The Devil is in the Dogma. ~ Michelle Marchildon

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In yoga news this week there was a lot of hubbub about yoga causing satanic possession and I’m here to tell you my official reaction: Duh.

For 2,000 years, or pretty much since yoga was brought to the attention of the west, it has been confused with being a spiritual practice. I’m not going to insult anyone’s intelligence here by denying it.

In fact, you can say you heard it here first:

Yoga is both a physical exercise and has the potential to be a spiritual practice.

While many laughed at the Virginia Lt. Governor who claimed that if you practice yoga and empty your mind it could fill up with Satan, I did not.

I also did not laugh at the lawsuit in southern California where parents are suing to keep yoga out of the schools because it contains religious messages.

And I didn’t laugh when I taught in a suburban yoga studio and the students asked me not to “Om,” because they are Christian.

However, I did laugh when Elspeth Reeve from the Atlantic suggested that the vacuous brains of the Lululemon salesclerks were really the work of the devil.

So what is it about yoga and touching our toes that brings out the crazy? After careful consideration I am quite sure it is our own behavior.

This is one of my personal doctrines. When everyone around you is acting like a jerk and being completely crazy, maybe it’s not everyone else? Maybe it really is you? With apologies to the Four Agreements, sometimes it is us, we are the problem, and we need to fix our behavior.

Years ago when I told my family that I wanted to become a yoga teacher, which followed having been a devout Jew, to a dabbling Presbyterian, to a pretend Buddhist, my family’s reaction was a unanimous, “Oh God.”

“That’s fine,” my dad said. “Just don’t become too ugga bugga.”

“Whatever,” my husband said, “as long as whoever you are occasionally makes us dinner.”

If you haven’t been in a yoga class where the teacher was a preacher about how you have to be a vegan, or pray to Ganesha, or that Shiva and Shakti created the pulsation of life which stems from their non-stop lovemaking, well then in a yoga sense, you need to get out more often.

My introduction to the darker aspects of yoga came from Baron Baptiste (I recognize the irony, given that Baron teaches a non-religious form of Power Yoga). Baron wrote in his book, Journey into Power, that he was a Christian and believed in God.

So you have to wonder, what motivated a world famous yoga teacher to make a public declaration that he believed in God? Hmmmmm (pinky finger at the corner of my mouth, a la Dr. Evil).

Then there was the Anusara yoga debacle.

The sex scandal did not upset me as much as that Anusara had been predicated upon a secret, anti-God, anti-Judeo-Christian premise of pagan rituals including the sharing of pubic hairs. And you know I can’t make this stuff up.

It turns out, that the founder was a Wiccan, and that the school had a Wiccan-based spiritual philosophy of nature and seasonality and jumping around when the moon is full and (WTF) my new Wiccan friends have been trying to explain to me because I worship the old-fashioned way, at Easter, Christmas and Passover.

My local teacher said I should have been paying better attention when the philosophy of Kashmir Shaivism was being explained (I thought it was “Cream Cheese and Chive-ism,” which I am down with on a bagel).

True, but I was too busy trying to stay awake.

Let me be clear (before everyone starts writing in to say in a non-judgmental way that they hate me, again):

There is absolutely nothing wrong with being a Wiccan!

That is, unless you are trying to sell yoga to a mainstream audience. Wiccans are a gentle, but misunderstood people.

Right after Anusara imploded, I was fired from my suburban studio because the owner thought I was teaching sexy witchcraft yoga, even though I am a dedicated Jew-Presbyterian-Buddhist, who very much believes in God and only having sex when you need something from your husband.

This brings us back to the current state of affairs where people think yoga is a spiritual practice.

If we don’t want our students to think we are teaching something religious, then it might be best if we don’t preach to them how they should love, worship, eat, or which Gods and Goddesses they should believe in because a lot of people confuse that stuff with religion.

On the other hand, if you enjoy bringing a spiritual awareness to a yoga practice, then quit whining. Not everyone is going to love you all the time, or understand that you are not Satan, or that they are free to worship in their own way regardless of taking yoga.

I mean, my kids think I am Satan just for asking them to obey the curfew.

So what if some people believe that the devil is in the dogma?

Obviously, (I hope) it’s not true, unless you are shopping in Lululemon, where it might be true.

I would be very careful around those salesclerks who tell you that your butt looks really good in yoga pants.

Don’t say you weren’t warned!


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Ed: Bryonie Wise

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anonymous Jun 14, 2013 7:06am

I wish I still lived in Denver! Your articles always crack me up and I would love to take your class, or just have lunch!!

anonymous Jun 12, 2013 11:49am

I am actually quite woo woo in my own teaching, but my students all know that I am utterly nuts so they don't take it seriously and practice yoga instead.

anonymous Jun 12, 2013 10:28am

Thanks for brightening my day! I just saw someone post on FB how they got a hot yoga groupon (I believe that's another Elephant article or 10) and someone else say that they are Catholic and think yoga looks fun physically but that it's evil and they cannot do it.
I practice at home by DVD because of having a toddler (child care issues) and no money, and, frankly, I'm just not a very spiritual person in any respect, so that aspect doesn't play a big role in MY yoga. Make it your own, find the yoga that works for YOU. Don't let all of these people tell you how you have to connect with it. If I'm not a "real" yogi, so be it. Yoga still does wonderful things for me and my life and I love it.

