“Spiritual Bypassing and the Dangers of Well Meaning Platitudes” – DeAnna Shires

Since 2005 this blog has been available to guest bloggers.  If you have something you want to get out into the Yoga Blogosphere but don’t have your own blog, contact me about your subject and we’ll chat.

Today’s post is by long time Yoga teacher and Life Coach, DeAnna Shires, whose practice is in the Dallas/Ft. Worth, Texas area.

She writes about a topic on which I am in full agreement with her.  In 15 years of Yoga teaching I’ve heard every one of these platitudes.  Some of them grate on my nerves more than others.  I’ve heard them from “yoga people” who have no hesitation whatsoever telling you how awful/angry/negative you are and then ending it with a smile and a passive-aggressive “namaste.”

Or, if you don’t agree with these platitudes, you are called a “hater” or “unyogic.”  Believe me, after writing this blog for 11 years, been there, in spades.  As much as people want to believe or portray, the Yoga World isn’t all about peace and love and unicorns that fart rainbows.

One of the best books I’ve ever read on the topic of the SHADOW is Shadows on the Path by Abdi Assadi.  If I ever had my own teacher training, the book would be required reading.

As I always say here, talk amongst yourselves.  And see my own interjections below.

 

scream  In 1984 psychologist John Welwood coined the term “Spiritual Bypassing” as the use of spiritual practices and beliefs to avoid dealing with our painful feelings, unresolved wounds, and developmental needs.

I’m no expert or “Master Teacher” (eyes roll out my face) on this subject, however, I have been running my own personal self study as far back as high school when I first found myself in the self-help section at the book store trying to figure out why life hurt so much.

I’ve wanted to write about this subject for a few years, however, I’ve been waiting for the day I was completely healed and “all better” so I would not come off as jaded or angry.  But the truth is, time keeps passing and I keep processing and I’ve accepted the fact I may never make total peace with the damage caused by spiritual bypassing in my life. The best I can do is accept that this experience changed me and use it for the most good I can, which is to help others. This is my intention now.

For years I tried to read auras, astral-project myself off the planet, meditate over incense, spew positivity, and people please myself out of my true emotions. Guess what happened?  I missed vital warning signs along the way and didn’t see the damage until age 41 when the “Spiritual Yoga Community” I had built and served for years, dropped me like I was hot during my divorce, “borrowed” my livelihood, and left me in a heap on my living room floor. I was used up and spit out wondering how I would support my children. This was the first time in my life I felt it would be easier to drive myself head on into a tree and turn out my “light.”  After all, I had been led to believe if I did kind by others, led a life of service, came from my heart, that’s what would come back to me. That’s not even remotely close to what happened. At this point, there was no denying my true emotions.  I could no longer lace all my experiences with positivity. I could no longer see the Divine in everyone. I no longer felt “love and light” held any validity.  So, I began questioning everything I had ever believed. Even more upsetting, I had to come to terms with the fact I had passed on these beliefs to others content on living in the Spiritual Bypass non-reality as well.

Let’s be honest:  all of us want to make sense of the world because it feels extremely unsafe when things happen that make no sense.  We create skills in order to cope with the feelings of discomfort and to try to make sense of them.  One of these coping skills comes in the form of Spiritual Platitudes.  Additionally, we all make mistakes and it’s also uncomfortable to admit those mistakes so we use platitudes to remove ourselves from accountability.

While using these platitudes as a crutch, we stunt our growth, and sometimes re-victimize someone who is truly suffering.  Often we make these trite statements without any understanding of what the person is going through. Communication is a skill and an art, and in my opinion, resorting to these statements is lazy and irresponsible.  Unless we have personally been in their shoes, sitting with them in silence is more compassionate.

I’m going to share 15 Platitudes I often hear in the modern yoga world and offer an additional perspective to what I feel are half-truths.

“Your Vibe Attracts Your Tribe” — Except all those times you are totally vibing pure intentions which attracted those predators with ill intentions who came in for the kill.

“Everything Happens for a Reason” — That reason is whatever you choose it to be and those choices often depend on life coping tools you have in your tool box and some have more than others.

[No, it doesn’t.  Because sometimes SHIT JUST HAPPENS.]

“It Is What It Is” — So let’s just give up, we are all powerless. Exploring why it actually came to this might reveal an answer we don’t like.

“Meditate It Away — Betrayal, poverty, illness, belly fat, everything, MAGIC.  That will be half your paycheck, thanks.

“It Was Meant to Be” — I guess there is a clip board somewhere with a spreadsheet on it deciding who gets to lose a child, become homeless, and/or face genocide.

“Let It Go” — Poof, all better now.

“See The Divine in Everyone” — But don’t forget to see the warning signs also.  It’s called discernment, not judgment, and it’s necessary for protection.  I also want to add that if we choose to use this one we should monitor our social media posts about making fun of and/or disparaging others, even if they are political figures we don’t like.

“Everything In Your Life, You Have Attracted” — Does this apply to the child who is bullied, the person with genetic mental illness, or the woman who was gang raped walking home from work? (oh wait…that might be another article).

