Yoga Clichés That Must Live (Because They Aren’t Clichés).

Via Amy Jirsa
on Mar 4, 2013
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Photo: brad.coy
Photo: brad.coy

“In the world of yoga, many teachers find that vague platitudes and clichés are easier answers to students’ questions than the truth,” states Maya Georg in her article about, well, clichés.

Okay, so first: clichés exist because they are based in truth. You might have to dig for that kernel, but it’s in there and that’s what we’re grasping onto when we use them.

(And, no, I’m not going to get into a discussion gender/racial clichés here. That’s too messy and outside the realm of this article. Just had to put that out there).

Now, when yoga teachers use these phrases, but are unable to extrapolate on them, okay. We might have some frustration here. But let’s just explore the truths embedded in these clichés, shall we?

Listen to your body.

Georg claims that if she listened to her body, she “would smoke four packs of cigarettes a day, drink a fifth of vodka, and eat nothing but chocolate ice cream as I lay on my couch.” Let me put this forward: if that’s your inclination, you aren’t truly listening to your body, but to your ego. If you really sat in silence and listened to your body, you would find that your body wants, and will move toward, health. I mean, being tired, ill and grumpy all the time? No, thanks.

Whose body wants that?

But the ego—that vicious little voice, against your better interest, wants you immobile and indulgent. Why? Because moving, eating well, practicing yoga and meditation brings up some scary stuff. We have to detox—emotions as well as all that bodily waste—when we move toward a state of health. That’s uncomfortable and, yeah, it totally sucks. The ego doesn’t like that. The body does. Learn to separate the two.

(Hint: you learn this through yoga. And by breathing).

Just Breathe:

photo: brad.coy
photo: brad.coy

I use this phrase in my classes all the time. Why? Because as soon as something gets challenging—emotionally or physically—we hold our breath. Holding the breath stems the movement of the body and of the emotions. What happens when we stem these things? Life gets (or seems to get) easier through avoidance (see the ego, above).

But breathing reminds us to be in the moment. I say this in my classes because people forget to breathe. Think about the last time you tried not to cry. What did you do? You held your breath. You swallowed that uncomfortable emotion and unceremoniously buried it.

When we’re in a crisis, as Georg puts it, “I need sincerity, not another cliché.” Well, if you don’t deepen your breath, there’s no way you’re going to listen for sincerity because you’re so obsessed with that little drama of your own making going on in your head. The breath takes us out of our heads. We’re miserable because we’ve cast ourselves in the starring role in the melodrama in our minds. We deepen the breath? Our focus shifts.

Okay, so what if you’re facing a terrible tragedy: a death, major surgery, terminal illness. I don’t have to point you to the blogs, articles and resources which claim that, as soon as one began to accept the situation (and we can’t accept if we don’t slow down and breathe), life became more manageable. There is the necessity of surrender.

(Speaking of which): Surrender:

Georg doesn’t really get into this one, but learning to surrender? Huge. Huge! It was a revelation for me. Surrender is not about giving in. No! We are wild yoga warriors here, people. We are tough; we never give in. But we do let go. That old Zen proverb, “let go or be dragged”?  My god, that’s true. We are dragged down by our own drama. Gah! Let it go. Surrender!

(Surrender—i.e. letting go—works pretty well in deepening your physical yoga practice as well).

It’s Just Fear:

Well, it is. Ego plus fear equals immobilization. Why do students come to yoga a few times and then quit? As teachers, we see it all the time, right? Well, yoga makes you face yourself, your weaknesses. You can’t lie to yourself in yoga. Sometimes we can’t take that bright, often blinding honesty (and that’s okay) and we leave. I’ve done it, for sure. I’m also sure I’ll do it again.

Why? Fear! Fear is stultifying and it’s linked to the ego. Once you can categorize your unwillingness to go forward as fear, well, you’ve identified the problem. Voila! Identification makes the thing not so scary. Suddenly, we know the ‘enemy,’ so to speak. Breathe. Find your courage. Go, go, go forward.

