≡ Menu
YogaDork

Magical Thinking, Yoga, And Internal Inquiry

in Featured, Yogitorials

happyface-300x268by Karin L. Burke

Mostly, yoga is bullshit.

This is breaking my heart.

One of my teachers says I should allow my heart to break. Another shrugs when I say I’m about ready to leave the path and start working retail. Leaving the path may be the path, he says. Neither of these feel helpful. I’m finding myself standing still in the middle of the room a lot, lately, forgetting what I meant to do or losing the motivation. I find myself pausing before the locked studio door in the mornings, looking at the key, asking some kind of question that doesn’t have words.

I started to write this last week. I had been invited to a party. Since I live in bare feet and messy hair, I generally thrill at the chance to put on a dress. I’ve lived in New York and Paris, after all. I am a woman who firmly believes in pretty shoes. I sat down, the pretty dress on but the shoes, not. They lay on the floor in front of the closet. I looked at the shoes and I poked around with what I was feeling. The yoga people were going to be at this party. When I say that, I mean Lululemon, Yoga Fit, and Core Power. A new yoga magazine has been launched.  As a studio owner, I ought to be there. I ought, really, to advertise in it. But their rates gave me sticker shock that lasted four hours and no small amount of cussing. The party was to be artfully catered. The magazine spread boasts luxury spa retreats, a few recipes, and a solid block of pretty ads with pretty girls.

My ambiguity about the party wasn’t really about the party. It probably wasn’t even about the magazine. In my normal mood, I would have damned the pretense but enjoyed the swank music and night out. But there was too much subtext. My mood was fragile.

The yoga world has been gearing up for something called International Yoga Day. Studios are hosting special classes. They’re running sales. The internet and social media preen and belch. But no one mentions that this event is largely being pushed by Prime Minister Narenda Modi of the Indian BJP.

karinlburke-body-politic

Modi’s government is enforcing yoga postures much in the way the third Reich pushed calisthenics. Modi is connected to a government that is selling wide swaths of his country off to global corporations – like Lehman brothers – dispossessing an already starving people living on less than 20 rupees a day. Modi is mobilizing one of the largest armies in the world against some of the poorest and hungriest people in the world. India is allying itself with the U.S. (and Israel) against China, much in the way Afghanistan was drawn into the orbit of the U.S. against Russia in a previous cold war. We’ve seen how that worked out. International Yoga Day is Modi’s nationalist propaganda. It’s then taken up by yoga studios in the west as a very good idea. I bristled. I began to write this all down.

Then the shootings in Charleston happened, and I stopped writing.

*
When I was a little girl, I really wanted a pony. I believed I would – someday, after I rode my pony to Olympian fame and wrote a Book – fall in Love and live happily ever after. I’ve heard that other people dream of being President. Or flying.

I’m a recovering alcoholic and the only woman I know who has two bought-as-wedding-dresses, never worn, hanging in my closet. I haven’t ridden a horse in years.

It seems to me that much of our understanding and practice of yoga is this naive. It amounts to magical thinking. Suffering begins in the mind, says the superficial reading of this stuff: think positively and your suffering will end. Doors are said to open and teachers appear. Wealth is said to manifest. We will, vaguely, thrive.

Magical thinking is self indulgent, petty, and dangerous. It’s a version of spirituality that hasn’t grown up. Most of us stopped believing in Santa Claus and many of the tenets of ‘theology’ a long time ago; the archaic structures of religion no longer seem relevant in our post-modern and post-metaphysical world. We believe in science, after all. The premises of Buddhism, yoga, and ‘mindfulness’ suck us in like Walmart’s halo over a parking lot. Convenient. It’s all the sweetness of soul, with no god in it! We can go for this. We consume it.

And why shouldn’t we? It’s so pretty. Who wouldn’t want to meditate in Costa Rica?

Who wouldn’t buy a product that packages ‘happiness’ backed by modern day science?

We’ve overlooked, or failed to appreciate, the more substantial and difficult teachings of this path. The prior ones. The difficult work of accepting pain as true. Ourselves as self-interested and completely, absolutely, contingent.

Sometimes, pain doesn’t go away. Sometimes we are rejected. We don’t thrive. How could we thrive when we don’t even live up to our own standards? Green smoothies, aside. I used to think I was a pretty damaged piece of work. But any perusal of Barnes and Noble and its oversized self-help, motivational, and DIY sections reminds me I am not the only one.

Yoga students swarm to the teachers who promise 15 day makeovers, personal power, and bliss. The modern popularity of mindfulness isn’t indicative of a healing culture. It only proves how many of us are wounded.

*

Today, in India, a right wing government is pushing yoga exercises. In our Western yoga culture, yogis push yoga in the schools. I am concerned.

Magical thinking is dangerous. It pushes ‘living our truth’ to narcissistic action. It displaces responsibility for doing our own work onto ‘the divine’ or ‘karma’. Magical thinking obverts self inquiry and neglects the suffering of the world.

We are dangerously loose with our stories about what ‘yoga’ and ‘India’ are. We idealize, taking what works for us while dismissing what we don’t want, a kind of buffet style enlightenment. We adopt the names of Hindu goddesses or the sanskrit words for ‘fire’ or ‘space’. We hold big festivals with reggae superimposed on Kirtan and asana teachers signing autographs to applause and sighs. We have no real idea what India is, and tend to forget that Pakistani border, let alone Kashmir and the Tamil, the Maosit uprising, megacity overwhelm and the displaced agrarian community in which IMF and microbank indebted farmers commit suicide and an overwhelming – unthinkable – number of human beings live in famine conditions. We forget that Muslims even live there. If we do remember, we remember only in the context of terrorism;  we wonder what ‘kind’ of Muslims they are.

Tourist yogis who go to trainings and retreats in India send back Instagram pictures of themselves posing in temples, climbing on holy sites, and doing asana in front on the poor street children. Meanwhile, back stateside, the confluence of money and power results in sex scandals. What sells is emphasized over what is honest. Franchised studios shadow Starbucks like a kid brother. Local studios disappear. Advertising goes sexy. Youtube videos teach people to do advanced asana and suddenly orthopedic surgeons and physical therapists are treating yoga injuries as often as hockey injuries. Sweaty, enthusiastic urbanites chant ‘om’ in spa like settings but few of them chant in protests, and while we’re vaguely aware of riots in Baltimore we don’t do anything other than post on Facebook about it. Yoga ‘service’ trips amount to a vacation to third world countries, nominally advocating but really accomplishing about as much damage as Christian missionary work did. We didn’t realize a flash mob style ‘om the bridge’ event in Vancouver would insult First Nations people or inconvenience anybody.

We didn’t think about anybody, at all.

We just wanted to feel whole.

And then the shootings happened in Charleston.

*

In trying to hold the space of the studio open to process the shooting, I felt exhaustion. As though I were holding the walls up with my shoulders. I found myself saying what my teachers have been saying, to me. I get the irony.

What I say as a teacher is always something my teachers have said to me.

I didn’t invent the path.

But I know what it says: Now, the heart is breaking. Now, the teachings of yoga.