[This bullshit, like The Secret, grates on me the most.  It’s Victim Blaming 101.  I am a survivor of parental abuse by my mother aka the woman who raised me, sexual assault, and domestic violence.  I was also lied to my entire life about my racial heritage.  I am Native.  Tell me again how my ancestors “attracted” their own genocide.  Go ahead, I dare you.]  

“What You See In Someone Else Is A Reflection of Something Within You/Everyone is a Mirror” — While this can occasionally be true, it often is not.  What an awesome excuse for projecting one’s own issues onto another.

[No.  Sometimes you meet assholes who treat you like shit.  That’s not a “lesson” and you don’t “deserve it” to “learn something.”  The only thing to learn is to
not allow people to treat you like shit.  And that can take time.]

“If You Do Good Things Expecting Something In Return, You Are Not A Good Person” —  There are certain expectations we should have as decent humans, for example, when someone does something kind for you, that person probably is not expecting to be taken advantage of and then turned into the bad guy for pointing it out.

“Perception is Reality” — Except when one has horrible perception due to years of abuse/trauma and lies. The only way to face reality is to communicate and ask questions, but that takes effort and who has time for that?  We have headstands to do.

“Leave Your Ego at The Door” — You can leave your shoes at the door cuz they nasty, but you need to keep some of your Ego because that’s how you function on this planet and get your needs and goals met, as well as refrain from being the proverbial door mat.

[Don’t mistake my confidence for arrogance.  Ever.
I was recently told that I don’t have a lot of students because I “intimidate people”
because I talk about who all I’ve trained with.
THE HELL WITH THAT NOISE.
I have worked damn hard in 15 years and if my trainings and experience
intimidate you, that’s on YOU, not me.
I am not responsible for your comfort and
you are not responsible for mine.]

“Think Positive” — It seems we have exactly 5.2 minutes to processes our divorce issues, death of a loved one, addiction, mental illness, etc.  Or we are accused of
being negative and/or toxic, only deserving of love if we are happy 24/7.

“Be Your Authentic Self” — Unless you are an asshole or have beliefs that don’t jive with us, then we will judge you because we don’t really want you to be yourself, we want you to be just like us.

“Detox Your Life!” — I think this is where we start drinking juice, build a tiny house, and move to a cave with zero interaction with actual humans….which is actually escapism, but we call it Enlightenment because that sounds way cooler.

There are more to add to this list but by offering these few my hope is to bring this issue to the surface before others are harmed as deeply as I was, thinking I had to be a certain way in order to be “Spiritual” and worthy of love and acceptance.  Stuffing our undesirable human feelings is not going to help us process and move forward.  Carl Jung said, “What you resist, persists.”  We cannot find the comfort we are looking for until we face the discomfort we insist on hiding from.

Sometimes the best answer we will get is that some things just don’t make sense. Sometimes life really isn’t just or fair. Go ahead, let your inner two year old throw a tantrum and let that shit out. Sometimes what goes around does not come around, certainly not in the way we think it should. Sometimes a person who is suffering simply needs a body to sit with them in silence, allowing grief to process through, no matter how ugly it is.

These platitudes, though often well intentioned, stop healthy processing and lead to spiritual bypassing. Not everyone is comfortable sitting with others in their pain and that’s fine, but instead of throwing around platitudes to ease our own discomfort around their discomfort, tell the truth.  The truth is, we may be able to empathize, but we cross the line when we offer advice or words of comfort for something we do not understand.  It’s better to say, ”I don’t know what to say/do, what do you need from me?”

I guarantee the best thing you can do is to love them through all of it rather than discounting where their feelings want to be. We can’t pick and choose which emotions are OK and call it living spiritually.  Let’s stop that.

“Stripping the Sacred” – Brenda Feuerstein

patanjali2
Patanjali

“Teach people, not poses.” — Gary Kraftsow (paraphrased)

“Yoga contains asana, pranayama, meditation.
Anything else is acrobatics.”
(TKV Desikachar, from a long ago intensive in India)

Many of you know Brenda Feuerstein.  She was married to eminent Yoga scholar, Georg Feuerstein (1947-2012) and they collaborated on a wealth of books and trainings in traditional Yoga.   Brenda carries on their work in Traditional Yoga Studies where she does distance learning courses and has a Philosophy/History Training Manual for teaching that segment of 200- to 500-hour Yoga teacher training programs.  It can be purchased here.

Recently on her Facebook page she posted this note that generated many comments.  I believe her words should reach a larger audience beyond Facebook so Brenda gave me permission to post it here.

Of course I agree wholeheartedly.  One of my students who has studied with me for 7+ years is moving out of state and she said:  “This is a great post, I love it and it is so true. I am sure this is exactly what I will be facing once I move and attempt to find a studio/teacher that provide real yoga as it was intended.”

Talk amongst yourselves.

