Is your personal political? Yoga in the Age of Trump

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In 2010 I wrote a post entitled “in review, the personal is still political.”

My piece — STILL one of my most read posts thank you very much — was about the then and still hot topic of nudity in Yoga when Judith Lasater wrote to Yoga Journal about nakedness in Toesox ads.  Yawn if you must but it’s still a hot topic if you follow the YWS (young-white-skinny) Instagram yogalebrities.

Now America has President Trump, the most uniquely unqualified president this country has ever had.

I was in India last year when he was elected and after the results I was physically ill for three days.  I knew it wasn’t Delhi Belly.  But I had to suck it up because I had a yoga retreat to teach and we were going through the rupee crisis (PM Modi declared 500 and 1000 rupee notes worthless) at the same time so I had to keep my shit together for my students.  At least there was an American couple at the resort who were also as depressed and disgusted as I was and we commiserated and drank a lot together, wishing we didn’t have to go back to a Trumpian America.

There hasn’t been one day since 45 was elected that hasn’t been a nightmare.  He can’t go one day without tweeting or saying something incredibly nonsensical, racist, or war mongering.  NOT.  ONE.  DAY.

Travel bans.
Transgender ban in the military.
Muslims.
Building the Wall.
Mexicans who are bad hombres and rapists.
Destroying Affordable Care Act.
Women’s reproductive rights.
Charlottesville’s “fine people” neo-Nazis.
Colin Kaepernick and taking a knee.
Right to free speech.
Misogyny.
Racism.
Collusion with Russia.
Threatening North Korea with fire and fury.

MUELLER, CAN YOU JUST HURRY THE FUCK UP?!

But I digress.

What got me thinking more about all of this was the brouhaha white tears over the “take a knee” politics over the weekend and my watching the Ken Burns’ PBS special on the Vietnam War on TV right now.  Especially since I haven’t been told “America, love it or leave it” since I demonstrated against the Vietnam War.  Told on Facebook.  By white people.  Only back in the day I was told, “America, love it or leave it, hippie slut bitch.”

I grew up during the 1960s.  I was in high school from 1968-1972, when the war was at its worst and the US was also bombing Cambodia and Laos (unbeknownst to Americans at that time.)  Watching the show I remembered how I became so politicized in 1968 at such a young age, only 14.

OK, I wasn’t a typical 14 year old, whatever “typical” means to you.  I always felt different.  In 6th grade I read on a college level.  I read the Encyclopedia Britannica (yes, really) by the time I was 10.  I wanted to be a paleontologist when I grew up.  On my last day in the 8th grade the teacher asked us what we were going to do during our summer before going to high school.  I told her I was running away to live in Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco.  I ran away, but it wasn’t at 14.

I wanted to know about everything like yesterday.  I was aware that there was something out there bigger than my little spot in the all white southwest side piece of Chicago where I grew up.  For one thing, there were race issues in Chicago.

News did not come from Facebook or from 140 character tweets.  There were no accusations about fake news.  You believed the newscasters because they were middle of the road.  Hearing the American troop and enemy death counts and watching the war’s gore daily on the news (which would never happen now) affected me.  In 1968 both Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated.  After Dr. King was assassinated Chicago had its riots just like other cities did — “they burned down the west side!”  Then there was the Democratic Convention in Chicago in 1968 that was termed a police riot.   I was too young to hit the streets but I watched the Chicago police bust open hippie heads and drag limp bodies down the street to throw into paddy wagons.  I thought, those hippies look like me, that could be me if I was out there.

Then there was Kent State in 1970.  I was a sophomore in high school.  Still a hippie, still hanging with older students and listening to their perspectives, aware of what was going on in the world.  How could one not be?  Or not care?  Those dead college students, if I was old enough, it could have been me.

Those were the two political turning points in my young life that politicized, indeed, radicalized, me.  Then I moved out when I was 18 and never looked back.  Demonstrated and protested as much as I could.

The Chicago 7 trial,  the Vietnam war, the first Earth Day, women’s liberation marches, the failed Equal Rights Amendment, reproductive rights in the 1970s pre-Roe v. Wade, marching for farm workers, I was in the thick of it.

Because of all that I lived through I believe America in the Age of Trump is as divided now as it was back then.  I see many who are culturally clueless (i.e., living in a bubble and living in fear) despite how vastly different information is spread compared to 50 years ago.  I still believe in the hippie idea that if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.  But that’s me.

Is your personal political?  I ask because a Facebook friend, a yoga teacher in Belgium, posed this question yesterday:

“This is a simple inquiry, based on what I have seen over the last few days coming from the US.

A lot of yoga teachers have reacted in their own ways about taking a knee, being supportive of the athletes and sharing pictures and articles, or in their own look-at-me ways, but ok.

