Why I left yoga (and why I think a helluva lot of people are being duped)

Like millions of Westerners out there, I too joined the yoga bandwagon about eight years ago after trying out my first Bikram class, moving on to Moksha and then settled at a hot yoga studio which practices all types of yoga in a hot space.

I too fell in love with how yoga made my body feel after a particularly tough workout.

I too fell into the pseudo-spiritual aspects of the practice.

And, finally I too got burned out by the practice, disillusioned and at times, even disgusted at the people who I thought should be setting an example to the rest of us but turns out that they are even more messed up than you realize and the yoga was just an effective cloak to hide their true nature and personalities.

For me, it was and always will be the health benefits of yoga which attracted me and still keeps me around but I also, perhaps in my naïveté, thought the people who were a part of the scene would be as sincere as they appeared to be. I had read every book out there, was thoroughly sick of the new age charlatans claiming to have psychic abilities all in the name of Mr. Dollar and selling their wares, whether it was books, weekend retreats or $1000 seminars and very disenchanted with what the so-called “good life” of a westernized professional was offering (it’s a formula, no more) . With yoga, I finally felt that I found something authentic, based on authentic teachings, plus I was feeling great afterwards. The people seemed nice; they had read and kept quoting all the great seers and sages of the centuries. Aurobindo, Vivekananda, Ramakrishna, Rumi, Hafiz and more recently, writers like Eckhart Tolle. They were into the green movement, recycling and genuinely concerned about Mother Earth. They wear Toms and donated to legitimate foundations like Unicef, Right to Play etc.

But a few nagging observations wouldn’t leave me.

1) First of all, I’m of Indian heritage. I’m brown. You look at me and you know I’m ethnic. I speak the language and still have many extended family members there and have gone back often. By and large, and I’m generalizing since it’s not always the case, but yoga in the West is increasingly becoming a trendy diversion for the affluent and bored or those who are obsessed with the body beautiful and the cult of hedonism which follows that.  Now I see yoga branching out in such things like “Chocolate Yoga” or “Trance Dance Yoga”, where in short, the culture of the nightclub or rave is being super-imposed on yoga. India is still deeply conservative socially. Arranged marriages are still the norm in the villages and were also the norm in the big cities until maybe 20 years ago. Binge drinking, sexual promiscuity and drug taking, which are elements of the club culture are strongly frowned upon and considered socially unacceptable in many social circles in India but yet it is being passed off as something that is a part of yoga by North American suburban kids and marketers looking for the next big trend, when that is just not true.

yoga-rave-atlanta

2) It is extremely classist. It lacks plurality and inclusiveness. I do not see many people of blue-collar backgrounds who can afford these classes on a regular basis and many of them are precisely the ones who could probably benefit the most from yoga. Most of the studios in my city charge around $1200 for an unlimited yearly membership.  That’s serious coin. I can hardly  envision a stressed, single mother trying to raise her kids on social assistance being able to afford that when she probably needs the benefits of yoga more than the pampered trophy wife who just returned form her 5-star shamanistic initiation retreat in Bolivia. I walk into most of my yoga classes and I see nothing but a sea of white faces, maybe the token black and Asian. Some people may read that as a racist statement but I’m not trying to be racist and this isn’t a reverse racism argument either, it is just my observation. Yoga in North America caters to the affluent and is falling in line with the capitalist system of profit. It is increasingly distancing itself from the roots of yoga.

I can barely make out one non-Caucasian at this Bikram yoga training session.

If anyone can find a non-Caucasian here, let me know.

3) It is really annoying watching some white people try to act ethnically brown when they are not and they never will be. Intention is everything here. I can understand there is a difference between cultural appreciation and cultural appropriation, but when the Pussy Cat Dolls show up in saris at some premier, you have to ask yourself, what the intention here is.

Pussy Cat Dolls at the 2008 Fashion week Fashion Rocks concert

Pale women with Shiva tramp-stamps do not look good in saris doing Bollywood dance moves or wearing bhindis especially if they have freckles (Like, really).  For Indian women, this is part of their cultural heritage and identity, not some gimmicky hip trend to try out and pose around in until the next trend shows up.

Happy woman dancing in sari

5) Sanskrit, like Latin, is a dead language. Let it go already. The Catholic Church let go of the Latin Mass after Vatican II back in the early 1960s. Chanting in Sanskrit does not make you look cool nor does it make you an automatic Hindu. Or an authority on yoga, Vedic studies or Indology (Yes, that is a real academic subject). Nor does having a made up Sanskit-derived moniker name make you any more real either with names like Blissananda, Ganeshananda, Serenityananda etc.

Ganeshananda – I’m wondering how many Indian followers does he have?

6) Just because it’s exotic does not mean it’s real or more authentic. Real Indians, in India make fun of many Westerners behind their  backs  and are making money off of their ignorance. Do you see real, native Indians in the fancy, expensive ashrams in India? No. Do you see many native Indians “following” your Guruji? Probably not.  Do you see many Indian women at these open air clothing-optional Tantric weekend couples workshops in Hawaii? Did you ever ask why not?

I’ll let you in on a little secret. Many, many of these so-called gurus and God-men (and women) of India are scam artists but because their ashrams and centres bring in so much, much-needed cash and tourist dollars, the Indian government looks the other way and in fact, are in on it too. There is nothing spiritual about it. It’s a cash cow and they are milking many Western followers of yoga for all they can get. Not always, I’m generalizing. There are some authentic teachers left in India but they’re usually just minding their own business and not interested in selling anything or proselytizing people. Unfortunately, the former is happening more frequently than the latter.

(I heartily recommend anyone who is interested in this topic to watch this BBC documentary on Sai Baba called “The Secret Swami”.)

Another yogi who pretty much indirectly admits Caucasians are inferior to Indians is Bikram Chowdhury. In his 60 minutes interview  he said that the intense physical aspects of Bikram yoga is more “suitable” to  North Americans because they need to discipline themselves physically before they can start  on the spiritual and psychic and that it’s not necessary for Indians.  That somehow the physical and mental make up of Caucasians is different from Indians and therefore they need to do an additional step of rigorous physical training before attempting anything spiritual. Does anyone  see the double-speak and double-standard here? ( at 1:15 and 10:10)

Bikram Chowdhury on 60 Minutes

They are promising you Enlightenment just as long as you pay up or keep giving enforced “donations”, but it does not work that way. Why do you think celibate Buddhist monks devote their entire lives living in monasteries under vows of poverty, living off of alms trying to achieve Enlightenment? Because it’s excruciatingly hard work and it takes a lot more than a weekend retreat or two plus reading a best-seller to get there.

Thai Forest Tradition Buddhist monk

7) Yoga can become cultic very quickly and the levels of self-absorption and narcissism can sky-rocket easily if you don’t watch it so keep your radar tuned in.  I have heard stories of certain Jivamukti yoga instructors threatening to cut off friendships with other yoga instructors from other traditions because they were not completely vegan.

Really folks? That’s all you can worry about and think about? There’s a nuclear reactor in Japan which is about to fail and spells disaster for the West coast of North America. Workers in Greece, Spain, Ireland and Portugal are on the frontlines fighting technocrats and bankers who are trying to rob them of their right to live in some semblance of dignity and respect. There’s a Maoist insurgency in central India and peasants are trying to keep their land from mining companies and THIS is what you have to bicker about?

A woman runs from anti riot police during a demonstration in central Athens, Greece

8) The level of cultural awareness among some of the yoga set is pitiful at times and yet this is the same crowd that tries to come off as cultural and spiritual mouthpieces for that sub-continent. It is truly a subcontinent, with vast differences in culture, religion, diet, language, customs, and history. The only commonality you will find among Punjabis, Gujaratis, Marathis, Rajasthanis, Bengalis, Tamils, Goan, Keralites, Nepalis, Uttar Pradeshi, Kashmiri, Assamese, Ladakhs, Orissians etc is possibly the brown skin, if that. Once upon a time, all these provinces and territories were their own kingdoms and countries and were amalgamated and consolidated into one state and created into “India” by the British. Think of them as entirely different countries with their own unique identities. You wouldn’t mix up a Pole with a Russian (and if you did, they’d probably punch you), so why should you mix up a Tamil with a Punjabi?

You have no idea how annoying it is to hear some girl at the yoga studio look at you and say “Oh, I have an Indian friend and her parents made her get married to some computer engineer in San Jose and she had to get this thing signed with witnesses, what’s that about?”

Me: “Was she Sikh?”

Girl: “No, I think she’s Muslim”.

Me: “Well, I’m Sikh so I’m not really sure”

Girl: “But she’s Indian, just like you.”

Me: “Yeah, but we have many different religions in India and practise things differently…”

And it just goes downhill from there….

In the end, I began to see how vacuous the scene was becoming and has become. I still love the feeling I get after doing a session but I just can’t stand to be around the high-school popularity contest atmosphere which has permeated many of the studios these days and some of the more vapid personalities who are claiming to be instructors and taking advantage of their privileges.

yogagroupstockphoto

I know they are not all like that, there are some genuine well-meaning people in that community and some of them are truly doing outstanding work like outreach into prisons and so forth. But for me personally, I’m questioning the profit-driven, hedonistic aspects which seems to have taken over the subculture.

Yogadork recently had an article asking if yoga needs to grow up.

In short, yes. Big time.

Addenda: I will no longer post any comments which quite obviously show that the poster has not taken the time out to either read or watch the links I provided below nor took the time out the read the comments already posted in their entirety but instead feel their drive-by analysis and knee-jerk reactions suffice as a form of discussion.

Other Links

Diversity Training: Do Yoga teachers and YTT programs need it?

Sacred Justice: Where Yoga, Solidarity & Activism Meet (Workshop review)

Let’s Try This Again…

To anyone who needs to understand the difference between anger and hate, sexism, racism, and white privilege.

Why cultural appropriation hurts

Yoga and the exclusion of people of color

Why I really want to give up on yoga

Why I will Never give up on yoga

For anyone who needs to understand WHY issues of cultural appropriation, inclusion and plurality is not about visible minorities “getting over the whole race thing” but rather understand that this is a “white problem”, please watch these videos of “The Color of Fear” (and if you can find a copy of the entire film it is well worth your while) as well as this documentary, “You are Here: Exploring Yoga and the Impacts of Cultural Appropriation”.

This article is offered under Creative Commons license. It’s okay to republish it anywhere as long as attribution bio is included and all links remain intact.

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229 thoughts on “Why I left yoga (and why I think a helluva lot of people are being duped)

  1. Linda-Sama

    Let’s get it out of the way: I hated Eat Pray Love. And I understand everything that you’re saying because I’ve written about the same thing (i.e., what yoga has become in the West, no diversity, etc..). I am a white woman of a certain age who travels to India yearly to study at a yoga school in Chennai. Believe me, I know I will never “blend in” in India, but I wear salwar kameez most times and I would in no way attempt to wear a sari without guidance on how to wear one than I would wear a mini skirt in Fallujah.

    But I would have to take exception to what you say about it being mostly Westerners who follow the God-men of India. Just to see what was what since I had seen some of his videos, I did a 4 day “Inner Engineering” retreat at Sadguru’s Isha Yoga Center in Coimbatore, TN. http://www.ishafoundation.org/ — most of the participants were Indian men. I won’t get into a review of the experience, but it was freaky. The ashram was like a 5 star hotel, but the atmosphere was damn freaky and I could not wait to leave.

    And look at the followers of Swami Nithyananda — Indian. http://www.speakchennai.com/index.php/tag/swami-nithyananda A friend of mine in Chennai attended one of his retreats and she wasn’t impressed. My friend now tells me that Swami is selling “instant enlightenment” for a couple of lakhs. So it’s not all Westerners with their heads up their assanas.

    I could go on, but I won’t. Just want to say, I hear ya.

  2. Linda-Sama

    p.s. this is what I consider real yoga…. interesting that he says no “yoga teachers”, other than one who used to be a pro wrestler, would help him. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qX9FSZJu448

  3. earthenergyreader

    Hi Linda,
    It’s not just Westerners, it’s everywhere nowadays. While I don’t doubt there may be genuinely spiritually enlightened persons in India as anywhere else, it’s become a bit of a circus in India, involving both Indians and non-Indians alike. Maybe I’m jaded or naive, but this sense of dis-ingenuousness and lack of authenticity seems to have gone viral. My issue isn’t so much as Caucasian women wearing saris or salwar kameez, because let’s face it, they are very comfortable and given the Indian humid climate and the social norms of not showing legs, ideal to wear, but it’s this rave yoga set who in a certain sense hijacked some aspects of Indian culture are doing it because it’s this week’s trend I have problems with that.
    But thank you for adding your voice, even on sites like yogadork or recoveringyogi, I’ve had a hard time trying to get this dialogue started and I think it’s one which needs to take place.

    • Linda-Sama

      “sense of dis-ingenuousness and lack of authenticity seems to have gone viral” — I’m with ya. and feel free to get the dialogue going over at my house: http://lindasyoga.com (writing about similar issues since 2005.)

      (and I don’t say namaste!)

    • Warriors and Goddesses

      slowly but surely this dialogue is taking place, teachers and students alike have had enough of this drive thru, inauthentic stuff that’s being churned out. A few birds of a feather have flocked together already in a short space of time since I started my blog and have been putting my thoughts out there. It’s hard to inflitrate in the realm of Yoga apps and reality show ‘rock stars’, but it’s happening. I’m hoping over time, and thanks to a few controversial shake ups in the mainstream that have forced contemporary yoga circles to take a good hard look at what is going on, the necessary changes will start taking place, and like you say teachers like Linda (who I’ve connected with in the blogosphere) and real attitudes like your own, will be the rule not the exception.

      And never mind Eat, Pray, Love – Yogawoman has got to be one of the most smarmy, shameless self promotions of yoga and teachers I’ve ever seen. I am trying to connect with veritable sources as I endeavour to become a teacher, what a disappointment that was.

      • earthenergyreader

        I think the biggest problem is that this drive-thru, inauthentic stuff is what’s currently dominating the yoga scene. Yoga is BIG business right now and while I agree there is a movement towards more genuineness in certain circles, I can’t help but have a bad feeling that it may take more controversies like Anusara-gate or that awful killing at the Lululemon store to make more people shake out of their kula kool-aid haze. It’s market forces which are dictating the predominant yoga culture. If it sells, it rules. How do we make authenticity, genuineness and humaneness popular?

      • Love This:) Thanks

  4. earthenergyreader

    Thanks Linda :-)! Great video! Yoga needs more instructors like his to be the norm, not the exception.

  5. Warriors and Goddesses

    Reblogged this on Warriors and Goddesses.

  6. I dropped out of college in 1969, went to a Northern California retreat and became a hatha yoga instructor there. I loved the opportunity to immerse myself in hatha yoga and meditation, but things turned sour the second summer when a woman I liked was called in for a private talk with the (Caucasian) leader of the retreat and came out traumatized after he rather crudely came on to her and tried to grope her.

    Another thing worth mentioning is that after leading a meditation session, somebody tried to touch my feet and call me their guru. It really creeped me out and made me wonder if that’s how some gurus get their start. All it takes is one with some cash and blind devotion and you’re off to a good start.

    All that said, there are many good things about yoga and meditation. It just seems we live in an age where everything gets corrupted. Jesus may have turned water into wine, but our gurus seem to turn it into coca cola.

  7. I totally hear you on this…. Especially on the name changing and sanskrit thing…. Changing the name your parents gave you is just, well, WHY?! When I was in India doing my teacher training, we had the option of getting a spiritual name given to us. I opted no, because I don’t see the point of someone who barely knows me giving me a name based on how my current one sounds! And plus, I already have a name – the one my parents gave me! Sanskrit to me is just another language, and one I am not very good at communicating in. I sometimes don’t understand why people feel the need to throw in a million sanskrit words during a yoga class or a normal conversation, because it just confuses my little brain.

  8. earthenergyreader

    It’s not only in Sanskrit to yoga, but this idea of linguistic purity and power in a certain spiritual tradition is also found in Arabic to Islam, Hebrew to Kabbalah, Native American languages to their traditions, that somehow if you chant, meditate, read or pray in those original languages, then that’s all that matters. I don’t buy it, I think the intention behind your actions is key, not what language you use to get there. I’d rather attend a class where no Sanskrit terms are dropped but the instructor was excellent and was watching out for everyone in the room than a class where a dozen Sanskrit terms are employed and the instructor doesn’t know her ass from her armpit about what she’s doing.

  9. I think yoga is like everything else: you have to use discrimination. Part of being on a spiritual path is about choosing to accept and reject. Personally, I find it easy to reject the western, commercialization of yoga, for the most part. I just ignore it. But I wouldn’t “throw the baby out with the bath water.” I don’t blame yoga for the misinterpretations.

    Also — can I offer a potentially different perspective on why “white people” are doing yoga in vast numbers? Perhaps it’s because that’s who needs it most.

    Maybe everything is as it should be, and we are all just in a state of evolution towards higher spiritual consciousness. Naturally, some are ahead of others due to education, capacity, experience or what have you.

    Cheers,

    Mariellen

    • Very good points here, Mariellen – every last one of them!

      Though the original post brings up some valid observations there may be many more reasons why this is happening and many many more ways you can approach and appreciate the current state of yoga (all around the world).

      I think it starts with knowing what it is you are asking for. you can’t possibly have it if you don’t know to ask for it.

      so what do “you” want out of yoga? Many never even begin to ask that question. Those that do are the “enlightened ones”.

      Take it or leave it I suppose. But I view articles like this narrow in their scope, and I’d argue, do a diservice to the practice so many of us deeply embrace.

      Doug

      • Ramesh

        The word Yoga means union of mind and heart. If you can achieve that through a spiritual journey then you will conquer yourself.

      • Right on, Douglas. The following part of the post should be highlighted: “I know they are not all like that. There are some genuine, well-meaning people in the yoga community and some of them are doing some truly outstanding work.”
        Like in any other line of work, there are people who do their jobs well and those who don’t. If for some reason I don’t like the way my physician or dentist does his/her work and the way s/he treats me, I go to other professionals. And I’d be doing it until I find the one I like.
        It’s the same with yoga. Some people are luckier and they might meet their true teacher very quickly, while for others it will take much longer.
        You might have already heard: “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”
        Just another yoga teacher

    • Chris

      I don’t believe though that the higher “enlightened” people are the ones who just accept things. Christ and Gandhi were pissed off quite a bit and refused to just accept a whole lot of things. I see the normal crowd of people who just accept things to be by the least conscious people. They’re the type of people who if (for if example) you try to tell them about the LIBOR scandal (totalling over 800 TRILLION dollars) just tell you that that’s “conspiracy theory” and dismiss it that way. That is pure narcissism and is the polar oppisite of enlightenment.

    • Ramesh

      It is easy for an Indian growing up in India to naturally be in spiritual mind as we are inculcated on the Hindu philosophy the essence of the Vedas. For a Westerner most have grown up in ‘Me world’ and difficult to think outside of it except to think of all gains for oneself. In this world there is no gain nor loss; there is no success nor failure, all these are incidental. You work as work is the prerogative of the intelligence with no expectations but in a spirit of dedication and labor of love be as a doctor, teacher, engineer, mother in kitchen cooking to raise her children, and all what we see here on this earth.

      • Nancy

        I like how you say it… but in a spirit of dedication and labor of love … well said.

    • Christian

      We are always trying to find happiness. Probably a lot of people try to find it this way. Through discrimination, as you say, they will find their own way.

      As long as people blind themselves with the idea that just changing the outside body will change their life. All sort of companies will have a field to profit from, Hatha Yoga corporations being one of the newer ones.

      In the end, being true to oneself is what matters.
      Only through our own journey will we find the path of happiness. So this will pass too…

    • Deb

      Mariellen – I believe his point is…what the majority of “white people” are doing/calling yoga is NOT really yoga so they are not getting the full mind body & spiritual benefits that yoga is intended to provide. I do believe that yoga practiced the way originally intended is highly spiritual. What the majority of “white people” are doing is not. Like he said, it’s exclusionary and has become a highly profitable scam.

    • Suryavansh

      I agree with you, its westerns and mostly Americans shopping for culture and spirituality, because they do not have grounding or strong culture which can teach them who they really are” the real SELF”.
      Where as in India for most of them YOGA is part of their culture and they grow up with it, no big deal.

      Big deal of ‘YOGA’ is made by westerns trying to copy mindlessly and finally abuse it.

    • Jax

      Thank you for this comment Mariellen.

