Why She Left Yoga (& Why I Think She is Duping Herself): A Response to “Why I Left Yoga…” ~ John-James Ford

Via elephant journal
on Aug 22, 2012
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photo: flickr/Olga Kruglova

I’ve seen a lot of sharing of this article by a blogger named Irasna Rising.

I’m flummoxed—less because it is poorly written, offers no tangible recommendations and is still getting so much attention—and more because so many people seem willing to blindly accept this brand of deeply personal criticism as salient cultural commentary deserving of some kind of action; as if the author’s subjective issues with yoga are universal and pressing.

I suppose it’s not extremely surprising, especially in Canada, where we are terrified ourselves of being called racists. It might force us to truly look at (and acknowledge) our real history (an ongoing saga of abuse towards First Nations people, abuse which is still being perpetuated, four years after an official apology was made).

The article is written by a self-proclaimed person “of Indian heritage” who lives in the West and who is “disillusioned and disgusted” with yoga.

Yoga? How can yoga be taken so personally?

Immediately, I suspect she must not be doing it right, if this is where it’s led her.

I call off my dogs, remembering that there is no right and wrong and delve back into the piece.

Still, as I read further, what niggles my brain, tickling the forefront of consciousness, is the spiritual axiom that whenever I am disturbed, no matter what the reason, it means there is something fundamentally wrong with me.

But before being so simplistic in a response, her points bear looking at, don’t they?

I read on—surely there is something here, since I’ve seen so many people linking to this article.


I have to stop reading for another minute.

“Honey,” I say to the author, pretending she’s beside me and actually wants my opinion, “yoga is not sacred.”

Life is sacred, yes—and, the expression of life is sacred. Yoga is a system, an ancient and refined technology of ecstasy; it is but one path to the reality which lies beyond mind and matter.

Yoga, as system, is a tool.

This tool can be wielded in as many ways as there are minds that pick it up; I like to think that most people employ the tool of yoga because they want inner peace. Intention governs everything—even our author says this.

But, if I am less than enlightened and I am only interested in yoga because I like how my ass looks in Lululemon man-shorts (and that in my yoga community there are 90% females), what am I really looking for?

I am looking for connection. I am looking for communion. I am still looking for the same thing more enlightened beings are after—I’m just not as developed in my search and am blinded by my own ignorance of what will truly bring me awareness, equanimity and ultimately, peace.

I just need to work through more ignorance.

So, if I treat yoga with an attitude of spiritual materialism, hedonism and hypocrisy, would I not be deserving of your compassion rather than your disdain?

Irasna Rising’s complaints amount to, essentially, the following points:

1. Yoga in the West is trendy and hedonistic.
2. Yoga in the West seems to be only for rich white people.
3. A variation on the first point that can be summarized best by the fact that the author bristles at the sight of white women in saris.
4. Another variation on point number three, namely that white people chanting in Sanskrit annoys the author.
5. “Caucasians are inferior to Indians” and “real Indians from India make fun of Westerners behind their back [sic] and make money off their ignorance.”
6. Another variation on the first point.
7. A re-hashing of the third point with different examples.

Ok—the first point is absolutely true—but I don’t think it’s a cultural issue or problem that requires fixing. I certainly have enough indication from my own life that whenever I try and fix, manage or control something with ideas stemming from my judgmental mind, I tend to make matters worse.

I have learned that as I proceed further on the path, with less judgement and less denial, more will be revealed and I will shed more layers of ignorance. This leads me deeper into a state of flow.

The second point is tricky, because it speaks to a very Canadian, deep-rooted fear of being labelled as a racist—but, I’m not sure if we need to be concerned about achieving a higher quota of non-white people in yoga classes in the West.

The question, at the root, is whether or not yoga is accessible.

Well, is it?

I certainly think so—I did yoga on my own with the same $20 video for almost three years before attending classes; I was too full of anxiety to approach my own practice any other way. It’s the at-home sadhana (yes, I speak Sanskrit…which is actually like Latin…a language that has an impact on brain activity, HRV and overall physical health—Dr. Richard Brown tells a fascinating story about what happened to a group of monks and priests who fell seriously ill after Vatican II when the mass was no longer said in Latin) where the magic happens for me.