Stripping the Sacred
*Warning – you might not want to hear this*

I started learning Yoga when I was very small from a book my Mom had purchased. Richard Hittleman was the author and I suspect there was no other book on Yoga at the pharmacy where my Mom would have been shopping at the time. She was probably intrigued having read something in Reader’s Digest or possibly heard the word on one of the two TV channels that were available to us.

A little later a TV show started featuring German born Yoga teacher Kareen H. Zebroff. My Mom and I would “do” Yoga with her once a week. We had no sticky Yoga mat, no meditation cushion, no clothing that set us apart from anyone else, and no studio to support our practice after the show. We sat on the cold farmhouse floor and didn’t wonder if we should look into stickier mats and travel mats. My Mom and I just practiced and I felt a “specialness” that I wouldn’t fully understand until years later.

In my teens, I ended up in a small town where I saw a hand written poster of a Yoga class being held at the school gym. Nothing was said about getting my cakras cleared, my core muscles being strengthened, and no mention of the Yoga Alliance. It was straightforward just like her class. There was no music, no props, nothing to sit on but the floor, and most people didn’t even have an exercise mat. People wore sweat pants and t-shirts and a sweatshirt if it was a cold evening. She introduced herself as having studied at the Sivananada ashram and most people had no idea what that meant but most recognized the feeling of “specialness” in her heart. It was quiet and no one was showing how they could do a headstand before class. The class was straight forward. When she spoke it wasn’t in hard-to-understand anatomical terms, but she did use Sanskrit throughout the class. I suspect that is the way she was taught. She spoke gently and sweetly about her teacher and I’d often see her in tears which I knew meant something very “special”. Her class was challenging but not necessarily in a physical way. She taught us Yoga philosophy saying we needed to learn it well otherwise we were just doing calisthenics and we should go elsewhere if that’s what we wanted. She was strong and courageous and filled with love for her teacher and the path of Yoga.

Jump forward to 2015. I was invited to live in a city after living in a rural area for several years and I decided that experience would be helpful in better understanding the current state of Yoga (generally speaking). I was taken to studios daily until I suffered a severe injury. The injury was the result of two Yoga teachers believing they could fix my life-long physical condition from a C3,4,5 fracture that had healed well enough for me to lead a strong and very active life. Even though I told both teachers prior to the class that it was best to not adjust me under any circumstance because I’d worked one-on-one with therapists for years and knew my body very well, my adho mukha śvānāsana, utthita trikonasana, and śavāsana didn’t look “right” to them so I got surprise adjustments and was unable to function normally for months and even today I’m still suffering from the well-meaning teachers who thought they could cure me with their 200-500 hour YA training. Now I understand that modern postural Yoga has helped many people with physical injuries, but the fact remains these teachers felt they could “heal” me with Yoga when in fact I ended up being severally injured. I don’t know of a Yoga anatomy module in any teacher training that would address “fixing” or “healing” neck fractures.

What I learned through all of it was that the “specialness” – the sacred – appears to have been stripped away from Yoga. How is it that we went from a class or two a week offering to a gym/studio setting with 20-30 or more classes a week? How can anything feel sacred when there is so much of it and students become numbers on ledger for the accountant? True, for a tantric it could be, but really? I suspect that many people who say they’re tantrics have no idea what they mean and when asked come up with something they’ve memorized from the internet or some book written by someone who heard tantra sells.

My own opinion is that as long as we have large studios pumping out teachers and building their client base we will never fully regain the sacredness in Yoga. It will continue to be a marketplace where one teacher is trying to outdo the next one and where the words disrespect, lack of teacher and lineage recognition, and plagiarism means getting ahead in business.

We’ve used and abused a tradition with a sacred foundation and the outcome has been devastating on so many levels. People email me asking about book recommendations stating they’re confused with everything that’s out there. People email me and say they have to take a break from their Yoga practice because they’re injured, and I respond with, “what an incredible opportunity you have to go into the foundation of traditional Yoga by studying philosophy!” People email and say, “I feel bullied…do I have to certify with YA?” People email and say, “I don’t want to learn Sanskrit in a Yoga training.” I respond, “Please go talk to your Grade 1 teacher and ask them if learning the English language (that being their first language) was important for your Reading class.” and the list goes on and on…

There are people trying their best to keep the sacred in this beautiful tradition of Yoga, and possibly like me, they feel exhausted and frustrated at times. How many Yoga magazines do we need to buy? How many books on asanas do we really need? How many ways do we need to explain the yamas which were so clearly stated? How many ways do we need to do things before we finally see that the sacredness of Yoga is hanging on by a thread? How many times does this need to happen before we wake up?

do I need to be anointed to be credible?

 

So much goes on in the Modern Yoga World (TM) now that it’s hard to keep up without it sounding like a constant rant.  Maybe I should just write about what actor or rock star does yoga, post a photo of them drinking a latte with a mat under their arm, and comment on what brand yoga pants they wear.  That would really be so much easier and would probably get me more readers.  But I digress.

