Rock That Bindi, White Girl!

Via Anne Clendening
on Oct 11, 2013
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Photo: Uploaded by Astraea on Pinterest

Ever wonder what “Namaste” means?

Namaste: A  hindi greeting/saying: I honor the place in you where the entire universe resides, the place in you of light, of love, of truth, of peace,which is the same as the entire universe in me, a place of love, of—Oh my god, alright, already.

Sometimes it’s an effort to try to stop myself from rolling my eyes in yoga and laughing out loud. What is this, Moulin Rouge? Are we being swept up in a bohemian revolution? Which I guess it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, even if it means I can’t wear all black anymore. We all can get a little overzealous…

I know you, Allison-I-changed-my-name-to-Gayatri. You’ve been going to yoga maybe five months. You started wearing a jeweled bindi at your third eye. You went vegetarian for a week and a half, until you realized you couldn’t have In n’ Out. You’ve been contemplating moving to Topanga, or maybe Bali. You started shopping in the little store at the Hare Krishna Temple, where they sell sarongs and that inky charcoal eyeliner, the oily one that eventually runs down your face, leaving you looking like Uncle Fester. Maybe you ended up at In n’ Out, then (sort of) recommitted to the vegetarian thing.

India is laughing at you.

When I first started yoga over 16 years ago, I may have gone slightly nutty myself. I’m just a white chick from West L.A., and we never sat much around the dinner table discussing the Lotus Sutra or the benefits of composting. I never thought I’d end up working for a living with bare feet—but I did have every Beatles album. Does that count?

I know, you just want to tell everyone Enlightenment awaits and how to align their chakras. Try this (I dare you): go to 10 different Starbucks, and when they give you your coffee, bow in with your hands in prayer and give ’em a “namaste.” Pause for reaction. And make sure your new koi fish tattoo on your shoulder is visible. Report back.

Or, go to places with crowds of people. Take a friend. Look around; be super stealth. And when you see your chance, bust out a handstand or, if you’re feelin’ it, some sun salutations. Your friend is there to take photos and post them on Instagram with the caption, “Check it out! I just did Urdhva Dhanurasana on the handprints at the Chinese Theater!”

Yeah, I dare you.

This may come as a shock, but the physical practice of yoga has only been around for about 100 years. Did you really think they were doing “Wild Thing” back in the day, 5,000 years ago? Not that I’m knocking it, it’s one of favorite poses…but your karma isn’t going to take a nose dive if you can’t do it, or if you’re five minutes late to class one day, or if you don’t give any coin to the Ganesh, that greedy little elephant god. What’s that, you didn’t know that’s what he is? Isn’t it obvious? He’s in the feng shui “money” corner!

Over the years I’ve realized it’s not all sitar music and good vibes. So I ask: have you ever been to yoga class and…

Walked out? No offense, but I just can’t hang. But I honor the place in you where the entire universe resides…blah, blah, blah.

Been worried they could detect the scent of the American Spirits you may have secretly smoked last night? Well, I can smell ganja on them. I know a studio here in L.A. where they teach 4:20 Yoga. No joke.

Had no earthly idea of what they’re talking about because it’s in a completely foreign and sort of dead language? No one complained when Star Wars came out and we were all talking about Jedis and Wookies.

Wanted to burst out screaming in the middle of the Savasana? The silence can be frustrating, even confrontational. Frankly, I’m surprised it doesn’t happen all the time.

Answered your phone??? I’ve seen it happen.

Judged people who take it so serious? It’s not jury duty, y’all.

Constructed an altar for the Krishna statuette you got at a garage sale? You bet I have.

Found yourself in a pose you never thought you could achieve? Eka Pada Koundynasana 1, for example? Once I nailed it the first time, that pose became my bitch.

Cried in yoga class? Many times.

Couldn’t wait to go back? If I’m telling the truth, yes, I love it. I love it all.

I probably flash my peace fingers 20 times a day. My husband hates that inky eyeliner from the temple, but luckily Givenchy started selling it. I’m not afraid of my spine disintegrating into a pile of ashes, or my intervertebral discs drying up into hard, crackly hockey pucks. My organs don’t hate me. And the more new energy flows through me, the more I feel alive.

And if it’s good enough for George Harrison and Sting, it should be good enough for me.

And if you think this sitar song is about you, maybe our paths will cross one day…maybe we’ll find ourselves in a class together, side-by-side, in the shape of the Warrior.