    • Nicholas Mwesigye

      Hi everybody, I am an young man 25 years old from Denmark, and have been doing yoga for the last 2 years 2 times a day. !

      when our stomach is full, a longing to be something more than our body, becomes very natural.. for some live their life’s unconscious, but once we become conscious a natural longing for something more than the body starts. suddenly we want to break free from our limitations. :)

      What people have forgot in the west is that, the meditation part of yoga, is actually the most important part. ! ;)

  10. earthenergyreader

    Hi Mariellen,
    I completely agree with you that yoga itself is not to be blamed for the misinterpretation, it’s some of the people (and their questionable motives) who are responsible for the misreading and so forth.
    However, I’d respectfully disagree with you that it’s “white people” who need yoga the most. I think our capacities as human beings for spiritual evolution, intellectual development, emotional fullfillment are the same, irrespective of race, class etc.
    The problem does not lie so much in race, I think. It’s in cultural interpretation and right now mainsteam yoga in North America in particular (and I’m generalizing because I know there are so many sub-subcultures in yoga these days) is being seen through the lense of largely, the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) culture, and interpreted as such. Values like hard work, accomplishment, profit, industry, individualism (and this includes hedonism), and utilitarianism has permeated yoga culture here.
    For instance, nowadays, there’s naked yoga in most major N.American cities. If you did that in India, you’d be kicked out for gross indecency since modesty is a huge value in that culture (except in the case of sadhus who are a class of their own in Indian society). When I read about how naked yoga developed and why it would be a good thing to do yoga in a room full of other nude people, I personally can’t help but think it’s more about the neuroses of these persons trying to finally get out of themselves than it is about yoga itself. But, when you read the literature, the ads, the website etc. They aren’t talking about the neurorses, they talk about the yoga. Therein lies the problem, IMHO.

    • Andrea G

      What I love most about yoga is that it’s a system built for people, and it’s big enough for all people – there are many, many variations and approaches so that we can all find what works for us. (I’m talking about ‘yoga’ as a whole not just asana practice.) But, it being for people and by people, of course we mess it up, and as you point out we do so regularly.
      It’s too bad we don’t hear more stories of the small, amazing ways that yoga works for people.. but as you point out, people who are practicing with discernment and intention are the least likely to advertise.
      I’m a WASP, and I’m with ya on all the problems of that culture. I think sometimes though, especially when we’re really entrenched in the crazy ideals we’ve grown up with, we need yoga to meet us where we are. It would have been too big a leap for me when I was starting to do the yoga I do now – it would have been too subtle. I needed hot power yoga that I could use to check off my healthy lifestyle list. Now I see how removed I was from myself.
      But ultimately – if you’re still writing about this stuff – I’d say you haven’t left yoga. There’s more to it than asana practice, right?

  11. searchingforfernando

    I know from personal observation what you write about gurus is true. I was living in Oregon in the 1980’s during the reign of terror of the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. My boyfriend’s (at that time) mother almost died when she ate at one of the many salad bars that Rajneesh’s diciples poisoned. He sent his diciples out to murder pubilc officials in Oregon, yet almost thirty years later he still has blind devotee followers all over the world. Second case: Someone I know witnessed Deepak Chopra in a morally compromising situation, and he became very threatening when he was recognized (the details of this encounter are on my website). Three years later when the Weekly Standard caught Chopra with his pants down again, most of his blindly devoted fans refused to believe it. From my observations, the average person would not recognize a real spiritual teacher, or the spiritual truth, if it bit ‘em in the arse.

  12. earthenergyreader

    I don’t understand how people can still fall for Osho, I don’t care how great the teachings sound, if these persons aren’t walking the walk and setting an example then what the hell is any of it really worth? As for (married) Chopra, I know someone who had to go pick him up from the airport for a talk in town and in the car, he tried grabbing her and coming on to her while she was driving! Deepak has a long history as a lecherous perv. Most of these blind devotee-types are usually from very affluent, flakey enclaves like Encinitas, Big Sur, Ojai, Rhineback, NY etc. who just love these teachers, because they affirm their followers’ philosophy of “If it feels good, then it’s good, it can’t be wrong” Responsibility and cost of actions doesn’t seem to weigh on them at all.

  13. Thanks, Rob. By the way, why is it that the people with the most to say, never get to say it, but the idiots spewing rubbish get the soap boxes?

    • I agree. The so called gurus today are so disappointing. I use to respect Oprah but now when I see her kissing the buts of these guys who charge astronomical prices for their books and programs I’ve lost respect for her as well. I have to say, I do love Gary Zukav though.

      My organization, SoulConnection Wellness has several programs, all at very low cost and many are free depending on the client/s. As a matter of fact, I offer a free hatha yoga class every third Saturday in a space I rent out with my own money and never once have I considered charging.

      I had a very prominent Wellness figure tell me at one of the round table sessions at her conference, that “my prices were too low and that I needed to step up to what I’m worth”. I told her that I knew the market and the going rates but that my conscience would not allow me to charge those fees. She insisted I needed to do “more work on myself to get to the core of my feelings of unworthiness” Really! Needless to say, I DO NOT feel unworthy at all, I feel truly blessed! It is always a red flag for me, when I see exorbitant prices/fees for spirituality. Just saying.

  14. Lisa

    OH my goodness I just found your blog via Yoga Dork and I love it!!! I agree with all that everything you said. It’s sad, because there are a few of us (I’m a yoga teacher+student) who really are in it for the good of it. But I am aware of all of everything you spoke of, and it really does not sit well with me. I’ve been thinking and thinking and thinking of these things a lot lately, so this blog and conversation couldn’t have come at a better time for me.

  15. earthenergyreader

    Hi Lisa, it seems that something is in the air because even a quick look at the comments section over at YogaDork, particularly for articles that came out in the last few days, and it would seem that many other voices are finally speaking out and being heard around these issues. Maybe this is just a dialogue in cyberspace but if we can get this discussion going on in earnest and that would hopefully translate into more positive and meaningful change in the real world. Yoga has been hijacked, (not by everyone, there are sincere people too) by the mainstream, corporate rock-star yogi types. It’s starting to turn this science and art into a cliched joke and in order to take it back, we need to make our voices heard more frequently.

    • Chris

      I agree with you but I think in mainstream American culture, yoga has been hi-jacked by the yuppie(hedonistic) culture.

  16. Omiya

    this is a wonderful article. as a fellow Indian (N. American born) Indian yogini (Punjabi Hindu parents) who started practising in studios about 9 years ago, i have HAD it. my soul is sick in these big fancy studios (Chopra’s studio is one of the worst, and the most expensive!). and for the record, Anusara classes made me itchy from the outset and JF creeped me out. A white Texan businessman teaching adoring, beautiful thin white yogis about Sita and Lakshmi? NO, that is not right.

    i don’t have much to add except I agree with everything you say. when i visited India, I looked for authentic yoga. i did not really know where to find it. i did realize that I am more Western than I think I am. Rishikesh had a lot of ashrams, but the cultish aspect and guru worship of ashrams in general also make me kind of itchy. i might try one eventually.

    i have gone back to traditional Ashtanga yoga practised Mysore style in a tiny studio. i am researching Krishnamacharya extensively and the origins of modern yoga. this has helped my soul a lot: focussing on the other 7 limbs, doing the physical Ashtanga practice (because I am Western-born and I do love the physical aspect and study), chanting the prayers I learned as a child when I am at home by myself, and reading up on what Krishnamacharya’s Indian students have to say and teach about yoga.

    good luck with your yoga journey. There is always a way to find and get back to the aspects of the tradition that resonate with you. step 1 is stopping going to all of the drop-in studios…

  17. earthenergyreader

    Thank you Omiya! You have no idea how many Hindu friends of the family (Punjabi, Maharasthra and Bengali) also share your feelings on Chopra. And as for JF, he always somehow gave off a pervy vibe, I’m surprised no one picked up on it sooner and said something, he was just so….eager. Rishikesh is quickly becoming an Indian version of Sedona, just like Benares and Varanasi has been taken over by backpackers looking for cheap pot and wanting to hang out with sadhus. Stay true in your search, when you’re ready the right teacher or teaching will appear, regardless of where in India or the world, it’ll take you.

  18. paul

    Is any of this actually new? I’ve always been under the impression that the “profit-driven, hedonistic aspects which seems to have taken over the subculture” have always been a part of the yoga/householder realm (Osho didn’t manifest in a vacuum), as have questions of authenticity and intention.
    I think there are authentic and genuine teachings and people, that there is something to the sacred sound stuff (as India-stuff bills itself as- should anyone be then surprised that people take on sacred names?), but too that people have a lot to learn from one-another, including the way we romanticize and cling to our identities and cultures even when we are so much variations on the same theme. I don’t mean to encourage the materialism and attainment stuff, but can’t seem to help being an apologist for materialism when it comes to the “yoga culture” as “real” yoga is such a good antidote for all of that, an antidote that otherwise might otherwise be ridiculed if not ignored outright by these profiteering hedonists.

    • Earth Energy Reader

      It boils down to intention, methinks. If you want to get something materialistic out of it, then be upfront about it, don’t hide behind new-age speak and psychobabble navel-gazing jargon and paint the whole thing with “spirituality”. I have more respect for that wrestler-turned yoga instructor than I do for most posh studio-based instructors because he doesn’t hide who or what he does. He wears his identity and his practice on his sleeve.

    • timoj

      well said………….This tradition as many others will lose some integral parts of its Integrity ,in the “Commodified Models ” we have set up…………..best to….develop a discriminating mind…………develop a relationshiop with a teacher who’s vested in developing your self practice…..in order to set you free. become colleagues as the relationship evolves….into a less hierarchal standard …..

  19. J

    At first, I thought you were just bitter or angry when I began reading this article. However the more I read, the more I realized what you were saying and I couldn’t agree more. I am a caucasian male practitioner and first was introduced to asana practice as a type of fitness. It was 100% physically-oriented and I went to a studio full of middle-aged, rich, suburban, Lululemon clad women with social cliques where the “themes” of the class would be discussing how hard it is to deal with their kids or making arrangements for their next vacation.

    As time went on, I was introduced to the scriptures and ancient texts. With research of my own and research from others I quickly realized that not only were these people not walking the walk, they didn’t even understand that what they were trying to pass off as “yoga” was really a cardio-fitness class with flowery language. Teachers would become bitter about those who surpassed their physical abilites or went to a rival studio. Many of these teachers did not know, let alone understand, the yamas or niyamas. Asana was simply a physical workout. Don’t even think about discussing pranayama or concentration and meditation with them, they are not only unaware but don’t have an interest.

    I was introduced to a yogi who is also a teacher and it opened my eyes to what yoga really is. Strict adherence to the ethical rules, asana only as a benefit to health, stillness in the postures, and as an offering are all wonderful and prepare the body and mind for pranayama exercises, which prepare the body for meditation (which is the focus of my practice now). I feel lucky to have met this teacher and he taught me proper and practical methods to the spiritual path the way it was meant to be, incorporating ALL forms of yoga (bhakti, jnana, etc.) through constant practice; something far beyond what Hatha yoga has become.

    I appreciate the article you wrote and while you were blunt about it, I’m glad you were – it needed to be said. I may never achieve illumination in this lifetime but after finding the right path, I too would like to see these corrupted forms of fitness and pseudoscience come to an end.

    • Thanks J. for your comment.
      I wasn’t trying to sound bitter and angry but admittedly as an Indian, I am upset at the direction yoga has gone in the West in some respects, particularly the more shallow, disingenuous aspects. When you walk into a studio and it feels like some exclusive country club instead from the 1950s where instead of talking about their golf game and the tomato aspic on the menu and how clumsy their maid was that morning, they’re talking about the organic wild rose petal oil and Antarctic water facial they had that morning at the spa and how the Filipino nanny was late in picking up the kids from school, all the while in their Lululemon shorts and slurping on a shot of acai berry serum, something’s amiss.

      It’s especially galling when it’s your own cultural heritage that you see becoming distorted or misinterpreted by people, who very often don’t have a clue as to what they are talking about.

      You are also spot-on when you describe teachers who get upset or feel threatened by those students who surpass them and eventually leave. I’ve seen that happen too. Yoga was never meant to be exclusive. These insanely priced studios and teacher trainings are doing more harm than good. I think if more voices from minority groups, whether it’s from those that define themselves at ethnic, visible minorities, queer, transgender, fat, big-boned, whatever, the better. People have to speak up more and add their voices to the discussion and the practice. I also think if the co-op movement and co-op studios/trainings were to become more dominant in the scene, the inclusivity problem would take care of itself.

      • I have to say that you do come off sounding bitter and angry – at least at first. However, I can understand you being upset. I’ve been pondering the evolution of yoga in “the west” for a couple of years now. How can we as westerners incorporate the aspects of yoga and the spiritual practices into our culture in a way that is authentic?

        I’m not sure I have an answer but I do have ideas.

        It’s still evolving and will continue to do so. Giving up on it isn’t the answer though.

        At a studio I use to attend they ran a 1 hour yoga class – a set sequence. There were also the classes where the more experienced and aware students frequented. Most of us were in it for the same reasons (the deeper [if you will] reasons). What I observed is that though 99.9% of those in the 1 hour class would never show up at the class the smaller group attended. But every once and a while someone would make the transition and their life would change.

        So I say let them have those “spa” classes or whatever you want to call it. Seek those that understand the difference and are on your side of the view of what yoga is and isn’t. Practice the practice and surrender to the fact that that is the way it is. The grace still exists and those that ask for it and seek it will find it. And they will find you.

        I came to yoga in the same way J did and though I didn’t find the same teacher but I did dive deep in to the scriptures. I continue to study. Not everyone will do this or find that path.

        I spent 2.5 months in India last year. I found often times that I knew more about some of the stories and deities than many of the Indians I met. It would surprise them (being a 6 foot tall white guy). The beautiful thing is that once they realized I was well studied and cared the energy would shift.

        I guess I just can’t help but question if your article helps or hurts the evolution. Perhaps that is not the correct way to look at it – the correct question to ask. But I do think it’ll evolve and perhaps no matter what anyone writes or says it will “mature”. I suppose it’s just part of the process

        In the end those that find it and go deep are rewarded. Isn’t that what we all want?

        A.G. Mohan wrote a book on Krishnamacharya and in conclusion states that he wishes Krishnamacharya had lived long enough to see how yoga had become so popular in the west. I think he still holds this same view. Though I do wonder what Krishnamacharya would think of that migration today.

        all the best,
        Doug

  20. Hi Doug,
    My article is not meant to hurt the evolution of yoga, it’ll evolve in it’s own way irrespective of anything I say or write :-).

    What I am trying to do is open a discussion about where yoga has gone and is going in some quarters, particularly from my perspective, growing up Bengali, being exposed to Hinduism, Islam and Buddhism from a very early age. Discussions around Rabindranath Tagore or Vivekananda, Ramakrishna, and Aurobindo’s stance against British imperialism were common in my household. For those of us who come from a spiritual Indian background, this “market yoga” is especially insulting to say the least. It’s just not for all of us.

    What *IS* that fine line between cultural appreciation and cultural appropriation?
    When is yoga not yoga anymore but a a workout?
    When does the studio become a cruising bar? Or a temple?

    I don’t have any answers to these questions myself but I do think getting this discussion going is a step in the right direction, no? Particularly around these issues of inclusiveness and diversity.
    “It’s All Yoga, Baby” posted about a studio in Toronto which will be offering “Brown Girl Yoga” and “Queer Yoga” in an attempt to create space to make all types of persons more comfortable and I applaud the initiative.

    http://www.itsallyogababy.com/an-anti-racist-fattransqueer-positive-yoga-studio-kula-yogas-positive-space-initiative/#more-4016

    http://www.mykulatoronto.ca/positive-space-initiatives

    Cheers!

  21. Liked your post very much and glad I found your blog…thank you.

  22. Thanks for the fix!

    I’m not questioning the intent of your article. And certainly if I was that last thing I would insinuate is that your article is intended to hurt the evolution of yoga.

    What I’m getting at is I run across articles like this on a regular basis and it makes me simply ask, “is this helping or hurting?”. I suppose it can do both. It can also do neither – it just is.

    I get your perspective (at least to the point that my western mind can appreciate). I admire that perspective and hope more will offer and embrace it.

    After reading Singleton’s book – Yoga Body – I think is when began to really consider how yoga has evolved in the west. When I was in Mysore last year my friend Sudhama took me to the Shala where Krishnamacharya first taught non-Indians yoga. That experience really made me start to ask questions.

    I was surprised by the fact that most Indians are Bhakti yogis and practice no asana. A stark contrast to yoga in America where we are more devoted to our dog than to our spiritual practice! But that is our culture.

    In my mind I’ve been trying to piece together the evolution of the migration. In a way I sort of start it the Beatles and their acid trips and searching out (and finding!) for their guru. Could it have began any other way? Considering the era (the 60’s) I’d think not (assuming that was the start). And so from there (I think) it’s morphed and changed. Woo-woo yoga isn’t as popular is it use to be. It’s big time mainstream now. I try not to look! Where will it go next?

    I guess I feel like if I can get an idea of where it began and where it is now I have an idea of where it can go. And with that I can begin to ponder the answers to the questions you bring up above in your last post.

    No real answers yet but hey…. I’m trying! And I think that perhaps your first question is the one that deserves the most consideration. Though I’m not so sure many that “practice” will ever care to ask.

    Doug

    • I know what you mean about the plethora or articles out there and if they are doing more harm than good. When I read some of the stuff over at Recoveringyogi.com and how jaded and disenchanted people become, I feel like asking,”Well what did you expect – mainstream yoga now is business”

      Again, it always returns to intention and asking what do you want to get out of yoga and being honest with yourself about that.

      I think the 1960s and the Beatles were huge catalysts in popularizing yoga and TM in the West, but it goes back further. If you get a chance to read “The Razor’s Edge” by W.Somerset Maugham, it’s there as well and in “A Passage to India” by E.M Forster. It started from the very get-go of British rule in India. German Indologists like Max Muller, Heinrich Zimmer (Joseph Campbell’s teacher) and Max Webber also added to the fascination the West had with spiritual India.

      There are some contemporary historians like William Dalrymple who are doing truly fantastic work around the deconstruction of the Anglo-Saxon world’s interest in India (not just yoga), if you’re interested. I think another factor that adds fuel to the fire is that fact that many in the West feel that their own organized religions no longer serve them anymore, so there is a spiritual void and want to fill it. For some, it does end up being yoga, for others it’s the shamanistic path. It’s a complicated issue which needs to be examined from all sides.

      • Patrick

        I would say that’s most likely because it’s gone so far away from its roots these days, which lie in the paganism and polytheist rituals of ancient Europe and Near East, while the western mindset of choosing “science” being at odds with “religion” has caused many to drop religion. The last one mainly because of many many centuries of literal interpretation and not being open to other forms of belief (you believe this, you go to heaven, otherwise it is hell). this latter was not a feature of the western ancient religions, which were more similar to shamanism and hinduism, with many gods and diversity of rituals and beliefs, so I would say it is because of that in the west religion is now shifting… (The Catholic pope recently stated that to get to heaven we need not be Christian, only a good person, a comlpete turn-around from 1600 years of Roman rule)

  23. I am laughing and shaking my head yes! I agree!

    However, for me it still is a daily practice on my own, since I can not find a class i can afford and don’t feel like dealing with all the B.S. I teach for free, and believe that getting groups together and meeting in a park/beach and donating a few $ bucks per person is the way to go.

    My Yoga studio in Encinitas was paying 5 grand a month for rent, that’s where one of the biggest problem lies. They barely ever broke even.

    Get out of the yoga studio and into nature, it’s FREE

    thanks for your gift… I enjoyed the laugh this am xoxoxo

  24. Hi Books,
    Of course there are aspects of yoga I love, but as some others have pointed out, my criticisms are mostly around the “scene” which has grown around it and not really yoga itself. It’s hard to get away from that “scene” when that’s what’s largely on the offering.

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  26. “I question the profit-driven, hedonistic aspects which seems to have taken over the subculture”

    I haven’t left but I’ve dialed back to my pre 2011 levels for most of the same reasons listed in this outstanding article. FTR, I’m Hispanic so your points about the lack of diversity and the distortion of the ethnic nature of the practice are understood on a deep intuitive level. Here’s hoping that the Westernization of the practice does not destroy it.

    There is a reason why I always loved yoga at the gym vs. a studio. I LOVE the physical aspects of the practice. The rest? Not so much even after a year of trying. A year which included teacher training which I knew on paper looked like a logical step after 14 years of practice and hundreds of hours at the studio, on the mat, or reading about yoga. But the deeper I got the more I disliked what I was seeing. The more the apparent hypocrisy and inconsistency appeared. The more illusion turned to disillusion. Ultimately, I didn’t want to become what you are describing in a Western style psuedo-Indian/yogi.

    I saw it early on and kept plugging through it hoping that it was my years of cynicism clouding my view. I forked over the hundreds of dollars of dollars for workshops and trainings only to feel like I knew more before I started. I knew what yoga meant when I didn’t know what it was supposed to mean. The term ‘yoga rock star’ repulses me. Sadie Nardini and her ilk , give me a freakin break. Likewise, people who aspire to be them. I was never going to make money in yoga because I never believed that was a place to make money. Therefore, any future career would be doomed if it was to contribute to my livelihood. I couldn’t take money from people to show them something they can do for free for themselves. Most Westerners just want to stretch and breath and move safely. They don’t want the rest. Yet, I kept hearing that unless you got the rest you weren’t doing yoga. Translation, unless you fall in line you aren’t one of ‘us.’ Fine.