I’m sure by now many of you have heard about the Yoga Alliance stance on using terms such as “yoga therapy” or “therapeutic yoga” or anything that sounds like a teacher has anything to do with “healing” or “medicine” or even “alleviating.”  You can can go on their site and see the restricted words.  As someone who worked for litigation lawyers for 20 years I know it was a CYA (“cover your ass”) move.

The policy does not only apply to your YA profile but also to your personal website IF you are YA registered.  Don’t register with the YA and you can say whatever you want about what you do or how you teach.

I am now an E-RYT 500 teacher with the YA and also an official “Continuing Education Provider.”  Yes, yes, yes, I know — I ranted for years about the Yoga Alliance, I totally own that.  You can read what I wrote in 2011 here when I was a mere E-RYT 200.

But the fact remains that there are those WHO WILL NOT STUDY OR TRAIN WITH A TEACHER UNLESS THEY ARE ANOINTED BY THE YOGA ALLIANCE.  I resisted reinstating my YA registration for years and finally broke down.  Of the teachers I know who also consider the YA useless and a waste of money, 100% say that the reason they pay up is because of the above reason.  The teacher training I took at the old school Chicago studio where I originally certified in 2002 was never YA registered until people starting asking the owner whether his training was YA registered.

The fact is that I re-joined the YA purely for marketing reasons, not because I think it means anything.  The fact is that after teaching for 15 years, training for 10 years in India, and being featured in a book, I am a yoga nobody where I live so if the YA seals give me “credibility” and “presence”, so be it.

I do not have the luxury of owning a studio that can attract students.  And yes, if you are surviving and making money with a yoga studio that IS a luxury in today’s yoga business market, consider yourself lucky.  I live in a town of 25,000 and there are three studios besides a park district that offers yoga.  Fifteen years ago when I started teaching and basically knew nothing, I had 40 students in another park district’s class.  Now I am lucky if I have five students who show up consistently.  Those students don’t care about the YA but if I can get teachers who want more training by using the YA seal, I am going to use it to my advantage.  It ain’t personal, it’s business, baby.

Cora Wen told me that back in 2001 Judith Lasater told her: “Every profession has an organisation and YA looks like they are winning in the registry.  Get the certificate now.  Or you will one day have to pay someone less qualified than you are to get a certificate.”

There ya go.  Like I said….

YACEP

Now the International Association of Yoga Therapists has rolled out their “certification” for yoga therapists.  I’ve been an IAYT member for years and even wrote an article for their journal on teaching trauma sensitive yoga.

Don’t get me wrong.  I think there should be some type of measure of a yoga teacher’s ability just as there is a measure for massage therapists, for example.  And yes, I know MTs are licensed which I absolutely do not agree with for yoga teachers.  But for these paid for labels to be the be-all and end-all and the only thing that makes a teacher worthy in the public eye makes me very itchy.

I looked into the IAYT certification process but I don’t have the proof that in all the intensives I took at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram that there was any “yoga therapy” involved.  But there was because there always is something about yoga therapeutics beyond asana practice.

What got me thinking about all of this was the article “Are We Entering a Golden Age of Yoga Therapy??” by Eden Goldman.  According to Goldman’s quote…

“Yoga Therapy is the philosophy, art, and science of adapting classical Yoga techniques to contemporary situations to support people with physical, mental, and emotional ailments. According to the definition of the International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT), “Yoga therapy is the process of empowering individuals to progress toward improved health and well-being through the application of the teachings and practices of Yoga.”

Practically speaking, Yoga Therapy is the reinvention of a personalized Yoga experience where the practice is modified to meet the individual’s ever-changing needs. Since ancient times, adaptability in one’s teaching, practice, and approach has rested at the heart of Yoga’s most fundamental influence: the relationship, insights, and trust created through the practice by one teacher working with one student.”

…I’ve been a “yoga therapist” for 10+ years.  Do I still need to be anointed by the IAYT to be credible?

I’ve done 10 years of many intensives at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram, multiple yoga therapy trainings including two levels of Phoenix Rising, 300 hours of Svastha Yoga Therapy with Dr. Ganesh Mohan, a Therapeutic Yoga for Seniors training at Duke University, and trauma sensitive yoga.  Besides teaching in India and Africa.

Can I call myself a “master teacher”?  You tell me.

Do I still need the YA and IAYT seals on my website to prove my worth to the rest of the world?

It’s become crystal clear to me that the name of the game in the Modern Yoga World is MARKETING because no one gives a damn about all of the above.  I don’t have the $6,000 that I need to upgrade my website to grab SEO and make it the latest and greatest Yoga Business site.  It’s much cheaper for me to lose myself in South India and hang a shingle that says “YOGA TEACHER TRAINING.”

In my 15 years of teaching I’ve never put myself out there as a “yoga therapist” because I believe all yoga can be therapeutic if applied in a beneficial manner.  Even Bikram Yoga was beneficial to the Vietnam War vet who spoke to us about his PTSD when I did the trauma sensitive yoga training.

I’ve always said that no one called Krishnamacharya a yoga therapist, he taught YOGA.