Like elephant yoga on Facebook.

Ed: Bryonie Wise


About Anne Clendening

Anne Clendening is the author of the upcoming memoir, Bent: How Yoga Saved My Ass. Born and raised in L.A., she is a yoga teacher, a writer and occasionally slings cocktails in a Hollywood bar. She could eat chocolate cake for every meal of the day. She has a gigantic fear of heights and flying. And fire. She wishes she could speak French, play her guitar better and make cannoli. She's probably listening to The Dark Side Of The Moon right now. If you’re not easily offended, her darker thoughts can be read at Dirty Blonde Ink. She’ll be kickin’ it with her boxer dog and her hot Australian husband. Be her friend on Facebook if you dig. Her website is Anne Clendening Yoga. Peace, Love & Beatles.


46 Responses to “Rock That Bindi, White Girl!”

  1. Ralph says:

    You are, in fact, incorrect. The physical practice of asana has been around longer than 100 years. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika (which is a late example) is traceable to the 15th century. It wholesale borrows verses, including its asana verses, from texts predating it by a 100 years or more.

  2. Molly says:

    Enjoyed reading this, and can relate, but I'm not sure about the physical practice of yoga only being around for 100 years. What I found in a quick history of yoga on-line search suggests it shows up around 3,ooo B.C. in some stone seals that depict people in yoga poses…

  3. Priya says:

    You should read the Bhagvad Gita, yoga is mentioned in it and really, the Bhagvad Gita is much older than 100 years.

  4. Little Orphan says:

    Like I mentioned on the FB page, I probably should have qualified it with "most of the yoga you see in gyms and studios." I'm pretty sure the Gita never mentions Downward Facing Dog.
    "Many of the asanas practiced in today’s yoga studios are no more than about 80 years old. In fact, some of them are no more than five to 20 years old. That’s been proven by such books as Mark Singleton’s Yoga Body. Singleton shows convincingly that modern Hatha Yoga is a mixture of Indian yoga and Western gymnastics first developed in a castle in Mysore, India, by the great and late Krishnamacharya."

  5. Momo says:

    frankly, I am wondering what the purpose of the article was. We should be happy for everyone who starts with yoga and not judge them for not getting right away what it is all about. Sorry to say that, but for me, reading this wasn't even funny, it was just bad vibes

  6. DaveTelf says:

    I don't get it.

    Is the speaker a naive yoga neophyte, or a jaded, judgmental veteran? Has she investigated why another person's whole-hearted though fool-hardy embrace of yoga (and its attendant fashion culture) is so threatening to her? Except, she claims to have been there and done that, or is she still doing it?

    The back-and-forth tone of the article is confusing.

  7. Little Orphan says:

    Seriously? It's not that heavy. I don't know how long it took you to construct this comment, which is obviously meant to make yourself look smart and clever while you're cutting me down, but you're way off. If I'm threatened by anything, it's people who take things way too seriously. Put down the Thesaurus and take it easy.

  8. NaMaDo says:

    Woah there, Little Orphan. It appears to me as though your response to DeveTelf may be an unwitting exercise in self-reflection, as I interpreted the tone of your article (and find it somewhat disjointed as well) as an effort to make yourself look smart and clever while cutting others down. That said…

    I personally think that (most) westerners referring to themselves as 'yogi' is about as accurate as a 5 year old dance student calling herself a 'ballerina'. I love satire, loathe cultural appropriation, and am a big fan of blogs such as The Babbarazzi and Recovering Yogi, but this just seemed mean. Much of what you admonish are enthusiastic attempts to connect with the roots of a spiritual system which has offered something life-changing. It's an embrace. Some of it might be fashion, but who cares? Who is to judge or interpret the intention or motives behind display or action?

    If I go to yoga practice decked out in lululemon, someone is going to judge me as shallow. If I go to practice in Old Navy, someone is going to snicker, "novice". If I sport a bindi and sari, someone is going to call, "Poseur!". Really? Who the fuck cares? Am I a more 'authentic' yoga teacher because my class playlist contains Cocteau Twins instead of Jai Uttal, or vice versa? Shit, I don't know and don't care…they're both on there. I have taught in the gym and in the Mysore room, and in a residential treatment facility and people are the same whether they have a nose-ring and Om tattoo, or you have to remind them to take off their sneakers before standing on the borrowed mat.

    I'm just tired of all the finger-pointing in all directions. It distracts from the true aim of why we are here in the first place.