I attend classes for community, sangha and also to observe where my ego is at. But, I have so far failed to take a census on skin coloor, although it appears to me that the classes I have attended in New Delhi, Hong Kong, Bangkok, Colombo and Ho Chi Minh City are pretty much made up of people who live in that city and are trying to bring more peace, happiness and harmony into their lives. Any yoga community can only be a substratum of the community it lives and breathes in.

As Bryan Kest says, when we bring our shit into yoga, we make yoga shit.

The author of this article seems to be, in my opinion, operating less out of love and more out of fear. She (I am deducing that the author is a woman but I could be mistaken) has penned more of a drawn-out complaint against the perceived inconsistencies with “the yoga scene” and yoga.

The yoga “scene” is trendy and hedonistic. So what? All yoga really asks me to do is breathe, stretch, move and pay close attention to refine my concentration and awareness. Then, I need to let go and let nature take its own course.

This article is clearly not the product of a discriminating, balanced mind. Again, if I am ever disturbed, no matter what the reason, that means there is something amiss with me. This openly racist writer clearly has an axe to grind and has totally given her own power away by believing her issues lie outside of herself.

Take, for instance, the laundry list of dislikes on her profile: “Hip hop, country western music, Nickelback, New Agers, Canadian winters, Stephen King, sheeple, suburban mediocrities, Mexican food, Mondays, jocks, himbos and bimbos, people who ride their bicycle on the foot path and pedestrians on the bike path especially when the two paths are next to each other, people who stand at the front of the bus and block the entrance when there are tons of open seats in the back. You get the idea.”

Yes, I get the idea. The very act of itemizing things that get under my skin demonstrate my own ignorance of the reality that what I resist persists.

What a torture for my own mind, as if its job isn’t difficult enough already!

I am lacking humility in this case and humility is only the ability to see things as they really are, not as I wish them to be nor as I fear them to be. The antidote to my lack of humility, I have found, is gratitude.

Here is where I vacillate: maybe yoga is sacred. I am so grateful for my practice. All of this life is sacred, even the mundane.

I remember what I knew once and learned I know not where: there are no ordinary moments. Yoga is not just the practice, it is the fruit of practice; it is both the journey and the destination, the union of small mind with cosmic consciousness, the dissolution of the illusion of separateness, of “I.”

If I am striving for the destination so fiercely that I am hating the journey for being what it is, then my compass is busted and I am likely headed in the wrong direction.

My theory is that Irasana Rising  ‘blew up’ here and really needed to let something big go. As within, so without; mirror, mirror.

There is another spiritual axiom which states that when a reaction to an event is disproportionate to the event, the reaction is always about the past.

This article was penned by someone who is suffering, who has evidently been hurt and whose pain and anger towards yoga is likely a symptom of some underlying pain and—who knows—maybe even trauma.

I can identify with suffering for I am suffering, too—suffering and riddled with character defects. We all are; if we weren’t, we wouldn’t need yoga.

If I could meet her, I would ask her what she needs. Maybe an ear? To be held? Some love? Acceptance of herself just as she is in this very moment?

Whatever she needs, I hope she finds it, whether it be through yoga or another path. I hope she can, as Ghandi envisioned, be the change she wants to see in the world.

I hope we all can.

*This piece has been adapted from my blog


John-James (JJ) Ford’s first novel, Bonk on the Head, won the 2006 Ottawa Book Award for fiction. He is a Canadian Foreign Service Officer who has worked in Kenya, Ethiopia, Sri Lanka, Vietnam and India, where, in the Himalayas, he rediscovered yoga with Yogi Sivadas. JJ’s poetry and short fiction have been published in Grey Borders, Papertiger, qwerty, Carousel, sub-Terrain and Prairie Fire. He is currently a LifeForce Yoga practitioner who teaches yoga for depression, anxiety and PTSD, as well as for the Aboriginal Healing Foundation. His greatest teachers are his son, Jackson and his daughter, Samia.





Editor: Bryonie Wise

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27 Responses to “Why She Left Yoga (& Why I Think She is Duping Herself): A Response to “Why I Left Yoga…” ~ John-James Ford”

  1. kathik says:

    So well said. Thanks for your candor + insight!

  2. Sandy says:

    I did not even realize that this article was going around, you brought it to my attention and I must say, Bravo! so well written and insightful. thank you for sharing!

