It’s Yoga, but… WTF?

Via Jacquelyn O'Brien
on Sep 26, 2012
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I’m far from perfect—my family, my friends and my teachers will tell you so.

But, wtf is going on?

I used to say that I didn’t recognize the yoga I saw in Yoga Journal. You know, the perfect bodies in perfect poses, the beautiful tropical locations, the men. (Sadly, I don’t see many of them in class.)

But now I don’t even recognize the yoga I see in articles and blogs. I’ve never seen bitchiness in a yoga class. I’ve never seen judgement, or if it was there it was kept on the inside. I’ve never seen competitiveness. And, I don’t see many crazy arm balances either.

I’m not saying that these writers are lying but what they describe as normal is totally unfamiliar to me. Maybe it’s a city versus country thing, like snow tires. (That’s one for the Canadians.)

Mostly what I see is people being too hard on themselves and being so consumed by that harshness that they wouldn’t notice if there was an actual elephant in the room. But, that’s what we’re supposed to be working on, right? That’s why we’re here. To learn to accept ourselves and enjoy the journey without striving for an end result or approval. Right?

I don’t see the yoga in the harsh, critical and judgmental comments on blogs, here or elsewhere. Come on, if I wanted sanctimony and piety I’d go back to my Catholic roots. No offense intended my Catholic friends, but when your teacher makes you stand up in front of the class on a Monday morning at age five and account for not being at mass on Sunday you tend to feel a bit judged.

Being the teacher, being the student, being the writer, being the commenter and, most of all, being ourselves takes courage. Can we be a bit kinder to each other and remember why we were interested in yoga in the first place? Aren’t we all one, supporting the growth we see in each other? Or are we just individuals competing to be the smartest, the most knowing, the most scathing writer or commenter?

How lonely does that sound?

Okay, let the flaming commence.

With love, Jacquelyn

Editor: Lynn Hasselberger

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About Jacquelyn O'Brien

Jacquelyn O’Brien is a yoga teacher and professional wrangler of husbands, children and variously sized animals. She does her best to live mindfully but f*cks up with alarming regularity and not always hilarious consequences. So far though, she’s always been willing to get out of bed in the morning and give it another go. Jacquelyn owns 'radiant joy yoga' in Uxbridge, Ontario with her husband, Michael. Connect to her at her website or on facebook or find her on twitter


39 Responses to “It’s Yoga, but… WTF?”

  1. Dianne says:

    Jacquelyn you are so so blessed. Your community in Uxbridge is small and beautiful. Where there are numerous studios and bigger yoga populations unfortunately lots and lots of ugliness ensues . It is truly amazing what goes on in the name of yoga. I hope you NEVER have to see it! You set the standard my dear and be the example.

  2. radiant joy yoga says:

    You're so kind, Dianne. I am very, very fortunate. 🙂

  3. Karen says:

    Yes, thank you.

  4. Carmen says:

    Well said Jacquelyn! I thought I was the only one who felt that way about yoga but I chose to keep silent about it. It's just who I am. Sadly, there has been too much ego & commercialism in yoga. Well done for the write-up!

  5. radiant joy yoga says:


  6. radiant joy yoga says:

    Thank you, Carmen. xxx

  7. Vic DiCara says:

    I liked your article a lot Jaquelyn. Thank you.

    It is hard to REALLY stop being egotistical, thats why we put one another down. And it is so much easier to do it when the person can't see your face. To refrain from insult is a great "yama" one should practice. Thanks for bringing this up, and written in a lively way, too.

    Looking forward to your next article.

  8. radiant joy yoga says:

    Thank you, Vic.

  9. Edie says:

    Nice. Posting on FB main EJ page….I love the embrace you offer. The fact is I hear what you are saying and I also know that any community wherever you go is imperfect….yoga offers all of us a lot….and the intention is stronger than the judgement in my book.

  10. cathy says:

    thank you

  11. radiant joy yoga says:

    Thank you!

  12. mallecho says:

    It's also worth noting that yoga as we practice it (asana) in general has a pretty loose association with its origin, which is a philosophy with a practice that has much more to do with breath, attitude, life observances, and restraints than anything to do with downward dog or triangle.

