give me your misfits and outcasts and weirdos

I’ve always been the square peg in the round hole and that upsets people sometimes, even in the yoga world.  The yoga world can be as politically correct as the non-yoga world when the first thing out of someone’s mouth is “you’re not yogic” or “you’re a hater” when someone questions yoga’s current status quo.   Believe me; in my 7 years of writing this blog I’ve been called an unyogic hater more times than I can count.

So when I read Rachel Held Evans’ post, “Blessed Are the Uncool”, I said HALLELAJAH.  I am not Christian and I don’t go to any church but I I think her post is perfectly applicable to the current yoga scene:  “Jesus taught us that when we throw a banquet or a party, our invitation list should include ‘the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.’   So why do our church marketing teams target the young, the hip, the healthy, and the resourced?”

Look at any ad for any yoga class or any yoga product in any yoga magazine and you won’t see the likenesses of the women I taught tonight at the domestic violence shelter.  They wouldn’t be considered hip, they all have aches and pains and scars and they certainly aren’t resourced.  No one is marketing to them because they can’t afford the $100 yoga pants or the Swarovski crystal chakra pendants.

I’ve always loved Anne Cushman’s take on this in her Yoga Chic and the First Noble Truth written in 2003.  Yes, 2003 — ask yourself if things have changed much.  2003 is almost ancient history in modern American yoga commentary.

“So lately, I’m looking for a different kind of image to inspire my practice. The book I’m shopping for would show pictures of all sorts of people doing yoga and meditating. There would be old people, fat people, scarred people, profusely hairy people, people with bad skin and big noses, people with thighs riddled with cellulite, people with droopy breasts and flabby thighs and faces etched with lines from hard living. There would be people with cerebral palsy, people gone bald from chemotherapy, people paralyzed by drive-by shootings, people who’d lost limbs in wars. Some people would do the poses perfectly. Others would do them clumsily, propped up on sandbags and bolsters, unable even to touch their fingertips to the floor.”

Evans writes,  “…when the gospel story is accompanied by a fog machine and light show, I always get this creeped-out feeling like someone’s trying to sell me something.  It’s as though we’re all compensating for the fact that Christianity’s not good enough to stand on its own so we’re adding snacks.”

Substitute “yoga” for “Christianity” and “weights” or “Pilates” or “pole dancing” for “snacks” and you’ll get what I’m driving at.

It is true that there are now more and more yoga classes for underserved populations, but the face of modern American yoga isn’t just the young, the hip, the healthy, and the resourced.   Maybe if the marketing face wasn’t young, hip, healthy, and resourced, then yoga would truly finally become mainstream.   For real.

“And Jesus was a sailor
When he walked upon the water
And he spent a long time watching
From his lonely wooden tower
And when he knew for certain
Only drowning men could see him
He said “All men will be sailors then
Until the sea shall free them”
But he himself was broken
Long before the sky would open
Forsaken, almost human
He sank beneath your wisdom like a stone.”

Suzanne.  Leonard Cohen

19 thoughts on “give me your misfits and outcasts and weirdos

  1. Which is why I love teaching at a school that is decidedly uncool. My classes are $10 and I take everyone and anyone. I’m imperfect and happy to talk about my imperfections if it means someone else will feel better about not being the perfect hip and cool yogi. Bring it.

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    1. oh, I have a plan for the misfits and weirdos and outcasts when I get back from India. baby steps….shhhhhhh……

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  2. As usual, your blog rings with truth, wide-awakeness, and the shattering of illusions. What happens in “yoga” is no different than the target market of religions, spiritual cults, and the like. When you have to compromise the true essence of a particular practice or relgion to reach the deep pockets of the power elite, then you have forsaken the spirit, the Buddha, the Christ, the shatki, the chi, whatever you label it. It’s the same narrative of betrayal. This is what Christ preached against, when he spoke of the pharisees, what Socrates taught when he spoke of the sophists. Those who follow the path of integrity will bump up against those who do not. I am glad that we have a voice for the true essence of the practice.

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  3. You know how when you start a business and you write up your plan and you have to find your niche market? Well I didn’t exactly call my niche market “misfits, outcasts and weirdos” but it’s exactly what I meant. And it’s a wonderful niche because there isn’t anyone else out there serving them. All hail the uncool!

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  4. i LUV teaching people who don’t have the “perfect” yoga body. i have plenty right now. i always drop everything to take care of them, like yesterday. a woman in her first class with torn miniscus, heavy set, in her 50s, embarassed. she set up next to a woman bigger than her with gout, in her 60s & strong determination. can’t even barely get down on the floor & up but keeps coming back. SHE is MY inspiration. that kind of body never came my way when i was in the studios. now i get all kinds & i couldn’t be happier.

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    1. one of my fave students when I used to teach at hospital was a woman in her late 60s who had had a double mastectomy — she loved backbends, anything to open her chest. she NEVER missed class, never complained about a thing. she even came in the RAIN on a BUS once and buses run like shit in the suburbs. I told her SHE was MY teacher! love those students….

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      1. The trick is to find a teacher who is open to learning from a misfit … if I were a yoga teacher–and life is SO much like high school, no matter how long ago it was–I would get bored–real bored–teaching the head cheerleader and the class prexy, and even the debate team manager, day-in and day-out …

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    2. I am imperfect and square pegged also and embrace & encourage others and use myself as the example so motivate them to do just what they can in the moment.
      Thank goodness there are people like you that are of like mind, hooray!!! 🙂

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  5. I guess it depends on whether you think “misfit” is pejorative. I don’t. Over the years I’ve hung out with a lot of self-described misfits, outcasts, and weirdos — we called ourselves freaks back in the day.

    I don’t want yoga to “equalize” me because to me that word implies making everyone the same and we’re not no matter how hard we try. It’s OK for someone to be exactly as they are, warts and all. It’s perfectly OK not to fit in and it’s OK to be outside the mainstream. The ancient yogis, the sramanas who broke from the Vedic tradition, were considered misfits and outcasts in their day. They threatened their status quo.

    I had a long ago student who was a cutter. She showed up to class wearing bandages all over her arms and legs. She freely admitted she wasn’t “normal.” So I can’t say if yoga was an “equalizer” for her, but I DO know it made her feel as close to “normal” — whatever that is — as was possible for her, which was to be at peace with her demons.

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  6. Not to insult your writing, but I really love that you quote one of my favorite Leonard Cohen songs at the end.

    I heard a rumor today that a teacher got fired from a local studio for cussing in the class. Not AT the class, just IN the class, as in, “It’s just yoga; it’s not the hardest f-ing thing you’ve ever done.” I have no idea if it’s true, but I think it’s indicative of where we are. On the one hand, the students are mostly not interested in the spiritual aspects of a practice, and on the other hand, they think that yoga teachers are supposed to all be jivanmuktis.

    But that’s a whole other blog. When you return.

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  7. FYI to the last commenter: I approve ALL comments and your comment had nothing to do with this post and it was pure SPAM.

    DON’T TRY IT AGAIN.

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