*

I say this, often, when I teach: We don’t practice for the good days. We practice for when it gets hard. I’ve wanted to say, in the national debate about mental illness, gun control, and the goddamned confederate flag, that we were racist last week, too. I’ve wanted to say Baltimore. Ferguson. I don’t know a black person who hasn’t lived with racism their whole entire lives, and if I inspect my own life I find it in there, too.

I talk about death and grief and mourning in my classes, I talk about the waste feeling of our busy lives, I talk about fear and sadness. I try to say love and strength and healing, but I say death. Grief. Ghosts. I know that in every single class I teach, there is someone who has lost someone near in the last few weeks. I know this affects a person’s practice for a year and more; I’ve seen it, even if they are so close to their own thoughts and bodies they can’t. I know that in every class there is trauma, financial fear, self-doubt, people who have been rejected, taken for granted, who are afraid to grow old.

I want, sometimes, to say ‘feel how much I love you’. I want to say hope and I end up saying look at your life. I suppose these are the same thing.

*

There is more, subtext. I’ve been full of piss and vinegar at the yoga world in recent weeks. But that isn’t new.

What is new is my own body going through a shift. I had thought my yoga practice and changed lifestyle ‘healed’, mostly, my fibromyalgia. In recent months, the pain has been steady. I’m laid up and a week later I’m laid up again. I feel betrayed. I feel confused. I wonder how I can teach if my body starts to give out. I wonder how seriously I can take the ‘healing’ promises, if I am losing my health. I wonder how seriously I can be taken.

There is more, still. My best friend died this spring. I wasn’t expecting it and I wasn’t expecting how deeply grief would move into my days.

And perhaps it is grief, only. Or grief and physical illness. But I’m watching myself lose my appetite, sleep, motivation. I realize I’m depressed. This makes me angry. I ask someone for a referral for a therapist.

This is the question: did my lifestyle of overwork and physically using my body as a business tool lead to a worsening of my chronic condition? Did grief trigger it? Did depression fray my tolerance of the (always has been there) yoga bullshit to the point of disillusion? What does any of this have to do with the shootings in Charleston, a pair of high heels, a continent I’ve never been to?

My teachers have shrugged. This has felt like loneliness. I keep finding myself standing still in the middle of the room, some forgotten thing in my hand. But I know they are giving me solid, and downright traditional, guidance. They are pointing me back to my own heart, asking me to stay with the question of my life, to answer not with ultimatums or theory but with as honest a next moment as I can stand.

I’ve been telling people, over and over again: yoga began as inner inquiry. Through all of its variations, history, branding. Through all of those flashy characters and Instagram super stars. Through its becoming a mass practice directly because of its association with Indian nationalism.

My writing in the last few months has been hijacked. It’s all about grief. Or perhaps, more truthfully, about friendship. Maybe there is no difference: grief, friendship. When he died, I got a tattoo. This was silly. Also, not. I lay in the back of a tattoo parlor in the East Village and listened to the punk rock we used to listen to, back when the East Village was the East Village and we were 16. I get the irony. The tattoo has words, they say ‘I know I have a soul, because you touched it’. This is what friends do for us. Make us better. Illuminate our stupidity. Give us a sense of home and self. The words of the tattoo are covered with more tattoo, a wordless black band.

The friend is gone and all I’m left with is this shitty tattoo. And when the hard days come, the only thing left is soul. I’d be lying if I said I can wrap my head around this.

It is impossible to step out of my body. It is magical thinking to think that my body is anything but the body politic, that there is not a direct sutra-ed thread between my body and nine other bodies lying dead in a church. There is a direct line between commercialism, economics, and terrorism. I am all tangled up.

It is maturity to know this, to go on loving when the heart breaks. I can’t very well leave the path, if I am it. I might as well have some good shoes. One of the teachers says: if yoga means union, what is it we are joining? And what does that union feel like? I am not writing about rage or morbid grief. I am writing about love.

karinlburke-bw

~

Karin L Burke founded Return Yoga, a non-profit studio, in 2013.  Return subsidizes every class on the schedule to Vets, first responders, high risk populations and all youth under 18.  Now she’s trying to change the way training is done, opening a path to deeper practice rather than a fitness certification.

-

This article originally appeared on Return Yoga and has been republished with permission.

——

Earlier

57 comments… add one

  • Wow! You really spoke to me… I’ve been wondering why I’m so repelled by classes these days and I live in San Francisco where there’s a studio on every street corner. My home practice has become strong and steady in recent years, but lately, I question what it is I’m really looking for in it all; what do those that try to sell it have that I should want? Thanks for letting me know I’m not alone. Though there is WAY too much BS attached – yes, attached – to yoga, I realize the alternative (not practicing) is to fall back into the hell of my life as an addict. Sometimes the practice is all that holds me up; but many times I feel like I’m still falling…

  • Thank you Erik. It is okay to fall. Sometimes we have to fall.

    Whenever something that is personal and abstract is stuck with a pricetag, it’s guts fall out. But there is something under the swill that is real. Stay with that.

    When we look for a teacher, a school, a philosophy, or a practice, we should notice what we’re being offered. Most will promise you happiness. Stick with the ones who offer you truth.

    Bless,
    K

  • Suzi

    What a fantastic article , thank you so much for sharing it. As a teacher and practitioner for over 30 years, I totally get what you are saying, 10 fold.

  • paul

    shoes that reenforce one’s existing sense of identity or shoes to support and assist.. if everything is horrible, every step further sinking into pain and otherwise perpetuating kleśas, yoga too must be horrible and contradictory; may we learn to wear sensible shoes, and when none are more appropriate.. what is called yoga in this article is something seen through a filter, not much what it is; examining what yoga is for, the effects of the filter can be seen, and the filters discarded. this applies to how we look at people, so as we see nationalism in modi, we must also see it in every ‘say can you see’ and election; free trade is the dissolution of nations, being raised on cartoons and dolls means feeling satisfaction is to be found only in homunculi, and the consequences of these, the priorities they create, remain unexamined because to remain unexamined is part of their set up and success, making pain the focus as they offer relief from it, while yoga offers release by taking the filters and rejigging them towards release.

  • inanna

    “what is called yoga in this article is sonething seen through a filter” is rather offensive. you’re without a filter, are you? “your” yoga is more authentic, more definitely yoga, than the writer’s?

    it’s the prevalence of this kind of bullshit that means i am leaving teaching after 15 years, personally. yeah, this is online; people snipe and criticise. it is however perfectly representative of the yoga “community” as a whole, in real, embodied life as well as online.

  • paul

    bye.

  • Ariane

    Thank you for that. Thank you for sharing your truth.
    Sometimes, I’m full of doubts, questions and anger. Sometimes, I have depressive periods, struggling with the past. I started to smoke cigarettes again. Sometimes, as a Yoga teacher, I feel like a fraud because so many people feel inspired by what I’m showing to them. It feels like my true self is very different. And then, I see how people get release from a Yoga class. I see their smile on their faces when they leave the room. And this is ok for me, I understand why I’m doing this and that all the sadness, the anger I have in myself is helpful for my teaching. Because I experienced all those terrible moments, I know what I’m speaking about. Khalil Gibran was saying : “The more sadness is digging your inner Self, the more joy you can contain.” and this is summing it up.

