What’s with all the Toxic Opinions?

Via Michelle Marchildon
on May 6, 2012
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Opinions have recently come under fire as yogis are discovering that many people have them, and this is apparently a bad thing.

You see, in yoga it’s not “yogic” to have an opinion because that could be interpreted as a “judgment,” and we should not judge each other. That is called “Ahimsa,” from the Yamas of the Yoga Sutras. Non-judging is non-harming—that is how we yogis roll.

But a person who has no opinions, in my opinion, may be lacking a brain. Seriously. At best, I would probably try to get away from that person so I would not die of boredom at a cocktail party (if people without opinions even go to cocktail parties). At worst, they may be willing to stand by while evil is committed (see below).

You see, in my opinion (which I just learned is “IMO”), either you can think for yourself, or you cannot, and if you cannot, you probably hate my opinions as well as everyone else’s. Interestingly, while IMO is short for “in my opinion,” there is no “IYO,” because nobody really cares what you think anyway.

This brings me to why on earth I am writing about yoga and opinions. In case you have been under a rock for the past three months, Anusara Yoga has been shaken by a scandal regarding its founder who did a lot of things that, IMO, were pretty ridiculous.

So now the yoga teachers are arguing about whom is right in this mess. One teacher complained that she is sick of hearing opinions and only wants to hear facts, or as she called it, “stories.” There is even a website being constructed where we can post the stories of what happened in Anusara, and offer no comments afterward. I like this so much I am going to suggest it to elephant journal.

If you have no opinion whatsoever on the loss of the world’s fastest growing school of yoga that has left thousands of teachers devastated and scrambling for income, then perhaps you may have no opinion on these other things as well:

>The Holocaust: Did it happen?
>Michael Vick and Animal Cruelty: They are just dumb dogs, right?
>President Bill Clinton: Did he inhale?
>Is eating meat ethical? (Come on, if you’re a yogi you have a big opinion this.)

David Swenson, Ashtanga teacher and generally great person, says that “Ahimsa” is a lot harder than it might appear. For example, in an effort to save a spider, you might end up killing an insect. If we try so hard to withhold from having an opinion, we might mindlessly stand by while evil is committed.

Albert Einstein said, “The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.”

I’m just saying, in my opinion, it may turn out that the people who say they are sick of toxic opinions are actually people with very strong opinions. In fact, they may have an opinion on this column, and last I checked, elephant journal allows them to be printed at the end of the column. But frankly I am not that interested in your opinion on my right to have an opinion. Remember, there is no IYO because nobody cares what you think unless you agree with them. The only opinion that is not considered toxic is probably our own.


Editor: Brianna Bemel


About Michelle Marchildon

Michelle Berman Marchildon is the Yogi Muse. She’s an award-winning journalist, and the author of Finding More on the Mat: How I Grew Better, Wiser and Stronger through Yoga. Her second book, Theme Weaver: Connect the Power of Inspiration to Teaching Yoga, is for yoga teachers who want to inspire their students. Michelle is a columnist for elephant journal and Origin Magazine and a contributor to Teachasana, My Yoga Online and Yoga Journal. She is an E-RYT 500 with Yoga Alliance and teaches in Denver, Co where she is busy raising two boys, two dogs and one husband. You can follow her on Facebook at Michelle Marchildon, The Yogi Muse. You can find her blog and website at www.YogiMuse.com. And you can take her classes on www.yogadownload.com.


10 Responses to “What’s with all the Toxic Opinions?”

  1. Mark Ledbetter says:

    Nice, Michelle! But how do you (addressing 'you' to everyone, not just Michelle) separate judgement from opinion? I.E., how do you form non-judgmental opinions? Here's one answer, obvious though it may be, at least at a place like Ele: any negative opinion about a person is a misunderstanding of that person.

  2. Mark Ledbetter says:

    PS, I say that BTW, as a person who really likes both G Bush and B Obama. I mean, how can you not if you are not blinded by ideology? In terms of personality, they have a lot in common and all of it good. Of course, that doesn't affect the fact that, IMO, they are both war-mongering, money-spending jailors of millions of mostly young minority men who committed only victimless crimes. Great guys, though, those two.

