Popularity: Why Yoga Is Like High School & Bob Dylan. ~ Bec Gathmann

Via elephant journal
on Aug 6, 2012
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I’m here to be unpopular.

I was listening to wFUV the other morning on my drive to go teach. On this particular morning, the DJ was talking about “Artists Who Had Strayed From Their Sweet Spots”. These were alternative folk and rock singers who had gone a little too far left of center—experimented a little too far into somewhere their audience couldn’t follow.

As an example, she played a track from Bob Dylan’s last record: a Christmas Album. I personally believe that once an artist produces a Christmas album they are officially bone dry on inspiration, but to each his own. I also later found out Dylan made it for his Grandkids.

After 30 seconds the DJ stopped playing the track “for fear of pissing us all off”, but mentioned another track from Bob Dylan that was once considered out of Dylan’s “sweet spot”, which had pissed a lot of people off when it was released, but that had changed the course of musical history: Like a Rolling Stone.

Dylan wasn’t very well liked for changing direction and trying to get people to come along with him. Initially, he wasn’t very popular and he sure as shit pissed a whole truck load of people off—often. But dylan had something to say, and he didn’t really care if people didn’t quite see eye-to-eye with his truth.

He wasn’t interested in being a beloved house-hold name, in fact he outright rejected becoming like everyone else. He was interested in speaking his truth. Sometimes when we exist in that sweet spot we effortlessly channel our craft, we flow with our voices, we create something to give back to the world and everything is in sync. Sometimes our truth leads us to step out of that sweet spot to create something. Sometimes we need to take a risk to use our words and actions honestly.

Back in high school, I’ll willingly admit I was not the most popular girl at school.

By “I was not the most popular”, I mean I was the nerdiest, most rebellious, completely below the radar, punk-rock loving, dog-chain wearing, gender bending closeted freak you can imagine. Whether it’s because I organically never fit in or whether its a result of my not fitting in that I rejected it, the world may never know.

I specifically remember a catalytic moment in 3rd grade. I was befriended by the most popular girl in school, Ashley (not her real name), and I realized she was taking my unicorn pencils without my asking. She was having a pool party and wasn’t inviting my other friends because they were “smelly”. To top it all off, I told her a secret and she had directly gone and told everyone in class. I walked up to Ms. Thang, and in a rare moment of asserting myself and breaking out of my shyness that I wouldn’t rediscover until middle school, I told Ashley to shove it, and to give me my unicorn pencils back. Actually, what I think I actually said was: “I don’t want to be your friend anymore!”, but to me it felt like the former.

It was in that moment I realized that there was a structure to the kids around me, mostly revolving around privilege, money, looks and meanness.

Once I realized that, I also realized I had no desire to participate in what I would later learned was essentially being “popular”. This rejection of the social norm continued for most of my life. Here and there, there was an attempt or two to homogenize myself, to neglect my own truth and try to become part of the popular crowd.

These attempts mostly ended in failure. When the group realized something was up, I was traitor in their midst. I always had something dissenting to say, or wore the wrong thing, or wanted to do something that seemed below them. Eventually I gave up trying.

I just didn’t dig perpetuating the same cycle of fake friendliness, cruelty and pretending to be ways I wasn’t.

Now, I understand that this is my “story”. At some junctures in my life it made me feel bad about myself. The unhappiness of trying to be well-liked, beloved and good looking combined with the fear of losing all of that made me do some wretched things. Most of all, it made me rot inside, like a pretty candy apple with worms in the middle, glossy and bereft of nutrition. But I also understand that we create meaning in our lives in whatever way we choose, and I chose this story, so I’m living it out.

Part of living that story was learning how to speak truth, even if that did make me really unpopular.

Things that aren’t pretty make people uncomfortable and the truth isn’t usually very pretty. I’ve gotten pretty well versed on that kind of truth—on calling myself out on my bullshit—and calling other people out too. I realize sometimes that’s going to make people angry. I realize sometimes its going to initially hurt people’s feelings.