And I am wondering, sincerely: where is Yoga Alliance? I mean, this is an organization that has been so vocal and present, with such good marketing that they have managed to have people believe that Yoga Alliance is the end-all-be-all of yoga organizations. … Should they say something?

I know I know, yoga is not a sport, and Yoga Alliance is currently “celebrating diversity in yoga”, soooo… should they stick to it and “stay on their lane” or rise to the occasion?”

Is being a Yogi and being political mutually exclusive?  Is Yoga political?

In India right now it is and I believe not in a good way.  It’s the reason I never got behind the hoopla of International Yoga Day.  I don’t believe that it’s all good when something like this can happen.

I suggest that western yoga peeps read up on Prime Minister Modi and Hindutva right wing politics.   Or spend more time in India than at a foo-foo two week yoga retreat or month long teacher training protected from reality before jumping on the It’s All Good Namaste bandwagon.  Salman Rushdie has said that Modi makes Trump look like an amateur.  Modi is a devoted yogi.  In India now one is forced to stand for the Indian national anthem when played before movies start in theaters.  If you don’t stand you can be arrested.

India is a democracy as America claims to be (actually founded as a Republic but I won’t split hairs.)   I guess people don’t understand that if you’re forced to stand to show “patriotism,” that’s a dictatorship.  Like North Korea.

In this old protester’s opinion, Yoga Alliance can stay out of it.  I don’t give a rat’s ass what YA has to say about anything other than yoga.  YA is a registry for yoga teachers, nothing more, nothing less.  They don’t need to get political.  They do nothing for me.

Because WE need to get political, individually, now.  Well, if you give a shit.  If you’re exhausted by what’s going on, I don’t blame you.  I am some days.  But being colorblind is not a virtue.  

I believe that the one good thing that has happened since the election is that the closet racists have come out of the rotten woodwork.  Trump made them find their cojones.  Of course Obama was hung in effigy for 8 years but now it’s Trump’s America where he tweets more about his disgust for African-American football players exercising their First Amendment rights than his outrage over neo-Nazis in Charlottesville.

Mind blown by the racism and ignorance I’ve read in comments made by the friends of a FB friend and not getting shut down by him.  One (self-proclaimed proud white) man said that white privilege is a false narrative and that the US is the most non-discriminatory country in the world.  Let that sink in and then multiply that opinion by millions.  MILLIONS.

FUCK.  THAT.  SHIT.

Maybe on the individual level not every Trump voter is an overt racist.  But they were more than fine with voting for one.  That’s like going to a Klan rally and not burning the cross but they sure as hell brought the matches and stood by and watched it burn.

So….

Fuck Right Speech.

Fuck the “Female Lifestyle Empowerment Brand” (sounds like a good thing but it’s not) that is a “marketing strategy that leverages social status and white privilege to create authority over other women.”

And fuck spiritual white women who don’t take a stand on white supremacy.

Layla Saad:  “Many so-called leaders in the online business world tell us that their work is about changing the world, leading revolutions and transforming people’s lives. And yet… in the face of racism and injustice they say next to nothing or simply re-share someone else’s inspirational meme.”

Preach, woman.

Because this time, the revolution WILL be televised.

It has to be.

“Being “nice” is not a Buddhist practice.  Being kind is.  It doesn’t always mean telling people what they are comfortable hearing.  For example, acknowledging the structural depth of white privilege and supremacy in America and elsewhere is not comfortable.  But if our society has a future, overcoming white supremacy is a practice we need to lean into immediately.” – Ethan Nichtern

 

you say appropriated, I say bastardized, let’s call the whole thing off….

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Chingon!

The other night I watched comedian George Lopez’s latest special The Wall.  I’ve always thought him hilarious.  And yeah, he picks on white people.  Sorry, this is a #whitetears free zone.

A thought to add to the discussion about cultural appropriation in Yoga:
Lopez raised the question that Mexican food culture has been “bastardized” by white people. For example, all the restaurants named “border” something or the invention of hard shell tacos or the way McDonald’s bastardized burritos (they should be called “McCaca” he said.)

So maybe the word “appropriation” should be replaced by “bastardization.” Western yoga hasn’t been appropriated, its been bastardized.

Food for thought.  Discuss.

 

 

 

Yoga as Commodity

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Much has been written in this blog and others about the material things of Yoga. Look over the last 10 years of Yoga Journal (or any other recent yoga magazine) to see how many ads there are to get yoga dudettes and dudes (although mostly the dudettes) to buy/consume things that we are supposed to let go of.  That is, all the accoutrements of yoga such as $100 pants, detox and cleansing rituals, $200 malas to help you get deeper into meditation (as if the Rs 50 ones I get in India don’t work), and Swarovski crystal chakra necklaces to help you balance your chakras.

Since I’ve been writing this blog for the last 10 years, it amuses me to no end on how the more things change, the more they stay the same.  Same yoga shit, different day.  I wrote on the commercialization of yoga a good 7 years ago at least.