  3. Jess says:

    Thank you! When I first read the “Why I left Yoga” article I felt the same way as you did but rather than reading more deeply, I skimmed through to see what the main points were, only to find that they were one-dimensional and negative. I left the article there and forgot about it… until your article! Thank you for your response. I think you covered a lot of what was missing in her piece (I assumed it was a female too, but am not sure) and I very much agree with your points. Anyways, I hope she goes back and gives it another try! Who knows what she’ll find 🙂

  4. Judyth Hill says:

    Beautiful, open-minded, open-hearted Wise writing…..I write about Yoga also..and teach… this piece is valuable…WORD!
    Thank you for posting it on my FB wall!

  5. Michele McCormick says:

    nail on the head. Thank you for expressing what I thought (the author is obviously in pain) when I read that article and never could have said so eloquently!

  6. cathy says:

    yep.. I am a bit sick of several whining vifaral yoga bashers. I have stopped reading them or responding to them. I am a happier person now.

  7. __MikeG__ says:

    I noticed that the author of "Why I left yoga" only replied to posts made by persons who agreed with the positions staked out in the article. Comments made by persons who did not agree or had concerns were ignored by the author.

    That shows that the author was never interested in a honest dialog. The authors most common response to people who agreed was along the lines of "thank you for getting it". This type of response implies that persons who did not agree do not have valid points because anyone who disagrees just doesn't "get it". This attitude is an example of intellectual dishonesty.

    The only point I took away from "why I left yoga" was to be glad that the author did in fact leave yoga. IMO, "Why I left yoga" was a strange combination of keen insight and bullshit. I have a hard time believing anyone would take this article and author seriously. "Why I left yoga" is only a minor distraction at best.

  8. Edward Staskus says:

    Very nicely written – it would be terrific if you got twice the views of the article you wrote about. (And I am not saying that just because I am originally from Sudbury, Ont.)

  9. Vision_Quest2 says:

    "The yoga scene is trendy and hedonistic. So what? All yoga really asks me to do is breathe, stretch, move and pay close attention to refine my concentration and awareness. Then, I need to let go and let nature take its own course."

    THAT, in a nutshell.

    The next (if any) yoga studio I chance upon, had better be both "middle path"-oriented and "primarily home-practitioner-friendly".

    "I certainly think so—I did yoga on my own with the same $20 video for almost three years before attending classes; "

    Well, I certainly need a lot more than that. Needing (these days) online yoga download services, cross training, and having authored my own sequence/system, in fact. It's a pretty tough call in the face of yoga studios looking for "Kool Aid" drinkers … sad for them I don't have much potential to be one …

    Yoga is a market. And I don't DO classes instead of practice, but only to supplement the practice. Sparingly.

    Lastly, I'm finally old enough to actually appreciate being ignored by the teacher. Loord … have to be pushing 58, with over 5 years of regular yoga practice and still an "advanced beginner" with respect to asana only … but you get the idea.

  10. thirtydaysofyoga says:

    Very nicely put. I found the article "why I left yoga" to be really sad; to constantly look around you, to wonder what others are thinking of you, how they look in their yoga pants, if they are middle class or not (how would you even know?)…..to view yoga as an entirely external practice is really rather missing the point. I guess it can take some time to realise that it is actually entirely internal (in my humble opinion); it took me some time to get there but I never felt angry or bitter towards yoga or even other yogis during the time leading up to my realisation. I think there is a deeper malaise in the writer of the article and I hope she finds peace; to receive love you really have to give it.

  11. bobcat says:

    I have been where the writer of "why I left yoga" has been. I have moved on and quite grateful to the author of this article for writing a thoughtful piece. Who know, may be I would come back to the first article and appreciate it more. Keep opening up to possibilities and appreciate the past. Having lived for over 40 years I have had my share of judging and criticizing others. It's true they come back and bite you but that is how we can include more of what we reject. Yoga/Oneness/Reality has it's enduring way of churning and uniting what we ignore and reject within ourselves and the world.

  12. Vision_Quest2 says:

    What you are describing – out of movie screenwriting and associated arts – is just the "unity of opposites" in a movie plot.