  • Feeling like a fraud doesn’t make you a fraud. It’s a feeling. That students are inspired, taught, and held by you is just as true. We get it mixed up, don’t we? Thinking that as a teacher we ‘should’ be something or other? I do think we should be trying to walk the path we’re teaching. That involves integrity. Which is different than ‘perfection’ in any of the ways it might show up.

    When teachers are idealized, everyone is going to get hurt when the reality comes out. But when the teacher can really do her own work, then she can really look at her students.

  • Shadow me not for aren’t I just light?
    I can’t shake the shadow.
    If I don’t look maybe it will go.
    Never.
    Light & Shadow
    Union.

    Good Shit.
    hOOah

  • Meg

    Your ambivalence towards yoga is felt by many, me included. I had a regionally well-known yoga teacher try to push the BS non-yogic teachings about “the power of positive thinking” on me too, and the more he taught, the more I saw his shortcomings. But don’t we all have shortcomings?

    Mostly I hear your grief. The world isn’t what it should be, it is full of flaws and it is full of pain and injustice. I hear your helpless feeling in the face of it all. And the world seems to be oblivious to it, focused on the mundane activities that are essentially self-centered, while you’re reeling in the ultimate reality. The world is also full of beauty. A hot shower. A sunrise. A soft pillow. A stranger’s smile. The intricate and delicate beauty of a flower, even those pesky flowers that sprout from weeds left unattended, growing through the cracks in the sidewalk we often step over without noticing or noticing in irritation. And so there’s the irony; seek beauty and you will find it. There is some great power in “positive thinking.” There is also great power in applying wisdom as you discern truth from pithy popular nuggets.

    About your disease. Teaching yoga isn’t about using your body. You can teach asana using students’ bodies to model poses, or your words to mold their movements, and your hands to tweak their bodies. Your focus on pain and death right now may be exactly what some students need; go with it. Let the arrow fly from your bow and let it land where it will. And you don’t have to teach exclusively in order to make a living and be able to afford lovely heels to wear!! Maybe the new magazine is less a tool for advertising your studio, and more an opportunity for you to seek other ways to engage yoga as a profession or encourage you to expand your horizons.

    Healing isn’t always about the body. Our hearts, our minds, our spirits, also need to feel the healing light from time to time.

    Namaste :)

  • Kelly

    I loved this article. I own a studio and think these things to myself. Yoga– how did it get here? How did it turn out like this? You nailed it. Thank you

  • Y Headley

    I love the idea of keeping fit. I grew up in Asia over 50 years ago and Yoga was not what it is today. I never read or heard about all these abstract ‘happiness’ magical thinking that is in it now. It was to keep centered and balanced. Very practical and matter of fact. No wonder I am not attracted to it. Shame it has added to the ‘body and mind shaming’ that is going on now. Great article. Thanks.

  • Leah

    Thank you for your honest account of experiences. I often feel the same way as a yoga teacher trying to help students down “the path” only to feel some of it is complete bullshit. When you truly feel the depth of things, I think even the most genuine approach to life, to teaching is even questioned, because there is an over-analyzing that occurs. There is so much suffering out there, outside of our western culture, but, as you say, you’re seeing that we possess our own brand of sickness and suffering, and at the root of a good teacher is the offering of love and being able to “see” it all and still embody that love. Beautiful writing, thank you again.

  • Ann

    I am blown away by this piece…you nailed everything I have been feeling for at least the last year…and yes, I am just raw from all of the hatred, the disconnect..I did training and now I am questioning myself..what for? Thank you a thousand times for saying what needed to be said…

  • Ann,

    maybe you went to training to connect to something that was happening in you. I think what we need is to connect. To what is happening, now. We need to connect to the violence, the strange contortions of yoga culture, and to the grief we feel. We can be present to all of this. We can.

    Karin

  • Terra

    “Yoga” is popular culture now, removed from it’s beginnings, whenever that was, when it was a means of not just health, but also for students and practitioners of sadhana, to reach spiritual goals. I’m glad I started practicing yoga when I did, which was several years ago, before the “yoga” scene happened. I’m grateful to all the teachers I’ve had who’ve shown me how to have a practice of my own, which centers me and supports my mental, physical and spiritual well being. One teacher told me once that it was fine to practice one pose for a day, or however long, just hold it for several minutes, let that be my practice. Others have told me other things, given me sequences in a class, whatever. I’m not a gymnast and I’m not a dancer, I’m a person who enjoys my yoga practice, in a t-shirt and shorts, mostly. Thanks for your article, I hope that you feel better soon and that as a society we all start to deal with whatever vestiges of hatred, racism, whatever, we have, if we have. I wish there was a 12 step program for people who were raised with racism and hatred, it’s so damaging, so awful. I’d like to say one more thing: any teacher who suggests that the events of the world, like Charleston, are “just karma” and that one should not feel upset about it, in my opinion is a fraud. I would say, if your heart is moved in tragedy, listen to it, take care of yourself and do whatever you can to help, even if it’s just sending up prayers.

  • BharatYogi

    Dear Karin,

    Hope you get out of your funk. A powerful 1.5 hour Yogasana-Session, followed by a 10-minute-Shavasana can usually burn-off the greyest of depressions. Not sure, how it is in Yoga, Inc, though !

    Meanwhile, you know very little about Narendra Modi.

    For the 65 Years, since we gained a hard-fought Independence from the vile British in 1947, we have seen an Islamic-Sultanate lording over India (Yes, Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime-Minister of India was a closet Moslem, although he professed to be a Hindu), while our Constitution promised us a democracy all along. To our dismay, Jawahar was succeeded by his daughter, then his grandson, and then his grandson’s Italian-wife, Antonia Maino.

    During the 65 Years of the Jawahar-Islamic-Sultanate, the Hindus of India (80 % of the Population) were marginalized to the point of nonexistence, while the Moslems & Christians of India were enriched, by hideously skewed, cynical, sinister Affirmative-Action-Programs devised by the Jawahar-Islamic-Sultanate.

    Finally, in 2014, Narendra Modi, a commoner, who grew up dirt-poor in the State of Gujarat, won the General Elections with a triumphant Majority, to become India’s ccurrent Prime-Minister. Modi-ji is now going about redressing the grave injustices meted out to the Hindus of India, by the Jawahar-Sultanate. He is helping India regain its lost Hindu-identity, an identity that the Jawahar-Sultanate had systematically attempted to efface for 65 Years.

    And for a 1000 years prior to the advent of the British-Pirates in India, the Hindus of India stood up singlehandedly to the invading hordes of Islamic-barbarians. We suffered ISIS-like atrocities at the hands of Islamic-barbarians, whose evil–actions make Hitler look like an amatuer schoolboy.

    And there were also the evil Portuguese-Pirates, who inflicted unspeakable Horror, upon the gentle Hindus of Goa, India, during the 350-Year-long Goa-Inquisition.

    So, pardon us, if we today maintain a first-rate Army, Navy & Air-Force. We have learned that we must do so, for our very survival.

