An Urgent Call to Free Yoga. ~ Keri Mangis

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Yoga’s pissed off.

And she’s on a rampage: an eight-limbed, skull-wearing, black-tongued, red-eyed, fierce kind of rampage.

Because despite what we may think, she doesn’t care a wit about being popular. She doesn’t care about fitting in.

She’s angry because her message, her great gift to humankind, is being cut off, suppressed and sacrificed at the feet of consumerism, power and greed. And she’s angry with those of us who claim to love her most.

Why are we reaping this scorn from her? Because out of our overwhelming, blinding desire to share yoga with as many people as possible, we have turned her over to the over-zealous patriarchy and sent her down the chute of Western consumerism.

To fit into this chute, however, we had to make some alterations and adjustments. We cut off most of her limbs, stripped her of her spirituality, yanked out her heart, carefully translated her language into some safe, pleasant sounding words and then polished her exterior with a tough and powerful new look that’s easily modified depending on the audience.

Next, we put her in a three-piece suit and tied the tie extra tight, combed down her unruly hair, then blithely allowed the masculine ways of our society—power, control, “doing”, personal gain, competition, and being right to have their way with her.

We mixed and matched her with anything that would increase her exposure and likeability—pilates, fitness, dance, weights, Christianity, Zumba, golf, running and celebrities. We made her a trend and a plaything for the marketplace to buy and sell, right next to electronics and automobiles.

Now, look around and see what we’ve done to her in our oh-so-noble desire to spread the word.

We’ve give up authenticity, spontaneity and creativity for canned classes, rote sequences and flash in the pan yoga gurus.

We’ve given up true peace, stillness and self-compassion for the promise of weight loss, a better butt and Lululemon leggings.

We’ve given up experiences with wise teachers sharing stories and lessons from their heart for canned young teachers fresh off an assembly line (which is where yoga studios make the most money) complete with preprogrammed new-age lingo, a fake smile and someone else’s poem.

We’ve given up silence and introspection for constant, jarring music, florescent lighting and myriad distractions.

We’ve give up sitting with periods of discomfort to never having to face it…at least not in our yoga classes!

And we’re losing Savasana, that one, glorious pose at the end, one minute at a time, for one more round of Sun Salutations and reminders to hurry and register for the upcoming arm balance workshop before it sells out.

Our love for her evidently had a shadow side: a lack of total and complete trust in her.

We didn’t believe she was enough. We didn’t think she’d be accepted as she was. And we forgot that she is inherently feminine and that her true power and gifts lie in her femininity; her grace, gentleness, compassion, community, vulnerability and unconditional love.

Now she is fighting back.  I hear her powerful voice roar, “Who the hell dressed me up in this masculine costume?  Who thinks they know so much more about me than I do myself? Leave me be, I tell you, I have more power than you can possibly imagine! And I am only interested in teaching those who have ears to hear my message!”

Our world is at a desperate tipping point.

We see pain and suffering living right next door to greed and narcissism. We go about our days in hidden fear, self-loathing, judgment and isolation. As a nation, we have never been more divided.

Yoga’s raw and un-muffled teachings of oneness, compassion, acceptance and surrender are critically needed.  We urgently need the promised healing and balance of yoga and the inner transformation she is capable of cultivating within us. But only in her completeness.

We have nothing to gain by continuing to strip her down and cut her off. We do not win by handing her over to the capitalist markets to use and abuse her for personal gain and profit.

Now yoga’s talkin’ and it’s time we listen! No more trying to make her popular. No more changing her form to fit into our ways. No more marketing gimmicks and neon lights. No more odd pairings. And no more parading her through the streets on a leash!

Let’s answer her call with a Hell Yes!

Let’s show her our true, fearless, radical love for her.

Let’s come together and free her from the stranglehold of Westernization and commoditization! Let’s free her from our desire for higher profit margins, sold-out workshops and a potential placement on a magazine cover.

Let’s take her back and restore her wild, free-flowing feminine self!  And let’s courageously share her—completely and unapologetically—finally unleashing the richness and fullness of her wisdom, power and love into our world!