    That said, it's also one of those things where it's hard to not sound judgmental when you're judging people about being judgmental. To each their own.

  13. oz_ says:

    Imagine you take a culture – like ours – where youth, beauty, sexiness – *physicality* – has become a flat out object of worship – of quasi-religious fervor. Further, a culture that diefies competition even before the kiddies hit elementary school (whence lessons in conformity also ensue). Further still, a culture subject to atomization – because when you isolate individuals from each other, they are easier to manipulate and control via fear – easier to condition into thinking materialism is the answer to the happiness question. A culture where the people are not only disconnected from each other, but from their own inner selves, as well as from the natural cycles that formed and shaped their species and from the other beings with whom their fates are inextricably bound. Where personas, facades, and 'false selves' flourish.

    This is a culture whose members are profoundly ego-based.

    Now you take a spiritual practice and move it from its roots in meditation into the realm of physicality, make the physical expression of that practice dominant, largely ignore the traditional focus, and then you introduce that to individuals conditioned by the culture described above.

    Well, what did you think would happen? Seems rather predictable to me.

    You have to understand – in a culture as distorted as this one is, even the noblest spiritual practice will suffer corruption. Not completely, but any means, but also not infrequently.

    It's a cultural problem – systemic in nature. Reminds me of what CS Lewis wrote, many decades ago:

    "In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful."

  14. Yoga? says:

    What we say and do reflect not so much the world around us but the world inside us. The more distorted our perception is the more disconnected we feel. Hence, what we write and speak create more separation. I have not had a bad yoga teacher nor a disrepectful student. If I did I wouldn’t know as I don’t assume anyone to be perfect, better or worst. Though I do recognize that I am just as flawed as if not more than everyone else. I’ve watched the video Amy Ippolippti posted called “what sh*t unprofessional yoga teachers say” and another article by another yoga teacher called “who are the yoga bitches?” All I want to say is please look inside what your mind has been cooking up. The reality is everybody is doing their best. Please don’t dramatize reality or belittle others. It only causes more delusion and separation. Give yourself and everyone else a break.

  15. Anthony says:

    I agree with you Jacquelyn. I practice in a fairly large yoga community in Colorado and have never seen the ugliness that so many places describe. There is some banter and behind the scenes gossip, but it (at least from what I have heard) is almost never insipid or harmful in nature. I have noticed a little competitive nature with some people, but I think it is mostly an internal drive, it's never vocalized. For the most part, everybody is very laid back and is just stoked to see other people getting out there and practicing at wherever their practice is.

  16. Jessica G says:

    Hey J,

    Now living in the city & experiencing first hand what 'city yoga' looks like Your soo right. It is a city/small town thing. Everything in the city is about competition. being faster, stronger, 'cooler' is what People live for here & unfortunately that has moved into the yoga realm as well. Its almost impossible to find gentle yoga in the city. Most studio only have a restorative/yin/ gentle class like once a week. It's pretty funny considering that what most of these stressed out city people need. Lol

  17. Vision_Quest2 says:

    I found reactions a lot like this blog, on my blogsite. I would first talk about a studio I went to in New York City.

    The reactions to my rantings would be (Reminder: this happened in THIS decade Anno Domini):

    "My teacher is kind and loving"
    "Yoga class puts me to sleep."
    "My class does not work me out AT ALL …"
    "We have a loving community where *I* go …"
    "You have not found a teacher like mine"
    "We have small town values in our studio …"

    THIS is the great divide (and conquer) that the yoga world is today.

    NOT Red State-Blue State per se …

    Just wait a few years to catch up to the coasts, then see if this could be written.

    Forgot, you're in Canada.

  18. Heather says:

    Well, another way to look at things is what if there was NO yoga? Things could be very bad. So now, people gossip only a little vs. A LOT. People are only mildly BITCHY….instead of TOTALLY.

    Yoga works…it takes time. I don't downplay any of the issues cited. They ARE there.
    But like most things in life…there are 2 sides….we in the West have never known how to get beyond our black and white thinking. Either it is this or that. In yoga, it is both..and nothing at all.