Of course I also see that the greater good comes from living truthfully, from walking truthfully, from speaking truthfully. I know that whoever receives it, will eventually be better for it. Although it all depends on how you receive it.

So let me take the first step, and offer some unpopular opinions right here and right now. How have so many of us gotten so far from our sweet spot, but without using that exploration as a vehicle for truth? Riding around, doing our thing, ignoring the the minor “stuff” that bothers us or those nagging thoughts that we don’t want to deal with; going our way, and without contributing anything useful to the world? How have we lost focus on creating change, on speaking truth, on being radical, just for the sake of being well-liked and popular?

Lately, I see yoga becoming a lot more a more like being back in high school.

Instead of creating change, instead of making ourselves and our students more aware so that we can shift the greater consciousness of the world, we’ve become a homogenized group of flexible cheerleaders for detoxing, creating good vibes and doing perfect handstands.

Is it because we want to all be well liked without rocking the boat? Is it because we’d rather have things be pretty, than be honest? Where is the dissenting voice promoting the use of our power, strength, awareness, compassion and consciousness for petitioning the U.N., for creating equal and fair legislation for all of our citizens, for spending our bucks on fair trade small businesses instead of hundred dollar yoga pants made with petroleum?

Where are the teachers teaching real world lessons, creating mobilized empowered students, instead of preaching about tenets of yoga while they pay lip service to actually working towards substantial change of creating a better world?

I know pointing this stuff out is going to piss people off. That can happen when you speak your truth. I’m also not saying that there aren’t any teachers and students doing these things. There are those who are do amazingly beneficial work, but wow are they are far and few between.

All of this yoga “stuff” we do is not just for a hot bod. It’s not to feel holy and then just sit in our holiness. Its not to teach classes geared towards making everything look pretty and nice. We practice to create awareness, to kill unconsciousness and to use that to create change. This change cannot just be within ourselves, on our mats, in our cute outfits and awesome facebook pictures. We have to remember that we are part of a greater whole, a whole that still suffers.

So I’m ready to make people angry, if its to tell a greater truth and to live that with my actions. A good friend once reminded me, “We lead with the way we live”. Ok then. I’ll move out of my sweet spot. Even if it means being unpopular.


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Bec Gathmann bio: dance party in human form. loves glitter. nicknamed: Sass. yoga teacher by day, caped crusader by night. writes stuff sometimes; big mouthed rebel at heart. find her here: http://www.facebook.com/Yoga.Rebels and here: http://www.yogarebellion.com/




Editor: Carolyn Gilligan



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23 Responses to “Popularity: Why Yoga Is Like High School & Bob Dylan. ~ Bec Gathmann”

  1. thanks, interesting piece – does come off a bit wounded and there is a bit of 'judgy-judgement' in there. that may very well be your yoga community, but that is a pretty large "WE" you cast in those statements.

    I completely agree with this sentence, quoted: "…instead of preaching about tenets of yoga while they pay lip service to actually working towards substantial change of creating a better world?" I read the article to find out how you answer that personally, and you don't.

    so, let us know, aside from calling this out in your article and making generalizations (some of which may ring true, but gets lost in the bluster), I'm politely asking – what are you doing to work toward substantial change? Your bio doesn't give much info!

    thanks for your perspective!

  2. anouscka says:

    Those teachers you're looking for are on the barricades teaching and don't have the time or money for endless photo shoots or pr campaigns because they spent it all on their best causes….

  3. anouscka says:

    and share the yoga tools with others to help them help themselves

  4. Ceeb says:

    I hear ya, girlfriend. Are you familiar with the folks over at Recovering Yogi? They're all about the for-realness without the slick, shiny-happy-perfect YJ gloss. I never fit in, either: a little too fat, a little too poor, a little too depressed, a little too skeptical. I can't afford the yoga pants, the retreats, or even the classes anymore. I show up at the war/Occupy/women's rights protests with all the equally shabby people, knowing it probably won't make any difference. Maybe people turn to self-improvement because world improvement seems so out of reach.

