Yogis Behaving Badly: ‘Mean Girls’ On The Mat.

Via Marthe Weyandt
on Aug 9, 2013
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finger bad girl

As a little girl, I always envied the boys on the school playground.

Oh, to simply be able to fight, with vigor and without pretense, when the need arose, and then to let it pass!

Woe to the young woman who says what she thinks. ‘Nice’ girls don’t do angry.

Instead, our culture encourages young women to communicate disapproval through a series of snide remarks, cold shoulders or backhanded compliments. This leads to passive-aggression, backbiting and intimidation.

Internecine warfare is common in girl world. We never knew when our comrades might jump ship or when they might choose to turn on us for the slightest provocation. As such, we are trained to be super-attuned to the shifting social landscape, much to our detriment, I believe.

By now, we have shed the trappings of youth—Trapper Keepers, blue eyeshadow and shellacked bangs. Unfortunately, the ‘mean girl’ stuff still rears its ugly head.

There are ‘mean girls’, ahem…’mean women’ in yoga studios (and mean men, too, to be fair). And, yes, they are in pain, and, yes, all human beings are in pain and, yes, life (sometimes) is suffering. And sometimes the meanness just bubbles up, like venomous slime from a fetid brook still waiting to be alchemized into something pure and whole and hearty.

Luckily, we have yoga to knock some sense into us.

I, as a human being, am sometimes in pain. I can be mean.

So, here it is (and maybe I’m super mean for writing it; but, boy, was it fun and cathartic) .

1.) Ms. (or Mr.) Stand-Your-Ground:

This person arrives 45 minutes prior to yoga class. She plops down her mat front-and-center in the most prime piece of real estate in the room.

Eventually, at quarter till, the unwashed masses queue at the studio door. Ms. Stand-Your-Ground will not scoot her mat an inch to make room. How dare these peons demand she relocate! She will not acquiesce! They can perform yogasana from the ceiling or maybe hang out the window! AcroYoga, after all, is all the rage!

2.) The Prop Nazi:

In the studio, neatness counts. The Prop Nazi takes this too far. This person insists that blocks, blankets and bolsters be realigned perfectly on the shelves after class. The Prop Nazi will whip out a tape measure to ensure the golden ratio of blanket to blanket-fringe is maintained. Often, she is a teacher or studio owner. Students break a sweat just waiting in line. Their post-yogic hazes are so disrupted. Oh, the stress!

Note: psycho-compulsiveness is a turnoff for making friends and influencing people. (Prop Nazi is not to be confused with ‘Helpful Facilitator,’ a person, usually taller than average, who will help to position props after class.)

3.) The Yoga Whisperer:

Team hut! Every studio has the pre and post-class huddlers. They are fond of the whisper/lean-in, a move popularized by Tom Brady in various Super Bowl tourneys. They also perform the more sinister whisper/lean-in/giggle/point/stare from time-to-time.

It is best not to take this behavior personally.

They may be talking about you. They may be talking about a sale at Nordstrom’s. They may be making fun of you. They may have some kombucha caught in their throats. If they are talking about you, I hope they have some really great material.

You may employ the following deductive reasoning: But I am in yoga! And these are yogis! And we’re warm and glowy. And we should all be friends!

Don’t do this. Practice some pre-class heart openers. You will need them. In the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t matter.

4.) The Show-Off/Teacher’s Pet:

There’s a fine line between working one’s edge and pushing one’s fellow practitioners to theirs. Don’t let your ego be your guide.

Super Beginner Yoga, for example, is not the time to showcase one-armed handstands or trial runs at levitation.

5.) Grin and Bare It:

It’s hot yoga? You work out? I get it.

Please, YogaLand, let’s keep it classy and keep (somewhat) covered up.

6.) The Type A:

This person may miss the forest for the trees in her drive towards perfection.

I remember once being used as an example of somebody who ‘just couldn’t’ get into a handstand during one class. At the time, I was trying my best to heave my size 10 frame into handstand-against-the-wall, while everybody stared. (I was the largest woman in the room.)

I was so embarrassed. I felt the hot sting to my ego. Miraculously, I held it in. After class, I pulled into another parking lot and erupted into tears. I was pushed too far, but it ignited tapas, the fire of transformation. I made handstand part of my daily practice, and eventually made it up. Remember, yoga is about the journey towards a pose, not the destination.

7.) The Fashion Plates:

They arrive like a conquering army clad in workout regalia from the eponymous clothing line that starts with an ‘L’ and has a sour fruit shortly thereafter.

Don’t let sour grapes knock you off course. They may eye you up pitifully —you, of the oversize Hanes t-shirt and pajama pants with smiling toads wearing crowns. Suddenly, you feel dejected, like you are in seventh grade all over again. They are like sleek Ferraris and you feel like your grandmother’s old Buick with the busted headlight and hanging muffler.

Fear not! Our culture places too much emphasis on clothing anyway. Say heart mantra for yourself. Say heart mantra for everyone. Don’t fret the little stuff. Cotton is good for the soul—and these are magic pants. Soldier on, my friend!