    Maybe I’m in the inevitable burnout phase. I don’t think so as I only got burned out after trying to take it further than my previous 14 years. I didn’t respect my own boundaries and let ego speak louder than my heart. IF I teach now it will be to family, friends, or coworkers for free or for donation. I’ll never recoup what I’ve spent to get to this point but I also think about how much time, money, and energy I’ll save realizing this before going any further on down what is, for me, an inauthentic path.

    So I’ve shut down blog and my feeble attempt to be a yogi with a cool yoga blog. I might start blogging again but not about any one thing. I’m not a one dimensional person and trying to be was killing me. I’ve sold many of the books, tapes, and other things I purchased trying to ‘be the change.’ An action that felt remarkably liberating. No more excessive money will go to yoga. I’m back to my videotapes (now DVDs), gym classes, and the occasional studio Groupon to help keep me grounded in my decision to walk away. Nothing like getting disillusion at a discount…

    I will always do yoga but I won’t ever “be” a ‘real’ yogi. That realization feels freakin great! I like my vices including my uncommon but well placed cynicism. I like the imperfections. I like being the real me whether yoga says it’s real or not. Who the fuck are they to judge anyway?

    • Hi DDAC,
      Thank you for catching my drift, you understood exactly where I’m coming from. Judging on the commentary being left on Reddit and Elephant Journal, I think many are misunderstanding me and thinking that I’m critiquing western culture and have some kind of ax to grind against it. I’m not and I don’t. Clearly I’ve hit a nerve.
      What I am critiquing is this market-driven yoga, particularly for those of us who still see is as a spiritual practice. I think there are many, many people who go into yoga nowadays because of the relaxing, spiritual aspects it offers, but when you come to loggerheads with this “spa yoga” , the cliques, the posers, the popularity contest, it is a frustrating and disheartening experience. That might explain the burn-out and disillusionment.
      As I’ve stated earlier in other comments, I think it really does boil down to what do you want to get out of yoga? A work-out? A meditation? A deeper spiritual life? A new group of friends? A healthier and more self-aware lifestyle? My experience, unfortunately has only shown me that people aren’t asking those deeper questions not nearly as often as they should be asked.
      Best,
      EER

      • Thank you for your response. I tend to believe that people who are secure in their practice won’t own others opinions or criticisms of it. I became increasingly insecure in my practice when I felt that it was supposed to fit some sort of yoga culture norm especially for a teacher. My breaking point was when I had to paint my toes for a class. Not because it’s written in a teaching manual but because it’s rather expected that teachers, or studio students for that matter, don’t have unattractive feet. Yet, as a student at a gym class I could show up with a shoddy pedi at my gym class and no one gave a shit. Perhaps this was symbolic or the pretext of something deeper but that was the beginning of the end. It was a visual reminder of what was going on inside and what I didn’t want to admit. I could teach in clearance Kohls yoga wear, I could act my way through a class, I could pontificate with the best of them.

        I could not hide and would be judged by my neglected piggies. And avoiding such would mean spending time and energy doing something I don’t do to keep up appearances. Pass.

  27. A View from the UK
    I think we can be over-zealous in our encompassing of the guru-mentality and all you criticise, but we can also be over-zealous in our rejection of it. Someone earlier mentioned babies and bathwater and I do support that comment – maybe you need a bit of (old fashioned) English middle-way patience on your side of the pond!
    I enjoyed reading your blog, EER*, and think you have struck the right chord to stimulate the debate. No-one will bother responding unless you are at least a little controversial.
    I have also enjoyed reading all the comments in their varied views.
    In UK we do not have so many flashy and expensive yoga studios – though there are the expensive celebrity ones for those who choose to afford them and seek that lifestyle. If it works for them then let them do it.
    Most of my practice has been in studios and village halls where sweat is the garb of choice as we progress through the primary series of astanga. The largest classes were some years ago with John Scott at the homoeopathic hospital where he, with other teachers, lead a ‘Mysore style’ practice every weekday morning for just a few pounds. Even then it was probably no more than 40 at most.
    All my other regular practice has been in groups of 10 to 20 except for the occasional weekend workshop where there will be a few more – often controlled by the size of the hall.
    I am also a complementary therapist in bodywork so I do not appreciate the hard-knocks school of Astanga. My take is that when my energy is focussed my muscle will follow – it won’t work the other way round. So the practice is, in my words, ‘down to earth’. No gurus, just good teachers who can teach me yoga and guide me through that practice. I am not looking for them to guide the rest of my life – that is for me, with support from other teachers in their skills. If my yoga teacher has an affair with someone, I don’t blame yoga for it.
    I came to yoga originally at the age of 36 in 1984, through Derek Ireland and Radha. Derek was/is considered a guru of astanga by some but he was just a normal guy with good and bad points. So what? He is dead now so that leads some, including those who never met him, to idolise him. Fine, so what?
    Currently, I practice in a couple of studios that are crowded if 15 of us turn up for the same class. And not a shred of lycra to be seen. And not many Asian faces either, I have to agree.
    I recently spent three months in Bhopal, India working with people still suffering from the after-effects of the gas explosion and there I could not find a teacher! In the clinic they use yoga as part of the Ayurvedic treatment protocol, though many of your students probably would not recognise it as yoga. Rather like the man in that lovely video – they are using it to help people heal. No gurus there, but 100% Asian! And of all religious persuasions. Apart from that, the normal working individual hardly knows of yoga, and rarely knows anyone who practices it.
    If someone is looking for their guru – in yoga or whatever, then, if it helps them, let it be. If it hurts them then be a friend and talk to them. But let them go their own way as there may be something they may learn. All ways are not your way.
    So I will continue to practice in my way. First asana, on the mat. Second asana, focus my energy. Third asana, calm my breath. Then move through my practice. It brings what it brings and each practice is different. A body workout? Yes. A meditation? Yes. A brain rest? Certainly.
    The primary focus into the eight limbs may vary but isn’t the final result (if there ever can be one) the same? And it is fine that others have different ideas. That is what makes it delicious!
    Thanks for stimulating these thoughts. Much love to all of you.
    Ian Jarvis
    (* I DO hate these pseudonyms, is everyone scared of being who they are?)

    • Hi Ian,
      Thanks for commenting and I agree with most of what you write. I’m guess you are visiting from the Elephant journal link? I’m quite surprised at the vitriolic reaction I received there, particularly the anti-white racist bigot thinly-veiled accusations. Like downdogandcats had posted there, those reactions are quite indicative of why yoga may self-destruct in the West, or at least in North America anyway. My critique is really not about yoga itself, it’s really about the cultural paraphernalia which seems to have sprung up around it.

      I think most of my reaction has to do with yoga within the North American context, most European, Asian and South American yoga practitioners that I’ve met seem much more level-headed in my opinion and there may be because there are cultural differences at play. I don’t know. That’s not to say that there aren’t genuine and well-meaning yogis in the US, but I have a sinking feeling that because of the whole trendy-let’s-make-serious-money-off-of-this-mentality, yoga has gone in that direction also. Things happening south of the border come up here very quickly, unfortunately that also includes that rock-star, spa-yoga bullshit.

      I think the initiatives that you speak of like your experience in Bhopal does show that it’s a question of digging a bit deeper and finding these sorts of more authentic and genuine outlets for yoga. I mean maybe there should be something like “Yogis Without Borders”? I think that would be wonderful if yoga instructors showed up in a place like Bhopal and worked with victims from the disaster.
      Cheers!

      • “Yogis without Borders” – I like that. Made me chuckle.
        And in the clinic they do actually need a new yoga teacher (ideally with ayurveda skills and health experience – and Hindi) as the one I knew is expecting a baby soon. Maybe I’ll see you out there when I next visit.
        (On a serious note you can read more about Bhopal and my experience on my website – you have the url from my registration.)
        Yes, I did discover you from that link, and I think I found that via astangayoga.inf or something – it is easy to mislay the track!

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  30. aras

    This is a great documentary which is very much connected to the article!

    • Thanks Aras, very pertinent! I’ve been looking for this for a while now.

    • Frani

      I think Yoga has become too commercialized.
      I have been practicing for 41 years. When I first began Yoga, sessions were done in small intimate groups at either at someones home or at a college (but not a large space)
      The teachers were gentle, caring people. The focus was on the practice for each individual.
      It was not competitive,nor was it glamorous(Yoga clothes,Yoga Mats-the whole business)
      I’ve been teaching Yoga for six years at my home space.
      Some students were afraid I would yell at them because of recent experiences at Yoga Classes.
      I was appalled to hear this.
      Though it is good to challenge yourself once you master the poses I really emphasize safety and taking your time . It’s too bad it has become such a “Business” because it distorts peoples views of a practice that can keep you flexible and help your mind.

      • I completely sympathize with those students of yours. I too have seen the “rock-star” yoga instructor at work in the studios. One yelled at a girl for not doing the pose as he wanted and I even saw him several times make late-comers sit in the corner!

        Unfortunately the ability to do advanced poses doesn’t necessarily mean the emotional and spiritual maturity and depth is there as well, no matter how many mala beads you’re wearing or other Hindu devotional paraphernalia you’ve surrounded yourself with. What’s happened is that the egos have gotten way too overblown and many “instructors” now feel that if their students are doing advanced poses within a short space of time, it’s a reflection of how great an instructor they themselves are and that’s total malarky.

  31. I just read this, VERY TRUE. That’s why I do Yoga at home alone and in peace with the help of some dvds and some online websites.

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  33. Shirley

    My experience with yoga teachers that I have practiced with is quite different from yours, however, I would tend to agree with your overall observations. One of my yoga teachers was one of my meditation teachers who taught the teachings of Pra Rajadhamma Jetiyajarn (originally from Thailand, living in Canada).
    I tried a couple different types of yoga but I never really found what I was looking for in the practices. I studied shamanism and had a greater connection to that. Interestingly enough I found a new practice and I have shared this practice with my friends and my yoga teachers and the yoga teachers love this practice.
    The teacher, Ratu Bagus, refers to it as yoga and meditation. It is called Bio-energy shaking meditation. This practice has become very popular in Europe but has been slow to grow in North America.
    As you have noted many North Americans have a greater focus on material things than developing their spiritually. It is not easy to choose a spiritual path and there can be many difficult periods during the journey. There is a saying “that when the student is ready the teacher will appear” Hopefully, many of the people that have been drawn to yoga because it is the “it” thing to do will find the true meaning of the practice and will find that new teacher. I have finally found the practice that helps me connect with the “I AM” and it took nearly 12 years for my teacher to appear.
    Remember the people who irritate us are often our greatest teachers as they are mirroring what needs to be healed in us and we need to be grateful.
    Shirley

  34. ganga goldston

    if it is and always will be health benefits that attracted you and maintain your interest in yoga, why do you care about the rest? go and get what you say you want. the rest is there. to find it, you will have to allow it to exist. my guru, mata amritanandamayi is quite authentic! there is nothing pseudo-spiritual about her or the sadhana she teaches. and i see so many indians at her feet! it is quite beautiful and inspiring.
    i totally agree with your view about yoga branching out into areas that are not congruent with the teachings.
    the power and energy of the sanskrit language is immense! this can not die! it is eternal! perhaps spending some consistent time with a mantra, 10 to 20 years, will convince you of this. perhaps it will never happen. regardless, because you have not had an experience with the power of the language does mean it has no value, you speak of your heritage and culture yet you have no problem eliminating this integral part of it!
    bikram choudhury is not someone i have much respect for! all he has to do is open his mouth and you can hear for yourself what he really thinks! no thanks.
    thank you for haring your thoughts! you are right on target with so much of what you say!
    sorry, namaste!!

  35. Warriors and Goddesses

    Congrats on having this piece published in Elephant Journal. Certainly got the conversation going again!

    • Thanks W&G! Did you see some of the commentary there? I stopped responding because so much of it was accusing me of being a racist or with “issues around culture”. Methinks I have hit a nerve of sorts…

      • Warriors and Goddesses

        It has gotten a little heavy. Some missed the fundamental points of your valid argument. Anyway we are all entitled to our opinions and articles are subject to interpretation. Keep on writing though!

    • Here’s a classic comment I received today by someone named Natalie:

      “I had to walk away for a while to figure out my thoughts on this. I’ve been practicing for 8 years, have taught and stopped teaching. I too left the yoga scene where I lived in the US because it no longer fit with what I wanted (too much lululemon for my taste). For me, yoga is prayer – sanskrit, english, whatever. Intention is what counts. I’ve found a studio in Amsterdam where I live now where yoga is, once again, prayer.

      Your post is negative. I had to walk away because there was too much negativity, anger, I don’t know. I don’t feel angry myself, I feel sad. Taking the time to write this kind of thing where you’re basically just criticizing and negative on a whole general level, it’s not good for you or for anyone. I believe in the energy we spread around us with thoughts, words, actions, intentions. You know, where people are is where they are, but we are all doing the best we can wherever we are. Some days that best kind of sucks, but you live and let live.

      I almost want to say you owe people an apology not so much for what you wrote but for the negativity you added into the world.”

      • progessingenlightenment

        Your “blog”” is negative. It is full of judgement and criticisms. I personally find zero merits behind a hot yoga practice but if that is what suits you so be it. I find it interesting that you allude to numerous postings in which you are taken to task about your elitism’s but I don’t find any of them on the page. It must be convenient to manipulate your environment so that you only have those postings that ultimately sooth your ego be the posting that are available for viewing. I say to you, return to your mat and revisit one of the basic principles of yoga – ACCEPTANCE. Namaste (from a white, freckled face, fat woman who loves henna tattoos, saris and bhindis)

      • progessingenlightenment, I don’t understand why I would need to post the comments from EJ here when they are already posted somewhere else. I posted your comment, no problem. I will not however post comments which accuse me of being a racist or some sort of bigot with “issues around white people”. If you want to have a calm and civilized discussion on cultural appropriation, the state of commercialized yoga, I’d welcome that. If people want to throw slurs at me and ad hominem attacks, I don’t see how posting that is constructive in any meaningful way or conducive to starting a respectful discussion?

      • Warriors and Goddesses

        wow. ok….. I guess like everything it’s open to interpretation but that’s not how I read your piece. I thought you were quite diplomatic, and didn’t bring into the argument any tricky topics that you weren’t educated on -like the reference to Indians and yogas heritage- since you are after all Indian (or have Indian heritage, correct?) Unfortunately when we open ourselves up and express ourselves in any way (as a teacher, writer, blogger, whatever) there will always be criticism and misinterpretation of our words. Like I said, keep doing what you are doing. You push the envelope with all that you write about, but I for one get a lot out of it. Bliss and Bless.

  36. Let me preface this by saying that I agree with a lot of what you’re saying.

    But that example you gave of the girl assuming all Indians know each other and have the same beliefs/cultures/whatever? Well… hate to say it, but you’re just like that girl if you’re going to assume the entire white/western yoga world all has the same intentions, beliefs, actions, etc.

    Isn’t what you’re accusing the yoga world of doing true of any “spriritual movement” or “religion” or “philosophy”? the origins may be valid, great and beautiful, but man (by “man” I mean humans of both sexes) goes in there and effs it all up and tries to get rich off the gullible. It doesn’t make the original philosophy any less beautiful.

    That being said, I stepped into a Bikram class once and hated it. HATED. That’s a pretty strong assessment from someone who’s pretty willing to try any physical activity at least once and many styles of yoga. But there was something about the teacher, maybe (he was extremely condescending – even though I was new to Bikram and respect that every style of yoga does things slightly differently, I already had completed a 200hr teaching certification at that point so I knew enough to know it wasn’t me, it was him). I don’t usually hate things that are harmless that strongly but he really left a bad aftertaste, and once I learned more about Bikram himself I felt even more strongly against it.

    Still, I do not hate yoga. It has helped me physically, emotionally, and mentally more than anything else except perhaps running. I rarely teach yoga anymore – but the last time I did, it was for (mostly) minority urban high school students (for free). By the way, I studied computer science at an engineering university so I’m very well-versed in the many different flavors of the Indian continent.

    Confession: I am white. And middle class. I like Indian food (I also like Italian, Portuguese, Latin American, Chinese, Japanese, and probably every type of food there is as long as it’s done right). I also used to dance bhangra pretty regularly. Not because I’m trying to pass myself off as Indian or try to appropriate the culture wholesale (no offense, but I do like my own background and culture) but because it was fun. And despite my lack of coordination I got pretty damn good at it. (By the way, the instructor was Indian. As were several of the students).

    I do not however, follow any “gurus” or go on retreats (too expensive! not to mention cult-like) and I don’t plan on converting to Hinduism or changing my name to something Sanskrit for the same reason I don’t really follow any particular Christian “leader” or the Pope. Though again, I do like Sanskrit. But I also like Latin. So there you go.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that I understand your point, but you’re painting the yoga world with a pretty wide brush when in actuality it’s pretty fractured and varied.

    • Hi Nora,
      I’m addressing the “spa yoga” part of the community because that’s where a large part of my experience has been based. I know the community is extremely diverse and wide and I’m actually looking for a community which resonates more with me.
      My beef isn’t about “white people” doing yoga as some of the commentators over at EJ have insinuated, it’s really about the cultural misappropriation and commercialization going on in certain quarters because it’s trendy and very current.
      Thanks for taking the time out to reply

  37. progessingenlightenment

    You say you want a calm, civilized discussion about appropriations of culture and the commercialized state of yoga. This is not the tone nor the sentiment behind your writings. Do you not wonder in the slightest if perhaps your article does have elitest overtones? That you are placing yourself in the role of judge and jury. To ignore input that you don’t agree with is tantamount to saying that you are perfect with no room for growth. As the saying goes “if the shoe fits wear it” in other words if enough persons felt your article was negative, racist and judgemental maybe you should take a step back and explore the possibility that there is some truth behind those statements. Your valid points about the propensity of humans, in general, to exploit anything for personal financial gains is lost due to your sweeping demeaning generalization which seem to be focused on Caucasians. I will happily try to repost my original reply to your blog in which I address most of your assertions regarding citizens of the USA. Will this or the dropsy make the “cut”?

    • Do you perhaps think the reason why so many people are reacting negatively are because most of them are white and someone has finally decided to call them out on A) White Privilege B) Entitlement C) A cultural history of appropriation and gross distortion of other cultures? Do you think perhaps a nerve, which until recently went unnoticed, has finally been hit?

      I’d encourage you to read “Orientalism” by Edward Said and understand how far back the roots of this sort of cultural imperialism goes back. Old wine in new bottles. I could post the many,many private emails I received from Indians and Caucasians alike who expressed that they were happy someone finally decided to open this can of worms, but I won’t because I don’t have their permission and quite frankly I don’t see why I would need to.
      I’m sorry if my anger and my article causes you such discomfort and rancor but it’s very clear that I’m not criticizing yoga itself, I’m criticizing the false community and plastic culture which has sprung up around it.
      I’m not criticizing Caucasians practicing yoga, I’m criticizing the North American version of it inc ertain quarters. I’ve practiced yoga in other Caucasian countries in South America and Europe, and the “scene” is NOTHING like the way it is in the States and Canada. I hope you can see that.

      Do I think I’m perfect? Far from it. We’re all on journeys of our own. As for my alleged racism, judgmental attitude and negativity, I’ll ask the white branch and Japanese branch of my family along with my white friends if they ever got it from me.
      Check out some of these other websites as to understand and see why some people from other cultures get a little upset when they see gross misrepresentations taking place.

      http://newagefraud.org/

      http://theangryblackwoman.com/required-reading/

      • progressingenlightenment

        Once again you come out firing away at “white” ethnic groups with a huge focus on the USA and Canada. Neither country has a corner on the market for exploitation or appropriation of cultures, food, philosophies, etc.
        I grew up in South America in the middle of the jungle and as a result have very different view points than most citizen of the US. However I also take umbrage when individuals, who enjoy the freedoms this country has to offer, think that it is appropriate to make blanket disrespectful assertion.
        I beg you to address the fact that industries in India think nothing of pirating technology from anyone and using it for their own personal gain. This includes the current obssession with yoga and anything involving yoga. Who is wrong here? The shallow, short sighted neophyte or the calculating, selfish mercenary?
        You refer to the “plastic culture” that has infiltrated the yoga community and take all the gullible individuals to task for believing any and everything they read, see or hear but isn’t it better to have yoga introduced into mainstream living than not at all? Granted there are aspects, individuals and application that are being introduced merely for personal gain but if someone is truly motivated to gain the benefits of a regular yoga practice they have greater access to information than wa s available in the past. I just feel that you could have approached the subject in a less incriminating manner with a greater application of yoga principles the most important being non -judgement, non-harming and acceptance.
        As stated before your basic message is lost in the rancorous verbiage of your blog. A great shame since you have some very valid points about the commercialism surrounding the introduction of anything proverbially “new ” to the general public.
        I appreciate you taking the time to engage in this discussion and hope that my observations are not merely brushed aside. I have read the links you provided and take the points you offer to heart and ask the same of you. Ultimately I think we agree that as a discipline, yoga has much to offer and.it is very personal as well. I wish you peace on your journey and honor the light you offer the world

  38. Pingback: Why I Left Yoga (& Why I Think A Helluva Lot Of People Are Being Duped). By Irasna Rising | The Black Dog Blog | Hey, Hey, Mama It's Yoga!