Krishnamacharya’s principle was “Teach what is inside you, not as it applies to you, to yourself, but as it applies to the other.“  He taught that Yoga should always be adapted to the unique needs of each individual.

Does one who jumps through the hoops and pays for the IAYT “certification” automatically know more or is more capable of supporting or empowering someone than I am?  The buying of labels has been problematic for me for years. It’s the same old story: people will study with a Yoga Alliance or IAYT labeled teacher before they will with someone who has the years of experience.

In the end, I don’t need validation.
I know what I offer.

But then in this Modern Yoga day and age there is this passing itself off as “Yoga Medicine.”  Yes, you CAN think yourself thin AND sexy!

It’s Tara Stiles’ Slim Calm Sexy Yoga all over again.  Just use the word “meditate” and it makes it all credible and so deliciously New Age.

THAT POST IS EVERYTHING THAT IS WRONG WITH MODERN YOGA.

Women with eating disorders feel bad enough about themselves already, how much worse will they feel if they can’t “think themselves thin”?  At least she didn’t mention bra fat.

How is this in any way empowering?  I’m all about mindful eating and eating healthy foods, but the buzzwords used by this “master yoga teacher and specialist in sports and Chinese medicine” are what is typically found on a magazine cover at your grocery store check out line, the same bullshit that sounds like “LOSE YOUR BELLY FAT IN 5 EASY YOGA MOVES!”

No wonder us old school teachers throw in the towel

Funny.  I did not see the Yoga Alliance or IAYT seals on her website.  Anywhere.

Without them you can say whatever you want to say about yoga.

what are they teaching out there?

depaul panel

 

The other night I was one of the speakers on this panel discussion in Chicago. April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and I was invited to be on this panel by The Breathe Network.  The Breathe Network is an excellent online resource for trauma survivors looking for practitioners of holistic modalities and I am proud to be a member.

It was a great event with a big turnout. The other three presenters spoke about their modalities, Biofeedback, Holistic Psychotherapy, and Reiki. I learned from all three presenters and what was interesting was that we all had a single thing in common, as noted by the moderator:  the BREATH and HOW WE BREATHE can change things for us mentally, emotionally, and physically.

Many of you know that I am a long time student (10+ years) in the Krishnamacharya Yoga tradition and that the Yoga I teach is all about the breath, a breath centered practice.  I have seen how conscious breathwork can change lives.  Yes, literally, such as with trauma survivors and people with anxiety attacks and major stress.  They learn to self-regulate just as the ancient yogis, the sramanas, discovered that asana and breath can regulate their internal systems.

“Trauma sensitive” and “trauma informed” Yoga are buzzwords in modern Yoga but when I did my four day Trauma Sensitive Yoga training at The Trauma Institute, I realized how the training was a retooling of what I learned at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram insofar as therapeutic yoga.  It was nothing new to me.  The only thing new was the information about the physiology of trauma, the parts of the brain that are affected, and some languaging, the “technical” stuff.

Before I did that training in 2011 I had already been teaching for 6 years to survivors at a domestic violence shelter starting in 2005.  I intuitively knew that what I had learned in India and from my own insight meditation practice would help them.  And it did, tremendously — because it was a breath centered Yoga practice.  The survivors learned how to be in charge of their own physiological systems.

After our 90 minute discussion we had breakout groups where attendees could ask us questions.  I had handouts of articles (one that I wrote) about how Yoga helps with PTSD.  More than a few young people (“young” meaning college age students) took my handouts and then it got interesting — they started telling me about their experiences in Yoga studios.  Note that this was in Chicago so they were talking to me about studios there.

I preface what comes next by saying that I no longer attend public Yoga classes so I don’t know what people are teaching nowadays.  If I do go to a studio it will be to my teacher’s class at the studio where I certified as a teacher 15 years ago (one of the first studios to open in Chicago.)

I take that back — I DID go to a class just last week.  It was a gong meditation plus Yoga class and one of my students came with me.  I know that every teacher is trained differently, has his/her own style, and I am 200% sure there are many who would hate my classes and probably with a vengeance.  But I was stunned at the practice.  Shocked even.

The teacher was also a “woman of a certain age” and whom I know has been teaching longer than me.  There was absolutely no attention paid to the breath.  In fact, I could not even catch my breath because the sun salutation was so fast.  I decided (of course!) to move at my pace with my own breath ratio.

My long time student was incredulous and instead of a calming, grounding practice to go into an hour long gong session (by the way, I was NOT expecting a gentle or restorative practice, just a more mindful one) I felt completely agitated.  This is the reason why I no longer attend public classes taught by teachers whose teaching styles I don’t know.

Each person at my table at DePaul asked me “where do I find a class as you describe?”  Because EACH student told me “I take Yoga but …”  It’s “competitive.”  A “work out.”  “No one talks about the breath.” “I feel intimidated.”  “How should I breathe?”  “They don’t teach meditation.”  If I lived in Chicago instead of 40 miles away I’d probably have a dozen new students now.

Finally, what made me sad was a trauma survivor who told me she went through a teacher training program at a corporate Yoga studio chain.  I won’t say which one but they are all over Chicago and other big cities.  Many times they open down the street from independent studios.