  9. Liz says:

    Chill out dude, it's okay.

  10. Rebecca says:

    I love when yogis get all riled up about individual opinions and observations…. 🙂 killer article, what I got from it is that it takes all types and some of the very things you used to judge or snicker at are in fact some of the things you now do…..the beautiful thing about yoga is that there is a place for everyone and any blatant negativity spewing about should just be taken to our mats so we can work it out…so rock that bindi, white girl!

  11. DaveTelf says:

    My apologies if my tone was misinterpreted. I was not intending to tear you down, and the only editing I did was to make sure I was addressing issues with the article itself, and not making any ad hominem attacks. I sincerely don't understand the message of the article, and with my comment was only hoping to get some clarification.

    As an elej contributor myself, I make it a point to participate in the community by commenting on all sorts of articles — those I love, those I disagree with, and those I don't get. I don't take anything, myself especially, too seriously, but when an article is posted I assume the author wants me to read carefully and give his/her message due consideration. Sorry for being an English major.

    Is there anything you can say that will help clarify the confusion I expressed regarding the tone of your article?

  12. Little Orphan says:

    Hi DaveTelf. Thanks for reading and commenting. Here it is: I'm just having a little fun here with the type of person who might get a little overzealous about yoga—myself included. Apparently I hit a nerve; I'm ignorant, lacking in basic knowledge, hostile, etc. All I'm going to say is lighten up people, get your well-worn copy of the Bhagavad Gita out of your ass and stop acting so petty. It's just not that serious.

  13. Little Orphan says:

    Thank you Rebecca! I, in fact, was that girl at the Hare Krishna Temple, wearing the eyeliner! Thanks for reading.

  14. DaveTelf says:

    Personally, the primary nerve struck here is my aversion to inexact language. I'm trying to understand, so I offer some questions.

    From the comment above, why are we shitting on the Gita? In being asked to pull it out of our collective ass, I perceive the suggestion that any reader who might be studying, or Krsna-forbid, quoting from the Gita, is somehow inauthentic, or inherently incapable of gleaning anything real or valuable from it. Is study of the Gita already so cliche that it merits scorn?

    Who is "acting so petty"? What exactly is It that is "not that serious"?

    Is it yoga asana we're hoping people will chill out about? A playful approach is certainly more enjoyable, and ideally people in commercial yoga classes are learning to be at greater ease in their bodies. Asana can also help us cultivate a relentless light-heartedness that can be usefully applied to the most joyous or traumatic of situations both. Such skill can literally be life-saving when well-practiced.

    Is it this article on elephant journal we're supposed to giggle over and shrug off? As a writer, I assume you want people to read you clearly. Not comprehending the fundamental message of the essay does not automatically make me a crank who just refuses to get the joke. Indeed, I'm playing along, engaging in the conversation, hoping someone will type something sensible and pleasing.

    Ultimately, I'm guessing that your plea for people to lighten up refers to the amorphous "selves" which live out these "lives" so many of us seem to take so seriously. I'll agree with that premise if we're pointing towards those moments when we are far too attached to our own ideas of right and wrong and become partially blinded in the process of defending the ego which so desperately seeks to assert itself.

    I will however advocate for sincerity, if not seriousness. I most trust people whose depth of curiosity for (insert individual passion) leads them toward thorough research and personal realization; toward a fine-tuning of any given craft. Those among us expressing that expert level of dedication are often seen as quite "serious," though this need not necessarily be so. The most advanced practitioners ("masters") often demonstrate the greatest humor, do they not?

    In the realm of spiritual practice, in the pursuit of personal evolution and liberation, one is well-advised to maintain their sense of humor. Indeed, laughter is a crucial tool along the path. At the same time, it is best to practice with ruthless dedication, as one can only master what is doggedly practiced. Daily observation of the disciplines prescribed by classical 4-path, 8-limb "yoga" requires tremendous effort and deep focus — a level of concentration some might term "serious."

    In this case, a level of seriousness or sincerity is prerequisite for real enjoyment, as the intricate subtleties that unfold from the depths of any worthwhile endeavor are generally some of the most satisfying aspects of the whole experience. It can be fairly said that those just skimming the surface, taking everything lightly, are missing out by witnessing only the proverbial tip of the iceberg.

    The article seems to be addressed to such people, yes? Are we encouraging them to engage further, or to continue taking it easy?