  39. A.M.

    Hello there. Just found this vibrant discussion after my first elephant journal link – glad I was able to read it without the subscription! While I’m a recently qualified hot yoga teacher, and am slowly working my own path in this world, I wasn’t sure what kind of article I was getting into, but it hits the nail on the head. Practical discussion and real observations are what’s going on on this blog, and that’s knowing things for what they really are.
    I don’t have much to contribute, but on my own ‘yogic’ path – stemmed from finding tai-chi and moving meditations to heal a childhood of mental and physical pain – I also feel that before I go straight into the deep end of veganism, fasting, or swallowing cotton rolls for cleansing, I like to know the purpose and necessity for such actions in my own life, and how these actions will go beyond me and make larger changes in the world.
    I was trained in hot yoga in the beautiful land of sunshine, cars and dollar signs – Long Island. Now, I won’t hate on it too much, because I have had interactions with some of the most truly lovely people there who have taught me many valuable life lessons. Dharma Mittra also holds affordable, truly insightful classes, and is known to be quite the guru. However, on ritzy-ditzy L.I. it’s very easy to spot yogis and yoginis who are not getting the point. Whether it’s coming to class after a botox session, or going out for ‘liquid lunch’ after classes (i.e. boozing, not juices) it’s hard to watch the Xanax nation keeping up their bad habits, when they need to let yoga do its job!
    I like the mention of Americans needing that extra kick in the behind from Hot Yoga because, personally, it’s probably true! Myself, along with so many Americans weren’t raised, or were too depressed, and/or stuck up our own egos in too-cool-for-school smoking to actually challenge ourselves physically. Running up mountains, climbing, or being encouraged to stay active in physical activity (or any hobby) sometimes doesn’t happen very well in suburbia, or the 5 boroughs. Enough of the pity party though, doing any yoga, heated or not, gets you out of your own head – the heat just helps. (On a side note: I have been to a handful of Bikram classes, and while they’ve got the smelly heat, it’s not about being yelled at in yoga).
    Lastly, it’s a shame that hot yoga is so expensive, probably because of heating costs, it’s good to remember how lucky some are to be able to get that heat at all! Now living in Yorkshire, UK, my yoga goals are always persistent, but always changing. Here, with a small home studio, (that is very difficult to get ‘hot’ in the year round coolness and lack on insulation) and classes for only £5, I can’t even drag most people into a once a week routine. I do know, however, that many peoples wages go towards cheap food and frequent pub visits – with plenty of rounds and vodka red bulls. Where bacon and sausage on bread is a normal daily breakfast, and eggs and cheese are in most veggie meals – keeping the path of normal healthy eating full of fresh fruits and veg is very challenging. I don’t like to judge and often don’t attack anyone’s lifestyle outright, because I too have had all the deliciously bad habits in my life, but I find there are some cases where some tough love needs to wake people up, and other times when we need to be compassionate to ourselves, but overall be honest and truthful about reality.
    Hope I didn’t blab about unrelated things, but thank you very much for such a provocative article. I like the cultural points as well. (At the yoga parties, I wasn’t given a bindi, and I didn’t want to be a poser by wearing one – although saris and bindis on Indian women are very beautiful).
    Cheers, keep up the interesting thoughts. x

  40. A.M.

    By the by, usually when people get ‘offended’, it’s because they have a strong sense of ego to ‘defend’. I do yoga, am a white American, not super well off, but I get it. I was not offended by your article, but was almost expecting to be : D

    • Hi A.M
      Thank you for “getting it”, you’re quite correct that people go on the defensive if they perceive a threat or challenges to their own status quo. The article was not written in a spirit of threatening others so I’m fairly sure the mudslinging is mostly about projection, the projecting about something about themselves on to me and the article which clearly pushed those raw nerves in them. Those are their issues, not mine.
      Thank you also for sharing your story about your own yogic journey. Like all journeys, there are surprises, pitfalls and unexpected surprises, it’s just the nature of the beast. Since you are in the UK now, I’m sure you’ll pick up the differences in culture from Long Island fairly quickly! The UK also has a fairly large South Asian population of Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis, though I’m not sure how involved they are in the yoga community there. If you’re looking for support, try to get in touch with Bill Feeney and Fiona Agombar. I have heard nothing but fantastic things about them and they stayed at my first spiritual teacher and guide’s hotel in Cappadocia, Turkey.
      Good luck!

      • A.M.

        Cool. Thanks for that. How interesting to find that Fiona Agombar happens to be doing a specialist yoga retreat in Yorkshire – where I live, for MS. That would be helpful to broaden the understanding of yoga and it’s purpose to a larger audience. I find that people here are either really fit and able, or really would have to reverse years of certain lifestyle habits to really see, or become aware of different changes in mind, willpower and health. Always moving forward..

  41. Found your excellent blog through your Yoga article and wanted to say thank you. You nailed it. I find it amusing how many of the comments were about the exceptions disproving the rule (“our studio is DIFFERENT!”). I dropped out of a Jivamukti Teacher’s Training last year when a “celebrity” teacher from New York came up to teach us “Planetary Chanting” promising us the chance to “taste the flavor of divinity”.
    What turned me off most was the self-justifying, narcissistic belief that Yoga could be ANYTHING you wanted it to be. Seemed to me that when something could be anything, it was by definition no-thing….

    • Earth Energy Reader

      Hi Claude,
      Generally things which are the most bland and vacuous are subject to being interpreted as anything you want it to be OR projected with any “meaning” you want it to have. It’s the same with many celebrities and politicians who deliberately stay away from controversy and avoid taking firm and definitive staces on anything and usually stick to the approved script and say the blandest, most banal generalities. What they say can then mean basically anything you want it to mean or wish it to mean.

    • A.M.

      Yea man, but similarly, life and ‘life purpose’ is just the same. It can be anything you want it to be, or it can be nothing, it can be bland, it can be bold: whatever you like. Either way, you gotta work for it. Be true to yourself, and what you reflect will be true.

      • Cw

        Yeah man I hear you and I hear that line of thinking a lot but I guess anything can be anything you want it to be – like language or dance or as you say, life itself. And while your interpretation and expression of these things may be your unique truth, without formal structure to ground it and give it context, it often devolves into mish-mash gibberish. Or have you noticed ?

  42. Amelia

    I love this….everyone has a point! I started doing yoga almost six years ago and a few months into it, stumbled upon an Anusara yoga workshop and totally fell in love with the philosophy of this tradition. I am a Malaysian Chinese practising Tibetan Buddhism, so I am most familiar with the teachings. I love my practice and am grateful for the opportunity to study his beautiful teaching. As all of you here know what happened to the Anusara founder, I am now convinced that the term ‘yoga’ has been abused by the many! It is a shame, really and I do thank you though for posting and sharing your thoughts and observations. Its been enlightening to read all of your experiences here..all who have shared!

  43. Priya S.

    I read your post on Elephant Journal, and I just wanted to say, rock
    on, you are such a badass! I laughed my ass off the whole way through,
    and even more so when I saw the blow back on the comments section,
    coming largely from the kinds of people you were critiquing. I’ve been
    so frustrated with new age white followers of other new age white
    pseudo gurus, and it is especially annoying when they try to censure
    you for being “judgmental” when you critique them for pimping out
    things they don’t understand. Not that I’m an expert on yoga or
    meditation, either, but I know a fraud when I see one.
    Anyhow, just wanted to let you know that the post was awesome! Thank you!

  44. Hi,EER, I’m happy to find you. I am Diana, I am from Romania, and I am on my way to ascension since 2010, when I woke up to the truth. I also have a blog where I write to people about spiritual matters and try to support them, cause this is a part of my mission in this life.
    I feel you with this post. Yoga is a sacred practice for the spirit, and for the body – but through the spirit as well. It’s about finding yourself into the peace and silence of your moments of practice and finding your energetic balance and your healing grace to the yoga positions. It’s a way to reconnect to your greater self and to the divine as well. People, most of them, don’t understand yoga. it became so commercial, so fancy, so misunderstood and fake…theiy have distorted it’s real meaning and turned it into something superficial. I read the autobiography of Paramahansa Yogananda and I’ve understood the true meaning of Kryia Yoga. I think that the indian culture is holding the secrets of the spiritual enlightening through the practice of yoga and of meditation. The indian culture is so rich in spirituality! It must be studied with much awareness and understood corectly, and not modified. Any modification alterates its sacred secrets. You are trully blessed to have indian blood in your veins, cause I am sure that you also have the energetic line with the wisdom of your ancesters. :)
    Be blessed kind spirit, and continue to bring the Light to our beloved Earth!
    Namaste!

    Diana

  45. Pingback: In-Spiral-ed Living « The Shift Has Hit The Fan

  46. Very valid points, especially on the accessibility of Yoga to people who really need it. I guess the next question is will there be yogis who are willing to not join the flashy world of yoga and do the work that is less rewarding financially to help those who can truly benefit from the true essence of Yoga.

    • fatyogitoes, I can hardly envision some of the yogalebrities like Elena Brower, Colleen Saideman, Rodney Yee, John Friend or Sadie Nardini going out of there to volunteer their time and teach yoga on a REGULAR AND PERMANENT BASIS to underprivileged or under-represented populations like inner-city kids, welfare moms, abused women in shelters or half-way houses, returning war vets from Iraq or Afghanistan suffering from PTSD or neglected senior citizens wasting away in old folks homes. There’s no money in it (and no glam or a Hollywood celebrity clientele).

      Plus to be quite frank, I really don’t get the impression that any of them have the emotional depth and spiritual maturity and interpersonal skills to deal with such sensitive groups and issues. Can you imagine John Friend at Walter Reed Military Medical Center teaching and doing yoga with male Iraq War vets who are double amputees? They’d rather give their time at some crappy corporate event like GLBL Yoga and hope the donations goes to some charity and the charity can go do the dirty work and deal with the unwashed masses on their behalf. They’d rather stay cloistered in their Long Island or Encinitas affluent enclaves and OM the rest of the world away from them.

      IMHO, I think it’s going to be yoga activists, people who are truly dedicated and can see and understand the healing capacity of yoga, who will make those inroads. They will be the bulwark in making yoga accessible to all.

  47. Reblogged this on fatyogitoes and commented:
    Very valid points raised by a fellow yogi. It was exactly how I felt lying down in Savasnana after 2 Yoga classes yesterday…has Yoga today completely lost its heart/ essence?

  48. Love it, thank you for your article. I’d say one little thing, when I travel to a country where I don’t speak the language, it’s convenient that the names of the poses “are what they are”. Ballet was invented in France so, no matter where you go, the names of the steps are the same so, when I started practicing yoga, I just accepted that the poses had names, albeit from a dead language, that I’d understand no matter where I go in the world. But I hear you, boy do I hear you. Again, great article!

    • Hi Renee,
      I agree about using the terminology from it’s original language, it’s in Latin dance as well. tango and flamenco especially. My beef is about the use of Sanskrit for fake made-up names like Blissananda of for marketing campaigns or promoting a specific product.

  49. Patrick

    I agree with this almost totally with the small caveat that while it is as disconnected from the Western version as much as the rest of yoga, there is an Indian tradition of sexual and drug related practice related to yoga. It also involves a lot of death symbolism (up to living in charnel grounds covered in the ashes of the dead) the fact that these actions are taboo is a big part of the point of these Indian practices.. They end up in their distorted Torm in the western “yoga” through being appropriated by Alistier Crowley 19th century magician and scam artist, as well as other British Occultists.

  50. amenoldie

    mmm… it’s unfortunate when the elements of human suffering invade an inherent spiritual practice. greed, hatred and delusion. In this article the author targets those aspects strongly with the Western civilization, which in truth seems to exude negativity the strongest upon this planet. Does she think to examine the source of what she perceives, which is the self?
    Further, weakening language is weakening that of which we speak. In this case, “Yoga”. i believe yoga encompasses all area of life (and death, for that matter). Yoga does not start in the classroom and end at the classroom. It is a way of being, of opening our minds and hearts, freeing our spirits. What about the ‘yoga’ of making a cup of tea, or going skateboarding?
    I view the western introduction to the Sacred as extremely beneficial. Maybe if we shift our perceptions as such will strengthen that betterment process. Please, i ask her, leave the “scene” get rid of the “life style”, for Yoga is not this.

    and maybe, after 8 years of practice, she’d feel confident to her own drop in, by donation classes open to ALL.

    peace

  51. Joti

    I agree with a lot of the original article that the “business of yoga” is truly an oxymoron in and of itself, and that this process of commoditizing (and modification of the practices for the sake of find new market niches) the process of self-discovery, healing, and reconnection is unfortunate. However, I think it is a necessary evil because it gets to reach greater amounts of people. What I take issue with is the author giving up on yoga and claiming we are all being duped. A major point that is being missed here (and I only read a few of the comments, so maybe it has been discussed) is that yoga is a very personal journey, and its true a few bad experiences can turn even the most enthusiastic student off, it is your journey to take and explore. Lets not be so myopic, I think this is just a phase for yoga as it reaches more and more people, like everything that gains mainstream popularity, theres going to sectarianism and divisiveness because everyone feels the need to be right, and get paid, and all that. But, even if all this hoopla surrounding styles and methodology and guruism benefits 1 out of every 100 people, then perhaps it is worth it, no? I got into asana practice after doing a vipassana meditation retreat. My physical practice has greatly benefited my meditation and my overall well-being. Awareness, breath, strength, integrity, intention, reconnection to spirit. These are worthwhile endeavours to me and what yoga helps me achieve. This is a great discussion to be having, nonetheless, so I that the author and other commentors for piping up.

  52. Pingback: top 15 yoga blog posts of 2012!

  53. jumakae

    Reblogged this on Jumakation and commented:
    First time I’m reblogging something, but i love this. And mind you, there are major benefits of yoga! Thankfully, there is donation-based yoga provided by community members of Long Beach that takes place on the bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean – with a diverse range of participants. Exercise doesn’t have to be a luxury, or a privilege. :)

  54. Roisin

    Hi there,

    Really enjoyed this article, it’s reassuring to find someone actually writing about these issues. I’m a Western woman from Scotland and I’m worried in case this bizarre Yoga scene spreads over here. I’ve been learning about Yoga through the ‘official’ Yoga community in Scotland. They are unpretentious and welcoming. It’s very fun and light hearted.

    However, I completely agree with the class division. The price for Yoga classes is astonishing. The people I have met through Yoga are mainly middle/upper class white women and their mostly retired. I sometimes feel a little frustrated that I can’t attend a regular class due to financial reasons and I’m sure I’m not the only one

    Cheers,
    warm regards,
    Roisin :)

  55. I think most of the problems here are because people are looking for a social thing with people who are “like them”. I do yoga by myself because I know that most spiritual groups are full of shit, I have to sit listening to old women talk about their fear of snakes being a karmic residue of a past life, makes me want to puke. I have had private lessons with a teacher. Yoga is supposed to be personal. I think if you even think there should be a ‘yoga scene’ then your part of the problem. I think Isha foundation is good though. I learned Shambhavi from them. They’ve never hassled me and the practice is dynamite. All the emphasis is on doing your home practice. Maybe they do weird stuff together in private but the techniques I’ve learned from them have been excellent and extremely well taught. The British Wheel of Yoga think is ok but it’s quite divorced from spirituality. Whenever I go to that stuff it irritates me because I feel it’s trying to be too palatable. I think it’s a bit sort of arrogant to assume that you know what to expect, and their classes try to cater to that arrogance under the guise of not being too extreme. Just my two cents.

  56. Ahimsa

    I think your accusations and statements could not be less “Yogi”. Yes, the real meaning of yoga has definitely been lost in the Western Society, but maybe thats because many people in the West are not educated by the Indian people to set it straight. Im from Canada and we have so many Indian Immigrants, you would think that instead of “making fun of the westerners behind their backs”, they could teach them the real way of Yoga and what its all about. I am a certified yoga teacher and I have always been more interested in the culture, history and spiritual side of yoga rather than the “work out” aspect of it. So please dont generalize. I also get annoyed by the lack of education and the fact that its becomming a trend. But, that just motivates me to teach! Teaching yoga is not just about the asanas, but teaching the real meaning behind it as well. Maybe you should stop being so jaded, maybe be a little more yogi, and worry about your own yoga journey rather than what others are doing. I genuinely hope that the majority of your Indian brothers and sisters dont share the same views, as I find them to be judgemental and it sounds like you think you are inferior to the western society. Its upsetting to me that instead of embracing the interest Westerners have taken to your culture, instead you mock them for trying. Way to show acceptance, the way we have shown your culture by welcoming you into our country with open arms. Good luck.

    • “the way we have shown your culture by welcoming you into our country with open arms.”

      First of all it’s not “your” country, North America is a Red continent, not a white one and “Canada” is a constructed nation-state based on Eurocentric ideas and imperialistic expansion. Please don’t play the “gracious host” for something which wasn’t your’s to “give” in the first place and then try acting nice about it. If anything, your comment shows up your own inherent and internalized racism vis a vis Indian immigrants. Go check out the “Decolonizing Yoga” FaceBook page. And you completely misread my post, it’s not about me thinking Indians are “inferior to the western society”, it’s about the lack of diversity in the scene and the annoying pseudo-spiritual posers who populate it.

      • nesh

        LUUUUVE your initial article and love this answer. :) so refreshing!!! and true. keep them coming :)

      • Angela

        Thank you! I live in Canada and .. thank you! You hit the nail on the head. Really don’t need to say more than that.

  57. Thanks for sharing: D

    I really like!

  58. Nazima Ali

    Interesting post and resulting discussion. While I agree with some of your points, I think a few things need to be brought into perspective. I’ve been practicing yoga for years, but I don’t get caught up in the marketing trend of naked/candlelight/hot yoga. I do it for what it brings me mentally and physically.

    Getting worked up about others is an ego thing – I personally couldn’t care less what others are doing with their practice(Sanskrit, Hindu names, Indian jewelry and clothing). I think it brings Indian culture to the forefront and why not – hopefully that results in less racism and more knowing of the culture if not outright understanding.

    It seems to me that you’re outraged on behalf of your culture and feel that it’s being bastardized – I can understand that, but that Indans are scamming people for money and laughing behind Caucasian people’s backs – that to me shows a lack on the part of Indians – it’s nothing to brag about. Just another ignorant behaviour that if it was a Westerner doing it would be considered atrocious. Right? Not to mention how many Indians are scamming their own kind. Just as their are marketing trends here in the Western world, there is similar trends in other places.

    Before you get angry – please note I’m brown too. I have numerous friends who are non-Indian and practice in an authentic way. I think surrounding yourself with the right people is key. Then all this other stuff just becomes silly and you do what you can to right the misinterpretations and practice authentically.

    As one of the other readers noted, people that are drawn to the practice are the ones who most likely need it, hence the majority that you see in your community. I would hate to see something this beautiful and healing being kept a ‘secret’ and not be shared just because they aren’t practicing it ‘right’.

    Things aren’t always done traditionally and I think that there are definitely some people that go overboard – that’s just them. Name change, eating habits and egos can clash and it creates a toxic environment instead of something real. I had never heard of rave yoga until your post.

    I will end this by saying there are many Indians teaching and learning yoga, tantra etc. It isn’t exclusive to ‘non-Indians’.

    Glad you started this discussion.

    • Hi Nazima,
      Thanks for your comments.

      Back and forth:
      “Getting worked up about others is an ego thing – I personally couldn’t care less what others are doing with their practice(Sanskrit, Hindu names, Indian jewelry and clothing). I think it brings Indian culture to the forefront and why not – hopefully that results in less racism and more knowing of the culture if not outright understanding.”

      Getting worked up about others, in this case, is really about cultural appropriation and cultural imperialism. The West has a long and ugly history of doing this, especially with respect to using the marketplace to do this for economic ends. Why is it inappropriate for a Caucasian to say wear a burka or hijab or an African mumu to something like the Oscars but it’s perfectly Ok for Selena Gomez to spot a bindhi at a show or Madonna showing up at the Grammy’s in a sari? Why is it OK to appropriate some cultures and not others? While I am completely for respectful cultural exchange and understanding, wearing the ethnic dress and taking on the mannerisms of ethnic groups is really a political act, even if the intention isn’t so. And to say well what about non-whites wearing jeans and T-shirts? It’s NOT the same thing. I’m going to quote Lakshi Nair who left a comment when this article was posted on Elephant Journal:
      “Indians wear jeans and t-shirts because globalization means that jeans and t-shirts signify assimilation into a globalized (read Westernized) culture. But why do westerners wear saris? To look exotic. There’s a big difference between trying to assimilate and trying to stand out as unique, right? I mean, why hasn’t any Hollywood starlet worn a burqa to the Oscars? Or a hanbok? Or a buckskin dress? Or any other kind of culturally specific ethnic wear? Why sari? Because other communities might make a hoo-ha over their cultures being appropriated. Because Indian things being stripped of their Indian-ness is so commonplace, no one blinks.”

      “that Indans are scamming people for money and laughing behind Caucasian people’s backs – that to me shows a lack on the part of Indians – it’s nothing to brag about. Just another ignorant behaviour that if it was a Westerner doing it would be considered atrocious. Right? Not to mention how many Indians are scamming their own kind.”