  5. cathy says:

    off the mat inot the world. Street yoga, yogaforhope… all do life improve3ment community building support yoga

  6. lisa says:

    i really appreciate your perspective and can relate. thanks for the courage to post it. and for the record, I wasn't the most popular girl in high school either. and by not most popular, I mean pretty much a freak and an outcast, at least in my mind. these things can wound anyone, and usually do…and yoga, among other things, have helped me to process these wounds and grow and come out stronger. at least most of the times. even as i stare down the face of my 47th bday, there's always processing still to be done. self awareness and improvement is where to start…trying to be a square peg in a round hole for sake of fitting in just adds to the wounds. namaste.

  7. bec gathmann says:

    yup cathy; there are definitely those who ARE doing good work in the world.

  8. bec says:

    not judgin', but i do call em like i see em. fully admit; article was a critique, not a how-to guide. that'll be my next one. 😉 …as for being wounded, "the first product of self-knowledge is humility" said ms. flannery o'connor: i wouldn't ever deny being hurt, wounded, or the like. i believe that from that place comes a keen perspective, which i hope can be constructive in creating a better place and community around me. as for the J word, this is a J-free zone — unless, of course, you count the fact that YES, i do think it is our responsibility, as much as we can, with all the awareness we work so hard to get, to make the world around us a little better than when we got here. if that qualifies as a judgment, than i'm guilty as charged i'm afraid.

  9. bec says:

    i would agree and disagree. word of mouth is a powerful tool, strength in numbers is a powerful tool, organization within our community would be a powerful tool too. and an even more powerful roadblock in the way of all the change we could be making is the inherent issue of classism and financial instability… so then, perhaps that's an interesting juxtaposition to look at too…

  10. bec says:

    amen. i haven't heard of recovering yogi but i'll check them out! appreciate your comments; and believe me — fitting in = overrated. your you-ness = awesome.

  11. Me2 says:

    My newcomer's (4 years) perspective: I am in favor of providing the space for the individual student to experience transformation (physical, mental, emotional, spiritual) at their own pace and then taking that in the direction that is authentic for them.

  12. thank you for understanding that discourse is not dissent. I'm a supporter of your intention and I'm pretty actively involved in both creating a lot of inclusive space for people to fall in love with something greater, more subtle or perhaps deeper than a simple asana practice…

    and, I've heard – 'Let them come for the booty, they'll find the beauty; let them think it's about hamstrings until it's about the heart". the 'yoga' will do that for them, if they are ready, and the teacher shares from an authentic practice.

    I'm also a big fan of not just 'indulging' in self-reflection… the discernment the asana practice provides should motivate us to engage more fully – I'm working all the time to help foster and co-create that experience with folks, so that's why I pushed on 'what are you doing?"

    I'm happy we're in dialog – I think we're so much closer than we are apart, just sharing our perspectives!

  13. Joe Sparks says:

    Most everyone growing up in this culture is wounded to one degree or another. The problem is how do you stop the bleeding. Most of us are sitting on a ton of garbage, fears, worries, hate, sadness, grief, anger. Yoga teachers carry this stuff, like any other human being, we need to work on ourselves, and yoga alone is not going to do it. What we need to do is trust our own thinking, about what it means to have a "good life." Hard to think when you are hurting. Criticizing and blaming does not work. However, we do need to interrupt behavior that is disrespectful to self and others. Our challenge is to heal ourselves, and help others do the same. There is no formula to human liberation. Each person must follow there own path, with as much resource and help they can figure out . Doing it alone will not work. We are all in this together. Just try taking turns listening to a friend. Most of us never get a chance to be listened to. It is very healing to be listened to without being interrupted, but you must take turns. Simple thing, but it will change your life. Have at it!

  14. Ramani says:

    I was a rebellious little punk rock high school kid as well. Luckily I had plenty of friends in the same camp so don’t know exactly what your talking about otherwise.