  • HK

    I hear you, but just because the yoga you’re finding around you isn’t suiting you right now, it’s not ‘bullshit’. Yes, some people are using it for their own ends (cough cough Choudury Bikram) and commercializing it and using it to make themselves into stars and make money off it. That happens.

    I have PTSD. LIke your alcoholism, I will never be over it. It will always be a part of me, just under the skin.

    But it’s no ‘magical thinking’ that yoga has helped me cope. Yoga has made the lows less bad, it has given me tools to pull out of triggered moments. It has given me a way to break through intrusive thoughts.

    It has also given me an amazing appreciation for my body. I have a back injury, and some days I cannot move my left leg. Yoga makes me admire, and be IN AWE of what my body can do, how strong it can be. It has given me a peace within my own skin that is not some new agey self help book gloss.

    Admittedly, 90% of my practice is a home practice, but that’s the point. Yoga is you and the mat. Yoga is your mind and your body. Yoga is your history and your present. And your mat will always be waiting should you choose to return.

  • Jacqueline

    Grief is the price we pay for love. I feel the same way on so many levels . I lost both my parents in the last few years. My asana practice seems to have mostly died with them. After 25 years of practice I never expected that I would feel this way. But for now I just let things go as I work through the very long process of learning how to live life without them.

  • HR

    I sometimes feel this way too. But, yoga was my first taste of something different than what i was used to. It taught me not to run from pain. Not to let it get caught in my body and mind but just to let the weather pass through and accept it. It was my entree into a deep meditation practice and a path of increasing gentleness that has left me looking little like my former self.

    I am using these practices now as I battle stage 4 cancer and contend with the possibility of a very early end to my life (I am 34). I am so grateful that I happened upon yoga in a college gym class, only hoping in those first classes for a nicer figure.

    I look into the windows of the studios I can’t afford to go to full of people in clothes I can’t afford and I really do sincerely believe that there is a message of gentleness heard by some of those people who might not otherwise hear it.

  • Alie

    Blah… Blah ….blah. Do you feel better now? F- your sad BS. You’re not “enlightened” because you recognize it. You’re just lazy.

  • terra

    This comment makes the writer’s point, exactly.

  • Becky

    Rude. So rude and judgmental and unnecessary.

  • Julie

    Thank you for publishing this article. It has helped me to read your thoughts and not feel so badly about being so judge-y. I quit teaching months ago after getting ill. Really ill. I couldn’t show up for students because I felt like it was false even after 13 years of teaching and training and being ‘light’. I had to show up for myself and am finding out what that means. I am bitter and angry about the yoga scene. The quick weekend healings and complete false sense of community just because other people breathe in the same room as you. The yogis around me aren’t yogis. They are people that wear really stylish clothes and don’t eat gluten and know every allergy out there causes inflammation and depression. They are looking for a cure and can’t find it. I am so done with it. I want my old self back when I was studying how everything felt in my body. Call it sadness or depression or whatever label but there is a lot of quitting the biz right now to make room for the young white rich instagrammed my-psoas-is-more-stretchy-than-yours. We have made it this way socially so here is the time to get real and just not call it yoga. It’s a new generation and I bow down to these people and wish them good luck – they sure look great. At this point I am numb to the asanized world because I can’t straighten my arms in a backbend. I quit teaching others because I didn’t want to impress the 1% that can afford this type of fitness. I didn’t quit teaching myself so I am redoing some mistakes and learning all over again. But this time I am not performing. Yoga is done here as I knew it. I am a beginner again. Thank you.

  • A. Kaur

    as a Sikh it was really interesting to read about the connections you are making between your doubts about your yoga practice and its focus on magical transformation and the hypocrisy regarding inequity in the world.

    these were topics that were also addressed by the Sikh Gurus, who challenged the powerful Yogis of their time directly on these topics, head on. the Sikh Gurus explained how meaningless empty ritual practices are, even yoga, if it fails to connect you with the Creator within, where a pose may make you pure on the outside but allow you to remain corrupt on the inside. they also did away with the Hindu caste system and gender inequality and spoke out against superstition. the Sikh Gurus taught that each individual has to transform not just their mind but also their deeds in the world and stand ready to take action to defend the innocent and to selflessly serve humanity.

    so in the Sikh tradition it seems this kind of critique is not new and you should at least feel supported that you are not the first to have questioned a yoga path that may not be sufficient to support one’s journey to become a more moral and ethical person. and i think you would find a great number agree of Sikhs would agree with you on Modi as well.

    because Sikhi has no practice of encouraging conversions, it’s hard to learn about it if you are an English speaker. if you want to know more about the Sikh perspective there are some good videos in English on the Basics of Sikhi youtube channel. (i am not affiliated with them). good luck to you.

  • Thank you for your insights. I’m coming off of a weekend intensive of training — 17th of 20 months. Every trainee discussed past patterns emerging as they practice. Past ways of coping. I wonder what one month trainings do to deal with the inevitable cracking open? The idea that anger is bad and has no place on the mat needs to be transcended. There is room for all of our messiness and until we look at it, we won’t know what’s motivating us. I believe in holding space for 20 months to ground the teachings but more than anything, to really practice self study. To really dig down. This only happens truly after 12-18 months of study in my experience. I am totally happy to share any experience I have around curriculum with you. If it’s of any use to you. I don’t have answers but I have a lot of wondering and a lot of beautiful experience witnessing training.
    Thanks again for thrusting this out into the ethers!
    Allie

  • Deanna

    Perhaps the problem is the ‘Americanization’ of yoga. Yoga by itself is or was okay but now that it has become a huge money maker it has lost its purpose. Like everything, once it becomes a huge commercial success, it dies a small death. I do agree with a lot of what you say and I find that taking yoga at big commercial studios is more depressing than it is healing.

  • jk

    Its been commercialized and practitioners/teachers have (many not all) so totally sold out just to make a living teaching yoga…which is all but impossible for more than a VERY few select group of people who are either young and very attractive or have established themselves as “celebrity yoga teachers”…any promise of being able to teach for a living is false, and is mostly used to get people to sign up for teacher trainings. The trainings are mostly a joke as well…with absolutely no regulation, there is dishonesty and cheating going on everywhere. The expensive clothing and crazy expensive “retreats” are fuel for the out of control fire. Integrity means nothing and there is a steady flow of partially trained “teachers” who have memorized a few sutras and asana names, been to India and call themselves professionals. Sad sorry state of yoga in 2015. I’m about done too…and not because I think I’m better than anyone, but mostly because when it became a sales pitch, groupon deal, competition for business, it became something I do not want to be associated with either.

  • renee

    when you apply the extractive qualities of capitalism to something as whole as yoga it simply works to consume and render pointless the yoga. Yes the problem is selling yoga, packaging it to make it palatable to people living in a “go get it” capitalist world. yoga is a system designed to create peace in ones life, to yoke one to something larger than oneself, but so so many teachers are not mature in their understanding, have no real expereince in much other than a 20 min sit or an occasional over zealous retreat. frankly, they are not capable of teaching yoga beyond asana, and asana is but the smallest even least consequential aspect of the 8 fold path. If people only ever contemplated and sought to practice ahimsa (non violence) they would never need a doctor to help heal their injuries, nor choose a trip for self indulgence over compassion in action. good luck on your path, I truly suggest you stop anything but a basic asana practice and go back to a clear contemplation of the depth of the niyamas’ first. start again, you have lost the meaning of the practice. it is not uncommon and indeed weastern yoga promotes this loss. good luck

  • Doug

    The response is rather simple: do a yoga that is not bullshit.