anonymous Jun 12, 2013 10:15am

As only you do, truth and wisdom with lots of sass. I love the blog Michelle, as always. So wonderful seeing you today, truly a highlight of my day! Much love!

anonymous Jun 12, 2013 10:02am

By the way, I left that Kashmir Shaivism training when the teacher told us to meditate on the blue light. When we see everything as blue, it is a good indication of strong concentration. How would seeing blue help me see reality as it is? Seems like a long and winding road to spiritual ectacy. If that is what you are looking for.

anonymous Jun 12, 2013 9:20am

I have enjoyed all your articles including the ones I disagree with and the ones with a lot of inflamed comments. So, keep them all coming. You manage to find just the right tone for this article – funny, sassy and non-dogmatic. To be offended by it is like barking at a wall or clapping with one hand. At the least, we can agree that we have the ability to think for ourselves and disagree with each other.

anonymous Jun 12, 2013 7:54am

thanks for the morning laugh, michelle. i am waiting for the article on how a devout jew dabbles in Presbyterianism. pleaz… it will just make my day. on to this essay, however. i have been outta touch lately and i missed the hullabaloo last week. i am catching up on my news by reading your article. 🙂 i thought EW Jackson had an interesting point about being careful of anything that asks you to empty yourself. i, too, would be worried if i showed up to a yoga class and the teacher suggested that i empty myself. not that a teacher would say that directly (but, hey, ya never know cuz as we know, some yoga teachers have done really wacky things). the point is that after 200 hours of asana training to become a yoga teacher, we are not really trained to be "spiritual" teachers (uh..whatever spiritual is…). and we better be damn careful cuz half-baked woo-woo talk can really ef people up. (ps – I'm not worried for you but i think i would enjoy a cup of tea with your mother)

    anonymous Jun 12, 2013 11:47am

    You know what they say Eileen when they see me walking down the street in my uber-Republican village? There goes that woo-woo girl.

anonymous Jun 12, 2013 7:41am

Wow, what a great article, and so timely too. I also went to a yoga teacher training . I did it for personal development, I wasn’t going to teach it to public. I do to my family. Because it makes sence to move to stretch to meditate. My 4 and 6 year old girls love it. My Husbend appriciates that can be calm and that I have a pose for every body ache. Our family is still Russian Orthodox. We pray before dinner and celebrate all religious holidays. I wouldn’t OM in public, or practice yoga in front of my coworkers. We just all need a physical practice if church can give people something like yoga then they can complain.

anonymous Jun 12, 2013 6:58am

Funny! Thank you!

anonymous Jun 12, 2013 6:57am

For your husbands' sake, I hope you need something from him often. 😉

    anonymous Jun 12, 2013 11:45am

    I was embellishing a tad. I also sleep with him on Father's Day and his birthday.

anonymous Jun 11, 2013 9:51pm

Dang, I always seem to show up just after all the fun is done. Having heard about pagan sex cults and devil worshiping nymphs eager to do my bidding at yoga studios I jumped right in line! Sexy devil yoga? oh, yeah that's what i was looking for. Weird, all I found was better health, more balance in my life, less stress and an overall improved sense of well being. Did I go to the wrong studio? I do know what you mean about the FuFu-lemming sales clerks, however. I usually get the "you dont do yoga" smirk and the "inside joke" glance from the obviously devil possessed young soul to her coworker when I say something like " my mat is the long one, do you have a towel that will fit it? ". What? Secret code word? Am i not initiated far enough to enter the inner sanctum of yoga consumerism? pure evil, be very afraid!

anonymous Jun 11, 2013 7:09pm

I agree with your views here on so many levels. As much as I laughed and so appreciate your trying to highlight serious subjects using humor, I kinda feel bad that you'll probably take some crap for this. There is so much to be gained from movement, stretching, breathing, meditation, and yes, even crazy-advanced poses, and for me dogma only gets in the way. I've been teaching for eight years in a very conservative part of the country, and I've had minuscule confrontation from students because I leave the dogma out and teach a practice. ALSO, wow, Michelle, I wanna go to your Lululemon! Last time I went to mine, the vacuous-brained salesclerk took one look at my age as I perused the *gasp* sale rack, and told me the sizes are much smaller than than they appear. She steered me over to the yoga pants that would keep things from "popping out"! I assured her that I had no concerns, no concerns AT ALL, about anything popping out! At this point, I almost began to doubt that I am 5'1" and weigh 103 lbs. It would have been insulting to speak that way to any woman, any age, and any size. I was only there because, although my husband is kind and generous,, he is not aware that Lululemon is now the Gwyneth P. of the yoga wear world, and he got me a gift card.

    anonymous Jun 12, 2013 6:47am

    The Gwyneth P. of yoga wear. Sooooo good I might have to steal that line. Thank you. Now I have 3 kinds of fans: Those who get it (admittedly outnumbered), those who HATE me but practice non-judgment, and those who worry for me. Welcome to the third group. My mom will make you tea.

      anonymous Jun 12, 2013 4:45pm

      Soo…can we OM backwards at the end of class and make MOO sounds? Or would that be too dogmatic (or cowmatic har har har). I would hate to indoctrinate my students as cows…

        anonymous Jun 13, 2013 9:21am

        Oh geez — What a ROAR!! Now I'm going to have to do that in the next class I teach just for the absolute fun of it!!! Maybe actually during some cat/cows.

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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 And you can take her classes on