Thoughts from Yoga Journal’s editor-in-chief Kaitlin Quistgaard, Kripalu’s David Surrenda, Sharon Gannon and more.
There’s been such a barrage of responses from the yoga community over that article, that the New York Times took it upon themselves to host their own debate. (perhaps to quell the flood of letters to the editor?) Is it tiresome? Yes. Should we still participate? We’re still here and breathing, aren’t we? The annoying part (or one of the annoying parts) is that they headlined the debate: Me, Myself and Yoga – Is Yoga For Narcissists? Really NYT?
This is how they present the debaters:
In a Times magazine article last weekend, the author quotes a yoga teacher blaming “ego” for yoga-related injuries and pointing out that “the whole point of yoga is to get rid of ego.” If that’s the case, then why is narcissism so often on display in the yoga studio with students spending huge amounts of money on gym memberships and gear and even clamoring to mark their territory with their mats, hours before the class begins?
Has the practice of yoga changed so much that not only the teachers are narcissists but most students are too? How can we reconcile a spiritual practice with a fitness trend in a culture that already emphasizes the individual over the community?
Sigh. Still we read on.
Here you go. The experts the Times have summoned on narcissism, and yoga, where we’re forced to witness the redefining of yoga again and again:
Yoga was never meant to be a competitive sport, like ice hockey. But when it spread to this robustly competitive nation, where it got turbocharged by money — the U.S. yoga market is worth $6 billion a year — its original meaning got dispersed. What is now called for is a broader understanding of the meaning of yoga.
Hatha yoga is not for everyone. The other forms are. Not everyone can — or should — stand on their heads, but everyone can use their heads to make the world a better place; yoke their emotions to their intelligence and feel more centered.
In this sense, the greatest teacher of yoga is not Iyengar or Bikram, but Gandhi.
No Apologies Are Necessary by Kaitlin Quistgaard, editor in chirf of Yoga Journal:
Yoga students come to the mat as we are — with all of our imperfections. And yes, that means with our vanity, our ego, our unskillful decisions and often with a willingness to take a good look at ourselves and work fiercely toward changing attitudes and behaviors that we can see aren’t working. Along the way, we might enjoy the byproduct of better health, a calmer mind, even a cute backside. Do we really have to apologize for that?
Why Are We Discussing This? by Sarah Miller, author and teacher of Kundalini Yoga:
Because yoga is “good for us” we seem to have this fantasy that the practice of it will not create anything negative. Well, look at football, baseball, soccer. Even at the youth level these sports can be very corrupt, and certainly cause physical problems. Yoga is not a sport per se. But anytime you have human beings and bodies and physical challenges that involve strength, beauty, stamina, will, you will have jealousy, lying, cheating, physical and psychic injury. The idea that yoga will somehow exempt itself from this because it’s “Eastern” is kind of hilarious, maybe even racist — we think only things we invent should be competitive.
Yoga’s issue with the ego is not simple. The problem with the ego is that we need it. It’s what holds us in reality. The ego is nothing more in a way than our relationship to other things, to other people. It’s a measuring device. It’s something we need but that we can’t get too dependent on. Like love, like sex, like food, like people.
Yoga is meant to be a system of increasing awareness and decreasing disease. It was able to enter into the American mainstream by presenting itself as a tool with many benefits, including reduced stress, increased relaxation and greater flexibility. It has continued to grow through American gyms as something that cultivates aerobic capacity and builds strength. But many gyms that offer yoga emphasize the physical exercise without teaching the essential self-awareness that differentiates yoga from any exercise.
The “narcissism,” which is not uncommon in many sports, is the result of an emphasis on exercise that misinterprets what the real intention of yoga practice is. Yes, one can increase muscle mass and decrease waist size, but that’s not the real goal. Much of the yoga practiced today has actually become the antithesis of yoga as it is meant to be.
Sharon Gannon, the founder of the Jivamukti method, recently told me that yoga is whatever you want it to be. It can be a path toward enlightenment or a practice to enhance one’s ego — the outcome depends on the intention of the practitioner.
That said, she believes that yoga is a path toward enlightenment, and that you must practice with that intention. Which means that you must find ways to remember God while you are practicing.
When yoga is practiced with the right intention, it diminishes our self-centeredness, allowing us to become more aware of our responsibility toward the larger community — the other people, animals and the environment we all share.
Be Wary of the Master by Joslyn Hamilton of blog Recovering Yogi:
It’s just another facet of our litigation-happy culture that we don’t like to take responsibility for ourselves. We choose deities to worship, whether they are Hindu gods or modern-day yoga celebrities. We think of yoga teachers as being perfect, regardless of their level of training or experience. It’s true that yogis can be competitive and vain, and that’s where a lot of injury happens. But worse than our narcissism as students is our willingness to cede our authority over ourselves to a yoga teacher or to group-think. That’s when we get hurt. When we listen to the teacher — instead of to our knee. There’s a complete lack of critical thinking.
One of my favorite teachers, Rusty Wells, has a mantra I love: “If it feels wrong; it is wrong.” At the end of the day, yoga is just a tool. It’s up to us to use it wisely.
Well, that clears it up.
- More Reactions to NYT on Yoga: President of IYNAUS, Salon.com, The Awl, Baxter Bell via Yoga Journal
- Is The New York Times Wrecking Yoga? The Community Responds
- Yoga Injuries and Battered Egos, ‘How Yoga Wrecks the Body’ via The New York Times