    And spend less time hanging out with people who talk bullshit.

  • Thanks for your thoughts about yoga. Interesting, even though my yoga is “an inside job” and apolitical. I am a yoga teacher also. I have some ideas about yoga, but I allow it to be anything the student needs it to be at any given time – that could be fitness, healing, restoration, discipline; it doesn’t matter to me what they think yoga is doing – or not doing – for them. If students keep coming, it’s working (on some level).
    I don’t know what it’s like to lose a best friend, but I have had other losses in my life, so I know something about the darkness you are in. I think you will get through this.

  • I just wanted to say thank you for writing this. I am a teacher, and I’ve felt a little disillusioned here lately. I’m having a rough time, and I think that I shouldn’t be. Maybe I’m right where I need to be…just connected into that part of me that wants to hide, protect myself, shut down.

  • Kyla

    I am moved…. inside… which makes me feel… uncomfortable. Emotional. And so naive to the truth of the non sence.. The pain and suffering of young people starving. .. to fill this government profiting lie… is all illusion. The practice of yoga is not tho… The intentions and energy behind it todsy is a lie based foundation. As a seeker of truth myself, recovering junkie for anything that makes me feel good, numb our avoid, stuff, full, neglect abandon. … from drugs to food to relationships and certification.
    I am grateful for your truth. And I honor your journey. I believe the more we know and deeper we find truth….. The heavier it gets and the more grounded we must remain. In only being able to change… ourselves and our attitudes. We must nurture us… first and foremost, then
    … give the over filling excess to others. But walking in truth. Sharing truth. Laughing, connecting to the great mother, gratitude for life, lessons and allowing the human self to feel the tradegy is part of us… my sister died 3 years ago too… and my who world was shaken… deeper than that, my son and baby daddy, gone as well….for a period of time..but my whole purpose. . In life was taken away, when I was not a mom, not a sister and best friend, and no longer someone’s lover. I fell… down and kept digging. My shame was unbare able.

    Life is a journey we sometimes think we r actually better, or worse because e of this ego of the human self…. I struggle. Daily with body image… but I love me, and love that part of me for being apart of my journey. My body isn’t who I am. And
    .. The heart… mind connection I get with the body when I do yoga… and release the emotions embedded in my tissues… I have to remain… in yhe moment because rit hurts… it’s uncomfortable and I just wanna run away. Dig a hole and hide… give up.

    Blessings love.

    The story touch my soul. I thank you for your honest.

    Sincerely Grateful.

    Kyla

  • I am glad this conversation is happening here. I have been practicing yoga for over 20 years and I am now 34, on my way to Bali to begin teaching in an entirely new context, on topics regarding yoga that have long become esoteric. Why are we not gaining profound supernatural powers from our practice? Because we are often staying “safe” in our present condition of image and impression-centric conduct, rolling over in apathy with the excuse to not bother with the journey of enlightenment (“Maybe next lifetime”)…. Well, what if I told you this is it? Clearly there is a HUGE gaping hole in yoga that keeps us feeling unfulfilled in this practice- our very humanity, breaking THROUGH our own truth and finding THE truth is not easy, as we must entertain new thoughts and ideas in regard to our own character and assessments of ourselves, our world, and those around us. All too often, we fail to find an environment, let alone headspace where we feel safe enough to purge our minds of, well straight up defilement, filth, and garbage that weigh upon us as a result of a life of deceptive behaviour. We can not feel too ashamed of this. It will never help us, as it is not our fault we have fallen into so degraded a state. This is indeed the end of the Kali Yuga and You have a friend in me, my partner, and my colleagues who are here to help guide us to the true power of good nature, the one universe, the one truth, and the renewal of the discourse of living practical dharma. Dharma, you may think is a “buddhist” concept. You may not quite “click” over to getting it just by reading my words, but belive me, the unbreakable true law of nature is no religious thing. It is us.

  • surajnarayan upadhyay

    India have a long history of its own teachings it take thousands of year of practice and faith .
    Understanding yoga or its way is difficult
    It is not just exercise of body .for yoga it need a fit BODY to perform internal journey of our own .It is just a part of yoga …west thinks. it is just a cup of coffee for all yes as a good exercise right .

  • Perfect timing. Thank you for articulating and echoing a sentiment with which I have recently been experiencing. Like Erik, good to know I am among others.

    I find myself asking ‘why’. Why am I going through the stress of having a studio, running a small business, etc. Is it to entertain my ego, because I have a natural knack for teaching? Am I really helping anybody? Is it because I revently turned 50 and my priorities and realities have shifted? Questions. Always

    Then I take a deep breath, let out a big sigh and keep going.

    You made some excellent points. Excellent material on which to ponder MY truth.

    Breath… Sigh…

  • razz

    “Modi is connected to a government that is selling wide swaths of his country off to global corporations – like Lehman brothers ….”

    Are you sure about this? Lehman Brothers went bankrupt in 2008/2009. They no longer exist.

  • carolyn

    Karin, I like your article. Thank you for your honesty. I am sorry for your loss of your best friend and that you are dealing with a dark night your soul. I love yoga and I go in spurts with it. I do find it trendy and another way for vegans to announce their superiority to the masses. I find it sad that many yoga classes delete the spiritual part of it. Secular yoga is as appealing to me as a reality show. UGH! I also find too many gurus with hard dicks who view their students as prey which makes going it alone more appealing. I am one of those fat girls who yoga teachers and students usually stay clear of and cringe when I enter. I also love the rolling eyes and chronic judgments. Yet, I still love yoga especially the connection with myself. And for the commentator who had the snide remark about enlightenment. Dude, one is not enlightened especially those who brag about being it. And if you were – you would be dead….probably by execution. Enlightenment is a process, an on-going process, for the living.

  • To those teachers commenting here that feel disenchanted with Yoga in the West and feeling like leaving the profession, aren’t you the teachers that should stay? Yoga has arrived in the western world not all that long ago and it has not had time to mature. Many of us teaching have wounds and are learning and healing as we go. We started more asleep than we are now, and awakening is a journey of which we are all at different stages. When I was first introduced to Yoga, I went on the positive psychology band wagon because to some degree it helped me, I went to India and stayed in an ashram and yes I was, and to a degree still am oblivious to the political issues raised in this article (thank you for bringing awareness). Eventually I discovered shadow work and I took a long painful look at myself and I realised that that was the route to finding the authentic me and the real path of transformation. Now I try to bring that to the way that I teach Yoga. I believe Yoga helps people living in a very stressful society, relax, and relaxation is the foundation of happiness so I do promote some of my courses as bringing more joy and happiness. Personally I have so much more joy, happiness, self esteem, strength and love from doing shadow work and so why not promote that as a benefit? I also write and talk about witnessing pain and the difficult times as a path to growth. Surely as Yoga teachers mature in their practice, Yoga itself will mature in the west.