      By no means am I placing no blame on Indians at all. There are scam artists everywhere. My intention was to alert people to that fact that brown doesn’t automatically equate to authentic and that are just as many snake oil salesmen in the yoga/guru Indian world as there are in the Western New Age movement. I mean we only need to look at what’s happening with the Bikram Choudhury cae to see that.

      “Have you considered those Indian people that immigrate to the Western countries and change their names(Paul, Dave, Karen, Jenny)? Why is this not mocked and a non-Indian choosing to take an Indian name or wear ethnic stuff is?”

      Most of the Indians I’ve met who have changes their names to Western ones were either Christian Indians or those who did it to get ahead professionally. Let’s face it, your CV or resume will probably have a higher chance of being considered for a job in Salt Lake City, Utah if your name is say Peter MacPherson over say, Parthasarathi Thuraisingham. My personal opinion is that the practice is horrible, cultural heritages should be worn on your sleeve and celebrated but racism, exclusion and their economic effects are realities for visible minorities everywhere.

      I’ve have also seen many teens of Indian-subcontinental backgrounds especially in Toronto, try to come across as African-American, wearing the pants down to their knees and taking on African-American turns of speech and so on. I’m not talking about Indians from the West Indies, like Trinidadians and those from Jamaica, but rather those whose parents came direct from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Southern India. Is that them paying homage to another culture? Is it them trying to fit in once they realise the don’t feel comfortable or will never fit in the white community? I don’t know but to not acknowledge that there are real power dynamics at work as well as an insiduous form of racism when cultural appropriation takes place lessens all of us.

      http://thebabarazzi.com/2012/10/25/is-de-culturing-yoga-an-act-of-good-faith-or-a-promotion-of-xenophobic-ideology-a-light-and-easy-subject/

  59. Hi there,

    Really enjoyed your article…lots to consider and you make it light without deflecting the seriousness of it all.

    I made a film years ago you may enjoy: https://vimeo.com/37046360

    Old film, not looking for self-promotion, just thought you would get a kick out of it and could not find your email here.

    Nice work,

    Nilesh

  60. Nicola

    I’ve been practicing asanas now for 7 years, on my own, using an online yoga site. I quit one site in particular due to a gradual but definite shift toward marketing and cult, but the site I use now is very authentic (so far) and by that I mean the instructors are down to earth and knowledgable about not only the postures, but the other seven limbs as well. There is no fluff. They share their knowledge and do not make any outlandish claims; nor do they promote any products or studios. So I am very happy with it.

    Like you, I stay away from yoga studios for two reasons: they’re expensive, and for me yoga is not a group activity or experience. It’s very private.

    As to why yoga has exploded in the West, I think we need to look to the cult of the body, which has been a dominat aspect of western culture since the Romans and Greeks, and has become even moe so in the 20th century with the rise of totalitarianism. Note that the two major totalitarian regimes in Europe: nazi and communist, embraced physical prowess and health, the material body over any and all kinds of spirituality. Although our current governments are not overtly totalitarian, we are not living in a fully democratic society either, dominated as we are, by the market, and watched in every way from afar. And so we have a totalitarianism driven by the market, and enforced by government. Add to this the decline of religious beliefs in the wake of materialism, which leaves a “spiritual gap” in the minds of many. The Christian god doesn’t cut it, and yet, somewhere, somehow we can’t live without some sort of spiritual anchor, no matter how illusiory or false it may be. In addition, people like to follow a leader.

    Yoga, as promoted, is a perfect anchor for such a society: the body beautiful, the body strong, and the mind convincing itself it is spiritual. And the fact that yoga is now a six billion $/year industry, the charlatans abound. So the best thing to do, if one wants to practice yoga, is to stay away from yoga studios, read the essential, ancient texts, and work at it on your own, or using a reliable Internet site.

    But the charlatans have always existed too. Milarepa, when encouraged to be a lama at a monistary, refused saying “they put on the yellow robe and have more business dealings than lay people!”. It was true 1000 years ago, and it’s still the case… Not only with yoga. The world is full of spiritual charlatans of all kinds.

    As to the discussion on clothing, that is unimportant.

    • Hi Nicola,
      I couldn’t agree with you more esp. on this cult of the body beautiful. Unfortunately, western society (and I single out the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant one in particular) dictates marketing and economic trends around the world, it dictates our ideals of beauty, it dictates our economic system and structure and it dictates even our definition of health. This cloud of being/ ideas/nexus, whatever then infiltrates into just about every sphere of our life, even the language of discourse and thinking. So it’s not a surprise, that like Star Trek’s Borg, it’s taken over yoga as well.

      I work in health management and health economics and I can tell you from that standpoint, even the definition of “health” is a disputed and much-discussed point. The Western idea of health is basically having a strong, beautiful body and it’s only maybe in the last 20-30 years mental health has entered the equation (which is why talking about things like depression, psychosis etc. is still taboo and makes people uncomfortable in certain circles.) Nothing of spiritual health. They dissected health into 3 silos and have kept them separate. While First Nations cultures and some Asian ones have a much more holistic view of health, that physical health, mental health and spiritual health are indivisible, like a tripod, if one goes, the other 2 will certainly be affected.

      As for the spiritual void because of this materialistic economic world view, this is just my opinion but I really don’t think many Westerners even know their own history properly because if they did, they would know that were were/are many, many spiritual movements within Christianity (NOT Churchianity), Islam and Judaism and there is a richness and plurality there which could easily accommodate all points of view and ways of being.

  61. T.Terán

    Race and Class.
    See, that’s the thing isn’t it?
    There has been and never will be a Latino race, for instance. Or African race, etc., etc
    Victorian terms used to justify the oppression of Human beings with darker skin pigmentation (then Western Europeans).
    Class- sadly is a reality in India, as well as other countries Western and Eastern though not always based upon the lightness or darkness of skin.

    The concept and notion of ‘race’ fuels war, fear, and segregation
    Human Beings: Homo sapiens/Hominidae are (like it or not) one race, with many varying cultural identities.

    Stop using the term: race, as it doesn’t truly apply.

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  64. Debbie Yogi

    So sad you have not learned how to spread peace joy and love to the world through yoga like all of us ” ca ca casions” who by the way are now almost always a mixture of two or more nationalities. Better to do any kind of yoga rather than sitting around as you do full of negative energy, spreading bad karma and just downright unhappy. Embrace a little change in your heart and your world love and we will all live together in happy harmony. You’re denying yourself the beauty and transformation of all the diversness of yoga….

    • Actually Debbie, this article HAS done a lot of good. It’s been cited in many blogs and articles for furthering the diversity and inclusiveness issues within yoga. If you cant’ differentiate between serious criticism and negativity, then I’m afraid we have nothing to discuss. Check out the links I posted at the end of the article.

    • Angela

      @Debbie Yogi
      Why does spiritual work always have to be about putting your hands over your ears and screaming “la la la, I’m being positive, la la la…” I really hated that whole aspect of new age philosophy when I was living in California. You know what? The Civil Rights movement did not achieve any success because the people in it decided to not be “negative.” And if you think that the dominant society thought of Martin Luther King as some mellow, peace-emitting, feel good hippie, think again. When I was integrating a school, it was made clear to me that Martin Luther King was a “troublemaker” and an “motherf**cker”. Gandhi did not meditate his way to freedom. He challenge the status quo and made the British very uncomfortable and very unhappy. One could even say he was being “negative”. Please, critique the internal aspects of the argument, not the poster’s right to make it.

  65. Wow people make this stuff really complicated!! I just do 12 basic postures by Sivananda, it’s ok for me! I didn’t realise yoga was so political!!

  66. Evan

    Very entertaining to read this perspective on yoga in the west.

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  68. jamie

    You speak about classes being a “high school popularity contest” but don’t you think it seems rather high school to even worry or think like that? You shouldn’t let others distract YOU from YOUR yoga practice. You admit to enjoying the feeling after you take a yoga class but you wont because of what OTHERS do, feel, and think? You be you, and let others be themselves. Find the union y’all…. One Love <3

  69. Molly

    Nice article. Great to see such a diverse response. I am a happy yoga practitioner because my spirituality comes from within (or the inner Atman). I am eternally wary of any venue that venerates to any one person or set of beliefs. I love my yoga and keep it very diverse, but I am well aware of the ego and how it tries to play with me on ‘getting a posture’. It is not in doing the posture, but in un-doing what stands in the way of the posture that makes yoga what it is. And that is too indepth a subject for any dialogue on my behalf. Pity that so many were duped into thinking that perfection is available. Questions everything! Enjoy the journey. Best of luck on yours, friend. Namaste. :)

  70. I’m so glad I ran across this piece. I’m looking for teacher trainings at the moment and struggling with many of the same concerns. It’s ridiculous that there are yogis who would try to disagree with the blatant cultural appropriation and commercialization of an ancient tradition – just look at the prices for what it takes to become “certified”. (Don’t even get me started on a certain form of hot yoga.) Yoga is becoming a business and exclusive club like any other fad, not the revolution that it ought to be. (Of course, even the “enlightened” can become attached to an ideology, so it doesn’t surprise me that you have received criticism.)

    I believe that yoga is supposed to be “for the people” – a way of placing bodily and spiritual autonomy back into our hands. By expanding access to yoga (esp. for folks dealing with trauma, conflict, socioeconomic disadvantages), people can recognize that they have the capacity for self-healing and growth, that we don’t have to be completely reliant on the medical industrial complex and pharmaceutical companies (or institutionalized religion for that matter). In other words, yoga ought to be treated as a form of practical knowledge and personal empowerment, a gift to be passed down (or paid forward), a way of reclaiming our health rather than leaving it up to principles of profit. Unfortunately, yoga as practiced in modern capitalist societies is a total farce – and the cult of celebrity, the proprietary methods, etc. is all a big turn-off to me. That said, I continue to believe it has revolutionary potential. If anyone has recs for programs that emphasize activism and working with underserved communities, I’d greatly appreciate it :)

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  72. stratocruiser

    Living in India, I see the overwhelming desire of people to lead a easy life- job, car, house, holidays etc. The notion of renunciation and spiritualism has been dead for a while. Western education and scientific education don’t sit easy with traditional faith driven spiritual movements.

    In a world driven by notions of personal rights, spa-oriented yoga gives a good entry point into the consciousness of the young urban professional. Once, he or she is hooked, its upto the individual to seek deeper for the source of the divine.

    In the olden days, religions were spread by the sword. I much prefer the spa and market driven approach :-). More fun, less dead bodies! I think one of the reasons why the Kriya Yoga teachers used the West as a platform is because of its current position as the driver of global standards.

    So- to sum it up in Ayurvedic terms- spa driven yoga is best viewed as a vehicle to deliver the medicine to the target.

  73. heima

    People. They try and throw away, then go for something new. But no matter what you try, you are still there on earth listening to your own mind’s lies. Yoga is another name for an exercise for westerns.
    ps. Accordingly to google trends the word “mindfulness” is upcoming;)

  74. Jade

    I totally agree with this article!!!! I am a Yoga instructor and I feel immensely disappointed as well.
    I decided to become an instructor because there were many stress factors in my life and I needed to ease physical and emotional injuries I’ve sustained in my life. And learn how to discipline myself to be more mindful. I didn’t become an instructor to be on the cover of the Yoga Journal or to be some bullshit yogi celebrity. I barely make a living off of it. I mostly volunteer to communities who do not have access to go to a Yoga studio neither the financial means to purchase memberships or even pay for a single drop in class. And speaking from an intuitive perspective, there was a lot BS going on behind the scenes of the school I got certified from. So I witnesses corruption at first hand while training. I became disillusioned but I did not let those narcissistic/ sociopathic idiots get to me. After I got my certificate, I got away from all of those dishonest people and continued on my own journey. There is alot of serious shit going on in the world. People suffering from depression, battered women, abused children and so on. Those are the ones who need Yoga practice the most!! Yes many people are being duped! I dont by into that BS because Ive been there, and witnessed a lot of bogus shit. So now Im teaching my way. I allow my students to practice asanas to their own comfortability. I do not pressure them or bully them into impossible Asanas. I am gentle and respectful to them and very sensitive to whatever the students would like to share with me personally after class. Like problems at home, or advice they may need. AND ITS ALL FOR FREE OR A VERY SMALL DONATION. Thats how I roll!! And Im not worrying about a damn thing. Because when more bamboozled people start to wake up… I will be there to support them!!!!!! PEACE AND BLESSINGS I COMMEND YOU FOR WRITING THIS ARTICLE! Thank you!!! Namsaste!!! Your Guru should be your breathing…not some asshole that wants your money and completely brainwash you!!!! Fuck That!!!!

    Gangsta Yogini!

  75. Melissa

    Hear, hear to the author and to Laksmi’s comments above and a few others that are willing to see past their own agendas to the truth of this article.
    but Wow, just wow. The level of unexamined privilege, racism and justification for cultural appropriation dripping from most of these comments is truly cringe-worthy and brutal, especially the first few pages. It completely proves the original premise that Westerners are comfortable co-opting other cultures and then bashing those that would call them on it. The response to someone telling you that wearing their cultural dress and spiritual symbols is offensive is to tell them: “no, it’s not offensive if I say it isn’t. I can wear it if I want to cuz other people wear other stuff or cuz I’ve fully embraced my cultural appropriation. and besides, it looks so good on me, so I will?” Seriously?
    A person sharing their lived experience of racism and cultural appropriation deserves to be treated as real and frankly trumps your theory or wishful thinking. It just does. You can’t experience living on that side of things unless you actually do. And slapping them in the face a few more times by telling them their experience (and their willingness to share it) is wrong or some how misguided or it offends your ears to have to listen to it, is just re-affirming that racism and oppression. Surely some of you can see that, right?
    If there are no People of Color or folks from different socio-economic statuses in classes, then that is NOT an accident, it is a SYSTEMIC problem, despite any one person’s belief in unity and all one. Systemic racism and oppression require effort on the part of those enjoying the privilege (ie White people, upper classes, etc) to dismantle them. I highly recommend looking up/getting to a live training on some racism 101 stuff, stat. Please, please. It will help us all understand so much more about what it really means to be “all in this together.” Being enlightened doesn’t mean living in a sunny bubble of privilege. It includes being able to look at reality and to sit with uncomfortable truths. And hopefully take some actions to change them.

  76. Yes, it’s a shame that yoga has been used as a cloak for many things including identities, money-making scams, etc. The major fault here is that those examples are not yoga. Yoga is becoming in tune with your body; it’s a sport and hobby of self-transformation and growth. The examples you provided are poison to the experience and it’s so disheartening that such a scared practice appeals to dishonest folks as a mask.

    I do hope that you consider practicing yoga again. It’s a shame that society’s grasp on yoga has deterred you from this form of self exploration and expression. I strive to advocate the health benefits and intrinsic rewards of yoga to “recruit” anyone interested in trying it. If we all step back to watch others damage or threaten a sacred practice, we’re only contributing to its demise. Let’s be a part of the change, for both ourselves and society!

  77. S...

    I agree with everything else you wrote but not number 8. At least they recognize your country as opposed to just calling you Asian. Africa is the SECOND largest continent in the world with over 50 countries and in EACH of these countries, hundreds of different cultures and way of life but all you hear is “One of my friends is from Africa. I know you guys like ___”. People just group “black” into one when that continent is the most diverse on the planet and where all humans originated! You are probably also guilty of this too despite experiencing something similar.

    • “You are probably also guilty of this too despite experiencing something similar.”

      Actually, I’m quite aware of what you wrote about re: Africa and cultural, tribal and national diversity of that continent. I have friends from Botswana, Guinea, Kenya, Nigeria, Ethiopia, DR Congo, Algeria and Tunisia to know enough that there is no way on Earth I would ever use generalities and blanket terms to encompass all those diverse cultures. I think in some ways it’s even more pronounced for blacks because a white person sees a black person and doesn’t know that that they can be any number of nationalities from Africa, or from the Caribbean, or African American because of the diversity of the black diaspora.
      The diaspora from the Indian subcontinent is just as wide, from Indians, Bangladeshis, Pakistanis, Sri Lankans and Nepalese in South Africa/Uganda, the Caribbean particularly Jamaica and Trinidad/Tobago, and all those who immigrated into Europe and North America/Australia.

  78. BK

    Ha! I love this. I don’t agree with it all but most of it I have been ranting about for years. I have not read all of the comments so forgive me if I am redundant.
    What I did want to mention is that the majority of “gurus” out there, whether they be Indian or some white dude from Scandinavia, are men who, on some website, blog or even legally, have been accused of taking advantage of, abusing or degrading a woman or many women at some point in their gurudom. Two recent examples being the dramas with John Friend and Bikram. Who knew that yoga would create a community of megalomaniacs?! It’s such a pity because I always tell people that yoga saved my life. Sure it sounds hyperbolic but had I not had my practice during the most traumatic time in my life, I’m not sure I would be in the place I am. And funny enough, that drama was fueled by my yoga instructor ex-husband.
    I don’t believe in this supposed “enlightenment” and find it interesting that for some reason, it’s reserved for mostly just men whose followers are mostly just women.
    And just when you think it can’t get any worse, you hear of something called Orgasmic Meditation led by a group calling themselves OneTaste (yeah, even grosser) where a bunch of vulnerable, ignorant young (yes, white) women remove their panties and have a total stranger stroke them sexually (though they say it has nothing to do with sex) for 15 minutes in order for both parties to raise their awareness. And it’s only 175 bucks to learn how to do this! And all of this is under the guise of Buddhism. SMDH It’s disgusting. And yes, I’m being judgmental so I guess I’m not enlightened yet.
    All of that said, my practice (which I do in the middle of my living room) is one of the most important things in my life and I am eternally grateful for it all.
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

    • Hi BK,
      I wrote about John Friend, and shady gurus here:

      http://earthenergyreader.wordpress.com/2012/04/23/why-the-age-of-gurus-is-over-and-how-the-truth-vibrations-are-exposing-them/

      and about Bikram here:

      http://earthenergyreader.wordpress.com/2013/05/09/oh-how-the-mighty-fall/

      Too many insecure or easily gullible women + A few men on the make with narcissistic personality disorder = Recipe for disaster….

      • paul

        I can’t reply to your comment below so I comment here.
        The term OM and OMing (as they refer to the activity) was what lead me to check it out (I don’t do the practice, and I’ve only listened to Daedone’s book Slow Sex (she has a ted talk aswell), and read Holdorf who writes at elephant journal), under the assumption that it had something to do with aum/praṇva, but it does not; while it certainly take some cache from the association OM is simply an abbreviation and no hindu stuff shows up. If anyone it is christian meditation that has been appropriated to describe dhyāna etc., which is similar but for the most part a different introspective modality, but the ship that could reclaim the term sailed a century ago. There is (or was) a community (and shared housing) around the practice, and so there is the possibility of the sort of manipulation and abuse, but from what I read the affiliation was loose and centered around the practice, rather than a personality.

    • paul

      The “Orgasmic Meditation” folks claim no allegiance to Buddhism; it’s intentionally secular and philosophically unaligned. The practice is a 15 minute goalless, very slow stroking of the clitoris or penis with one finger. People are disconnected to their bodies which is why asana practice is so closely associated with yoga in the west, and now increasingly in India as well, and this is also what Om claims to offer.

      • Even if it is unaffiliated with either Hinduism or Buddhism, the fact that they took the name OM, which is a Hindu mantra, and appropriated it to O.M, Orgasmic Meditation, does not change the fact that is STILL cultural appropriation nonetheless.

  79. Lu

    OMG..haters will hate …transformation taking it’s steps..fake it till you make it.
    and 20$ yoga also usually include beautiful designed studio, hot shower, free yoga mat and a towel …it’s also a lot of yoga studio’s donation based …it’s easy to give up, when it’s not your truly path i guess…cuz yoga teaching to accept others with they vision and even if it’s not same as yours.
    But it’s always good to think, not just following,..and India should be proud to be inspiration ….it’s not competition..<3

  80. Hey, you do have many points about yoga culture in the USA… but, that’s no reason to leave YOGA, its like you are letting all the bullshit be what yoga is. In fact your title is misleading and will make people believe yoga is actually all that yoga is not.

    So, you also have this “I’m Indian” identity that really doesn’t serve you. Who cares about pussycat dolls wearing saris. A true yogi knows that saris are just as the same as jeans and t-shirts. You are giving meaning and being outraged by things that matter very little. A true yogi wouldn’t complain that yoga classes are very expensive and classist… he would just open a free (or cheap) yoga class in the park

    BTW you just can’t judge the milenial science of yoga for what happens in bikram yoga. I mean, snobby and expensive yoga in a sauna… in a sauna!!! come on!!!

    If you read the yogasutras of patanjali you will know what yoga really is: it’s a system of 8 steps leading to samadhi, the state of God/self realization. So, the first steps of yoga are yama and niyama which means observances and abstinences, which is like morality rules that are the foundation to all the rest of yoga. If something doesnt observe these, it’s simply not yoga. Only after these you have asana which is posture and which is classically called hatha-yoga, or yoga of the body. And then it continues with other steps leading to meditation and samadhi.