She told me that she went there looking for a more meditative, what she called “spiritual,” YTT.  Instead, she told me the training triggered her PTSD, so much so that she completely stopped her own Yoga practice.  What was worse, she told me, that when she tried to tell her trainers what was happening with her, no one knew how to help her.

She finished the training but no longer practices.  She told me that in order to teach she knows she has to work on herself.  She asked me how to get back on the Yoga horse.  I said slowly and recommended Sarah Powers’ book, Insight Yoga, and her DVDs.  I gave her my card, it was all I could do, and told her to contact me if she got stuck.

After listening to the questions and comments, I was re-inspired to create a teacher training so I had better get my ASSana in gear before I go to India in November.  But I am SO STUCK, I don’t know where to start.  Mainly because I don’t know where to begin in writing a manual.  You can’t charge $3,000 for a training and not have a manual, people expect one after dishing out the dough.  But I only know how to teach OLD SCHOOL, the way I am taught in India.  You sit down, listen, and take notes.  In all my years at KYM the only handouts I have are from asana and meditation classes.  Ten plus years of notes will make a kick ass YTT.  I’ve already decided that this book will be the class text.

But when the day comes when I have a Metta Yoga: Mind-Body Education training you can bet your ASSana that I will have sliding scale payment for survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence, and vets with PTSD.

What the hell are they teaching out there?

 

 

 

 

Modern American Yoga (TM)

IMG_0334I no longer write as prolifically as I once did.  I started this blog in 2005 and the Yoga Blogosphere as changed tremendously in 10 years.  Modern Yoga Bloggers have forgotten whom their elders are.

What some bloggers write about now I wrote about 3, 5, even 7 years ago: ageism, diversity, “slow yoga.”  “Slow Yoga” is a thing now (Google it) and I’ve been teaching slow since 2005 when I first came back from the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram in India.  The more things change, the more they stay the same.

But sometimes things scream to be called out and discussed.

A long time, old school yoga teacher told me that where she’s from a yoga studio requires newbie teachers to “brand” themselves before finishing a one month yoga teacher training, i.e., make a website, a Facebook page, social media presence, etc., etc. etc.

Do the math.  If a large city has 1000+ YTTs, old school teachers like her and I are doomed.

BRANDING before teaching.

BRANDING before experiencing.

BRANDING before Living Your Yoga.

When I did my first website it took me 6 months to write my yoga bio.  Even after I studied in India the first time I thought that if I wrote too much about myself it would look like I was bragging.

Some people say that social media is the new normal. But I believe in what Buckminster Fuller said:

“In order to change an existing paradigm you do not struggle to try and change the problematic model. You create a new model and make the old one obsolete.”

Believe me, I try. But I’m tired.  Damn tired.  I believe in old school yoga teacher training, mentoring.  But my mentoring page is the loneliest page on my website.  I am not concerned with offering a standard 200 or 300 hour training because I believe in quality, not quantity.  Unfortunately, that’s not good for business because people chase the piece of paper that proclaims them a certified yoga teacher.  I can easily put together a 200 or 300 hour training based on 10 years of notes from the Mandiram alone.  But frankly, no one is interested.  Here.  I believe it takes 10 years of yoga teaching to learn how to teach besides having a dedicated personal yoga and meditation practice.  No one wants to hear that.

Like in real estate, it’s about location, location, location.  All I know is that in my area yoga teachers are a dime a dozen.  With yoga studios cranking out new teachers every week, there is no place for Yoga Elders.  I’m not whining, I’m just being realistic.

So I’m leaving.  Done, baby.  I’m going somewhere where what I teach is valued and appreciated.  One of my students gave me a testimonial:

 “Linda is Yoga. Living, breathing, in every aspect. Caring, supportive, knowledgeable, fun-loving, she walks the talk.”

That’s why I’m leaving.  Because I have too much passion for what I do if that makes any sense.

Goddess willing, I’ll live in Kerala, India by the end of next year and into 2017.  I’ve already started to look at houses to rent with space to teach.  I’ve been asked to do teacher trainings in India.  When I’m in India and I am asked what I do and I say “I’m a yoga teacher” people actually have respect for that.  They ask me who my guru is instead of telling me, “I do Pilates.”  No one asks  me what style of yoga do I teach.  I’m asked not to leave, to stay and teach, to help people.  No one pillories me for using the phrase “real yoga.”

Yeah, I said it.  REAL YOGA.  I’ve always said the real yoga kicks in during a health crisis or dealing with your own mortality. My yoga sadhana helped me through an ovarian cancer scare years ago.  It made me realize that “I am not this body” and it brought me peace.  When my time comes I’ll be chanting and doing pranayama, Goddess willing.  Thanks to my friend Cora Wen for making this beautiful video.

But what Cora talks about in her video, you can’t brand it.  You can’t Instagram it,  You can’t trademark it.

You can only live it.  Because Yoga is Life.

