I’ll never forget coming to the realization nearly a decade ago, that not everyone involved with yoga has good intentions.
We were discussing ethics and the role of the teacher. It was the first time I became aware of the sexual inappropriateness that takes place in yoga studios. I had never stopped to consider the position of power teachers have and it certainly never occurred to me that a yoga teacher would take advantage of his or her students.
I was shocked, disturbed and confused all at once.
My teachers explained that the yoga community is just a microcosm of larger society, that just as there are immoral, dishonest people in this world—the yoga community is not exempt.
Ten years later, I no longer have the privilege of being so naïve.
I could easily list first-hand accounts of sexual exploitation, abuse of power, inner-studio politics, mean girls, elitism, black balling and what happens when making money becomes the number one priority of yoga teachers. Hell, I was once heavily involved in the Anusara Yoga community and equally disappointed by the lack of integrity among some of the systems top teachers as I was by John Friend scandalous escapades.
I am fully aware of the dark, deviant, self-serving aspects of our precious yoga community, which I’ve come to regard as the ultimate wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing.
Once infatuated with those teachers who appeared to float across the studio floor, spent their evenings chanting mantras, told mythical stories of gods and goddesses, took Sanskrit names and spoke of love, spiritual brothers and sisters and devotion—I no longer place them on a pedestal. I am now slightly distrustful, not only of the teachers themselves, but more so of the sweeping language they use and the images they portray.
I am, of course, over-generalizing.
I don’t believe that all teachers who lean on the airy-fairy (for lack of a better term) side are pulling the wool over their students’ eyes.
Nor do I believe anyone in particular set out with misplaced intentions. I’ve just been on the block long enough to no longer take everyone for face value, to blindly trust or project virtues onto teachers merely because they appear to walk a more outwardly spiritual life.
And I’m not talking about people’s personal lifestyle choices either, I could care less about how much alcohol or shopping so-and-so does. I actually feel much more comfortable with teachers who don’t lead straight edged lives or adhere to the dogmatic values of the yoga tradition, I certainly don’t. I’m more disheartened to discover the way some of these exemplary teachers treat other human beings on their way to the top, than to find out he or she smokes pot or had an extra-marital affair, whatever it may be.
Living and teaching yoga in West Los Angeles—where the community is split between the so-called yoga celebrities and local teachers, where handfuls of jewelry and clothing companies are launched and ambassadors are a dime a dozen, where magazines are published, photos taken and commercials made — I’ve been behind the curtain. I’m aware of the allegiances made and the self-serving career choices made by some of the community’s seemingly most conscious individuals.
Not that the magazines, clothing companies, brand representatives, ambassadorships and the various forms of publicity given to yoga teachers is necessarily a bad thing. They are all great platforms for yoga teachers to share their message with a wider audience, make a positive difference and have a much larger impact. Believe me, I’m all for that.
However, when self-promotion and publicity comes at the cost of personal integrity, is it worth being center-staged?
That is a very personal question and one only we as teachers can answer for ourselves. Each one of us has our own personal limits and boundaries. And to each their own—as long as we, as individuals, are acting in line with our own integrity then who is anyone, including me, to judge.
But when did being featured in a national yoga and conscious living magazine become more important than the way we treat people as individuals? When did maintaining allegiance to a publisher trump personal integrity and doing what we know in our hearts is the right thing?
I am reminded again of what my teachers told me years before, the yoga community is just another world inside our world. Am I really that surprised to discover the business of yoga isn’t really that far removed from the business world at large? No. But that doesn’t mean I’m less disturbed by it.
I believe what disturbs me the most is the large disconnect between the outward appearance and the inner workings of the business of yoga.
That the teachers we revere so much would knowingly mistreat people at the threat of publishers blackballing them from their magazines; that at the end of the day, there are those who are okay with unethical behavior as long as their photos make the glossy printed pages.
To be clear, I say “those” because I certainly don’t believe that all teachers who are hot on the yoga publicity train are acting out of integrity. In fact, I’m one of them (I’d love to be featured on the cover of a yoga magazine) and do believe that most of us would take a stand if we knew exactly what was going on behind the scenes.
I also know from personal experience that there are teachers who wouldn’t because they didn’t when given the chance.
And to those teachers, I am grateful. I thank them for keeping my eyes open, reminding me that not everyone in the conscious community is as they seem and to continually question and reexamine my own values as I figure out my place in the yoga world.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Apprentice Editor: Yaisa Nio / Editor: Renée Picard