    So yoga is spiritual, not pseudo spiritual. Problem is, you were trying pseudoyoga :)

  81. Greetings,

    Although the link (below) is on a piece of specialised research about a yoga teacher training organisation in the UK, it does show what is at stake in ‘Western’ milieu of ‘Yoga’ you are describing in North America where people are longing to be perceived as belonging to a community of interest that seeks to control much of the contemporary commentary about yoga through blogs, journals, conferences and websites then ‘kicks away the ladder’ to non-english speaking students, ‘brown’ (your word) folk, those with disabilities and economically and educationally disadvantaged groups through commercial accreditation initiatives. Generally yoga is being served up on an axis of (crypto-Christian)/Social Democracy tho’ often wrapped up in petit-bourgois New Age / exoticism and pseudo-science. This explains the emails you are getting from individuals who have not yet had sufficient opportunity to acknowledge the products of such the oppresive ideology that is informing their practice. Judging by the regularity of overblown and quite frankly, ill-considered and aggressive opinion pieces like this provokes many may be ‘locked in’ to defending their own peculiar brand of dissonance. The ideology informing that model is (in the majority) Christian/Secular/Humanist/Spinozan. Much of it takes yoga as an objectified and objectifiable concept (theory/practice) but I think pretty much all of it is hypo-critical in the sense that the imperative for individual contextual analysis (like you see in these comments) proceeds from prior, group based psychology growing out from the genesis of ideas I have sketched in this response – not from what each sect or thought leader presumes (and promulgates) as a distinctive and authentic position, or view of a word rarely hear in these sorts of conversations – Dharma?

    Reportage: The British Wheel of Yoga (Final Edition) – Free Download !

    http://ragingbooks.com/reportage-the-british-wheel-of-yoga/

    Editorial Team
    RAGING BOOKS

  82. Amanda Montavon

    Everyone starts somewhere. When I first stared yoga I was working as a personal trainer and group fitness instructor. I was only interested in yoga for the physical benifits and it wasn’t very long after I started practicing that I started teaching, but even just the physical practice has a strong influence on the mind and can start to “change” a person. 10 years later, I feel more aware more conscious, more connected to my spirit, more aware if my connection to everything else. I’ve contunued to learn and grow and i’ve just completed a two year Ayurveda practitioner course. I’m no expert on Yoga or Ayurveda, but I enjoy sharing what I know with others. I do a lot of free lectures but I do charge for my classes and consultations and even though I would like to do it all for free I need to make an income and I deserve to be paid for my time. You don’t have to go to fancy yoga studios to practice yoga. Anyone could watch the numerous free you tube videos and learn the practice. There are “fakes” and hypocrites everywhere in every religion, but again everyone starts somewhere. You seem personally offended, annoyed and even angry…. But we all start somewhere. We grow and learn about our true self with each life, we learn love forgiveness and compassion. Yoga in the west is also growing. Instead of complaining about why not help fix it?

    • Mat

      Amanda – “Instead of complaining about why not help fix it?” – I fear you may have missed the salient point in a blog like this – which is “complaining about it” IS the first step towards fixing it? At least it makes what was once being ignored or brushed off louder, more visible and therefore capable of being articulated in courses, conferences, blogs, programs and so on. Protest is a legitimate response whenever a dominant ideology seeks to quieten dissent, in fact in some cases protest is only meaninful action. In terms of ‘fixing it’ – the only way to ‘fix’ this is to encourage marginalised individuals and groups to speak up just like this – not suggest they join the fold of passive, apathetic and generally cynical folk whose drive-by analysis only wants to evade serious debate on these more difficult issues that are clearly affecting the lives of many people. To see more clearly, there is an obvious problem with people in relatively privileged positions appealing to others to forgive and be compassionate. It rarely results in anything other than ‘poor you with all your anger’ and so on – or – ‘hey now, we’re all the same there’s no need to sound off about it’. well, to be frank both these function to further embed the rights and perceived moral superiority of the privileged, composure class and around we go again. The solution is to stop judging people for how they feel, but analyse the content of what they are saying – and although the tone here is obviously raw, there isn’t much you can argue about in terms of the oppressive nature of contemporary north american yoga culture for everyone that doesn’t fit in the direction of the physically able, white, middle-aged and (probably relatively advantaged) female?

  83. Lakshmi

    I struggle with the issues raised in this article a lot, as well as many of the issues raised by the commenters. I’m an Indian-American yoga teacher teaching in a city in which yoga is still predominantly “a white people thing.” This makes me uncomfortable because of my own personal issues. I grew up being one of the only non-white children in my school/neighborhood, and I had some pretty scarring experiences growing up. I was an introverted and sensitive child and so these things made me draw into my shell even further. I have to admit that I don’t enjoy attending classes where I’m the only non-white person, and I really really struggle when I have to teach classes that have no people of color at all. I see so many comments by people who are offended by the idea that yogis should even acknowledge skin color at all. But I’ll admit that I do. I do because during my formative years, my skin color never went unnoticed and I often felt excluded because of it. So when I find myself in that situation, it triggers a very deep sense of self-consciousness. Of course, I recognize that that is part of my spiritual work that I have to do. But I know many won’t even come through the door (like my sister, for example) because they can’t get through the discomfort of that situation. It’s harder for us because we are Indian and yoga is supposed to be part of our spiritual heritage. We should feel safest and most at home here. And yet, sometimes…I’m just going to admit it…it feels like it doesn’t belong to us anymore. I know people will say that yoga is universal. It belongs to no one. And of course that is true in a sense, but it is also the best part of our culture and heritage as Indians. If that’s taken away from us, we are only left with the crap (which all cultures have). I don’t know how to describe it, but I can only say that it is an incredibly awkward feeling to feel on the outside of something that you grew up with. That is why the cultural appropriation issue gets our chuddis all up in a bunch. Though this article is written with a lot of anger, I would be happy if the general yoga community were able to respond to it with acknowledgement of where the anger comes from…with understanding and compassion even if the words feel like darts directed at you. If I saw some of that in the responses, I would feel that yoga is doing its job in the West. I believe that when the Indian teachers of the past came to the West en masse, they did so from a calling to spread the universal message of yoga because the West sorely needed it. All people can benefit from yoga, but maybe white people (and I’m sorry if that term offends) need it the most because (in general) they aren’t as grounded in spiritual tradition as most people of color (in general) are already….maybe.

    As a teacher, who grew up reciting Sanskrit prayers and can pronounce them properly, I still find myself feeling awkward chanting in a class because I feel like it’s ok for a non-Indian to chant these quaint, archaic nonsensical syllables, but if I do it, then I might be pushing Hinduism or something because I, just because of my appearance, give the words a culturally specific context, instead of the new-agey, feel-good and dare I say, “white-wash” that other teachers give them. I’ve raised this concern with my students. Most of them assure me that they want my “authenticity.” But I still struggle because the whole thing feels surreal sometimes…to go from being ostracized to being fetishized…none of it feels authentic.

    Cultural appropriation is real. It’s not fair to say that Indians wear t-shirts and jeans, so Westerners can wear saris and bindis. Like it or not, there is a real political dynamic behind both of those fashion phenomena which greatly favors one side over the other. If people could admit that, I would feel like yoga is truly opening people’s eyes. Unfortunately, I see that people use yoga’s essential teaching of oneness and unity to cast a lovey-dovey fog over real issues of oppression and inequality that exist and I don’t think that is at all the intention of yoga. I’ve had some really horrendous experiences with this in the yoga community. Gandhi saw oppression and named it and yet he still treated the oppressor as human and worthy of compassion and kindness. That was what made him a yogi. His eyes were open to the truth that all are equal and all are deserving of respect. Opening your eyes and acknowledging where yoga comes from and where it is going wrong will not mean you will be excluded from it. It will only make us all more connected in truth.

    Just wanted to add…I’m not saying Westerners can’t wear saris and bindis…It’s a beautiful dress and I know people genuinely enjoy wearing it. I”m just saying that it’s not the same as Indians wearing jeans and t-shirts. Indians wear jeans and t-shirts because globalization means that jeans and t-shirts signify assimilation into a globalized (read Westernized) culture. But why do westerners wear saris? To look exotic. There’s a big difference between trying to assimilate and trying to stand out as unique, right? I mean, why hasn’t any Hollywood starlet worn a burqa to the Oscars? Or a hanbok? Or a buckskin dress? Or any other kind of culturally specific ethnic wear? Why sari? Because other communities might make a hoo-ha over their cultures being appropriated. Because Indian things being stripped of their Indian-ness is so commonplace, no one blinks.
    Saris are not all fashion…not at all. They are traditional dress worn daily by millions of women who can do just about anything in them and have been able to to do so for thousands of years. They are very practical for Indian weather. The reason the other types of dress I mentioned are only worn for special occasions is because of globalization. The sari is going that way too for certain segments of Indian society (myself included). Sacheen Littlefeather wearing her traditional dress at the Oscars was making a very different statement than what a non-Indian celebrity wearing the same dress would have (and I doubt anyone would dare!)

    • I just see all this as opportunities for you to start your own classes in the way that you would like it. Proper sanskrit chanting, inclusive to all people, hey you can even do something like “friday at 7pm free class for people who can’t afford it”

      Some people make a business selling saris, some people sell incense or buddha statues. People yearn for spirituality so they think if they look indian they will be more spiritual (like the hare krishnas)… I think its pretty much a compliment to the indian culture, being recognized as spiritual. Yet, in the ultimate sense saris are meaningless!!! everything in the material world is meaningless. This is what the course in miracles says:

      “Nothing real can be threatened,
      Nothing unreal exists.
      Herein lies the peace of God.”

      Of course the pussy cat dolls… that looks like “the system” trying to assimilate indian culture and make it be as meaningless as everything else it produces… But,really you see that all the time, that’s what the system does… like, seeing punk music on MTV… punk was the most antisystem, and it got assimilated. You just can’t attach to anything on the realm of form… It s like this story of the zen master, a disciple finds him peeing on the buddha statue and gets horrified and says “master what are you doing??? the buddha statue is sacred!!!” and the master answers “the toilet is sacred, the tree is sacred… where am I supposed to pee?” Same thing, either everything is sacred or everything is meaningless

      also…
      I once travelled to this amazing spiritual center in brasil. And there appeared an Indian guy who was casually doing business in the region. And he had this thing going on like “I’m from India, we know spirituality since we are children, we are the top in spirituality”… thing is, he couldnt open to the new experience because he had this identity of being indian and I could see the trap he was in.

      So just be cautious of where this indian identity is preventing you from having fun in your yoga classes

    • Angela

      Beautiful.

  84. thought provoking, and i agree with some of your points. but defiantly not all of them. and here is my response http://ishtadevniwas.blogspot.com/2013/11/yes-im-white-yogini-no-im-not-spiritual.html

    • I’m going to post your article here just to show how the sorts of biases and assumptions which came out in your writing:

      “I pretty sure he didnt think we were all going to be running around in saris with the “shiva’s tramp stamp” on our heads. (yes. an indian man actually wrote that in an article while dissing how white women had no place wearing a sari)”

      First of all, I’m a she ;-)
      Second, “tramp stamps” are those tattoos which are usually on the lower back as per porn stars about 10 years ago, hence the name tramp-stamp. They are not on the head.

  85. Mat

    Shivani – I read your response but I’m afraid it is not a novel perspective, I actually suspect that your apparent naivety is no real solution but actually a part of the problem. Those angry dissenting voices that disturb you (or amuse you) or make you angry (your passive-aggression clouds your expression) doesn’t to me suggest that this issue is about you, no – Isn’t it about the dominant group who you may identify with? Yes, yes it is. You have in all probability benefited from a shared interest in neo-liberal/secular yoga organisations who are controlling and shaping the agenda for yoga in the media and so on. Firstly, I faithfully suggest you stop telling folk who aren’t interested in any of that how they should be feeling. You have an option to listen to them, and this sort of post is giving you that option, I suggest you take it. But since you don’t yet seem willing to accept the painful truth of your own cultures shortcomings right now and you are more concerned that your own ideology is defended, (again) neither your pity nor your sanctimony really helps us move on. Your response is fairly typical and only functions to prove the point here – that the group of white, physically able and relatively privileged women are not really ‘getting it’ – but not because it’s too complex to work out but because it undermines a largely unexamined ideology of neo-liberal secular tastes which so many of the lifestyles criticized here, (and perhaps your too?) are based on. Your response has a function – but it’s not quite what you hope for I imagine – it simply furthers the perceived rights and moral superiority of an identified, privileged, ‘composure class’ and so… around we go again. As far as I can see, the best solution is to listen to these voices. They are not asking for your pity, nor do they need you to be like them and wear the same clothes or speak the same language – the reverse is in fact true – we all need to celebrate our differences not situate the conversation on the worn out axis of Christian Social Democractic values and Secular, Humanist utilitarianism. The west has given much but so has asia – and I presume we don’t want either one to be subsumed by the other. It seems to be the majority of Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhist, Jains are (in the US and Europe too) outside the dominant class and all they are asking for is a little more respect, and because they are not seeing it (they are in fact seeing only plagiarism and a disassembling of their most sacred elements of a rich culture mainly for recreation and for profit) their behavior is escalating into more aggressive tactics – which I think is perfectly understandable. Try pausing in your dismissive judgments of people for how negatively they are feeling for a day or two, and take some time to analyse and appreciate the content of what they are saying – loom at the evidence – it’s all around us – in the jornals, in the teacher training, in the studios and at the expos – and then maybe try to get to the bottom of these differences. Of course the tone is often rude, and unforgiving but there isn’t much substance in your response that suggests you are the right person to change anyones mind about the clearly oppressive nature of contemporary north american yoga culture for anyone that doesn’t fit in the direction of the physically able, white, middle-aged and (probably relatively advantaged) female. There is enough room for everyone, please – you are tilting and windmills I think – try giving these voices the space you perhaps take for granted and I am sure we can all learn from each other and flourish together.

    • Mat, I want to thank you for your extremely eloquent and thoughtful responses and for being able to see through my disappointment with the “yoga scene” to what I was really trying to transmit with my blog post. These are heady and heavy issues which can easily be dismissed by the larger cultural milieu we live in particularly in North America, that’s it’s not just a question of “getting over it” and being “hung up on the whole race thing”.
      Thank you.

  86. Hmmmmmm

    Hello, thanks for the article. It was interesting.

    First, I 100% agree with your distaste with the commercialization of yoga and Eastern philosophy. I laugh at people in general who only do yoga for getting fit or have zero interest in the ancient philosophy. However, there are also a lot of studios, organizations, and white people who spend sincere years and years truly studying the compete path of yoga and do so out of a sincere belief in those tenets. Just because someone is white or someone is Indian does not mean one or the other magically understands or studies yoga or any other philosophy. I know personally a lot of Indians who have never practiced or studied yoga once, not once. Do they know more magically because of their genes than a white person? Is that not racist or essentializing itself?

    I have to take issue with the tone of your article and some of your statements. First of all, it is reverse racism if you go off about white people and show clear resentment towards a group. If I wrote an article of your length complaining about all of these Indians playing guitar or western instruments, I guarantee you that I would be accused of racism. If you are truly seeking truth and wisdom, drop this judgement of people with white skin.

    Second, do not accuse Westerners of cultural appropriation unless you are willing to also stop using or allowing Indians to use, celebrate, or enjoy any European or North American creation. According to your logic, no Indian could possibly be a good piano or guitar player, because it’s “trendy,” they are “trying to be white,” and it’s “cultural appropriation.” I guess no Indians can be good football or cricket players because those sports come from other cultures. No Indians truly understand Catholicism or Christianity, because according to your logic, people can’t ever comprehend or master a philosophy from another culture. Do you see how limiting and offensive your tone is? And if you don’t like white people experimenting with Indian music or dress, then I suggest that you also stop listening to, possibly creating, and dancing to hip hop, rock, jazz, etc etc. Because that’s from the U.S. and not India. Lol. And, if its cultural appropriation for white people to wear Indian clothes and it “violates their culture,” then let’s demand that all Indians immediately eradicate all western style clothes from India or their bodies. No jeans, no suits, no skirts, etc etc.

    Are you ready for your own logic to be applied to non-white people or is it just hypocrisy?

    • Please watch the videos I posted at the end of the article and read the comments here in their entirety particularly Lakshmi, Mat and Melissa’s comments. I think you missed the point about white privilege, how that is a SYSTEMIC problem completely but I guess studying from the lofty Ivory Towers at Columbia University, it probably never occurred to you, did it?…

  87. Nikita

    I am British, but my ethnicity is Indian, and have recently got back into yoga. I cannot tell you how much I agree with you. What particularly annoys me is everyone chanting, ‘Namaste’, when that’s normally said as a greeting.

  88. Hey, thank you, so happy to see the space for discussion and critical thinking this article created. I am in the process of launching a project amplifying South Asian American voices in yoga, not because I think we are more legit as yogis, but mainly becuase I think we have a stewardship role to play to intervene, for example, in the phenomenon of white yoga folks getting real comfy donning brown face. There’s a 5 min film we just released, with more to come, featuring the voices of all desi yoga teachers who are also American. I’d like to link it here, if you don’t mind. it’s called, “Dear White Yoga Teacher: Here are ten things you must know.” The film is embedded in a funding campaign page, full transparency. Meanwhile, def going to add your site to our blog roll of favs as we develop the website! http://igg.me/at/yogaequality/x/3916827

  89. i’ve never gotten the whole industry aspect. When i wanted to learn yoga, i borrowed a copy of The Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga (which spawned the original craze in America when it was published in 1959.) i organized a routine based on the suggestions inside, memorized it, and occasionally ran some of the postures by a more experienced friend if i wasn’t sure. My lifetime expenditures on yoga are $10, once, for a mat, and i can hold a headstand for a half hour.

    When i talk to people who are really into paying for classes, wearing special clothes, etc. i like to tell them how it is not particularly uncommon in India for a person in a group yoga session to stop in the middle to take a phone call while smoking a cigarette.

    • A session that probably cost them next-to-nothing, where the studio did not demand frequent attendance, am I right?

      Or, at least, where yoga was so much part of the warp and woof of everyday society; that it was no different from any other group activity; or it maybe was done in the outdoors.

      Either way, this lack of hypocrisy is much better. If I ever take yoga again (outside my home), it will be at a mid-market (at most) full-service gym. Never a studio any more.

  90. Aine

    As a white woman who is hyper-aware of the annoying ways us white, privileged folk can be so unconsciously entitled, i thank you from the bottom if my heart for this article. Such a needed discussion. I couldn’t agree with you more. Btw, have you seen the documentary “Kumare”? If you haven’t, you definitely should.

  91. Ugh, I could never do yoga in crowded, huge studio’s like you have pictured. I had no idea such places even existed! How can you attain clarity while packed in there like sardines in a can? How can you honour the light/divinity within each other when you have someone’s butt in your face? I practice yoga now mostly on my own or with a small group of friends. Interestingly, a number of us are refugees from ‘vinyasa power flow’ and ‘power yoga’, both of which remove most of the mental aspect and treat yoga as pure exercise. Shoulder injuries are rife due to the repetitive, fast flow. Now we are doing a slower hatha practice. Thanks for your post. I don’t think it applies only to yoga either, but to the entire ‘health and wellbeing’ industry, driven by media hype and the desire to look like a movie star. Where did the spiritual development and actual wellbeing go?

  92. I agree with Aine. White people being cliquish (or any people being cliquish) is annoying. I can understand how completely sad and frustratingly annoying it must be to have true heritage being trashed by people in cliques who just see it as another ‘alternative lifestyle’ such as clubbing. In the belly dance community there are plenty of white divas who think they are ‘all that’ who end up putting others down for not being enough like them. I am white and I am ashamed at what other white people have done to the native American, Pacific Islander and African cultures by Christianizing (sterilizing) them and then after the years forming an appreciation for these cultures original ways. If white man didn’t oppress these people and their culture in the first place maybe they (natives) would be more amused by white people imitating them and their ways with hula, shamanism (Native American- not European), African dance and music, ect. Or maybe not. Why would anyone want people who did so much wrong and continue to be so ignorant representing a very important part of their culture in such a way that makes it seem like a club or a farce rather than the holy, healing and spiritual thing it is. Anyway. I know you didn’t mean for your article to be about white people ruining things. Just letting you know if you had written an article like that I wouldn’t blame you one bit. It’s not just brown or yellow people white people oppressed either- its other white people too. My own family immigrated from other white countries to avoid oppression and poverty. Still poverty and oppression here in America but not as bad as some places/times. I am glad yoga exists. I have constant body pain from Fibromyalgia which would be so much worse without yoga. Wish I could afford classes but yoga at home is okay too. I like it when other women speak up. It is almost always refreshing in a world where so many women and girls are still being oppressed by ‘the man’. Thank you for this article. i enjoyed reading it as well as all the comments. Still being read over a year later :)

  93. Mandie

    Hello* I hope that the current state of “new yoga” is a step in the right direction from other activities that may not have served an individual or their community as well. While it may not be pretty right now, perhaps this is another step in societal evolution…

  94. Neil

    I would ask that you forgive westerners a bit. We come to yoga with our own warped paradigms/patterns of reality including: pornography / violent media / “spiritual-philosophical laziness”/ poor diets / worship of the stupid (actors/_tube) / short attention spans / ignorant of the “international” / an over-emphasis on money and “making it”-(using yoga as tool to do so). Guilty as charged. (This world is ready-made for us before we’re born.)

