June 26, 2020

Yogis: It’s time to Break Free from the Cocoon that we call Kindness & Spirituality.

2020 has been a challenging year for the yoga community and it is not over yet.

Problems that have existed for years are surfacing as teachers and students try to make sense of it all. 

Some of us are surprised and sometimes shocked by perspectives that are offered by our teachers. After taking a multiple deep breaths, experiencing many sleepless nights, and having countless conversations, I decided to no longer be part of the problem.

It was time to question my own role in this. 

At the time I took my teacher training, I was looking for a new perspective on life. My battle with depression had led me to therapy and taking that teacher training. Diving deeper into the world of yoga and becoming a teacher seemed to be my way out of my own personal misery. 

That was what I signed up for—a new approach to life. 

It served me well for many years, but I had doubts along the way.

I was too scared to question my teachers, because I was afraid of being excluded from the circle of our school and relapsing into depression.

Many times I blamed myself for being too negative, critical, and rebellious. It felt as if these traits had been responsible for my misery. I was advised by my teachers to stop watching the news and instead begin focusing on self-development.  

Keep the negativity out of your life. That was one of the catchphrases that were thrown at me. I was weak and desperate at that time and gave in. For a few years, that felt pretty good, but then I was confronted with situations in daily life that made me want to speak up. Once again I was afraid. This time I was worried about losing my job, and I remained silent. 

I always knew that something was off, but I wasn’t able to put my finger on it. Three months of COVID-19 and staying at home forced me to reflect on everything that has happened throughout the last 10 years. Seeing my former teachers and their followers spreading conspiracy and far-right narratives felt like a punch in my face—a well deserved punch. 

It all started making sense. I started questioning my own path and gravitated toward my old “negativity” also known as critical thinking. After speaking up against Qanon, anti-vaxxers, and other conspiracists, I was insulted, excluded, and belittled. I felt lonely again. 

Instead of being silenced, I started reaching out to other teachers and shared my pain with them.

That’s when something beautiful happened: I found out that I was not the only one.

Others felt the same pain, but were scared to criticise fellow teachers and other leaders in the yoga industry. We were taught to accept things “as they are” and function in an environment full of double standards and hidden agendas that were based on privilege and money. I remember a sentence from our teacher training manual that was a huge red flag that I refused to see: 

“Nobody is here to be criticised.” 

Nobody is here to be criticised is exactly that attitude of fake kindness that created all the problems we are seeing right now. 

When I shared my concerns about teachers using their platform to promote “All Lives Matter,” and voices like Candace Owens, Dr. Shiva, and other right-wing narratives, I was told that I have to accept these opinions and not be political about it. I was blocked by people who I called friends for being too indoctrinated and negative. At the same time, I saw these people promoting almost every conspiracy the internet has in stock, without even noticing how political they themselves had become while pretending to be “unpolitical.”

More and more scientific studies show the connections between conspiracies and the yoga industry. First, results are showing that “not watching the news” and ignoring politics for years might be the breeding ground for that connection. The less we know, the more danger we run to be manipulated. 

There are yoga teachers claiming to heal COVID-19 with good vibes. They are advocates for not wearing a face mask and some go further and blame Dr. Fauci, Bill Gates, and science for everything. I don’t want to be part of that anymore. 

“Be the change that you want to see.” 

The practice of Yoga is precious and we should not allow certain people to use it as a tool to make money and manipulate students. We need to separate one from the other. 

Let’s look at the scandals around John Friend, Yogi Bhajan, Bikram, Osho, Pattabhi Jois, and many others to see what happens when teachers create a narrative to serve their own desires. Taking a closer look will unveil that similar things are happening on a small scale in front of our eyes. 

>> Have you ever been told by a studio owner to avoid certain topics, because customers might feel uncomfortable with it?
>> Have you ever looked the other way when you saw teachers getting fired for speaking up?
>> Did you ever tell another teacher to not speak up in order to avoid a controversy? 

These are all examples of politics at play, and I have to admit, I’ve made all of these mistakes. I am not proud of myself, but I’ve decided to change and not be scared anymore. How about you? 

I want to be the voice of the unheard people in our community who are afraid to speak up about injustice and malpractice. You are not alone, we are all waking up to an uncomfortable truth—everyone at their own pace. 

Being kind does not mean that we can’t call people out for spreading fear, misleading information, and propaganda; it is an act of kindness to speak up and educate others. 

Let’s stop putting teachers onto a pedestal, and start taking a closer look at their agenda and backgrounds. It will be painful to turn our backs on people we used to trust, but it might be necessary to opening the door for new teachers to enter our life.

We need to grow up as a community. I feel that it is time for a movement lead by yoga teachers that are able to hold space for critical thinking and not suppress it.

It is not the practice of Yoga that is fake. The practice has been hijacked by greedy business people that couldn’t care less about our thoughts, feelings, and emotions. 

We need to question the body image presented by leading clothing brands and sponsors that became huge players within the yoga community. The widespread concept of being woke is the exact opposite of what being “woke” actually means. 

What can we do about all this?  

Adolescence is defined as the developmental stage that teenagers are going through when they start questioning their parents and other role models. It is a necessary step in life to shape our character and transform into an adult. It seems as if the worldwide yoga community is at that stage right now. 

In case psychology is not your thing, I would like to offer a metaphor that was ironically used during my training, and yet encourages me to separate myself from these teachers at the same time: 

“A caterpillar needs to fight its way out of the cocoon in order to become a butterfly. When someone takes away that struggle and assists the caterpillar by opening the cocoon for it, the butterfly will be crippled for a lifetime and remain unable to fly.” 

It is time to break free from our cozy cocoon and learn to fly. Who is with me? 

~

Watch an anti-racism hour with Jane Elliott and Waylon Lewis.

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