So when a new reader who has recently discovered this blog wrote me, I had to smile.  YES!  This old blog is still appreciated and that does this Krazy Old Yogini’s heart good.  The new reader nailed it: YOGA AS COMMODITY.  I remember the words of a long ago student who believed that the way yoga is taught in the West serves to reinforce negative patterns (of speed, busy-ness, mindLESSness) instead of creating new ones (slowing down, stillness, mindFULLness.)  The addictions are fed, not lessened.

“It’s funny because I came to the practice in order to alleviate hardcore issues with insomnia which I eventually learned was hardcore anxiety. Then, like so many, I became obsessed with the superficial and physical aspects of yoga and thought the mental part was only meditation.  

In the US it seems we define yoga as just the physical practice and how it can be “used” (weight loss, “enlightenment”, calming, better sex.)  Sigh. I wanted to be a yoga expert and I read all of the literature and bought all of the clothes and took all the types of classes and it wasn’t until a life event smacked me right in the face that I realized – all I need to do is practice. And through practice I have shed so much that was so unnecessary, both material things and ideas or feelings that I was attached to.  

There are many vessels through which people learn this lesson but for me it was Ashtanga that taught me. The heavy emphasis on practice made me show up consistently and didn’t let me analyze the practice.  In practice nothing matters but whether or not you showed up and did what you can do. Through that I feel the real journey has begun for me and things are starting to unravel both beautifully and painfully at times (emotionally, not physically.)

I devoured the Babarazzi’s blog because it was another smack in the face that made me realize – why do I buy Lululemon, why do I want to do cool backbends, why is my subscription to Yoga Journal so important to me? Because it’s been shoved in my face and I have been told that it’s necessary.  I’ve since realized that these things actually have nothing to do with yoga.  It’s very refreshing.

I’m sad to hear that you do not continue to create new posts, but I have subscribed anyway. I appreciate your honest take on the subject and wish there were bloggers doing what you’re doing.  There’s so much Yoga Journal and elephant journal and we don’t even realize how toxic they are!”

I stated writing this blog BYS — Before Yoga Selfies. Now there are yoga dudettes almost killing themselves on electrified rail tracks for likes on Facebook and retweets on Twitter.

“The stream of wishy washy spirituality and body-insane yoga culture streams into my world every single day. I catch myself, sometimes, and wonder how with a shred of honesty I can associate myself with this stuff; how do I teach when most teaching is such a sham? How do I ask people to connect with their own flesh when ‘flesh’ is a loaded word? I pause, often, when I’m writing and when I’m standing in front of a class; the words I most want to say are so bloody, so honest, so scary I’m not sure I should.”

Yeah, it really IS that simple that it comes down to a bare soul and a sharp truth.

I’m tired of the noise and it’s why I’m moving to a place, outside the West, where what I teach is valued.

what’s the line between ego and service?

Sometimes readers email me to shoot the breeze about yoga stuff.  Last week a reader and Facebook friend wondered about this (he gave me permission to quote him.)  He said:

“I had a conversation with my mentor…whom has been my connection to the Krishnamacharya lineage.  We were discussing the effects of traditional systems vs. Innovative systems, most specifically the relationship between Ego and a teacher’s “need” to innovate.

Obviously one of the key features of Krishnamacharya’s teaching was the importance of adaptation of the practice to suit the individual…..and American teachers seem to be very good at adaptation….but that adaptation seems to be more about their own ego and “self value” in creating the newest and most “effective/clever” system of Yoga.

I’m not really asking a direct question, but more your thoughts, maybe you’ve written something of similar subject?  I figure your being connected with KYM, this is something you guys discussed?”

Interesting discussion!

I actually have never written about this and in all my times at KYM, this topic has never come up.  If I understand the question correctly, it is:  where does the ego and service, so to speak, separate?

I can’t comment on what other teachers “invent”….Anusara, Forrest yoga, etc.  Does it come out of their ego on wanting to control or change things?  I don’t know.  Someone once said that I created METTA YOGA.  Did I?  I don’t know.  I say that Metta Yoga is the Yoga of Awareness, i.e. being awake to reality, all the good and especially the bad, our shadows.  All I know is what informs my practice:  trainings at KYM, with Srivatsa Ramaswami, Buddhism.  “My” yoga is all about the breath, meeting people where they are (both aspects being totally KYM), being aware of what is happening now (the Buddhadharma.)  Yoga, for me, must contain pranayama and meditation for it to be called Yoga, but that’s me, that’s the lineage in which I study.  Am I going to totally spin the teachings to suit my own purpose?  No, because to me Real Yoga (and I don’t care if that phrase upsets people) is about Transformation and Healing.