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Ed: Sara Crolick

{photo: via Pinterest}


About Marthe Weyandt

Marthe Weyandt is a Pittsburgh-based yoga instructor and freelance writer. She enjoys traveling and spending time in the great outdoors. She is currently learning to play guitar, albeit badly and at frequencies only dogs can hear. She believes in the power of the word, creatively and lovingly rendered, to create positive change in the world. She has a Bachelor’s in English and Religion from Dickinson College and a Master’s in International Affairs from Columbia University. She spent two years as an English instructor with the United States Peace Corps in Madagascar. Check out some of her other work here.


14 Responses to “Yogis Behaving Badly: ‘Mean Girls’ On The Mat.”

  1. sara says:

    Interestingly, this is all from the perspective of someone who is making assumptions about who other people are by the way they dress and behave from a distance….hmmm……

  2. tapas says:

    Before I became a yoga teacher, one time in class a yoga teacher gave us the freedom to do any inversions we were wanting to work on (it was an intermediate class). She asked what I was going to do, and I said pincha mayurasana against the wall. She said, "Really?" I said, "what… why is there something wrong?" She said, "no, I am just surprised you can kick up." No clue why she thought that. I was so upset, and like you this really gave me tapas. I practiced and practiced until I could do it and now other variations of it without a wall. (I have never taken from this teacher again). The best thing I learned from the experience is the type of teacher I want to be. Someone that inspires and helps students access their great potential.

  3. Renee says:

    Wow where do you practice? I've been teaching for 10 years and never have I had one student like you describe. Maybe you need to find out why you are attracting these type in your life. I mean that in a nice way. Om om

  4. poiseinparma says:

    It's very timely that I found this post as I was just thinking about the logistics of kicking my similarly sized bottom up into handstand. Good stuff here, thank you!

  5. Marthe Weyandt says:

    I know! I did make a disclaimer that maybe I am a mean or judgmental person for writing this…am well aware that I have room to grow as a person. The problem is that, in my experience, the above behaviors can prove very injurious to the inclusive and accepting spirit of a yoga community. Yes, we must keep our eyes on our own mats, but we need to feel accepted enough as a person to make it there in the first place. (This is especially true for new students.)

  6. Marthe Weyandt says:

    Thank you for sharing your experience with pincha mayurasana! It's so funny how the more advanced inversions can become so competitive! Congrats on using this experience to be more receptive to the needs of your students.

  7. Marthe Weyandt says:

    I think any large urban studio in America has a fair share of these characters. People can be stressed in our world. People want to have their own space and want to master their environment. I think any human being who challenges me is probably a blessing in disguise. I cannot control the actions of another, but can, I guess, try to become less of a 'mean girl' myself.

  8. Marthe Weyandt says:

    Thanks, poiseinparma! I'm glad you found this interesting. I've learned that handstand is more of a journey than a destination!

  9. Amanda says:

    As a prelude I'll say that I've been to Baptiste classes so crowded that we had maybe a maximum of 4 inches surrounding our mats on all sides. I'm recovering from an injury, so yesterday I went to a yin class where I found myself behind Ms.Stand-Your-Ground/Yoga Whisperer. Definitely what I'd call a "Texas Lady" over the age of 60 (there's a learned prissiness to these women that I've noticed; even here in Austin, I think it's generational and class-related). She seemed to notice that the class was filling up and whispered (loudly) to the comrade sitting next to her that she was the first one in the room–mat front and center. The class became full enough so that our instructor eventually asked the front row to scoot to the left to make room. Texas Lady swiveled on her mat, eyed the newest arrivals, and screwed up her face like she smelled something very unladylike and very undesirable. After our instructor asked a second time, she begrudgingly scooted maybe one inch to her left. As class began we–she, me, all of us–still had an embarrassing amount of personal real estate surrounding our mats. It was a luxury. I really would like to treat Texas Lady to a Baptiste class, but I'm afraid she would faint from the heat. And her neighbor's sweat on her mat.

  10. Michael says:

    "Grin and bare it" . . . so what you are saying is that if my attire does not confirm to your standards — then I am mean? That is really twisted.

  11. Marthe Weyandt says:

    Hi Amanda! Oh no! It sounds like you have experienced some bad behavior. Its definitely very interesting how the yoga practice space becomes a microcosm of larger societal forces, mores and expectations — mat placement being one of them…Thank you for sharing your story!

  12. Marthe Weyandt says:

    Thanks for pointing that out. I guess yoga exhibitionism doesn't fit in with the 'mean girl' category, per se.

    I included this because properly attiring oneself (while remaining comfortable) indicates respect for ones fellow students and for the practice. If one's outfit during standing forward bend would receive an NC-17 rating, it is not appropriate for class. I love and respect the human body — but don't come to class to get an eyeful.

  13. Sara says:

    I appreciate that you called out the emphasis on fashion in many modern studios. I also tend to roll out in sweatpants and baggy shirts, and feel the pressure for making that choice. More emphasis needs to be placed on the spirituality and practice itself rather than buying into a some contrived yoga aesthetic.

  14. Marthe Weyandt says:

    Thank you for commenting, Sara! It is important to wear something that makes you feel good, allows for freedom of movement and is respectful to others in class. If one feels good in the designer yoga wear sold in studios, so be it — but don't make those with other sartorial choices feel 'less than'. I agree with you — the spirituality and the practice is the most important thing! It seems to have gone by the wayside in some modern studios.