Yoga as Commodity

om visa

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.

the whiteness of yoga: time to change the question?

I’ve read more than a few articles lately on how blindingly white modern American yoga still is and the cultural appropriation of it. In fact, I asked about the color of yoga back in 2007 when this blog was at its hottest. As they say, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

“Why Your Yoga Class is So White” is the latest from the Atlantic Monthly:

“The magazine images may seem like stereotypes, but they’re grounded in reality: About one in every 15 Americans practices yoga, according to a 2012 Yoga Journal study, and more than four-fifths of them are white.

“‘Racism is so implicit that you never even notice that it’s a white girl on the cover every single time,” added Amy Champ, a PhD from the University of California, Davis, who wrote her dissertation on American yoga. “But when you begin to ask yourself, ‘What does yoga have to do with my community?’, then you begin to question all these inequities.'”

The key goals of South Asian American Perspectives on Yoga in America (SAAPYA) as stated on their website are:

“…to revise the perception that yoga is an exclusive practice; to intervene in a largely segregated yoga environment; to ensure that yoga remains a resource for all bodies, all races, all classes and identities.”

[Emphasis supplied in both.]

“Columbusing” is a term used to describe what white people do when they “discover” something that has existed forever.  We can reflect on that as Western culture “discovers” mindfulness like it “discovered” yoga about 15 years ago. 

Before I definitively learned that I was Native American (after intuiting it all my life), seeing white people wear Native American headdress always bothered me tremendously.  Don’t ask my why it did, it just did, it looked wrong and felt wrong to me.  I’ve been told that’s my tribal blood memory.

The issue of the Color of Yoga in Modern America is always a dicey one.  My good friend and San Diego yoga teacher, Oreste Prada, deliciously turns the question around in his guest post where he asks, in essence, “why do white people care so much about whether people of color do Yoga?”  Spinning it around again, “why are white people in the U.S. so drawn to yoga practice?”  Do white people need Yoga more than other races do?  Excellent and provocative questions so here is what Oreste has to say….talk amongst yourselves.


 

“Over the last few years there has been much discussion online about the demographics of yoga classes particularly on the notable absence (or suspiciously low representation) of ethnic minorities, particularly Black and Latino, which comprise just over 12% and 16%, respectively, of the U.S. population.  Typically these discussions raise observations that quickly are treated as causal:

1. Yoga Journal (arguably the most popular yoga related magazine in the U.S.) shows mostly (some would say only) White women on their cover.

2. Yoga studios are located mainly in White neighborhoods.

3. Yoga classes are prohibitively priced for low income communities.

This leap from observation to causation is, of course, a dangerous one without looking deeper and dispassionately into income and race demographics, regional variations, and cultural differences between ethnic groups in the U.S.  It also tends to fall all too comfortably into inaccurate ethnocentric projections.

The underlying assumption is that, all things being equal, Blacks and Latinos would be drawn to yoga classes just as much as their White counterparts if only:

1. Media representations of yoga practitioners would show Blacks and Latinos.

2. Yoga studios were located in “ethnic” neighborhoods.

3. Yoga classes were cheaper so that Blacks and Latinos could afford them.

This assumption is just that, an assumption, and it misses an obvious question. 

Rather than ask why Black and Latinos don’t attend yoga class, is it not interesting to turn the question on its head and ask why are White people in the U.S. so drawn to yoga practice?

My friend Linda, who so often throws interesting and controversial topics at us often relayed from a different than typical perspective, recently posted on her Facebook wall an article on precisely this idea of the “Whiteness” of yoga in the U.S. and what many groups are doing about it.  It struck me that the author, all of the folks interviewed, and all of the commentators on the article, were taking this idea for granted that yoga was something everyone would (or should?) be drawn to and that the lack of representation of ethnic minorities came down to something that magazines, studio owners, yoga teachers, or the very White yoga community at large were doing wrong.

No one seemed to see the inherent ethnocentrism present in that assumption.  My comment to her post and now this subsequent guest post was born.

To be sure, this is not to discount the observations noted above.  They are, after all, observations of a reality that has presented itself.  I make just as many generalizations with my perspective (among them treating White Americans as a monolithic group which they most certainly are not.)  What I propose is that the reasons for this reality may not be what we assume them to be and that taking a step back and trying to better understand differences in culture and race are more meaningful ways to understand the reality. 

I think it is worth pondering the question of whether something within Yoga practice (as it exists in modern time) makes White Americans uniquely attracted to it.

It isn’t unreasonable that it would be.

1.  Yoga practice is individualistic.  Yoga practice is ultimately concerned with the Self.  Although we can argue that this Self is shared, we approach it through our own experience within our own bodies.  Yoga is not (with some exceptions) a group experience and it certainly isn’t a team effort.  It begins and ends with individual experience.