  19. radiant joy yoga says:

    LOL, I hear that. 🙂

  20. radiant joy yoga says:

    Indeed the culture clash is interesting. Hopefully also a great opportunity. Thank for reading. 🙂

  21. radiant joy yoga says:

    I agree. We're all doing our best. 🙂

  22. radiant joy yoga says:

    Sounds great. I really need to visit Colorado some time. 🙂

  23. radiant joy yoga says:

    Interesting! Thanks for sharing, Jessica. Since you're in my closest city that's good to know. Miss you up here in the boonies but hope that you're setting into a new and wonderful life. xxx

  24. radiant joy yoga says:

    Let's hope we can all find the yoga we need. Thanks for reading. 🙂

  25. radiant joy yoga says:

    LMAO. How true!

  26. cathy says:

    I am a little confused. I do not think I noticed the last sentence,"let the flaming commence." when I wrote thank you yesterday.
    I read it today and wonder was that a thrust at people daring us to make rude coments?

  27. Notrecog says:

    My biggest exposure to yoga bitchiness was online, through the Friend scandal (yes, THAT again). There was little room for critical thinking, questioning, sharing information, or debate. Every time some one heard/read something they didn’t like, they’d accuse the speaker/writer of being hateful, unelightened, un-yogic, not skillfull, not mindful, not spiritual, not “full of grace,” projecting, judging. Ironically, that’s why the scandal got so vitriolic. It seems that corporate yoga culture, left to itself, is either smiley-stupid and sheep-like or bitchy and competitive, by turns. It’s very alienating.

  28. radiant joy yoga says:

    Just laughing at my own anxieties. 🙂

  29. radiant joy yoga says:

    Thanks for sharing your experience, that was definitely a highly contentious issue. Online is a strange place with odd rules of etiquette. It's hard to imagine treating each other in person the way we do sometimes online. I've was horrified by the treatment a friend received when she was directly involved in a publicly debated issue. People who really didn't know anything about the issue or her felt justified in saying terrible things and calling for her to be fired. I'm sure that if they had met her or been directly involved in the situation they'd never have said such awful things but because it was online it was open season. It's as if we forget that it's a real situation not just something to quickly and unthinkingly comment on. I'm sure that we're all guilty from time to time, I'm going to try to stay as mindful as I can. Thanks for reading.

  30. Vision_Quest2 says:

    "…corporate yoga culture, left to itself, is either smiley-stupid and sheep-like or bitchy and competitive, by turns. It's very alienating."

    Nailed it!

    Corporate yoga culture is already last year's news ….
    Life moves too fast for corporate yoga culture …

    And for that I, for one, am glad …

  31. Notrecog says:

    Thanks both, yes. That was not the yoga I knew, from my home studio in my smallish city. People knew how to have disagreements without being assholes. When I moved to the ‘big city,” there was far more yoga, more kinds, but more corporatized, alienating, glitzy, self-righteous, bitchy yoga. It’s not going away. The Friend scandal may have made the scales fall off many of our eyes, but this is still a capitalist country which supports enormous business chains and all their trappings. Even on EJ, many writers are just hustling themselves and their blogsand their services as products. At least we can be more wary, and insist that we practice (and write and speak about practice) in an adult, ethical environment. However, I do think it’s up to all of us to change the tone and up the ante.

  32. radiant joy yoga says:

    Fantastic challenge for all of us. 🙂

  33. nunh says:

    Well put and I agree 100%

  34. ericka says:

    i appreciate the post……the bigger picture of yoga is about self acceptance….the more we are able to have compassion for ourselves the more we are able to grow as individuals.

  35. radiant joy yoga says:

    Thank you for reading ericka. 🙂

  36. I think it was a great idea to call out anyone who would be nasty or rude. I appreciated that last sentence very much. It takes a lot of courage, nowadays, to post on a site like this, for the reasons you outlined in your article. This was well-written.

  37. radiant joy yoga says:

    Thank you, Andrew. I am very grateful for your comment.

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