niyamas. Of course, in small villages there was greater access to accountability and observation. Even in small yoga studios there is little honestly and personal accountability. Students often remain silent if they observe unethical or unusual behavior and they often support and feed on the narcissism at the studio. Student and teacher are a lock and key.

In Jungian terms, we project our disowned beloved and toxic parts of self onto the teacher who then “carry” our projections for us. Over time, the teacher will ultimately fall from grace and “take the fall” for us. The student can then leave the studio with little responsibility or personal insight. This is not to say that some of the studio owners do have to change their ego-centered and sometimes destructive behaviors, but it is dance of student-teacher.

I believe this is what is happening with John Friend. It is what Carl Jung calls the emergence of the Collective Shadow. Often in groups, there comes a time when the group can no longer contain the negative energy and there is, if you will, a kind of explosive “acting out” that draws all eyes on the darkness. As stated above, we must be careful not to isolate this to “one person” and assign John Friend or anyone as 100% responsible for these collective outbursts.

This kind of behavior and “cult like” following has been epidemic in the yoga community, even in India. The Guru model simply does not work. It draws out all sorts of dark and destructive behavior. In short, many of us are wounded yogis who have not done adequate psychological work, project all over the Master Teacher and expect all sorts of infantile fulfillment, admiration and attention from these mere mortals. We do this not just with John Friend but with, everyone, unless we do the rigorous work of Consciousness and learn how to manage our own projections.

 How can we heal from this event and others? How can we grow as yogis and as follow travelers on this planet? How can we re-create Harmony?

 It comes back to the practice of svadayaya (Self Study) one of the Yamas/Niyamas.

Becoming conscious is a process. The practice of svadayaya is an ancient practice; however, some forms of modern Psychology such as Jungian Archetypal Psychology or EFT can lead to transformation and awakening. As yogis we must become aware of our projections or what the yogis call “delusions of mind.”

Next, a student in question might sit on their mat and become aware of their feelings. We must practice not running from these feelings, rather, moving into them and breathing through them. After we spend time observing feelings we then become aware of “patterns” in our mind such as feeling ‘hurt” or “rejected” if the teacher pays more attention to another student or if the front desk receptionist forgets our name.

What does this trigger? We must “connect the dots” and take ownership of our own feelings and thoughts, rather than acting them out in power fantasies and projections. All of us have a “story” of rejection, neglect or abuse such as an abusive father or a depressed and absent mother and so forth. We need to see that our need for love, attention and acknowledgement is not outside of ourselves in the Guru or teacher, rather it is inside. This is the only place we can go.

We must turn our attention back to svadayaya. We must ask ourselves the deeper questions. Why was I drawn to Guru in the first place? Do I need admiration, guidance, attention, connection? What is it I am longing for? Then we must sit with the feelings until over time, bubbling up from the Unconscious Mind and in the deep stillness, we arrive at an answer.

Psychotherapy, psychoanalysis, dream work, journal writing and EFT are all paths that can lead to awakening if one practices with an open heart and mind. It is a daily practice. Yogic tools such as meditation and Hatha can all lead to awakening but they must be practiced with Conscious awareness and with great integrity and rigor. Yoga is a science and a psychology and this is often forgotten.

The cold hard Truth is that most people do not want to be bothered with the rigorous and daily work that is required for us to heal and to become whole, but this is our only hope of creating a harmonious world. 

It is now time do to the work. If you are reacting strongly to the John Friend situation, take a few moments to write down your judgements and then ask yourself honestly, if you can accuse yourself of any of these behaviors? You may be surprised at what you find.

 Posted by Aminda R. Courtwright/Editor: Kate Bartolotta.


Sara Shapiro: As a licensed psychotherapist I have worked with hundreds of patients over the course of 20 years. I teach Jungian Archetypal Psychology and workshops in the Chakras and Energy Medicine in Canada and the US. Yoga helps keep me sane through most of that.  Check out her book on Amazon titled Divine Intervention.




About Aminda R. Courtwright

Aminda is a wellness facilitator and founder of ARCreated Wellness, LLC. A yoga teacher, transpersonal hypnotherapist, and Reiki Master, she shares her own healing journey with others in hopes of inspiring and uplifting those she meets. Her yoga classes are gentle and workshop style to invoke a real sense of learning and designed to be truly accessible for all levels. Her biggest hope is to help others take their yoga practice off the mat and into everyday life where it is truly meant to be experienced. (and can be most useful) Refusing to settle into the middle path just yet she prefers to dally on both edges and can be seen swinging right and leaning left. A devoted animal lover and activist and a humanist she is prone to rants and believes strongly that life is to be savored and that “we are all in this together, shouldn’t we enjoy it that way? “ When she isn’t teaching yoga, hypnotizing people, adoring her husband or doting on her grandson she is out riding her motorcycle—promoting the image that yogis are rebels and are a force to be reckoned with! You can also find her on Facebook. To join her for free classes online follow her here.


5 Responses to “No More Airbrushed Yoga! ~ Sarah Shapiro”

  1. Stewart J. Lawrence says:

    Great forceful piece. It's actually self-evident, if you've done your inner work. However, what you're highlighting is that most American yoga teachers haven't. They really don't have the intellectual foundation or the in-depth personal formation to teach. How much does a 20-something or even a young thirty-something really know about herself? Not a whole lot, and this won't be solved through meditation. Re-training? More training? What do you do with an entire movement of unqualified people? Just let them teach a version of fitness under adult supervision? Thanks for your clarity.

  2. Candice Garrett says:

    Wow, thanks for the age-ism! I think what a person knows about themselves doesn't have anything to do with age, in my opinion, but rather circumstance and experience. Growing up in a hospital "for crippled children" I can name many, many young people I knew growing up who knew a whole lot more about life and pain and loss and growth and "themselves" than the average 40 year old. Making the problem about age would signify that based on your own, you have more of "something" than they do. Which is a horrible ego trip in and of itself.

  3. Dee says:

    Brilliant! Thank you. It's all about introspection and yes taking responsibility for our feelings and projections. This is the real yoga – – much more powerful than our ability to hold handstand for 5 breaths! Bravo for having the guts to speak the truth here!

  4. Morris J says:

    What do you do? Probably the same thing that you do with the head of a consulting firm who thinks that he knows what everyone should do with their yoga practice: you listen to the individual and see if there is worth in what the person says. You don't lump everyone together by age or amount of training or yoga style.

    By the way, the article above was spot on.

  5. The subsequent time I read a blog, I hope that it doesnt disappoint me as a lot as this one. I imply, I know it was my choice to read, however I actually thought youd have something interesting to say. All I hear is a bunch of whining about something that you can repair for those who werent too busy in search of attention.