 

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Assistant Editor: Paige Vignola/Editor: Bryonie Wise

{Image: Kali by Raja Ravi Varma via WikiMedia}

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Keri Mangis

Keri Mangis is a columnist for Elephant Journal and a freelance writer. Her writing style and content is informed by her 15 plus years of spiritual study and practice, including yoga and alternative health. Her goal in writing is to draw awareness to new ideas, or offer new ways of approaching old ideas. She lives in Minneapolis with her husband and two daughters.

You can connect with Keri on her blog, as well as on TwitterFacebook, Instagram, or on the nearest lake.

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anonymous Dec 3, 2013 8:54pm

Thanks Keri, I've seen my health club transform from mostly spiritually based yoga classes with time for meditation, breathing as well as asanas and movement to heated power classes that feel like an aerobics class. I seek out and cherish the yogis who still teach classes which nourish me on all levels.

anonymous Nov 30, 2013 4:54pm

What I hear in your message is that you are following your truth and expressing it. Following your heart. That is what I am calling for – truth, authenticity, and paying close attention to what is motivating us at all times. But why is it that if I ask for this (authenticity and truth), it automatically becomes yoga snobbery and elitist? Why is it the only way to be a true yogi(ni) is to be smiling and accepting of everything? Sometimes pointing out that the emperor is wearing no clothes is the most important thing to do.

My call is nothing more than to bring out the best in yoga, to share it without restraint. As teachers, to stretch ourselves, literally and figuratively and dive deep! Take our students deeper (you are of course right that not everyone will want to but there are many, many others who are spiritually hungry and go to yoga, and come away without a crumb – while at the same time finding classes with no spiritual undertone is pretty easy). Listen – you put out that plea for unity, support and discussion and I am there! We are, truly, wanting the same things.

anonymous Nov 30, 2013 9:00am

Hmmm interesting Keri. I hear your message and absolutely am in support of the return of the feminine. I too find my eyes rolling in classes that feel too commercial, when a teacher chants in a sing-songy way that has no authenticity to their own voice and own teaching, and at the same time some 'marketed' branches of yoga feel like they've evolved the practice rather than devloved or corrupted the practice. Lotus flow of Laughing Lotus gave me the freedom of expression to truly find the Goddess and art in the practice of yoga. I will of course speak to naked yoga for a moment that being my area of personal experience came from a transformative journey where I felt a true authentic connection with the mother goddess deep within myself. The impulse arrived how can I practice like this in a group. One wasn't available so I created one. I wanted to share my experience and continue deepening it. People showed up. Some people showed up who would never practice yoga otherwise. I had a Brooklyn NY cab driver as a student this week who told me this was the only way he could find the inspiration to take care of himself was to explore the practice naked. Should this practice be removed because perhaps a 'gimmick' got him in the door. I am an advocate of having an entry point for everyone. Every effort to rise raises another. It's like saying, if you can't read the classics don't read at all. Or if you're not a serious yoga student you shouldn't practice yoga. Some teachings need to be diluted and students need to be met where they are. Is a little yoga better than NO yoga? Because one cannot absorb all the teachings should the teachings be removed completely? That reeks of privilege and yogic snobbery to me and is dangerously close to being elitist. I hear the articles plea for authenticity and tradition, and also wonder of the separation this article creates. There is a rise in the "new-age-y" yogic community of spiritual elite-ism and I question the radical views in the article as a claim to authenticity that perhaps the shadow of the article is "I'm a better / more authentic yogi than you." Double eye roll. Of course as I write this and look at the judging in the article that I'm judging. Triple eye roll. I have been reflecting recently that it's easier to focus on the 10% that separates us rather than the 90% that brings us together. My counter to this is a plea for unity and mutual support and open discussion around these powerful issues to to remember we are wanting to ascend as a human species into one-ness and yoke ourselves together – the true meaning of yoga.