We all know what happened with John Friend and Anusara…karma?  And people applaud Ana Forrest’s “new” way of teaching — isn’t it supposed to be a bit more therapeutic now?  I’ve been teaching that way for years, i.e., about watching what comes up, digging down to face your demons.  In my opinion, she did not come up with anything brand new.

No one called Krishnamacharya a “yoga therapist.”  When I was in India this year, A.G. Mohan told us that Indians did not come to see Krishnamacharya for “yoga for fitness”, i.e., purely asana practice.  They lined up literally down the street to see him for yoga for depression, bad backs, and other conditions.  He did not teach “yoga therapy”, IT WAS JUST YOGA.  So did he change what he learned from his gurus?  Of course he met the individuals where they were, we know that he taught Iyengar, Jois, and his son Desikachar differently because that’s how those styles evolved.  But did he make up something that was dramatically different from what his gurus taught him?  I don’t think so.

All I know is that I must meet people where they are and as Desikachar has said, whatever happens, happens.

What I do know is that in the end, it’s all the same, really.  What did Friend create?  Anusara is Iyengar inspired and he put a new spin on things, his whole tantra-esque thinking is nothing new, he just made it sexy palatable for Westerners.

After I responded, the reader went on to say that “the direction American Yoga is moving in is pretty darn interesting.  In fact, over contemplating your email, I started wondering what drives most Western yoga students to become “teachers” in the first place, let alone trying to reinvent their “own” system.   Part of it, I’m assuming, is the ego wanting this seemingly luxurious life of being a yoga teacher……because let’s face it, the way most Americans work their lives away pretty much sucks!  The American Dream has essentially become Corporate Slavery.

I think Americans turn to Yoga because it almost seems like a way out.   In a way, it’s a very distorted approach to Moksha!
 
The other reason I think students are going the “teacher” route is that it kind of offers students a way of deepening their own Yoga practice/sadhana — [quoting his teacher] “teaching is a fierce sadhana”.   Ain’t that the f%$#ing truth!  I think American yoga students do want and are hungry for more than just “asana classes” so why not go through a teacher training course!  They are always also described as an “opportunity to deepen one’s own practice”!  I think the American yoga community is maturing enough as a whole to realize there has to be something more to yoga than just asana…..hence so much innovation and crazy weird shit happening in yoga classes.
 

As bad a rep as the Guru principle has received in the US, I think it’s a missing element.  The idea that a teacher has done the long hard journey and come back to help others along.  Not to say they are totally missing….but I think there is a lack of very experienced teachers amongst the yoga population here.  And the ones that are around are too busy traveling around teaching workshops to thousands of students around the country rather than working closely with a student for a long long time!”

I absolutely agree that the the missing piece is having a Guru or at least a long-term relationship with one teacher which I kinda sorta wrote about here:   https://lindasyoga.com/2012/03/29/whos-afraid-of-the-big-bad-guru/

As for everyone doing teacher trainings, I personally think there are TOO MANY teacher trainings.  It feeds into what I wrote about babies teaching babies….https://lindasyoga.com/2011/08/03/babies-teaching-babies/ — which ironically has a video of John Friend!  Hey, who knew, right?  😉

As for yoga teacher trainings helping someone to “deepen” their own practice….really?  In what way?  Always?  For everyone?  I tell my students that if their path is the length and width of their yoga mat, that ain’t much of a path.   How are you treating people, what are you saying to people?  “Deepening your practice” is a loaded phrase.

I believe that teacher trainers do a disservice in taking everyone into their training, like those who have been doing yoga for a month.  Uh, no.  If I did my own training my requirement would be one year of solid yoga practice, at least once a week.  I am damn old school.  I was a student for 7 years before I became a teacher, not 7 weeks.

Another question to ask is, is yoga teaching a job or a way of life?  I know what it is for me.  I don’t care anymore about “success”, I just feel blessed to teach the students who seek me out in my home shala.   I did not want to come back from India this year, I wanted to stay in India and study study study.  On that false merit of prestige and “success” as a teacher:

“What you should not do, I think, is worry about the opinion of anyone beyond your friends. You shouldn’t worry about prestige. Prestige is the opinion of the rest of the world.

[…]

Prestige is like a powerful magnet that warps even your beliefs about what you enjoy. It causes you to work not on what you like, but what you’d like to like.

[…]

Prestige is just fossilized inspiration. If you do anything well enough, you’ll make it prestigious. Plenty of things we now consider prestigious were anything but at first. Jazz comes to mind—though almost any established art form would do. So just do what you like, and let prestige take care of itself.

Prestige is especially dangerous to the ambitious. If you want to make ambitious people waste their time on errands, the way to do it is to bait the hook with prestige. That’s the recipe for getting people to give talks, write forewords, serve on committees, be department heads, and so on. It might be a good rule simply to avoid any prestigious task. If it didn’t suck, they wouldn’t have had to make it prestigious.”

Talk amongst yourselves.