    And, we do yoga wrong; in some cases I admit it’s nearly criminal– i.e. the pseudo gurus. But, nothing starts at 1, it all starts at 0. We’re at the halfway mark between 0 and 1 on our way to 100 (I hope.) All starts should be celebrated. (i.e. when a baby walks)

    I think that the primary thing westerners are forgetting or never realizing is that yoga is free. You may practice it and teach it to others without charge. Communities can get together and practice it for free without pretension/class awareness.

    Thank you for your article. It’s a positive thing in moving folks to a healthier life through yoga.

    Also, what’s up with the Kama Sutra? Some of those poses are impossible. Just kidding.

    Seriously, thank you.

    • Dee JV

      Neil — that was so cute! And your absolutely right — we’re all suffering with warped paradigms — all is forgiven. Peace.

  95. Jana

    I agree, the western fetishization of the east is appalling. When I see all of these buzzwords and trendy marketing for Yoga, I cannot help but cringe. Real Yoga is possible to find in North America. You just have to go out of your way to find it. I go one of these “real” Yoga schools and I love it. Very honest, once a week, and the class is a source of motivation and education. My teacher emphasizes home practice and he is there to give his yogic advice for anything that is troubling you. I aspire to to teach yoga one day, but it is very hard to reach out to people who have been brainwashed by McYoga. You won’t find my school on any map because my teacher travels around the city. I may sound boastful, but I respect him dearly. I am very thankful for his presence in my life. I want to bring the message of true, honest yoga to people out there who are corrupted what they believe is yoga. It actually angers me at times, but I know that yoga would not want me to clench onto my indignation. I have to let it go and be positive. Ashrams in India do not charge a cent to teach yoga but they will turn you away if they believe you are not ready or have dishonest intentions. I wish the west could become more enlightened. Yoga is not a social club or an exclusive party. It is liberation from all these worldly illusions and it should be freely available to anyone and everyone.

  96. Dee JV

    Thank you for this “expose”!! I unfortunately receive 2 subscriptions of Yoga Journal magazine (one courtesy of Kripalu after a visit) and I’ve grown increasingly sick of its “tantricity” (is this a word??) and I’m no prude. I am a full-figured curvy Black woman and I love looking at me naked, so does Mr. Man!;) and the advertisements of “natural” junk and fast foods. But I digress.

    While visiting several studios I too have been hard pressed to see anyone who looked near, at, or like me! An associate of mine once invited me to a studio in Cranford, NJ where she is a regular, and to my surprise, actually both our surprise, in that morning’s class were 3 Black women, (us included) 1 Black male, and a Hispanic woman and 10 others – now thats a Unicorn! The instructor “Valereeee” did not help or even come near ANY of us and it was noticable. We were all “perched” in a corner and she taught the class as if it were ropped off as dangerous. LOL! I thought it was my imagination until we were all getting in our cars & a white Regular asked my friend what was the deal with “Valerie”, that she acted strange towards “your people”. My friend, said she doesn’t own any “people”. LOL! Then others chimed in that they thought it was their imagination and they felt it too.

    Being a person of color (as we’re often referred as), the number of hats one must wear varies at any given time. If you let your imagination rain supreme, you’ll lose your mind wondering what some one thinks or is thinking about you. With that being said, it was clear that “we” weren’t welcomed there by “Valereeee” and it wasn’t even her studio. My friend, who knows the owner well, promptly called the owner and made her aware.

    My visit at Kripalu was a very different experience. I was made to feel comfortable and welcomed. My only issue: The culture bandits!!! Kripalu has a session called “Noon Dance” where there is African drumming and dancing. There were white drummers with dreadlocks and people imitating and encouraging African spiritual dancing & chanting in a clownlike manner! Most of the participants appeared to being seizures, not dancing and it was becoming increasingly sexual with all the touching. The presenters did not once, give credit where due — I was pissed off and left the session as it begin to smell phermonish — probably due to the wearing of double-sided yoga pants — (whose idea?? yuk!)

    In any event, I too have often wondered why people of Eastern background were absent! So its not my imagination after all?

  97. Leonard

    I didn’t read the thread but I think the article has some really good points! Also – as a side note I am an Asian American but my family is from East Asia so I don’t have much authority on matters of appropriation in yoga. I’m brand new to yoga and I just got back from my first Bikram session and I had a great experience – but I’m very aware of Bikram himself’s attitude and behavior and I’m not a fan. His efforts to capitalize and “own” yoga bothers me, and it worried me before I signed up. I signed up anyway because I have a lot of injuries that my mom assures me will be healed by hot yoga. The studio I went to was small but very diverse, I didn’t count (lol) but I’m pretty sure there were more PoC than white people. I think after reading your post that I will be careful in the future about who I hang with and what studios I might go to, because I feel great after my session and I really want to continue to enjoy it and benefit from it while still trying not to get caught up in whitewashed notions and trendiness. It’s important, I feel, to always remain aware and self-conscious while choosing to continue doing yoga.

    • Dee JV

      Hi Leonard! I’m ROTF over here! Going forward, I will put the letters, “PoC” after my name, looks very groovy. Seriously, I too felt great after yoga sessions, and not to gross you out or anything, but after each session, my “movements” were fantastic! LOL! — don’t stop practicing, get a DVD and practice at home — Peace!

  98. I love this blog and comments that follow because it illuminates the issues I see in contemporary Western Yoga also. I have had a long fascination with “sinister” Yogis, and “gurus gone bad”, long before I really understood the full ramifications. Not only the “sinister” Yogis as being the male sexual predator, but even a female Yoga “teacher” manipulating her students, staff, underpaying, and even stealing via copyright infringement. (Yes I have stories.) Many (not all) of these teachers are selling a “shoddy bill of goods” as Mark Whitwell likes to describe this current state of Yoga affairs. A friend recently asked me why there are so many people enamored and following these false teachers like a pied piper? I said it’s simply because they don’t know any better. It’s the blind leading the blind. Yet for those of us who do understand, I think we carry an opportunity to help restore, or correct this projectile course. We can’t change what we don’t acknowledge. Yoga is not a state of “live and let live” but can often encompass being a spiritual warrior.

  99. Pingback: On Secularity’s Shallow Appropriation of Religious Artifacts | Leadingchurch.com

  100. mark

    Yoga studios are bullshit…

    Do it at HOME.

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  102. Cathy

    This was actually a comforting article to read. I have enjoyed yoga for years, but have found that I prefer solo paractice. The BBC documentary and the 60min article are certainly eye openers for many, hopefully more people chose to watch them. The culture of “look at me, I do yoga” is quite annoying. Many need to camaraderie of belonging somewhere, even if it’s a very twisted version of the original intent.
    Excellent and insightful article. I hope many read and reflect on their own practice and what they are actually doing.

  103. Sarah

    Thank you so much for this article!
    I am going to try to share it on FB if you do not mind. I have been a long time yoga practioner (28 years) and I agree with 99.9% of what you are saying here. Have you thought of submitting it to Elephant Journal. Frankly, I need support. I have practiced yoga since 1986 – started out at Sivananda and it was simple, lovely and humble – just $5 and a towel on the floor and just a few students in each class. It was not trendy then, thank God. I have also taught yoga for 15 years, owned a Yoga Studio and frankly I was ‘bullied’ out of my studio by another greedy Studio owners who used “Groupon” and direct manipulation to push other studios under. I am not a victim, however, and it was ultimate my choice to close my studio. There is so much greed, unconsciousness and Narcissism in the yoga world it is mind numbing. I am trained psychotherapist and have observed a much more severe pathology in the Yoga World over the past 8 years and not quite sure what happened? My guess is that there have been a flood of 200hr TT teachers entering the market so the competition (Ego) and desperation has accelerated.

    A few items you did not touch upon is that Western Yoga is also agist. I am 51 years old and many studios will not hire me although I have the most years of training and studied with top Yoga Masters for years and years. While I am not Indian, I agree whole heartedly about the projections that ‘white” yoga teachers projects onto “India”. It is complete sugar- coated, delusional nonsense. Most white Westerners are not politically aware and frankly have no idea what is going on in India. Often they are “shocked” when the fly in for retreats to find abject poverty, disease and children starving in the streets.

    For anyone who has done any serious inner work, it takes years to transform, if ever. I agree that the “Guru Culture” in India is mostly a complete scam! It is obvious to any intuitive , well educated Westerner that these “Gurus” are making huge wades of cash from these “seekers” . Enlightened and evolved people do NOT chase money – period. They live in Truth and seek wisdom. Frankly I can see why some Indian people see these Gurus as running a sort of Ponzi scheme. There is no Widsom in being “Vegan”, doing Ashtanga for 3 months and claiming enlightenment. IN my view, it is all about running away, denial and attempting to circumvent the nature order of things.

    I live in New York city for 16 years and honestly, my yoga experience in the 90s was pretty good – although I did not own a studio at the time. I moved to Canada in 2013, and frankly I was traumatized but the toxic and idiotic nonsense that the Studio Owners dole out here in Ontario. There is one “yoga guru” who is an overweight Black women and uses her studio as a platform to vent all of her frustrations and victimhood. She write blogs about others as if she is an 6th grade bully. As an example she charges 3K for a 6 month Teacher Training Program (having only 5 years of yoga experience herself) and then writes on her BLOG that her ENTIRE group of teacher trainees are filled with “drama” and she would not hire them at her studio! She wrote this publicly and had no awareness she just took 3K from all of these students. .
    This kind of craziness goes on and on in our small Canadian city and it is almost comical.
    I closed my studio and divorced myself from the yoga community and practice at home mostly.

    To me, Western yoga has become a cult of Narcissism. There is no true Spirituality and I have only found one teacher in 25 years that I believe is the real deal. But lets not throw the baby out with the bathwater. IT is not “YOGA” that it is the problem… it is the Egomaniacal teachers and students that are the problem.

    If there is a website for

    “recovering yogis” let me know….

    • cw

      Sarah I appreciated your comments. Believe it or not there IS a website for recovering yogis and indeed it’s called http://www.recoveringyogi.com.
      Enjoy :-)

    • Hi Sarah,
      Indeed, you are absolutely correct that ageism is a huge issue as well. But let’s face it, most of “popular yoga culture”, and I’m talking about the the very, very mainstream, suburban, mall branch of yoga is usually about a bunch of usually thin, white affluent women normally in their 20’s and 30’s who are doing yoga to get lean and fit, ideally to achieve a lithe, dancer-like body (which is that main standard of beauty in the Western world), in order to either attract a husband or lover since those are their child-bearing years. It’s all about projecting a certain image of being young, fit and affluent with a faux-Zen-like coolness. Anything outside of that “box” (i.e being older, a visible minority, LGBT, physical disabilities, lower-income, curvaceous or voluptuous, a few extra pounds, someone with personal issues like depression, etc.) is marginalised because that doesn’t fall in line with the mainstream image of “success” or “beauty”.
      That’s a huge generalisation and of course there are exceptions to everything, but really *this* is the market segment which is driving operations like Lululemon, 200 hour yoga teacher training programs, $5000 yoga “retreats” in Costa Rica or Tulum. The spiritual context they operate out of is about as deep as the programming on the Oprah Winfrey Network…

      I have a gay friend who is also a yoga instructor who now offers courses to senior citizens at retirement homes and absolutely loves it. I have another friend who offers curvy yoga classes for rounder bodies. They found happiness and their niche by getting out of the mainstream yoga scene. You’re also absolutely correct about the increased pathology in the yoga scene in the last decade or so. You can thank capitalism for that, I think. The market is completely saturated with persons who did YTT, paid big bucks for it and suddenly think they are going to be the next Sadie Nardini or Rodney Yee and have some cool lifestyle, leading YTT all over the world at exclusive spas, having magazine spreads about them in Yoga Journal and being featured on the Ellen Show and maybe become yoga instructor to the stars and are willing to tear down anyone or anything that gets in their way of becoming an “In-Demand” – yoga instructor. I know of a yoga instructor, who shall remain nameless, who for a while was directing the fitness program at a few places, someone who is trying to be a “yoga celebrity”, produced a few DVDs, been at Wanderlust etc. Well, when they found out that the classes they assigned to other instructors were having higher rates of attendance, they switched the schedules around so that they themselves would get those classes instead, so it would look like they were suddenly “in-demand” and “popular”. Studios are rife with this kind of bullshit.

  104. This article was amazing. Thank you. Thank you so much.

  105. Joanne E

    It is all about ego and money with many of these new “celebrity” yoga instructors. Facebook and instagram is rife with them. Many claim to be healers, health experts etc. etc. They have all this expertise and knowledge with no advanced training or medical degree all the while hawking their DVDs, retreats to Bali and posting their cliche ridden slogans about love, wisdom, (i.e. you are where you need to be right now….) and other such stupidity. Sad thing is that they have followers who believe in this nonsense.

  106. Hi, I stumbled across this article and found very interesting.

    I am another person of Indian origin, hindu, but born and grew up in Australia, and have recently been immersed in the yoga community. At first I took a real pride in the fact that your average Australian (who can occasionally be a bit closed minded) was taking so much interest in our culture. But lately its started to make me feel a bit uneasy, especially the level of ignorance around hindu and Indian culture. I do feel yoga is a bit too exclusive, but I guess renting premises and expenses are not cheap, but this is happening in India too. Go to Mumbai, and all the people doing yoga are rich Bollywood types in the super luxurious studios.

    I saw one girl who had an Om tattoo on her foot! you might think big deal, but we find that abhorrent. I still cringe when I see statue of Ganesh or Laxmi whom I have prayed to since a child, in the yoga studio, and seeing a girl wearing next to nothing bending over in front of it. My poor grandparents would have a heart attack if they saw that!

    Lately, I have started to get the impression among this community, that yoga is cool, Indian names are cool, saying namaste is cool, tantra is cool, wearing Indian clothes are cool, Indian spirituality is cool…but Indians? NOT cool…so please keep your distance.

    However, I don’t feel that is has put me off. I really love my Ashtanga practice, and my teacher. And maybe it is up to us (people of Indian origin) to help educate as best we can and try and keep it real….and the saying goes.

  107. g

    Thanks for this article. Sums up a lot of what I see going on.

    Me, I live in London UK. In my observations there are many sincere yoga teachers and pupils here. But, as in any group you will always find people who lack something, integrity, sincerity, whatever it is…something. These people are just easy to spot. It doesn’t matter how they dress, what language they speak, it is plain to see. It doesn’t matter if they surround themselves with 10 people just like them-they are what they are. When I see that, I don’t join in. But when I see a place which is sincere, then I respect that, feel comfortable and join in.
    I used to also think that places that were ‘spiritual’ would have people with a certain level of ethics, spirituality, but it’s just not the case. Maybe they want to learn this and are attracted in the first place, I don’t know. You can find ‘spiritual’ people outside of these areas, just getting on with the hard graft of living, building and protecting life.

  108. Michelle

    I’m just going to “Thank You” for verbalizing what I was feeling, and I appreciate the great deal of effort you put into this piece and it’s links- Excellent work!

  109. Silver

    You ‘nailed it.’ I recently emailed the chant leader in ‘Eat, Pray Love.” She has a website with her paintings, music and her bio. In the bio she talks about her original teacher and how she lived in an ashram at age 16 and how she had become a yogini. Well…I was a fellow former ‘ashramer /devotee’ and for old times sake I asked her if she had any paintings of a ‘chubby Indian boy guru.’ (Guru Maharajah Ji). I thought it was funny…but she responded with a quote about ‘bliss’ from Joseph Campbell. I guess I just wasn’t spiritual enough to understand a quote from a true Indian mahatma. So, just to prove that I am a ‘realized soul’ I responded with:

    “How often does a man ruin his disciples by remaining always with them! When men are once trained, it is essential that their leader leave them, for without his absence they cannot develop themselves.
    Plants always remain small under a big tree.”
    ― Swami Vivekananda

  110. Hello! Just wanted to say I appreciated your article, and it was harsh, but I still appreciate it. Thank you for calling out things like they are, and even though I’m one of those white girls, I hope my intention for loving yoga is not the same. :)

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  112. I liked your article a lot. I started out teaching yoga in the military community and it was the bare bones of yoga – poses and breathing exercises (no Sanskrit, no chanting, sometimes not even music because it could trigger those who had come back from deployment). Now I teach at two studios and there is SO much pressure to put on a performance and it came as a big shock to me. Anyway, I appreciate your thoughts and voice. Hopefully the yoga teachers that see this trend and don’t condone it will start offering more community-based and donation-based classes.

  113. Lama Yeshe’s book Spiritual Materialist is a good one. Ken Wilber also elaborates extensively on the challenges the wisdom traditions face as they move into a western level of conciseness in Integral Spirituality. The Century of the Self is also an interesting watch if your interested in where the western consumer attitude comes from.

  114. westernny1

    Thank you for calling out the contrived who will probably deny that they are part of the problems and ignorance listed above. They’re see themselves as far too enlightened and in tune with their spirit to ever be so blatantly irresponsible. All they care about is what yoga does for their image.

  115. “I too fell into the pseudo-spiritual aspects of the practice” struck the loudest chord in me after reading the entire article. Perhaps the greatest gift I have been given in my yoga practice is mindfulness and a truly greater understanding of myself. I found a community that lives and breathes inclusiveness and demonstrative service to others. Not all yoga communities are created equal.

    Generalizing that western culture doesn’t “get” yoga negates the power that yoga unlocks within oneself, regardless of one’s cultural identity. Yoga is far more than asana – anana is merely one vehicle used to gain greater insight into oneself.

  116. Candice Garrett

    I’ve never worn a sari. Though I might if I ever visit India. I don’t have a guru. I have never worn a bindi because I would feel ridiculous (though I have worn a tilak after aarti, but only at the ashram). I am white. I was raised and educated as a Christian. I am not, now, Christian. I would call myself, privately, a Hindu. The bulk of my “practice” happens not on the mat, but in my life, and in reading the gita, the upanishads, the rig veda. I don’t consider myself an expert on yoga (but yes on anatomy), or sanskrit. I don’t pray in front of people, or have others chant with me, though I do pray and chant privately. I guess I feel…confused. I totally understand how much yoga is off track, the cultural misappropriation. But I also feel sometimes like I’m not welcome? able? to worship the way I do because I am western, was born to white, Christian parents. I guess what I’m saying is that there are those of us who are trying to follow the sanatan dharma, without trying to make it something “other” than it is.

  117. David

    There are better practices with real people who care. Bikram is not one nor the corporate yoga studios (Yoga Works, e.g.). I go to a Bhakti studio which works on donations only. Anyone is welcome and the instructors want to help heal not get rich. Don’t give up yoga because of corporate values in America. There are some great teachers out there.

  118. I got this from a friend after an ashram experience. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I needed to read this. I don’t feel like I’m alone!

  119. erik krause

    i hear you.

    Is this not just a contemporary example of one of America’s samskaras: to take something authentic from another culture, gut it, make something new and different, but retain the original name and pass it off like nothing happened?

    Likewise, while it’s unfortunate that most people seem to think that asana and yoga are synonyms, and some profiteers hold nothing sacred if it stands in the way of making a buck, aren’t these opportunities for others (You? Me?) to expand on their pursuits of yoga? In other words, per the Yamas and the Niyamas, how else do we develop virtues like patience, tolerance, sympathy, non-attachment but than to be confronted by their opposites?

    As consolation, like Santa Claus, “God” knows who amongst us is actually practicing asana as part of their sadhana and who is merely stretching and breathing.

  120. Janet

    I think the majority of the commentators who seem to be going crazy over at EJ and EJ’s FaceBook page are missing the point completely of this article and are taking one person’s experience as gospel when it’s not, it’s just her experience of yoga and happened to turn out negative (gee, I wonder why…). Get over it. She doesn’t sound racist at all, she sounds hurt and it comes out as anger yet for a crowd that seems to constantly try so hard as coming across as “compassionate” and ” spiritual” I see very little evidence of it on display at EJ or in the FaceBook comments.

    In fact, what the comments show up more than anything else is that she may be right after all! Things like white privilege, systemic racism, cultural appropriation to suit market forces are very real things but everyone here seems to be so deep down the rabbit hole that they can’t even see the forest from the trees anymore. Unfortunately racist systems of power always work like this: when the powerless speak up (i.e her and other persons of color) against the machine, the machine does it’s best to crush them and what’s hilarious but also sort of sad to watch and read is that her article just proved it and people have to look no further than the comments at EJ to see it. HA! HA!