  • Beautiful, powerful and true. What to do? Change the way yoga is taught. It’s the only response. Take yoga out of the studios and back into the homes. Take it from a culture of disempowerment and into one of real relationship, support and empowerment. Put the heart back into yoga.

  • John Kortmulder

    Thank you for beautiful words. I agree with the early part and then the 2nd part is personal, it makes me care. Don’t change your song, it sings. True yoga teaching honors the individual and the differences which require healing. The beauty is that yoga can heal a hamstring and a heart, a meniscus and a mind. Healing is not only owned by each individual but also part of the great continuum. I’m lucky to have left NYC and am teaching farmers, mountain people, people of faith, and folks who try to make a life here in central Virginia. No rock star yogis, no Costa Rican retreats, no lulu- yogis attend in khakis, shirts, basic gym stuff. Take heart b/c there is Microcosmic Orbit happening in the midst of God fearing, every family has a veteran, far from the Cosmopolitan Crowd, rebel yelling Virginia. We’re not pretzels but we don’t break like breadsticks. Our sangha is a safe place.

  • Thank you for this. I teach yoga in Charleston, SC. So much of this touched me. Thank you for writing.

    I too find it so strange that we talk about magical thinking but not about the actual human experience. I find comments like “listen to your body” and “invite in abundance” or “transform your pain into bliss” to be so silly and maddening. What do those directives actually mean?

    The concepts behind them need to be explained and backed up in some way, otherwise the are confusing and best and at worst don’t really mean anything and can be harmful.

    I try really hard to create a place where my students can feel both challenged and supported. Both in my classes and in my writing.

    We have to look at the pain and sit with the suffering if we want to be whole. We can’t just gloss over it with jargon. I feel like it is misleading and misguiding students if we simply teach happiness and bliss.

    In my experience looking at the pain actually does lead to more happiness in many ways – a happiness that is honest and raw and not sugar coated or surface level. I hope my students can feel that too.

    Thank you again. Much love.

  • Rudradasi

    Dear Cosm, my heart offers compassion for your experience in the hue-man apex between illusion and reality, yoga and separation. Every day we glimpse the ‘dying’ of our loved ones, ‘separation between us and Source,’ judgement/perversion of false idols, politics, the ills of societal genocide with food and toxins, gender sexualization, and other actions Ill to ourselves, each-other and our dear Mother Earth. I also appreciate your voice in the crux of a dark, yet enlightening age and your light in the will to be the Great Work while learning from the artificial matrix we are living in. Meanwhile, from one beloved cosmic child to another as well as a yoga guide whose first training included teachers whose traumatized egos ran them way off center into oblivion, I see what you are saying. Here is what I’m expressing. Who wouldn’t experience wanting to kill themselves in a daily demonic genocide of an artificial reality and its nefarious illegalities on hue-man family and Universal consciousness, unknowing in the puzzle of societal conspiracy coupled with the paradoxical in-phase-out-phase with the Love of Creator who created flies, and lions, and whales? No matter what we invent it can never be anything like Jah creating His Soul through Nature. So what IS the point?

    We are deep in the singular blink of duality in the abyss of the One Great Unknown. Everything is true or holy lies, from the One Source, because it is all ways God (Unnamable, Unfathomable) all of the time. Something larger than your perspective created you, and all around you, beautifully, and you chose to be here. Some people are more aware of this Beauty because their filter is less clogged with false illusions of the mind-emotion setup, especially in the affirmation of the illusion itself, which is the most dangerous (why is Buddha or any other Jagadguru found drunk in Love, smiling?) The mind is one of the hardest things to control if you think it is. ‘What you think you become,’- Buddha. Be clear I am not talking about positive-thinking, I am expressing from beyond the I-AM-body-mind identity complex and the universal sacred science of being the creator of your reality. Your unconscious mind runs you rampid with every shi**y or praiseworthy thing someone did, said, moved, to you or another, or Maka-Gaia. The 8 limbs are all important for self-realization, and the first two can be extremely challenging (if you think it is). (So many great masters even while on the arduous mountain climb skyward even when death seemed more promising than life, His Grace yielded another possibility inside of them, one of a gorgeous mountain view, and thus they kept climbing.) Any little mental/emotional shaft of pain or joy you cord to this condition or that person is like an energy vampire waiting to suck you in away from the center of Love that You truly Are, back into the same habits of Ludacris, circular stagnation, and complexity at the base of the mountaing that doesn’t serve you. Every emotion that pulls you away from your notion of Home is an electro-magnetic response that is a part of your physiological-psycho-spiritual, holographic programming where you need to cut out the programs that are creating density and tension and re-program. ‘It is not so important where you stand rather than what direction you are facing,’ and as all these great expressions flow ‘if you can’t bend you will break.’ I do have the answers inside of myself somewhere deeper, deeper inside of myself and so do you. Blessings to those courageous enough who kill their mind to see in Light. And the rarity of the fall of the golden gurus is because nobody needs to teach us anymore that We Are That or that Her Love is inside of US. Our minds are integrating with our vessel and with our soul where the completion of wholeness is Here and Now.

    But as a yogic guide, it is imperative that I breathe on the brighter side of Life. Light isn’t here to cast away darkness it’s here to demonstrate It-Self and perhaps this is the only truth the world will ever evolve wholly with. And of course we all understand darkness in some form or formlessness etc. I don’t have time to go into the past of my traumatizing fearful 3D reality programming nor would I ever make time for it again. In my consciousness it is the greatest blessing because my awareness is so in-sight-full and then some. If you choose to see the wrongdoings of life and feel a charge somewhere inside, realize you are in a state of false separation. The false hope in the change of the illusionary darkness to light (it is all Light, All God) is giving power to the darkness being that powerful, how is this approach yogic? There are degrees of falsity and illusion. This has nothing to do with moral objectives and thus how could it be about them being wrong and us right? It took me a long time to feel the emitting of Love to those who have disobeyed the Beauty of Universal Love and Light (in my mind). I had to create space for ultra-healing in myself so I can reach a state of clarity, coherency, and balance in His Love all ways. There is nothing else for me. Even while all the madmen rant on about darkness it is their reality that is dark. They are my brothers and sisters still and I will walk in truth and Light among them. Too many hue-mans are conditioned focusing on the dark rather than entrusting that Source and Supreme Love IS the Only One; the Way. ‘Love All Ways and All Ways are True’ because when it comes down to IT, nobody knows what we are doing here, and we know how we feel. This isn’t hippie, mombo-jambo this is devotional, sacred discipline, and the science of yogic initiation that ignites with that discipline practice. Hopefully those courageous enough focus inward toward Source beyond the mind, thoughts, emotions, and create space to realize Self, which will never become alive if there are too many chaotic and contraindicating vibrations in the mental/emotional field or other energy body fields. This life will never be understood completely by the narrow trajectory of the mind, and the mind serves well when you calm it through the settling of its activities and function (Yoga Sutra, 1.2). The space between the thoughts, between the pauses of breath and the void behind the stars is the auspicious blessing Yogic portals open. The chaos of entropy is anything but your natural disposition, and believing in such as your identity (I am sad, I am happy, I don’t like this but I like this, I have cancer, I don’t) defies all yogic principles. In fact trying to ‘step out of your body’ is absolutely magical thinking because why would you want to step out of your body when it is the vessel to do the Great Work In. Be mindful what you affirm as your reality. Everything is God, from small-business studio to Lululemon to Nationalist Propaganda and your emotional accord to such has no influence on anyone else’s reality but yours! Yoga is the releasing of slipknots not the entanglement of such.