    This took longer to compose than my previous comments. As always it's first-thought, best-thought, but lucky for us, writing allows for the opportunity to edit and refine our thoughts so the intended meaning may be more clearly interpreted by others. Hope it works.

    All the best,

  15. Katherine says:

    Laughing at this banter. As she stated, “I love it all.” Don’t lie, everyone here has judged others at a yoga class. You have been judged by others at a yoga class. Lucky we have a practice to help us let it all go, laugh, and “love it all.”

  16. moosio says:

    I always interpreted Namaste as: "I bow to the divine within you"

  17. Annie says:

    Hell YES!

  18. Kirstie says:

    I love this article. Maybe because I can totally relate! We’ve all judged and been judged (see comments above) but its clearly not ‘that’ serious. One of my absolute favourites and I’m still proudly wearing inky eyeliner ❤

  19. LCA says:

    I'm not so sure how I feel about the title of this article. I realize that the author is just having a bit of fun here- in the title and throughout the article itself. But at the same time, as a white woman born and raised in Canada, I would feel rather odd "rocking a bindi". I teach yoga to a group of elderly Tamil women, and they all wear bindis daily. If I were to show up to class one day to teach, also wearing a bindi, it would feel really odd, I think. I have a feeling that the Tamil women I teach would feel odd about it too. Perhaps I am just another yogi taking myself too seriously, as is the whole point of this article! But as a yoga teacher/student who has had a close relationship to some very devout Hindus for the past 5 years, there is something sacred to me about bindi wearing.

  20. Renee says:

    I see many many egos at work here

  21. Bliss Rider says:

    Ha! This is freaken brilliant! Genius even! Thanks for writing! 😀

  22. louise says:

    you obviously haven't understood it. PEACE AND LOVE.

  23. Aaron says:

    this writing comes across as being completely judgemental. I'm confused buy this as well. I must be really dumb by not understanding how sarcasm and judgement towards people, regardless if you were one of these people in the past, is funny. I'm not taking this too seriously, nor am I in any way upset by this. I just think this article is in bad taste, especially coming from a "yoga teacher"

  24. realsyrup says:

    agreed! Positivity can change the world, not this.

  25. realsyrup says:


  26. PINKY says:

    My sweet article,

    I really want to know you.

    I really want to see you ,

    But it takes so long.

    The writer of this article is one of my most treasured Yogi teachers. I can hear her voice speaking the words as I read them which makes its essence crystal clear. I have judged, and certainly seen the eye rolls at me. If I were a white girl I would probably rock a bindi. Clarity and understanding are true pathways to freedom, & so is the surrender to its elusiveness. Have y’all. Time is so short.

    Little Orphan- your blog- your call!

  27. Stephanie Mullens says:

    I found the article a bit confusing as well. It sounded cold. I think your point wasn’t at all cold, but the way it was written made it sound that way.I myself am an ordained Buddhist, who practices yoga and have a cert in chakra therapy. Due to my life as a Spiritualist, (yes I’m going there) I consider myself a Yogini. Not because I have yoga at the gym, not because I like the studio close to the house where I found the best person to cerify me, and not for anything else than the fact that I try to live mindfully every day. First for myself, so I can reflect that good nature to others. I would like to read another article by you. But lets see one that is a bit less cold and more warm.

  28. Hillary says:

    Defiantly did not feel uplifted by reading this post. Elephant Journal feels like a hit or miss sometimes.

  29. Little Orphan says:

    Pinky I have so much love for you!!! Big hug from your "yoga teacher" <3 <3 <3

  30. erikbukos says:

    Thanks for this point…..I had no idea what a bindi was :/ I found the article fun until I found out a bindi is a very specific cultural symbol. Could we just leave all religious, or distinctly cultural symbols, alone?

    Why wear a yamaka if you're not Jewish? Why wear a crucifix if you're not Catholic? Why wear a burka if you are not Muslim?

    Show some class and leave other people's religious symbols alone.

  31. Devan says:

    I think you were trying to be funny and light. But coming from a white person on another culture-it is odd. Also as a yoga teacher you have some major facts wrong. As a yoga teacher. Rule #1- learn to respect other cultures. As a practicing Hindu, I find your article ignorant. This is why I avoid any yoga class taught by white people-cos they have often little knowledge of the cultural and religions of India. Yoga is a commercialized sport in the west –it is all about asanas. Unfortunately asanas is only 1/8 of true yoga.