This might be very attractive to individually-minded White American culture.  But can we expect it to be attractive to cultures that place greater emphasis on family and community?  Looking at India, the birthplace of Yoga, which is very family focused, we see that most folks don’t actually practice Yoga.  Those that do are almost exclusively sadhus (who leave their families for spiritual pursuits) or folks involved in religious groups.  The householder yogi is a fairly modern concept as far as we know and he/she remains a minority in Yoga’s home country.  Within India itself the majority of practitioners (in non-religious) Yoga schools are Westerners and it has been the case for almost a decade now that there are many more practitioners of Yoga (asana) within the U.S. than within India (India has an overall population 4x the size of the U.S.).

2. Yoga offers spirituality without dogma.  Many yoga practitioners today come to the practice seeking a spiritual component in their lives.  Many are agnostic or have weak religious ties (both of which are much more common in White communities in the U.S. than in any of the ethnic communities).  Yoga can provide a much needed sacred experience for these folks.  The strong religious influence within Black and Latino cultures raises the possibility that the spiritual component of Yoga is not as attractive since those needs are already being met.  This idea is more compelling than the income argument given that Asian Americans (the only minority in the U.S. who earn a higher income then White Americans) typically have strong family and religious ties but also don’t rally to yoga studios.

3. Yoga classes offer a support system without community-mindedness.  Yoga teachers often talk about “group energy,” this ethereal quality that is formed out of the collection of students and teachers in the room, maintained by those same people and which benefits everyone.  Studios in general and classes in particular can be places where individuals feel the support of others and in the best cases have teachers who are invested in their growth and the realization of their potential.  For an individually minded culture this can be very attractive because you can pursue your own goals and growth with the indirect support of others, and by your presence and your energy you are helping others achieve theirs, all the while maintaining your space.  The best example of this juxtaposition of shared versus personal space is the yoga mat which has become a strong representation of an individual’s sacred space.  I have yet to attend a teacher training where the question of whether or not it is appropriate to step on someone’s mat doesn’t come up.  [Oreste, love ya, babe, but keep your stinky feet off my mat…I put my face on my mat!]

4. Yoga in the West is generally associated with the New Age movement.  The New Age movement with its non-dogmatic approach to spirituality and its emphasis on health and harmony has at its best been very attractive to Americans who resist and reject dogmatic religions but who seek a deeper sense of purpose and order to the Universe, especially if it offers a way to participate in it.  At worst, the New Age movement is viewed by (non-fundamentalist) White Americans as strange but innocuous.  For many it offers a vehicle to venture from yoga into other practices that might be interesting or even helpful for promoting health.  

This is not the attitude of the typically deeply religious Black and Latino communities that view the New Age movement with suspicion at least and contempt at worst.  New Age tenets and practices are disturbingly close to the ideas their churches warn against.  Individuals in these communities who practice yoga often face constant warnings by friends and family and can even experience alienation from their religious communities.  [my note:  I found this true when I was teaching Mexican women at a domestic violence shelter where the Jehovah’s Witness minister of one woman told her not to return to my class.]

Given the ease with which yoga practice fits into the needs of many White Americans perhaps Yoga in the U.S. is actually focused on the folks who would benefit the most from it.  

If this is the case, why are we concerned about representation and whether yoga practice makes it to other communities?  Is it a form of ethnocentrism to assume that something that White Americans have found useful for personal and spiritual growth is necessarily beneficial to everyone?  Or that others are not already experiencing the fruits talked about in Yoga through other means?

I’m not playing devil’s advocate here.  I was born outside of the U.S. and until I was 19 years old lived in a community that was almost exclusively Latino.  In that time I met many people who exhibited abilities not unlike the siddhis talked about in the Yoga Sutras and other yoga texts.  In the 15 years I’ve been a yoga practitioner and teacher, where I’ve been surrounded mostly by White Americans, I’ve met less people who exhibit those abilities.

So it is worthwhile to ponder whether ethnic minorities not participating in Yoga is a problem at all.  The assumption that these communities need yoga practice seems to be at least as ethnocentric (so as not to use the overused term “racist”) as the idea that they are being excluded from the yoga community.

One additional note: I’ve made sweeping generalizations throughout but I want to draw special attention to one which Linda raised and which I think may begin to instruct how we can go back to using yoga to serve people as opposed to drawing more people to it.  

I have assumed that all Latino and Black individuals receive unconditional support within their communities.  This is not true for many marginalized groups: anyone who has encountered physical or sexual abuse, gay/lesbian and trans individuals, and even second generation immigrants (who often straddle conflicting identities) have many times been rejected by deeply religious and traditional communities.  For folks who have been alienated, humiliated, and experienced rejection by family and/or community, the tools and practice of yoga can be a Godsend for the very reasons that I’ve mentioned above.  It’s emphasis on individual work and worth can grow self-esteem, its dogma and judgment free spirituality can be a more tender surrogate for the religion that rejected them, and its sacred space with the support of teachers and fellow students can begin to rebuild a sense of social acceptance.

The way these groups would be brought to yoga, however, would likely differ significantly from what we normally consider when we imagine expanding the yoga community so it is more ethnically inclusive.  Representation on Yoga Journal’s cover, studios in ethnic neighborhoods and lower cost classes don’t serve these communities directly.”