If you express and understand this fear, I promise, your teacher will not abandon you. Personal responsibility—admit to the fear and you will find help.

You should:

Okay. I agree with this one. No one can make your decisions for you. This is your journey. You shouldn’t (ha ha) even tell yourself what you should or shouldn’t do. I could is a good substitute. Try it. Personal responsibility—listen to your body (not the ego). It will tell you what it wants when it’s ready (well, when you’re ready).

Clichés are a way of approaching the truth; they are digestible and easily doled out in a class as encouragement; they are not a replacement for counsel by a qualified teacher. They need to be expanded upon. But! It is your responsibility to ask for clarification. If your teacher can’t give it to you, well, you might need, politely, to excuse yourself and keep looking. But don’t dismiss these phrases out of hand.

All you need is love? Sure, cliché. But think about it more deeply—love attracts people to you. People attract opportunities. Opportunities attract money, security, abundance. Security attracts ease. Ease attracts happiness. Happiness attracts (more) love.

See what I did there? I unpacked the cliché. I found the kernel of truth; I digested it. Don’t let the clichés trigger you. As soon as you breathe, you’re drawn out of the simplistic and into the deeper truth. I promise you (promise!) that this is how it works. Maybe not right away, but practice, practice, practice.

Oh, and breathe.


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Ed: Kate Bartolotta


About Amy Jirsa

Amy Jirsa is a writer, wanderer, yoga instructor and master herbalist. She makes her home at her studio, Quiet Earth Yoga, in Lincoln, Nebraska and on her blog. And if that’s not enough, you can also find her at Twitter @QuietEarthYoga or on Facebook (Quiet Earth Yoga). She'll be releasing a book on yoga and natural health, to be released in 2015. Stay tuned!


18 Responses to “Yoga Clichés That Must Live (Because They Aren’t Clichés).”

  1. Tom G says:

    Ah, nothing like a little passive aggression "I'm yogier than thou" response complete with personal attacks and a straw man argument – how very cliche!

  2. Amy says:

    I respectfully disagree. This is an appropriately assertive response to the first article. Some of the differences may be stylistic but I share many of these beliefs and appreciate the author for having the courage to articulate them..

  3. Jay says:

    I could not have said it better myself which is not surprising from the yogini who shares quotable quotes accompanied by stunning pictures to those who subscribe to her QuietEarth! With much gratitude…

  4. crimsunkg says:

    Being fairly new to asanas, I read both articles with bated breath (perhaps I should have just breathed?) and found elements of truth (in my current practice, which I suppose really translates to "life") in each. I think taking the personal out of the close readings allows one to appreciate both: the earlier for dangers in reveling at the surface and the later for appreciating nuances beneath the surface.

  5. Michael says:

    I thought the Georg article was shallow and annoying. I think this article was an appropriate response.

  6. Liana says:

    I think it all depends on where the 'clichés' are coming from.

    I've been told the same thing by different people and felt it very differently:
    When I've been told 'it's just fear' from someone who was using that as a way to end the convo, or to not go there with me it feels like a stupid, dismissive, faux-spiritual catchphrase.

    When said by someone who is there with you, wants to help you and is giving you their undivided attention it feels like a reassurance and a revelation.

    For me the difference is one is dismissive, and is like a full stop on the conversation and discounts what the person is feeling. Whereas the other way takes how the person is feeling into account and uses it as a way to help them out of their situation.

    Also, WHO says makes a difference to me. Someone who has faced their fears (or is in the process of doing so) telling me it's just fear feels good; they've been there and can confirm that it is indeed just fear, that it's not real and therefore doesn't need to be respected or taken so seriously.

    Someone who doesn't look at their fears and who doesn't work on themselves telling me this just feels shallow. It's something that they've heard, but don't really understand, but think it's the right thing to say, or they can't be bothered.