    Real life – just like "reel life" – can double back on itself, sometimes revisit old plot points – sometimes end in the style and using the scenes in which it began … in the middle is (or should be) growth …

  13. seankmc says:

    A hearty thanks to the author for this response. "Why I left yoga" was not only poorly written, it seemed to reek of personal insecurity. In the end I suppose its ok…it means more hip hop and Mexican food for me!

  14. yoga bear says:

    who has not "popped" off out of some response to a hurt or pain. I enjoyed both articles and all the resonses!

  15. ann says:

    and me!

  16. JJ Ford says:

    Thanks all for the comments, the feedback is truly appreciated. I encourage everyone to take a look at the original blog of mine, where Irasna Rising left some feedback for me, and where I had to admit that making a qualitative (subjective) assessment of her writing was a bit cheap and unnecessary and in a way undermined the place of compassion I wanted to come from (entirely); quelle surprise – guess I have more work ahead of me than I thought. May all of us find real peace, real harmony, real happiness…

  17. Suri_k8 says:

    I have to disagree , i dont think yours is actually better or more insightful than hers ….seems like you are just bitching about the girl that bitches about yoga and [my interpretation] you seem to imply that just because she doesnt know the ABC's of spirituality and because she dared judge the yoga scene , she is a horrible person as if you somehow were better because you dont judge….well…except for the fact that you are judging her. The last part of your post is terrible , with the cheap psychology and stuff …as if this werent enough you close your argument insinuating that she is a terribly traumatized , bitter person that needs help…as if you actually knew her.

  18. Heather says:

    Well, obviously her piece triggered you…so nothing wrong with that…but you cannot force people to talk and want to write back…..Someone wrote a post and just because they don't reply means nothing.

    You remind me of the time my Dad was pissed at someone at Church. He wanted to have it out with the guy. I was still too young to understand but I FELT this is not right. I could see the guy just wanted to go home….he even said so…..I recall him saying, "I am going home with my family." But my Dad…hot under the collar wanted to have it out. He just made himself look like an idiot…and gong to church meant nothing.

  19. Heather says:

    She bascially emphasized the love hate relationship we have for most things in life…including life..and Yoga, well, that was just the Yoga and the venue.

  20. quantum probability says:

    It seemed like she just wanted to communicate about her personal experience. Other than the excision of charlatanism, what needs to change about yoga culture? Charge less?

  21. thirtydaysofyoga says:

    I honestly missed the love part of her article and that is why it was sad to me.

  22. __MikeG__ says:

    Your story about your dad does not apply. Your dad did not post an article on a website known for debate and then only interact with people who agreed with him. Using an example only works when the example is relevant to the issue at hand.

  23. […] By claiming he is using this dark approach, he attempts to excuse his hypocrisy, saying in Haas’ interview that,”Being cruel is not what we’re about,” yet when it comes to hate, “We like to take the things we say ʽnoʼ to and say ʽyes,ʼ to such a degree that you can’t bu… […]

  24. Thanks for your comment. The assertion that I am "just bitching about a girl that [sic] bitches about yoga" doesn't seem fair, in my opinion, as I believe I have made it clear what I am trying to accomplish throughout the post. This makes me believe that you didn't read the entire piece carefully to glean the intent. On balance, it seems quite clear to almost everyone else. While we may disagree on some points, I do not think my tone is so murky that it could be confused as "bitching". I never said Irasna Rising was terribly traumatized – I speculated that that might be a possibility, i.e. who knows? I never claimed to be a psychologist. My insights come from 11 years of recovery from addiction, PTSD, anxiety and depression, and my comments on suffering are actually more Buddhist in nature than psychological. Suffering is universal; I am merely pointing out that the original article seems to be clearly coming out of this place of suffering, suffering which may or may not be deep. I was honestly doing my best to come from a place of compassion. On the whole, it appears I succeeded with most people to get this across – I am sorry that this wasn't communicated clearly to you. Either way, I appreciate you taking the time to comment.

  25. That´s right and just as well! (ha)

    It was a verbal debate…and when the guy was done…he wanted out….He did not want to face what he had said…or whatever he had expressed…..So in that sense it was the same…..

    I used this example to show that we cannot force others to do anything……what we want others to do and what they do are different. ..and we should learn to be at peace with that…..

  26. […] Why She Left Yoga (& Why I Think She is Duping Herself): A Response to “Why I Left Yoga…” … […]

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