anonymous Nov 28, 2013 5:16pm

without being to "masculine" I feel after reading the article that what we have lost sight of is actually the fact that it is "just yoga". sadly in todays age the world over no matter whether you are man or woman we are all seeking the next best thing, the cure all to our ills. Yoga is exactly the same as any other discipline in the world and I emphasise the word discipline, in that constant practice will bring peace of mind, clarity and health. But so will banging in a nail with a hammer if you practice day after day after day. Its not just about the art form its about the mental discipline to continue on with something making adjustments where necessary until one either has perfected the technique or has a greater understanding of the purpose behind it. You may say the yoga nail comparison is absurd but I emphasise again the practice, the discipline and the purpose. It can be applied to anything.
I always remind myself that my yoga practice for me is more about keeping my body supple and strong than it is about reaching self actualisation as by default through my constant practice I am obtaining that state, if you actually know what self actualisation means. i therefore don't have a problem with yoga wearing a suit for if she had not I doubt, living in the west, that I would have found her and been instructed in her techniques by some wide mouth smiling indoctrinated poem reciting disciple who was pumped out of a commercial yoga school. Im also happy to do my class at home or in a class and if I don't know something or want to learn more i will either ask or find it myself. As i said at the beginning, more and more of us are seeking a cure to our ills and if yoga is it for some then better she is dressed in a suit and marketed for those who are seeking her than to never be found at all. The true purpose of yoga is not in what she wears or what someone says about her, it is simply in just doing it. And remember, ITS JUST YOGA!

anonymous Nov 28, 2013 12:05pm

I agree with Tom Howess and Mr. Fox and while I understand that you, Keri, feel the urge to "go to the other extreme" – I don't agree on that. It really adds to the polarity and painting a picture one-sided, in my opinion.
Using the terms "masculinity" and "femininity" instead of "yin" and "yang" really causes confusion as those terms easily are putting some kind of "guilt" onto gender. Where is "Yoga" in that? Why don't people simply use yin and yang, making clear that we all have those qualities to one degree or another in us?
Yet, there is another perspective to take: We all are at various stages in personal development, taking smaller and bigger steps. And Yoga became part of that. Some people start with asana – and don't go further. Most of us started there. Others put secular ethical practices on top of that (looking at Yama and Niyama in everyday life). This part, actually, is something I personaly believe is missing most today and I see it often missing even in those who practice pranayama and meditation. Again others add pranayama and meditation. It is a path and of course as with all paths there are different levels of commitment. In our modern world of course there are people out there who will make money from that with various degrees of commitment to the path. That just is reality.
And quite frankly I see too many Yoga teachers talk about things that they don't have a deeper understanding. In my opinion there is too much "spiritual talk" in too many classes and too little reflection on the teachers' individual knowledge and body of expertise, too little humbleness. Most teachers, in my opinion, should just teach Asana – and only teach more once they have progressed to a deeper understanding in their own path.
There is a concept I learned in my business coaching training: What is my level of competencies? Am I still within my level of competencies or moving outside?
Also, looking around at my fellow Yoga teacher training friends – it took us all some time to find our spot in the Yoga teaching world with different levels of engagement, depth, ongoing education, … Same for the Yoga practitioners – they will eventually discover how deep they want to move in their practice, which teachers they will go for.
There is no "we" either. Some people mix Yoga with Pilates, some with personal development, some with Christianity. Beautiful – it is possible and no dogma there. I use exercises and practices I learned in Yoga classes in business coaching with managers – and am happy that I can help these managers get some change started, some relief in their suffering. And then, if they want to go deeper, I will be there with advice, if they want to hear it. If not, it's okay as well – it is their life, not mine.
On a Yoga blog I saw a comment like this: "Yoga is being intimate with life, with what is." It actually was a famous teacher's blog, but do you really want to worry about the name? Or really see whether you can agree, really be intimate with life and even with what we consider the dark side, the shadow side. For some other person it might be the lesson to be learned. Or for me?
So, my question is: Where is the "Yoga" in your article above? What is the true deeper issue you are having with what is? I am curious.

    anonymous Nov 30, 2013 5:13pm

    Hi Klemens, thanks for writing. The Yoga, in the article, is that it is my truth. Perfect, imperfect, temporary, permanent, short-sided, long-sided. Whatever. It's my truth in this moment. It's how I see my side of the "elephant". Others agree or disagree depending on their truth. And until/unless someday we become "enlightened", this is all we have. This is the Yoga. It's not always pretty, or perfect. It's not necessarily comfortable and sweet. But it's raw, and it's real and it's me (for now).