  3. Hello Michelle,
    interesting interpretation on my words. Here is what I actually wrote (and it was in context to what was going on in the group).
    "Opinions versus Stories
    I have been contemplating why I get excited about certain threads and others not so much. And I realized that it has to do with “opinions” versus “stories”. I’m quite frankly not so interested in opinions, even my own:) My experience has taught me that there are as many opinions as there are people. They are just what they are, and I have been taught in my Buddhist lineage to bow to opinions, even my own pesky ones, say “thank you for your opinion” and then go about my business. My business may be in spite of the “opinion du jour” or with it. I wait until a wiser part of me leads the way. I’m finding that if I get into a thread where the opinions are flying back and forth of who did what to whom, I end up being confused, and there seems to be little healing that comes of it. At the end of an opinion thread, people seem to be either hurt or confused and it doesn’t look like it is leading anywhere helpful for anyone. Now, when someone tells their story, that is a different thing all together, and it’s why I’m still on this page. Like when ……… shared her latest story, it was not easy to hear, but I feel it’s important for all of us to hear it. A story resonates differently with me, I feel it in my bones, my citta vrittis become quiet and my heart opens. Even if the other person doesn’t respond, I’m glad I got to hear it, because now that it is in the open, I am more aware of it and I’m more committed to never let anything similar happen again – to me or to someone else. When the other person is willing to hear the story, like ……… the other day, I feel it is even more powerful. More work to be done, for true reconciliation to occur, but it’s a start." (Names removed for privacy.)

  4. bulbasaur says:

    glad to know there are people out and about with the same amount of bitterness towards people as I have

  5. IMO YOGI says:

    1) In Yoga (IMO) one certainly can have an opinion and even a voice. But is one's opinion being used in a way that is helpful and productive or reactive and petty? The Yogi (IMO) should be asking him/herself this very question.

    2) "The loss of the world’s fastest growing school of yoga" (IMO) is only a loss if one sees it as such. The Yogi (IMO) does not seek nor identify loss nor gain as much as the Yogi sees change as constant, the Yogi DOES experience pain and understands how to work with pain (IMO) in such a way that it serves rather than intoxicates.

    3) The Holocaust, an intentional act motivated by hatred moving towards genocide (IMO) is not to be compared with the Anusara wave (that is the rising and falling of Anusara). The Yogi (IMO) will recognize this and neither sensationalize nor demean a travesty by charicaturing its nature to justify an unchecked emotion.

    4) Toxic opinions (IMO) are clearly different than ones that contribute to a comprehensive understanding of a particular experience as well as a clear and steady path towards growth. The toxicity is a quality that we can learn from. The Yogi (IMO) checks himself/herself constantly to ensure that s/he is contributing in a way that serves growth rather than serves narcissism.

    5) To have an opinion (IMO) is healthy. To know when to share one's opinion and in what manner is healthier.

    6) Yoga, Yoga teachers, and the world at large (IMO) all benefit from the fruits of the practice, seen and unseen…. and because of this, it will all turn out okay for everyone (IMO). The time and manner at which one's sense of equanimity is restored (IMO) is a matter of the Yogi and his/her willingness to consistently give inner assessment, form informed, integral, and balanced opinions, and offer them to the world as gift rather than gab.

  6. yogijulian says:

    with you michelle.

    i find using "yoga" or "the sutras" as a reason to censor anyone is a form of religious hypocrisy that tries to sanction which opinions or which way of expressing opinions is acceptable.

    the problem beyond the hypocrisy and as you rightly point out the performative contradiction (the act of condemning opinions while expressing one!) is also that the basis for this pious scriptural reference is somewhat random and unfounded…

  7. oz_ says:

    Two points, both of which derive from the time I spent studying Buddhism, which has much to say on this subject.

    1. There is a fine line between judgement and discernment. Judgements are often used to make oneself feel better about oneself at another's expense. If this is how it works for you, then once you figure out how that works internally, you can be on guard against it. Then you will be free to cultivate the important practice of discernment.

    2. One of the components of the Eightfold Path is Right (or Wise) Speech. When it comes to *expressing* one's opinion, then, there are three things to consider:
    – is it true?
    – is it kind?
    – is it timely?

    And finally, from my own experience, a good question to ask when the opinions come out is 'what's the basis for this opinion?' Is the answer reasonable, credible? A la: "this happens to be the subject of my PhD dissertation – would you like to see it?" Or is the answer non-credible, unreasonable? A la: "because the Bible (or, 'the sutras') says so."

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  9. Mark Ledbetter says:

    Oz’s “fine line between judgment and discernment” got me thinking. Yes, it is an exceedingly fine line in the sense that it’s so easy to cross, even without our noticing that we’re crossing. We THINK we are being so rational, so smart, so Buddha-like, but we forget that our ego is a genius at justification. It can make anything on the wrong side of the line look like it’s on the right side. In fact, that’s probably the primary job of the ego: justifying our judgments. It’s ok to have a negative thought about that person because of our superior understanding!

    Another thought. That fine line is actually a yawning gulf. It separates heaven from hell, enlightenment from mud-wrestling in the world of illusion.