Everybody’s a Critic (of Yoga)

In the last month or so, I’ve run across three separate articles dressed up as criticism of western presentations of yoga.  The trouble is, they come across being more narcissistic and envious of the “culture” they are supposedly now boycotting, and end up sounding resentful of fame and success rather than offering true criticism.

So here, with a grain of salt, I’m criticizing the critics.

better bunsOne article focused on the sensationalistic, commenting on the launching of a Yoga porn site, and Yoga for Better Buns to make his point of capitalism infringing upon this spiritual practice.  But then this very same poster is blogging at the HuffingtonPost.com and he is also an author of two books on Mindfulness and Meditation, both with a handy link to the Amazon Store right after his article.  And, by the way, he’s written many other articles in such a style.  If you didn’t already know, bloggers at the Huffington Post don’t get paid for their articles.  They do it for exposure.  Can he be any more of a shill?

He decries the branding of different styles of Yoga.  But he could have chosen to write about StreetYoga.org, bringing Yoga to homeless and at-risk youth, or Yoga Warriors, focusing on vets with PTSD. There are many groups and individuals who use Yoga to help in true seva (service) to others.  How can he actually critique western yoga and capitalism when his motives are so transparent?

In another article, the author writes of a month long retreat she took with such narcissism, you want to call it ironic.  Only you can’t, it’s simply overwrought.  Apparently she had a come-to-Krishna moment on this retreat when she realizes, “There comes a time when you must choose whether to support a system aimed at fame and renown… or to step back and stop wasting time on the insignificant..”

So she quits.  The article is titled, “Why I Quit the Yoga Business.” But did she really?  In the article she states that she’s got three more books in the works and she still offers privates to people who are “really involved.”  After all the hand wringing and holier than thou pontifications, she still offers “Personally-tailored yoga programs… for those who believe that the sacred process of yoga practice is a spiritual discipline that cannot be effectively practiced at yoga studios and group classes.”

candlesAlso, she is writing for a site, The Elephant Journal, that doesn’t pay their authors.  They do it for “some good karma” (read that, for the exposure).  So.  Let’s review; she hasn’t actually gotten out of the Yoga business and she makes an incredibly sweeping statement about how millions of people practice yoga.  I mean, go to your mountain, have your epiphany, but are you really enlightened with so many contradictions and so much baggage on display?

It all came to a head, for me, with the last article I read.  Yet another Yogi with a PhD confronted her assumptions and then dissected them for all of us to read; criticizing looks, charisma and athletic ability among other things.  She projects her assumptions out on the rest of us: “We assume that someone who can float from Crow to Handstand in the middle of the room is “better” at yoga than the rest of us.”

Umm, no.  I admire the work it takes to achieve a pose or the amazing form they can take in some people’s bodies, but the pose is not the be-all or end-all for me.  So, like, speak for yourself.

She does make an interesting point comparing two classes.

She attended a popular class “with maybe 80 students packed in mat-to-mat.” The teacher “bounced in like a radiant cheerleader: pretty, confident, eye-catching, smiling.”  It didn’t do anything for her.  She said the class “left me feeling like I’d had some exercise, but not done any yoga.”

While another class she attended was taught by a woman who’s “hair was streaked with grey and she had a quiet manner.  She was not charismatic.”  “ Her class had had incredible focus, energy, and depth. It had six people in it.”  To her, it was a great class.  And she was surprised and disheartened by the difference in numbers.

Well.  I find it annoying, for lack of a better word, that she’s critiquing Yoga for being shallow, when she describes yoga teachers so superficially; “a radiant cheerleader” vs. “hair was streaked with grey.”  And, she’s so dismissive of the exercise.  Yoga has to be quiet, you know.


One of the things that torques my chi more than anything is the assumption by many in the Yoga community that Bikram or an active vinyasa flow or even gym Yoga can’t address the spirit through the process.  You can’t fucking know what the experience is for someone else!  I don’t need to be led in the spiritual.  I usually need an active class that wrings me out.  I go to a group class to be pushed physically.  Then I find peace, stillness or whatever it is that’s meant to be that day.  And here’s the thing, I’m only right for me.  I know that doesn’t work for everyone.

What these three articles offer up is criticism and declarations of what Yoga is supposed to be.  One author states “what America has done to the Hindu religious practices formerly known as Yoga is tantamount to smearing Brie on Holy Communion Wafers and selling them at the Whole Foods next to the church.”

That Yoga’s origins arise from the Hindu belief system is one thing.  Saying Yoga is a religious practice is like saying Christmas is a religious practice.  It is and it isn’t.  And there’s a whole lot in between.

Rodney-Yee-Power-UpI wonder, with at least two of these authors, how many people are making it into their classes.  I’ll admit to it being my greatest insecurity.   I don’t have large classes.  It creates self-doubt and causes me to question what I do the most.  But, I direct my gaze inward rather than outward.  I know I touch people.  And yet, I still think Rodney Yee’s videos are great and think the Bikram sequence, dialogue and heat work wonders for many, many people.

I’ve never needed a rock star or famous person to reach me.  Nor am I critical of those who have been helped.  Charisma is part and parcel of teaching.  To resent it is ridiculous.  My favorite Yoga teachers are Elizabeth, Jeanie, John, Chase, Lori, Lisa, Steve, Randal, Jovinna, Ray and Angie.  None of them are on TV, but all of them have spoken to me in some manner.  Some have presence, some are quiet and some are vivacious.  One thing they all have in common is that they are ok with who they are and their role in the world.

2 thoughts on “Everybody’s a Critic (of Yoga)

  1. Completely agreed. Yoga is SUCH a personal experience and comes down to the individual practitioner’s mind, body, goals, and taste. I have never understood how a person can critique another for choosing a type of practice different than his/her own. Find what works for you and enjoy it- let others do the same! Great post.

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