    So as true as the clichés may be, I think it depends on how and why they're said. If they're spouted out as a way to not engage with someone, then it's lame. If they're said by someone who is focused and there with you then they're insanely useful!

  7. Wow, Jay! Many thanks! 🙂

  8. Corrina says:

    I saw the other article and it really made me think; if my experiences at a yoga studio were anything like the author experienced and described, I don't know that I wouldn't feel the same way. It reminded me of the meaningless things well-intentioned people say to you when a loved one dies and the frustration you feel.

    Later I saw this article and it made me even more grateful for the teachers I have. Love is a good thing.

  9. fragginfraggin says:

    So glad you wrote this rebuttal.

  10. Joanna Bearns says:

    Which is exactly what Maya Georg was saying in her blog on this subject.

  11. myriam says:

    I didn't read the article in question, but I very much enjoyed Amy's answer. How many times did my teacher tell me to breathe until I finally figured out what she really meant! Now, I feel swept by gratitude and love every time a teacher reminds me to breathe when I forget. I understand how that might seem like a cliché, because that's exactly what your ego-butler wants you to think it is. He wants to keep things in order, well labeled and boxed. Thanks for this great article.

  12. Lisa Cohen says:

    thanks for the article. I wholeheartedly agree that these so-called cliches are quite appropo in yoga. Breathe, listen to your body, surrender, Love…add peace, gratitude, compassion…all those little “trite” concepts…and when I hear them, it ALWAYS is perfect for me to hear in that moment. And as a teacher, yes, I remind my students of these things often because it feels authentic to me to share w/ my students what resonates w me.

    I read Maya’s article as well and I have to say that as a student and as a teacher, I couldn’t relate to just didn’t resonate w me. While I understood where she was coming from and how, as a student, a teacher coming from a place that was not authentic could be a bit off putting to me…ultimately, i know it is MY yoga to uncover WHY something might trigger me or to figure out what it is I am meant to gleam from this class.

    Thanks again Amy…I found your article to be a compassionate and well thought out viewpoint that was respectful and non-judgmental. And face it, as students, we all gravitate towards the teachers we need…so if the phrases above are too cliche our views..we can find teachers who choose other words.

  13. Tracie says:

    Thank you for your take on this, Amy. As a pretty straight-talking yoga teacher myself, I cannot stomach mindless yoga sayings so I was looking forward to reading Maya's article and agreeing wholeheartedly. Instead, I was completely put-off by her tone and interpretation. I admit I felt a bit defensive, since I DO use some of these words in my classes that I teach. I sat with her points for awhile before responding and finally came to the conclusion that I simply could not agree with most of what she wrote. Unlike the first responder's comment, I don't feel that your essay was passive-agressive at all. You simply offered a clear, polite, concise rebuttal to what Maya had written. (A rebuttal that I wish I had written first!) Thank you.

  14. Mia says:

    My exact thoughts on the previous article where that it is shallow and when I commented I got "oh you have to work on your sense of humour" type of responses. BULLSHIT. This article is so well articulated and in a much more reasonable and appropriate tone.

    Thanks for writing.

  15. Thank you all for the wonderful, thoughtful comments. I agree that this is definitely an area worth discussion and communication; there is just so much *stuff* to get across in yoga. Not an easy task!

    I am so thankful for the elephant journal community and this forum. Cheers!

  16. Tony in Berkely says:

    Well, if you read the original article you'll see that she was writing about the cliches which get thrown out within the yoga community when someone is in need…not during asana practice.

  17. Tony in Berkeely says:

    Well, if you read the original article you'll see that she was writing about the cliches which get thrown out within the yoga community when someone is in need…not during asana practice. Do people even read anymore?

  18. Gina C. says:

    No kidding Tony! Its one thing to criticize a piece of writing for what it actually says but to criticize it for something it clearly differentiated to make sure it was not criticizing it just silly. Its one thing to miss the nuance but another to just not read it.