    While political action and changing the “world” is good in itself, I don’t really see what place it has as far as yoga goes. Yoga aims to take you beyond the world. Beyond duality. Beyond any physical manifestation. It is only here that the spirit resides.

    For some reason, people like to associate doing good in the world as some extension of their yoga practice. However even doing good in the world is a very motivated action and quite frankly is not a spiritual action, no matter how we wan’t to couch those terms.

    I was in a work shop with Vasant Lad and he kept talking about how enlightenment is stable and steady, it is not a rebellion. While the rebellion may be a necessary step, it is just clearing house. Only when the house is cleared will intelligent and whole action come which will be its own change, otherwise whatever rebellion or supposed “good” action that comes is born of some shred of ego. This need to feel like a better person. A more fulfilled person. Whatever. It’s a bunch of ego games. This is not to say that I am free of ego whatsoever, but I’d watch myself before becoming a yoga cheerleader for change.

  15. bec says:

    “It's the action, not the fruit of the action, that's important. You have to do the right thing. It may not be in your power, may not be in your time, that there'll be any fruit. But that doesn't mean you stop doing the right thing. You may never know what results come from your action. But if you do nothing, there will be no result.” — gandhi. gandhi also believed that civil disobedience and rebellion were a sacred duty when the citizens of a state saw inequality, inaction, and injustice, or when a system had become corrupt. i wouldn't go so far as to make analogies between yoga and colonialist India, but i would point out that advaita, or nonduality, necessitates action. i am of the world: your suffering is my suffering. my suffering is your suffering. while anyone suffers, we are not whole, but we continue to remain separated. if yoga is union, and as you illuminate, it aims to take us beyond the world, while part of the whole suffers, we all remain in suffering.

  16. bec says:

    chrispy — agreed wholeheartedly that dialog is always needed. i'm happy to oblige in that regard. and i also agree with your point: as teachers, and as students, the change comes from authenticity… its when that authenticity exists that we are moved to shift our own perspective and moved to change those around us through that authenticity. when that strand is lost, i'm afraid it makes internal and external change much more difficult.

  17. bec says:

    i respect your words joe! thanks so much for your response. i agree: doing it alone will not work.

  18. cathy says:

    those were right off the top of my head.. I needed to nullify some of the angst.
    There are also yogamonth.org and yogarecess . Teachers teach yoga during their lunch breaks in public schools, free yoga in the parks sponsored by cities .

  19. Vision_Quest2 says:

    Scratching my head at the website Rebel Yoga. Why does it look elitist? Why does it read like other yoga teacher websites? Why does it talk about private sessions, retreats, classes you could catch?

    While I am not so near to being a charity case, myself; I have to question the lack of outreach to us working poor who may not get to a class because of lack of funds or an overstretched schedule. What do you have against sharing your talents using mass media?

    Nothing inherently glamorous and all pop-music about that, unless you package it thus …

  20. most likely, you were admired for telling that bitch to shove it. Just as many of us admire and respect Bob Dylan. Some people might have been afraid to say it because they were intimidated by that 'popular' girl but I know what they were really thinking. ;D

    Been reading a lot of articles hear asking where are the real yoga teachers. Funny, I see them everywhere. Then again, I gravitate myself towards the people I admire and I don't admire shallow types who only care if they look good.

    You are so right. We can only speak our truth and be who we are. I think that people who are attracted to yoga teachers who are shallow must be shallow themselves or they would go elsewhere. If Bob Dylan wanted a hip hop following, he would have written hip hop. Nothing against hip hop, just an example of another style of music that he is not and doesn't have to be.

    Be yourself and speak your truth. You are cool and weird and rebellious. That's beautiful. Rock on.

  21. […] Popularity: Why Yoga Is Like High School & Bob Dylan. ~ Bec Gathmann […]

  22. knittinginnc says:

    You might also want to try Babarazzi. They usually have dead on balls accurate critique of yoga culture, but their snarkiness is not for all. I also think It's All Yoga, Baby has good critiques.

  23. Ethanael says:

    Thought it wloudn\’t to give it a shot. I was right.