    Most of them need a reality check and I applaud the writer of this article and people like her who have the guts to speak out. The people who are super-angry and seem to have a bee in their bonnet, just chill out, the world doesn’t revolve around you even if you think you deserve it. And some of you need to get out of yourselves a little more and expand your horizons. Did you know for instance just last week Lululemon attended a conference on diversity in yoga in NYC, the very issues this article tackled.? Or did you know UCBerkeley also hosted a symposium on yoga, diversity and cultural appropriation 2 weeks ago? Get with the times

    • Maybe I missed a lot of comments, I did not see the angry ones, perhaps there are. And there may also be some who are hurt by this article. I’ve taught yoga in Hindu temples to mostly Indian classes. I was always welcomed. They preferred to call me by my Hindu name. How did race get into this? What race? Are we different? You would say I am white. My practice of yoga and any ‘appropriations’ of Indian culture you may see in me is entirely sincere. Yes, I use the name my guru gave me … may even legally change it. This is my path. For some it is a fad, not me. I was introduced to this practice as a teenager. I was doing yoga long before Madonna and I’ll be doing it long after the fad dies down.

      I do see a lot wrong with yoga in the West, but I am working to change it. I’ve been to kirtans done as concerts where even the leaders don’t understand the words they are chanting. When I teach I explain the meanings of the chants. On the other hand, I’ve also met Indian born Hindus who admitted know less of their own religion than I know. Hinduism is not exclusive and it is finding its way into the Western world. I’m sorry the author the article had such a negative experience and I agree with a lot she said, I’ve seen it myself. I am not angry, but saddened by the article. But I am not giving up my practice because others are not sincere about theirs.

      Pranams.

  121. Keria Rossin

    I think 40 years ago yoga did some good in this country. it changed the focus of the young from drugs to spirituality. Since then it’s taken on a life of its own. becoming mainstream, trendy, and diluted. When younger I spent two years in what’s considered an American ashram. I woke up one day to realize that I was more spiritually conscious than the founder, that’s a community was a political mess, and that no one was it adhering to what they were espousing. however, I did get a lot of benefit out of it. It gave me the ability to look at myself, see my flaws, and try to act in a better way. It didn’t fix me, but it did give me some tools.

  122. Alexander Siebenstern

    Totally agree on almost everything said here, the only thing I want to mention is that it is also just a mental concept that it is a long and hard path to enligthenment (part 6 of the text). It will be as long as you believe in this, but on the other side, who is doing yoga to achieve illumination in the western world? In the end, it´s all about presence, there is nothing more to achieve than this.
    LOVE AND GRATITUDE

  123. Thank you for this article. One of my dreams is for yoga to be available to everyone, especially working class people who need it the most (I spent two years cheffing, and hospitality workers rreeeally need it). I first noticed the culture of affluence pertaining to yoga in Malaysia (where I started my practice) , and coming back to London made it even more obvious. I haven’t had the confidence to tackle this subject because of fears of racist accusations, and frankly, your writing is much clearer (I get too emotional. Still).
    Thank you!

  124. Reblogged this on flambeedbanana and commented:
    She says what I want to say, but politely and calmly.

  125. Ginny

    I loved this article. I have become increasingly disillusioned with the world of what I term “snobby yoga.” The ladies with their $150 yoga pants, the pretentious sanskrit chanting, who cares, I already speak 2 languages and none of them are dead languages. I am also sick to death of yoga studio instructors using the first 15 minutes of class for a personal soap box. I really don’t want to hear it. I am there for exercise and stretching. I feel trapped when they do this and with the rates currently being charged for yoga, I want my maximum benefit. It totally pisses me off to leave yoga feeling worse than when I arrived. The last time was it for me, my yoga studio owner took 20 minutes to tell us that there is no God and when we die that is all there is. And then devolved into the dangers of drinking coffee. What a waste of money and time. Thank you for busting the myth.

  126. That’s the new age influence. Yoga isn’t spirituality but a practice to help you get in touch with yourself. It’s not the only useful practice the new age has corrupted with its ‘special’ egoism. Metaphysics has all but been distorted beyond comprehension. People in the US are very susceptible towards assuming other cultures as their own because we have a very young and superficial one. Very few people in the US bother to find out where they came from which probably has a rich, interesting culture on its own, they grab at other cultures which are shiny and trendy. That’s the US western mind though, invade and take over .They can’t just enjoy a culture, or participate in a educational way they have to mask themselves in it entirely. I hate to see anyone give it up entirely because the many are ruining it for the few. It’s not the Yoga, its the superficial herd mentality stampeding all over it.

  127. Excellent, on-point article. Thank you for sharing.

  128. Khushi Malhotra

    Hello Earth Energy Reader

    Being an Indian Yoga and Meditation Teacher I definitely definitely connected with many of the points you make in your article. Its been quite disheartening to see where yoga is heading in the West, living here myself. When I moved to philly I was so horrified by the classist nature of yoga that I started a nonprofit (finding freedom within) to bring yoga to all people of all classes, and that lack of real dedication to seva in the yoga community, rather the dedication to the ego is much more prevalent. However, as right on as many of your points are, I always come to the same conclusion. So what now? How does the paradigm shift into something that is more connected to the truth of the roots. As an individual teacher, I do what I can to encourage this inquiry in my own students, but everything is related to the evolution of consciousness and the needs of the civilization. So I have left my anger about it and just allow things to unfold as they are – perhaps the current need is to dive deep into narcissism & egoism – perhaps that is part of the process – and perhaps soon people will tire of the nonsensical chanting and trance dancing and begin the real search for authenticity. Working on creating the energy of authenticity within oneself is a gentle step to being the change one wishes to see (Mahatma Gandhi).

    Thank you for your provoking article which was like a dip into my own thoughts about all of this. I haven’t had a chance to read all the comments but I am sure you have had a lot of high emotion generated from it. Peace.

    And one more request for all your readers: THE PURPOSE OF YOGA IS TO MEDITATE! Don’t get stuck on the asana!!

  129. Leslie Peters

    Thank you for the thoughtful article. I too love how my body feels after yoga. I have also read a lot of studies about Yoga and the reduction of anxiety in children with autism, etc. Nevertheless I have also been put off by a lot of the marketing and shallow cultishness that I have seen. But then again I have also seen bodies completely transformed and healed. I think that, as with with anything good, Yoga can be blown out of proportion, cheapened, misunderstood and misused–especially when Hollywood gets involved. It can also be of great benefit.

  130. C.M.Swazey

    I hear ya, but consider this: some of us feel failed by Abrahamic religion. Vedic religions resonate more with a number of people.

    My (rhetorical) question to you would be “would you begrudge the ideas of Eastern philosophy to those of European descent?”

    • Not at all – meditation and yoga have incredible healing capacities and if Eastern philosophy can help people get there, that’s great. What I take issue with is the plastic “faux-spirituality” which has grown up around the yoga “scene”. I mean you see that everywhere whether it’s Sunday Christians or yoga groupies hanging on to every word by the likes of John Friend.

    • Naomi Betancourt

      Not sure if it is begrudging when the reaction is to bastardization of a noble practice.

  131. Genus

    Funny story: After visiting Kripalu in the Berkshires, I received a complimentary subscription to Yoga Magazine. Recently, “Mr. Man” (my husband), after leaving the throne, said “Honey, is this magazine about yoga or soft porn?” I laughed — he had a point. The most recent edition features a woman, (at first glance appearing to be naked) being photographed underwater with a whale shark. He asked, “Why is she doing this and what does this have to do with yoga?” I replied that I did not know. LOL!

  132. Marc

    I teach yoga. I ducked out of “the scene.” Problem is you cannot separate neurosis from yoga! I think the saddest aspect is that yoga is truly beneficial, yet, here in the west, corrupted by greed. Just like everything else.
    All the phonies who blow ‘Namaste’ up your butt; it’s frightening how their numbers are increasing. Yoga could support the construction of a more truthful life is everyone wasn’t trying so hard to be so f’ing happy and spiritual.
    Just being more at ease in one’s self, with all that you are…and aren’t. Curse LuLu Lemon, Yoga Alliance, and all those ego-maniacal teachers who abuse the more feeble minded. They are sociopaths! There are some great people out there though, so don’t give up. There is value.

  133. Wanderer

    The majority of your article was a good read. Our version of yoga in the west is a bastardization of what yoga used to be about, but that is clinging to the notion that anything is supposed to stay still and be unchanging. Much like this notion of “you” and “I” or “us” and “them”. Just because there is water between physical areas does not mean that a culture cannot spread nor is it insult when certain practices are not done the exact same everywhere.

    I saw a scoff about people saying “Namaste” as a chant, where is it written in stone that it “must” be said at a certain time and only at that time, especially when it does not mimic a “hello” or “goodbye”? It is an acknowledgement and is a humbling notion. Though if one does not know it’s exact meaning and they use it as a chant while trying to gain some spiritual awakening, why not let them use it? At least they are trying. Maybe instead of talking behind their backs, offer to educate them?

    From the Buddha, remember attachment is dukkha. The fact that people outside of your culture like any aspect of it, shouldn’t that be something positive? I see a brown skinned woman in a sari without knowing the history of it, but I still see that it’s beautiful, she’s beautiful, and I like it. That’s it. If I decided to go get one, I’m not getting it to insult anyone and if it somehow did offend someone, the insult did not come from me. It would come from that persons view.

    I do not like seeing what yoga is becoming here in America and I agree that those that could benefit from it most cannot get to it because of the price tag now associated, or to be seen as a good yoga teacher one must essentially go to school for despite the fact that those who created it never dreamed of such a thing. Just yesterday I ranted on a post from Yoga Journal about doing “x” poses to get “your best summer body”. I saw that and my jaw hit the floor. To me, that is an insult because that stimulates body-image issues that are so prevalent here in the west, but… I am not offended at people doing the poses for just physical benefits. They may not have an interest in the spiritual side and that’s OK as long as they respect those that do.

    Suffering only breeds more suffering. Namaste.

  134. Thank you for writing this great article Earth Energy Rider. I can’t agree more. I never had thought of making something so scared and personal practice for myself and other family members in India into a profession till I realize the deviation and Prostitization of my culture and sacred practice here by so called self proclaimed Yoga gurus here in America!

    General folks have no idea how badly they are getting duped in name of Yoga!
    Using terms like “Oming” or “not Oming” or tattooing Om and other sacred Hindu mantra and deities tram stamps and specially below waist area, can’t be more offensive to us.

    200 hours/500 hours fresh teachers crops are growing worse than tumble weed here in California, where I live. These egoistic poor souls have no idea that in 200 hour no one can become a doctor or lawyer or professor, then how can they expect to become yoga master???

    Chanting Namaste and wrongly pronounced mantras not make Yoga teachers. Its a life long Sadhna, still some of us don’t find ourselves to say “teachers” let alone Yoga Diva or Yoga God/Goddess!!!

    I understand your frustration and feeling myself in same position as you were when you wrote this blog!

    Hopefully by means of our Authentic and traditional Yoga teaching we can make some difference!

    Write me a line or two if you find sometime from doing what you love most, would love to connect with you!:)

    With love and healing Hugs!
    Fellow Yogi
    Rashmi

    • Shubha

      I have the same feeling , I have been practicing for over 40 years also teach for real seekers at my home. I refuse to get certified by any institution. This knowledge has been passed by grandparents and my parents running in family. I live in Canada originally from South Indian. This is one discipline no institution can certify anybody on earth as Yoga teacher, its only a personal experience and not an objective practice for some one to judge.

      Its truly heartbreaking to see what’s done in N. America

  135. charlesr1971

    This article is superb. I have always been sceptical about studio yoga. I was told to start doing a few basic core exercises after my discectomy. I then learnt that these were actually asanas. I then picked a few more from a friend of mine, who is a yoga teacher. I now practice daily for an hour, on my own. I, occasionally go to a class at my local sports centre, but for me, it is all about the health benefits that it brings to my lower back. In fact, I know very little about the spiritual side of yoga and have no wish to, either.
    I, once, went to a few Bikram classes in London, with a friend. I thought the classes were quite expensive, and I found that my own practice, was more beneficial. I was then invited to visit a Satyananda Ashram in South London. The woman, in charge, was very rude to me, and basically made me feel, like I was not part of the yoga elite [thank god!].
    Now, I just practice on my own, once a day, in the peace & quiet of my own space. It is free & I can take my time, in & out of posture. I also have more time to explore postures & have created a few of my own. In a way, I think Bikram is quite smart, for outwitting the stupid Westerner & making them part with their money. I am a bone fide, white Caucasian, but I agree with your comments about Westerners trying to become something that they can never be. My reasons for doing yoga, are my own, and based on the fact that yoga helps me to stay healthy. This is all I need…

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  137. susan moretti

    ‘What is essential is invisible to the eye’ Anotoine de Saint Exupery

    I relate to your views– you can see in some of the responses an illustration of the issue at hand. (Aggressive defense of Self-image at all cost)

    I agree with your points and am on the same page -but I think my comments come at it more obliquely.

    I am based in the UK, London so we are behind you in terms of new and strange manifestations of yoga (Spa yoga???)

    I’m interested in viewing the yoga scene and its shortfalls within the cultural and societal context of narcissism and commercialization, which is the only way to view it, I believe, as it doesn’t exist in a vacuum (although it feels like it does). What I mean is that the non-evolutionary aspects of the yoga scene can be seen as a side affect of that materialist context. I feel somewhat pained for those newly and not so newly qualified teachers who have their mere 200hrs who have ‘covered’ the sutras but don’t know quite how to assimilate them. How can they-they haven’t had any true experience of Samadhi. They have read about it- but they are not grounded or being guided to a path of meaning and depth. No wonder there is a lack of maturity and insight. Their teachers have only a vague idea what it all means and superficiality reigns supreme with the paraphernalia taking pride of place where the truly ‘essential’ is missing. The words spiritual and authentic have been used a lot but I think a part of what your pointing to is due to a lack of understanding of these two aspects? Unfortunately within our culture self-enquiry, finding the true self/the atman is not really seen as paramount. The method/technique ends up becoming the goal – not the path. The practices, the rituals, chanting, mudras, mantras, the mere techniques are taken for the real thing rendering the path to truth distorted. Just as the early Christians would take on ascetic practices such as fasting or wearing hair shirts as a means of penance it becomes more about looking good and projecting a lifestyle than true engagement. If we look at it in the context of the materialist/narcissist culture that we so embrace then it’s no wonder that a practice that appears to be merely physical would not grow, take on and feed into that narcissism. The context of yoga and its meaning becomes somewhat lost in translation. I think what needs to be rectified is the travesty of yoga being used as a means to massage the ego, whether that be in UK, the U.S., China or Greenland is not relevant. I think we should be united by the culture and sensibility of truth and depth– and not divided by an east-west dichotomy, which under this truth-principle is a false one. So my point is not about whether we should or should not appropriate the tradition, but the error of using it to avoid attaining real depth, transformation and union with higher consciousness. Isn’t that the real definition of yoga by the way…

  138. Anonymous

    Wow, this is quite the article. I am currently studying to be a Yoga Teacher, though honestly I’ve questioned how possible this actually is living in the West. I actually stumbled across this article after a very hot debate I started in class last night. I posed the question ” How is it that there are so many Yoga Teachers saturating the West, when in India, it is considered a sacred calling where few are accepted into the fold (as far as I know, you are usually required to have a solid personal practice before even being considered for training at that level)..I’ve noticed most schools just accept anybody with money nowadays.” Well, little did I know that pretty much everyone in the room had only either JUST started practicing (as in literally within the past couple of months, and even then only a weekly session, so 8 times!) or did not practice very often on their own.

    I was essentially called an elitist and questioned by the others in a way that left me near tears. One student asked me “Who has the right to deem anyone worthy of being a teacher??” Well, a true Yogi does! It’s ridiculous to say this sort of thing. It’s equal to applying to be a Doctor with a grade 5 education then expecting to gain admission to a top University without even a grade 10 student’s understanding of Math or Science! This never happens, EVER. So why is Yoga any different??

    My teacher actually said to me “I hope to make as many teachers as possible in my lifetime, I won’t ever turn anyone away.” Whaaaat??? This really upset me. I don’t feel Yoga should be exclusive, however I do feel if you are working towards becoming a Teacher you should at the very least have a personal practice of some sort for at least a Years time. To me this is another twisting of the Yogic tradition, to make more money….teaching Yoga is an honor, not a human right. You are put in a position of power, people are vulnerable, and look up to you (and unfortunately, most Yoga teachers do not deserve this kind of reverence), you should care enough about your future students to make a point of having a practice of your own..and no, riding your bike is not Yoga!! So many people keep using weird references like that, or: “walking is my Yoga” I get that, but no: Yoga is Yoga.

    I could go on forever, but must make one more point. I personally don’t care if your Indian or Asian, or whatever ‘race’ (I really hate that word)…are you kind? Are you well meaning? Are you honestly attempting to live a decent life, caring for those around you?? Well, this would mean you are in fact a good decent human being, that is what counts…the rest is just an illusion, costumes we wear for this lifetime…’I’ am not a Caucasian (meaningless word, which is just another way to categorize me so you can now put me in a box and call it a day without ever getting to know me). In order to create peace in our world we must stop the hatred and division. Of course we have ‘culture’ to respect and honor in others, however, it should not divide us. Well..I should say some of us have culture..honestly, I’m so blended (in my family we are English, Irish, Scottish, French, etc haha) I seriously have no defined culture per say, merely my love of the Earth and those who inhabit it!

    I thank you for your words,
    Namaste

  139. Naomi Betancourt

    I loved yoga but not a true enthusiasts as many are nowadays. I was introduced to Hatha yoga in the 70’s and enjoy the practice. I feel I am a visitor in the foreign practice and respect that it has been around for centuries long before it was held hostage by our current culture. On occasion I have been asked to lead a class- I share the knowledge I have gained but do not profess to be a true yogi. Your article spoke to me as I am a brown skinned latina and have experienced similar high-jacking of my cultural dances and music(Zumba). I am annoyed by the copyrighting of “new” forms of yoga. Ugh. Why so many labels? Respect what is so much older than us and do not profess to know the language. It is really annoying.

  140. Zander

    Interesting article.

    I will start by saying that I feel I am very lucky that the Moksha studio here in Montréal I attend I feel is fundamentally built by a strong, hard-working little community. I have gotten to know the teachers, and many of them are very beautiful people, all working on themselves. Also, I’d like to point out that at least at the studio I am familiar with, there is the energy exchange program, so if, as you say, a single mother wants to practice yoga, she can work one 4 hour shift a week, likely which she would enjoy, to get unlimited free sessions. I am a student and this has made it possible for me to practice regularly.

    I think we must remember that the physical asanas were originally, at least in my understanding, practiced as a way to open the energy channels in the body before meditation. The real journey starts there. I came to yoga after discovering the profound implications of meditation, not the other way around, and have always seen it as an extension of the mental practice.

    The depths of yoga as a spiritual practice knows no bounds, at least thus far in my experience.

    People seem to practice for different reasons though. It’s up to the practitioner if they want to make it more of a workout, to do it strictly for the health benefits. What’s wrong with that? I do not think that debases the original teachings. So, when we see people exhibiting extremely “unconscious” behaviour, (judgemental ego driven “spirituality,” or vegan naziism for instance) in Yoga communities, we must recognize that they are currently living in at least a partial state of ignorance, resistance and fear, and it is the time for us as observes to exercise compassion towards them, and not further judgement. Try not to add fuel to the fire.

    I think without mindful based practices, which is where I feel the true spiritual insight and expansion comes from, then people will continue trying to buy “enlightenment,” which obviously can’t be bought. But that’s up to them to figure out… The information is out there, the foundational texts of yoga are available and the power lies within us all to practice them. I feel like the true wisdom derives from sitting and watching your own consciousness.

    I personally think it to be tremendously exciting that these practices which were at one time meant for master and disciple, are now available to the masses. Of course there will be misinterpretation and even abuse of the teachings, but the yoga itself is so strong that the true seekers will not be affected.

    It is disturbing to me that so many teachers are being trained in such a short period of time. Luckily, there are many resources to us available by profoundly influential yogis who have passed on, and likely always will be. Use your judgement on who’s advice to follow or to ignore. This is the same as in anything. Don’t follow ideas blindly. Like the saying goes, “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him!”

    Your path is your path, no one else’s, and no one else can teach you your experience.

    Thanks for opening up my mind to an interesting internal dialogue,

    All best to you all.

  141. camerama

    Love it, thank you!! Totally agree, I do like using sanskrit names for the asanas, though…

  142. Thank you for this post. It’s a really important discussion and I’m so happy to see how may people have chimed in. I agree that the typical western yoga class is frequently shallow, theatrical and oriented toward appearances. I also agree that it’s time for yoga in the west to mature, but westerners themselves need to mature, and maybe yoga, although admittedly imperfect, is helping.

    It is annoying when fellow yogis behave ignorantly, but maybe going to class and being a little shallow is better than watching the Kardashians and binge shopping? Maybe it’s just baby steps, and and maybe we need to remind ourselves to be compassionate and patient. Where I have less patience is when it comes to teachers who should be more aware and responsible. With all the disgraced yogi gurus of late, maybe there is an opportunity for more female, sincere and ethical teachers to emerge.

    Let’s not give up on yoga. Let’s just hold ourselves and our teachers to higher standards. There are legitimate, knowledgable, sincere and humble teachers here.

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