    I love hearing your truth, and your opinions, some of which I agree with and some of which I don't, as well.

    For example, I don't agree there is a level of spiritual "competency" we need to hold ourselves to – I think we are all spiritual beings and if we listen closely, we are all enlightened and can share incredible truths- holding back because someone hasn't deemed us competent enough (or we haven't gotten our certificate yet) is a disservice to everyone, especially ourselves. This is fine in the business world, but not in spirituality. This is what I'm talking about when I say the teacher is reading someone else's poem. What I want to know is – how does that poem affect you? What does it mean to you? Why did you read that one? I want to know more about you! What did you learn from it b/c chances are I can learn that too!

    The "true deeper issue" I am having? As I mentioned to Isis, it is the countless number of people who are spiritually hungry who are looking for something to sink their teeth into and find a teacher who can take them there/meet them there but can't find it anymore. That is "What is".

anonymous Nov 28, 2013 6:49am

Brilliant article.

anonymous Nov 28, 2013 5:07am

I also have to add my voice to the choir that I found the gender scapegoating really offensive. I have worked in the city of Brighton and London, both massive western yoga hubs, for the past 10 years, and witness an overwhelmingly feminine industry. And even within that, patriarchy and 'the masculine costume' again gets blamed. Feelings get hurt in this process for all the genuine practicioners that seem to catch some flack on account of their gender.

anonymous Nov 25, 2013 3:45pm

This has been a regular conversation in my yoga studio since I opened two years ago. Now lets discuss the hot off assembly line instructors acting like doctors and physical therapists trying to heal the world.

anonymous Nov 24, 2013 11:36am

Most of this is so on point! But I take issue with making Yoga a feminine thing, where masculinity is the villain. I don't equate anything negative with any given group of people, that is one of the beautiful things Yoga has given me. Yoga is both sides, Yin and Yang. Embracing either side, when necessary, in your life, is balance. The 8 limbs of Yoga are all important. I have found meditation to be the most important thing for me to practice.When I practice meditation with the intent of all of Yoga in mind, I nurture that within myself, and begin to have clarity in every aspect of my life. Let your body relax, feel all of the tension drain away, focus on your breathing.

anonymous Nov 24, 2013 11:33am

I appreciate many of the details of this article in how it addresses the bastardization of Yoga in the modern world, however, I also find it ridiculous that the author applies a gender to it, and emotion…that it is raging…I think the author is projecting her own anger into this fantasy, animate Yoga that she is imagining, which is just as twisted as everything she criticized. Also, I'm tired of the use of the word "patriarchy", it is such a cliche, and lacks true, clear, penetrating understanding. Being a good man who is very self assured in my tireless, self-sacrificing, dedicated effort to be a good influence on planet earth, I'm tired of the world's problems being dumped on my gender. I think we will never rise above this Oppressor so many people are calling "the patriarchy" as long as we continue to call it that. This MALE that we see as oppressor, is not male at all. It is a sickness that all of us, male and female, have fed and bought into. It will continue to fool us and hold us down as long as we are tricked by its fake masculinity.
Yoga disappeared for centuries before it returned to the world in the modern age. I believe the truest form of yoga, if there even is such a thing, may have peeped its head out many decades ago, for a moment, and gone right back into hiding. The true seeker will find it for herself with the guidance of the right teachers and texts. Isn't that the path anyways? Humans have always had to sift through all the bullshit while in search of freedom. The false gods and prophets have always been there to mislead us. Is it not obvious that the path to spiritual, peaceful union with all
creation cannot be bought or sold? This will be clear to any practitioner who is truly committed. In the meantime, the circus will go on.