    Your article writes what the ego or mind would bring instead of your hearts knowing (something we are delighting in transcendence thereof). Feelings that move one further from Source than closer to IT should check in to their deeper Higher Self for reflection not action. Please understand, I am not advocating for the ignorance in violence, child-abuse, sex-trafficking, poverty, etc. I am advocating for the sole Solution of what GAIAM would do Herself to shift consciousness and have it so Light it magnetizes the zombies out of their sleep. I adhere to the virtuous principals among the traditional sutures of yogic science texts. The feelings of separation and deep desire for global social justice is our nature, ever-expanding and our natural drive is forward, outward, and unified not separate. Our Yoga is moving inward to the zero-point, cleaning so we can receive uploads in His Love and Grace, and share only that in the Universe, beaming every star-dust galactic lattice that create these multi-verses. With this Divine Light we influence those around us to Love and be loved because it is naturally contagious and gorgeously infectious. Every moment is a purposeful choice to face Jah Love and this Great ever-evolving mystery or the illusion that ‘gets in the way.’ Why damn anything? Whether it is what he/she said, what we didn’t do, what they did, energy goes there because your attention is there. We would evolve so much faster if we were more gentle and loving on ourselves and others while having one-pointed focus in the direction that functions and flows which is Spirit and Her Children and Her Childrens’ creative dreams, all of them. This is unconditional Love by the way. Unification can only surface once all the whole parts come together for Completion. Every moment we have is a choice to feel the seeds of two feelings, Love and opposite of Love, could be fear. These cultivations of energies within and the ones we choose to move with into the next, present moment will be the demonstrative orient for future life and generations. Whichever side you weigh on, you are choosing to believe in its illusion and make it real. Please understand I am not saying do not express your feelings, or that sorrow has no justification so just smile, or refrain from activism of a good thing, the opposite actually. Have awareness of what the true Yogic Masters sacrificed their lives to demonstrate. They are so wise in their awareness of the darkness but never see it conquer the Mastery of Divine Presence (insert Nadi Shodhana here– a breathing technique that balances the left and right hemispheres of the brain, balancing the breath body while activating Kundalini ascension to beyond time-space.) To all sides remain equivocal and compassionate just as the Sutras wrote. Of course you can decide to become so attached to what they did, or what is going to happen, or that our world is lunacy or Beauty. What does it matter but whichever light you will choose to embody and manifest? It is all between You and Source anyway, we wake alone and die alone. Also, please understand none of this is true for truth is only steadfast, and I will die one day, but they are holy lies transient; & this is the blessed gift from Jah. Blessings, Love all ways.

  • Absolutely beautiful. Just a gorgeously open, honest, courageous, vulnerable, truthful piece of writing. Thank you for speaking from that place.

  • conradg

    The author confuses her own magical thinking with yoga, which does not operate by those principles. If she were into quilting, I’m sure she’d impose her own magical thinking process on that too. She projects herself into yoga, rather than allowing yoga to project itself to her, and reflect back to her the flaws in her thinking. All the doubts and questions she has are a product of doing yoga – not because yoga is magical thinking, but because it reflects back to us our own inner state. That’s part of the purifying process that anyone who takes up yoga should expect. A good yoga teacher will tell their students about this purifying process, and tell them to welcome it and engage it, but not to buy into the doubts. Just observe them, feel them, and release them. That can be very hard, but it’s what yoga is really about. Not looking pretty in Lulumon skintights.

    All the political commentary about Modi and so on amounts to pointless associations. Yoga has been around for thousands of years. It’s survived all sorts of political regimes far worse than Modi. You might as well boycott Volkswagon because they came out of Nazi Germany and Hitler’s idea of a “people’s car”.

    Bottom line is yoga is just yoga. It’s not a panacea, and it’s not magic. It’s a method for feeling into one’s deepest self and releasing all that is not That. It’s difficult and at times painful, not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually. That’s a feature, not a bug. It’s probably a good thing for people whose magical thinking orientation has perverted yoga into something else, to take a step back for a while and fast it. But the most important thing to do is observe oneself and gain self-knowledge, rather than project one’s fears and anger onto either yoga itself, or other people, politicians, and teachers. Yoga has the wisdom to recognize our own role as central to everything we experience, even seeming “others”. That’s the yoga one can do, even if one steps back from the business and the asanas, which are far from essential, merely one of many useful tools.

  • This was a beautifully written and thoughtful piece!

    It had a richness to it, a gonzo-journalistic quality.

    Remember, yoga moves the winds in funny ways. You are questioning the right things. Just keep aligning yourself with goodness: good people, good practices.

    There’s still a lot of positive teachings out there in the yoga world.

    Reading your article was like attending a wonderful yoga class! These are the things you should say in your classes, be real, get political, stand up for what’s right.

    Thank, just thank you for this. You speak for many.

    Pranams,

    Casey

  • John Smith

    You’re an untouchable – you should NOT be doing any Yoga to begin with. You worship a worthless charlatan jew with a pike up its ass (jesus the bastard). Learn your place cunt. If you really want to do Yoga, you can start by shining shoes of Indians in the US. Maybe getting some tea as well while you’re at it (don’t forget the cardamom you twat).

    Further, a filthy untouchable like you can never even begin to understand what Yoga is. Leave the Yoga to the humans (Hindus). Subhuman mongrels like you (jews/christians/muslims) should stick to genocide, theft, rape, and pillage.

  • Yogicookie

    Thank you for the realness of this article. Many yogis I know (and I am guilty of this too) try so hard to be perfect. To be the ideal image of a yogi. Thank you for being so raw and real. It was hard and discomforting to read, as a yoga teacher, as someone who loves yoga.

    I always try to be aware. I try to be a better person. Thanks for the inspiration and dose of realism today.

  • Catarina

    This is amazing. Your path is human. You showed humanity and it is absolutely all_right. We come into this world to live learn and teach, and there isn’t anything absolute. Praises for all you’ve done for your students and shedding light into reality ; you know the breathing never hurt. ❤️

  • Thank you for this Karin. Everything you said spoke to my heart. I am African-Canadian and grew up with first generation Ethiopian parents. I too am a Yoga teacher and have a Yoga Youth Program that is geared towards helping kids not simply just “stretch” and “de-stress” but become socially conscious contributors to the world. I too, feel frustrated by the complete disregard of the people suffering around us and throughout the world, the white-privilege that seems to have raped the very culture that Yoga sits within, the term “white-knuckle grip” used in classes I attend (for the record, my knuckles don’t turn white/beige or lighter at all), and of course the idea that you can “wish, think, believe” your way out of shit. I too believe that Yoga at it’s best is about inquiry, self-reflection and becoming aware of your own crap, while still throughout showing others grace, love and support. Fact being, doing “nothing” is still doing something and probably the worst act to partake in. Thank you for such a thought provoking read and for speaking from a voice that sounds like the real “change-makers & doers.” The MLK’s, the Gandhi’s and incredible activists of our past. Thank you from my heart to yours.