    Yoga came to the west around 100 yrs -but it is older than 100 yrs. Gurus from India introduced yoga to the west, following the success of Swami Vivekananda in the late 19th and early 20th century, But yoga as in Pantajali Yoga Sutras dating it as 2nd century BCE, during the Maurya Empire (322–185 BCE)

    The bindi has a very significant symbol for Indian women but some Indian women find it is oppressive. There is power and privilege in wearing a type of bindi. It has a decorative purpose and also denotes if a women, is married, unmarried, or widowed. Hence it is also can be misogynist as it is suppresa patricalAdditionally the bindi is worn in the spot of the third eye using sandal wood powder. Ganesh is the son of Shiva and Parvati – he is the remover of obstacles not for Feng Shui but maybe used in Vastu Shastra. Need I go on more????
    In future pls. do some research and reference your article before posting it. Devan N.

  32. yogi says:

    'Greedy elephant god" is so not cool…. He is a Hindu god and this appears to be a disrespectful. And rest about yoga, that is your own opinion,,,,,,!

  33. noran says:

    exactly. I’m size 14-16 – and don’t understand with the needs of fat women to declare that it’s good to be fat.

    c’mon, it kinda suck. heavy breast, short breath, easily tired, sweating and I’m a landscape photographer who climbs sulphuric mountain, jump here and there in the nature, and sky dive – have you ever fall with a fat body? it’s so heavy it could break your legs! (and I did broke my leg & ankle once)

    i dont have any interest to be someone with size 6 (but being size 10 would be great if I could. I need lighter body to carry.) – still, I dont care about being skinny. I dont curse skinny women or defend fat women bla bla, it doesn’t interest me. if they’re cool, they’re cool. if they’re not cool, they’re not.

    And I dont understand why some fat women would feel the need to be over confident, or either way, destructively not confindent. Dude, why cant we just live in peace? without people pitying or bullying or exaggerating sympathy – why would they do that?

  34. Chris says:

    Just another inarticulate and horrible article, utterly boring and pretentious, and a laughable stereotype of insular American mentally.

  35. chris says:

    Mostly miss, as they seem to be primarily articles (more like rants) written by insular Americans.

  36. penelope anderson aka Subhalaksmi devi says:

    why should a young woman who puts a bindi on her third eye and changes her name to one of a higher vibration be ridiculed in this way? Indeed what was the point of this rather angry article. the world needs colourful and courageous people to stretch their own boundaries and aspire to higher consciousness. i find it quite outrageous the author can claim that India is laughing at you. over 1 billion people! the author feels she can speak for all these people. i did not find this article in the lrast bit helpful.

  37. Caren says:

    Just had to friend you on Facebook. Loved this piece. I am guilty and love it!!

  38. Vanya says:

    agree! this article was a complete waste of time. For someone who teaches yoga there seems to be a whole lotta judging going on. A yoga teacher? and this is where your attention is growing towards? Shame.

  39. Jane says:

    a bindi is not a religious symbol. its a form of decoration worn by women.

  40. Little Orphan says:

    Guilty as sin, they say… Aren't we all?

  41. Little Orphan says:

    Hi Chris, I find it hard to take your comment seriously, considering the typo and mispunctuation. Were you that eager to jump on the freight train of negativity, while trying to sound clever and insightful? No one digs it, and it's a little too personal. I'll meet you in the middle—let's call it a draw. And let's all lighten up and watch some Monty Python or something and stop feeding the beast here. It ain't that serious.

  42. Indian Hare Krishna says:

    "You started shopping in the little store at the Hare Krishna Temple, where they sell sarongs"

    Don't you mean saris?

    "India is laughing at you."

    India and the Hare Krishnas are both laughing at you, Anne Clendening.

  43. erikbukos says:

    Google is your friend: A red dot on the forehead is an auspicious sign of marriage and guarantees the social status and sanctity of the institution of marriage. The Indian bride steps over the threshold of her husband's home, bedecked in glittering apparels and ornaments, dazzling the red bindi on her forehead that is believed to usher in prosperity, and grants her a place as the guardian of the family's welfare and progeny.

  44. Lavanna says:

    I love this! Especially the part touching on how serious people take yoga class…(or life, or anything…as we can see in the comments! Haha.) Thanks for confirmation of my thoughts! I hope we yoga together sometime!

  45. kiki says:

    The article is absolutely fantastic, but in order to realize this, you should not take it as a doctoral dissertation (even though it would be a great subject fo it!).

    Sense of more thing killed by political correctness