    anonymous Nov 24, 2013 3:35pm

    Thank you for your comments – and to Tom Howes too -I agree with so much of what you say! It's not my purpose to demonize the male gender! Not at all! It's really the aspects of yin and yang (that are present in everyone of course), that I am referring to, but using the symbolism was a way to keep it from being dry. There is the yang energy that is so important in our lives, structure, logic, guidelines, strength, which has a shadow side (fake masculinity as you refer to it) when taken to extreme (all that I talk about above). There is also yin energy in a positive and shadow form as well. But how does one get back to balance? By heavily weighing on and relying on the other side for a while. So should I just sit back and wait for the "circus" to stop, or should I be a force to bring about awareness and change? It's probably about balance there too, I think. Thanks again.

anonymous Nov 23, 2013 4:15pm

Perfect! Love it!

anonymous Nov 23, 2013 12:19pm

I agree whole-heartedly with the essence of what you've written! The westernization of yoga has most definitely diluted the power and purpose of the practice. And – BTW – I LOVE the symbolism in your writing! However, if Day-Glo paint, disco balls and non-new-age music brings a group together in joy and oneness, then it can most definitely be a mindful practice. I've attended classes like these that have opened up such deep feelings of connection I've cried. I've also been in classes of these "non-traditional" mash-ups that were obviously conceived solely with the intention of packing the house – and no deeper teachings of yoga ensued. And – on the flip-side, I've been in stark rooms where the sutras were shared in a monotone drone, with absolutely no heart – and asanas practiced so rigidly that the only thing I felt any connection to was the floor! As teachers of this ancient, oh so important practice, we share ourselves and our personal practice with our students. When we put away our ego and teach from our hearts with creativity and love, and an authentic voice, we bring out the divine feminine and balance out the rigid "corporate maleness" of the morphed yoga of which you write. And, when we do this, we can see those "practices" for what they are… lessons to help us come back to ourselves and our innate truth. Thanks again for sharing your words!

    anonymous Nov 23, 2013 5:31pm

    Yes and thank you! I understand and have experienced those same things you talk about. It really does come down to the heart, doesn't it, and the courage and willingness to share? At the end of the day, we really can't "hurt" yoga, it continues on, changing lives and hearts every day (even in over-crowded, competitive power classes), which is why I have such intense love for it! May all beings everywhere be happy and free!

anonymous Nov 23, 2013 11:32am

This is beautifully written. After teaching for 4 years…I have begun to notice the lack of the other limbs….I need those limbs to feel whole in my teaching and my practice. Thank you.

anonymous Nov 22, 2013 10:05pm

Sometimes, you have to just turn down the music, get rid of the disco ball and the Day-Glo Paint and realize the best way to recapture the 70s or 80s is to practice yoga the way it actually HAD been practiced in those eras.

D-uhh!

anonymous Nov 22, 2013 9:59pm

Yoga is like grammar. No one speaks Middle or Old English any longer. We don't even speak like people did in the 1950s. There are yoga competitions in India. Competition? Is that absurd or does it make perfect sense? Depending on how pure you believe your point of view to be, you will choose one answer or the other. The path may be a razor's edge but no one owns the path.

    anonymous Nov 23, 2013 9:20am

    Mindful change to adapt for the bodies and minds of our current time/place is necessary and important (I personally don't want to wear a loincloth!) but I'm speaking of the changes driven solely by ego, fame, power and money which is when, I believe, we risk losing the essence.

anonymous Nov 22, 2013 4:25pm

Thank you.

anonymous Nov 22, 2013 3:28pm

Nice work!

anonymous Nov 22, 2013 10:52am

Amen!

anonymous Nov 22, 2013 6:37am

wow!
beautiful and powerful commentary – it makes me think and it makes me feel – and I realize that what I read and see about Yoga (especially on this website) has had me doubt myself and my practice and my teaching – and I don't need to…..just stay on the path and trust the process of Yoga.

    anonymous Nov 23, 2013 9:22am

    Thanks Sabine! Yes, keep teaching authentically and from the heart – that is the path!