    Selam
    http://www.selamlovewellness.com

  • all good

    Yoga is something I have been practicing for about 18 years on and off, sometimes more intense and sometimes less. But what I see around me now a days, maybe because of the internet (i don’t know) had almost turned me off or at least a bit sour towards it.

    I have been feeling like yoga is becoming an addiction to replace feeling something real, doing something real or being addicted to something else. Also it is the “in” thing to do. And yes, i agree that so much is wrong with these instagram yogagirls that give of the false vibe of having it all and being enlightend. The purest form of propaganda, when people don’t even realise that what they do has a counter effect..It is all become big business, good money. But every book I read about yoga has the same info when it comes down to it. It’s almost hollow and empty. And doing the act of yoga asana every day, promisses so so so much more than it can deliver, for real. Yes it has good sides to it, but it’s not “secret magic” that anyone can do. The magical thinking aspect has grown WAY out of proportion.
    But my home practice feels good, I am my own guide and don’t follow all the young playfull yogateachers that have been doing yoga for about as long or less long than me and come off almost like therapist super gymnastics. It is off putting. Though I have to admit, I do watch some on YouTube and their tips have helped me to correctly perform some asanas. It’s not all bad, just like it’s not all good.
    That is how I feel about it all.

  • Michelle

    Thank you Karin ! Your honest analysis about the commercialism of yoga (and mediation, mindfulness and in some cases Buddhism for that matter) in the midst of a spiritually starved world is in itself enlightening. The questions you ask resonate with me as I have been asking myself the same questions. My colleagues chastise me for doubting what is apparently supposed to be “the absolute truth” – a truth with hundreds of interpretations and a billion dollar clothing and materials market. I reply that if yoga is a science, then it should be held to scrutiny as any scientific discipline is. And that begins with questioning what we know. Otherwise it’s a religion like any other, and unfortunately there will be and are fundamentalists among us. As you mentioned, most of us turned to yoga to get away from that. Perhaps we just have to see human nature for what it is. A question I often ask myself is: Is my spirituality not perhaps the cause of my mental illness? Not many people would get that if I said it out loud. I will remember yours and your teachers words: I did not invent the path. Thank you!

  • Yoga is powerful and it gives peace to our mind. It is also helpful for body fitness. Yoga is truly awesome.

  • Lynn

    Wow I think your a lot younger than me and you can’t use magical thinking. Is your world that magical you don’t need it? It is fantasy, and positive thinking moves into positive action. it sounds like you are mixed up with the wrong crowd. People who look to yoga to fill their wallets, and sell something. You need to get back to basics, and get rid of those stuffy shoes in your closet. After all they are all to impress someone else. get a pair of canvas sneakers, and some stretch pants at target. You will be a happier person when you stop hanging out with people who yo have to impress.

  • Cherise

    Thanks Karin. Appreciated your eloquence and bare-nakedness on the page, and could feel the impact of the loss of your friend on you. The teacher that inspired me the most to practice, and eventually take my yoga teacher training, was someone who shared her deepest quest of being real and authentic in her enquiries – about life, the universe, and everything. I felt such inspiration around her, deeply nourished by her heart so present in everything she brought to teaching and training me to become a teacher. I watched as she dealt with the grief of a long-term relationship come apart due to her deeper questioning, then as her mother was killed in a freak accident, then descending into profound depression. At one point we were sitting together talking through things and she cried out to me “yoga doesn’t work!” I was stunned. I didn’t know what to say back to her. What was yoga supposed to do about these profound losses? How was it supposed to work? She quit teaching at that point. Sold the studio she had been running for 6 years. I missed her teaching so much, and haven’t found another teacher since that I’ve responded to in the same way. But I’ve kept teaching, and practicing in my own way. Which is pretty low key… listening to my breath, feeling it fill my body, feeling it sigh back out. Wait for the impulse to move. Move. Breath some more. Oftentimes feeling I’m just being lazy, not a serious practitioner of yoga at all. But then, maybe I’m not. I love what was revealed in me when I began to practice with my now retired teacher. That was just continuation of me seeking the ‘further’ that life contains. I don’t expect yoga to work, not as some outside set of practices overlaid on my body, magically performing amazing feats and healing all my messiness. I’d like it if tree pose automatically brought me balance in everything I do. But I still fall over.

    So thanks again, clearly you’ve struck a deep chord with your brave disclosures. Best wishes to you.

  • DD

    Yes, of course your lifestyle of overwork and the grief you experience in the face of death exacerbated your fibromyalgia. Yes, having health issues that are out of control will impact a person’s confidence in teaching what is generally thought of as a health-supporting practice, and I definitely wouldn’t feel right teaching if I weren’t doing what was needed to keep my health optimum. (And yes, of course I realize that not everything is within our control. But knowing what is is an essential component of health maintenance, especially for people with chronic illnesses.) As a practitioner, nothing comes before my health, and since I pay a lot of money for yoga, I get very annoyed when teachers don’t take care of their mental and physical health, which is something I have seen a lot of. If that sounds brutal, I’m sorry, but it’s time for people to start growing up and stop criticizing themselves for the things that are beyond their control and shrugging responsibility for the things that are. I had all of these thoughts you’re expressing about the BS of western yoga when I began at 18, almost 20 years ago. I’m not trying to sound high and mighty, it’s just that the writing was on the wall from the get-go. It doesn’t mean it’s not a fantastic thing in myriad ways, after all, here I am, decades later, in profoundly better shape and much more emotionally well. But that’s taken a lot of work off the mat. Positive thinking is a very powerful thing. It needs to be evoked at the right times, not just because some yoga poster told you to, and I get that reading the memes in the midst of a dark night of the soul isn’t exactly “inspiring”. But anyway. Some aspects of the industry have gotten worse. But at the same time, they haven’t. Everything is as wonderful and horrible as it ever was, as it ever will be. Welcome to life on planet earth. Yoga is evolving in its own right in the west and Why on earth shouldn’t it have the right to exist and flourish here despite being conceived of elsewhere. Part of someone else’s religious paradigm. It’s interesting, and I’ve actually studied it academically, but in the end, who cares? It is what it is and its evolving organically, there isn’t exactly a single governing body saying “yoga must be this and not this.” I mean, there are limits, but I think approaching it all with a sense of humour is helpful. What is yoga?what was yoga? Well, it’s something else now, sometimes, and there’s nothing anyone can do to stop that. It would hardly be the first time a tradition spread somewhere else and became something else in the process. Is it morally superior to get all glum about yoga meaning nothing more than fitness to some westerners just because millions of people in India live in poverty? It sounds like a silly question, but that is the message I’m getting here. Yes, I know. Awareness. Personal journeys. Whatever. Do your job. That’s what the yoga teachers of old would have told you.

Leave a Comment