A belated response to Why I Left Yoga (& Why I Think A Helluva Lot Of People Are Being Duped) by Irasna Rising. It’s a satire. And it’s not.
This article from 2012 was recently posted on a Facebook group. I skimmed it and made an impulsive comment – something like:
“Perhaps this angry young woman should have explored other studios and teachers. And had an editor.”
I was accused of being dismissive. I admit the comment was flip and made prematurely. I’ve since read the piece and, well, I just find it so provocative that I can hardly form one thought without a dozen others spilling out, like an editory car full of clowns. I just don’t have the endurance today to deconstruct it point by point, but luckily there is a tried and true groove, well worn in yoga’s popular press, for proffering opines and opinions. I call it the X X for X and apply it here:
7 Mantras for Bringing Irasna Rising back to Yoga
Mantra 1: Yoga is not asana is not Yoga is not asana is not Yoga is not asana is not Yoga
Irasna, I think that you would experience a great unwinding if you would simply do one thing – differentiate between Yoga and asana. Very simply put, Yoga as Patanjali’s Raja Yoga with its 8 limbs and all; and asana as physical postures with a dabble of mediation and a sprinkle of pranyama. You could even go one step further and do the following mental translation: Yoga = asana = hotasana = workout. Following along this translation, Yoga teacher = workout instructor.
Whenever you think about, and definitely before you even consider writing about yoga, ask yourself are you referring to Yoga or asana? Try this exercise. Replace the word
“Yoga” with “asana” in the following sentences (quoted directly from your article) and I think you will find it changes everything. My comments are in italics.
“I too fell in love with how
yoga asana made my body feel after a particularly tough workout.” This is going to be a breeze – you already refer to yoga as a workout!
“I too fell into the pseudo-spiritual aspects of the practice [of
yoga asana].” Beware of pseudo-anything. Synonyms for pseudo: bogus, sham, phony, artificial, mock, ersatz, quasi-, fake, false, spurious, deceptive, misleading, assumed, contrived, affected, insincere.
“Disillusioned—and at times—even disgusted at the people [
yoga teachers workout instructors] who I thought should be setting an example to the rest of us. But, as it turns out, they are even more messed up than you realize—and yoga asana is just an effective cloak to hide their true nature.” Oh, dear it seems you were basing your happiness on your expectations of how others should be…that dog will always bite. Poor workout instructors, they’re just trying to get their workout on.
yoga asana, I finally felt that I found something authentic, based on authentic teachings…plus, I felt great afterwards.” Might I suggest you spend some time with material from the following historians of the development of Western yoga – Mark Singleton or Eric Shaw.
Mantra 2: Western yoga is its own species
As perverse and fucked up as you might find it and as far removed as it may be from Indian Yoga, Western yoga has its own unique, maddening, and perpetually trending path. Naked yoga? We got it. Laugh yoga? Check. Marijuana yoga? Been there (hey it’s legal in WA). Trance yoga? Yep. Queer yoga? Oh my! Chocolate yoga? Sweet. Yoga with your dog? We call it Doga here in the US.
Coming soon to a (Western) yoga studio near you: Marijuana & chocolate-infused naked, laughing trance yoga for LGBTQ and their allies and furbabies!!!
Irasna, if you want Indian yoga, I’m afraid you are going to have to stock up on one of your trips back to your homeland.
Mantra 3: I can give the gift of yoga
I agree with you 100% that many people can’t afford yoga or face other obstacles like feeling they don’t have the proper attire, aren’t the right age, shape, size, color, etc., or would just feel out of place in a private yoga studio.
Yakima, WA, where I live, has a poverty rate well above the national average. So, nearly three years ago, I founded and run the Yoga Collective of Yakima (YOCO). Our mission is to provide free yoga and other mind, body, spirit classes. All of our classes are always free – about ~40 free classes each month. All of our teachers donate their time. Our only real expense is our rent, which we collect via sponsorships. I don’t take a salary. If you, Irasna, want to support free yoga, you could sponsor one of our classes for $20. That means that you would give me $20 and I would give that $20 to our landlord and for $20 everyone who showed up for that class would participate for free. We have been able to pay for our rent ~$600 every month through $20 class sponsorships since December 2013.
We are the only studio in Yakima to offer truly gentle classes that are attended by upwards of 20 older persons three days a week. Oh and how the friendships have blossomed. I’ve heard the personal stories of lonely lives and health transformed.
YOCO helped to launch Spanish language yoga with one of our community partners. Two nights per week, you can find beginning level yoga taught in Spanish by a SFL instructor, who is an amazing and authentic yogi.
And we offer YOGAY, a Welcoming class for LGBTQ and allies!
We have a pretty generic website that isn’t always up to date, but to really see us shine, check out our classes & community on our Facebook Page and consider making a donation. $20 gifts a full class, but we will accept any amount so that we can continue to provide free yoga classes in a welcoming, community-building space.
Better yet, find that stressed out single mother in your own community and anonymously gift her a year’s worth of yoga classes at a studio that offers child care. Be the change.
Mantra 4: Globalization is fo’ real
Irasna, do you wear sun glasses, eat potato chips, and have or will benefit from disposable diapers? Silly girl, those things were made by and for Americans and I will not stand by and let you misappropriate them. Pretty stupid, huh? The world is a big, confusing, slippery, brew of cross pollinating cultures. I have no clue who the Pussy Cat Dolls are and am pretty sure I would not be wowed by even the most authentic of Bollywood dance moves (sorry not my taste). But I am a fierce advocate of people being able to dress and dance as the spirit moves them.
Here’s an interesting little factoid bout me. I had an ovary and tube removed at age 42. I was postmenopausal by age 44. At age 45, I had to have a total hysterectomy, which left me utterly without female hormones. Having little to no hormones juicing things up, my hair became devastatingly thin. I was really sad and embarrassed by it. So I stopped brushing it and it started knotting up and it started forming dreadlocks and the nestiness of it started hiding my bare skull better than any comb over. And now, the places where my skin still shows form geometric patterns, a map of my skull, navigated by these crazy locks along which my restored self-esteem sails. And yet. I have been attacked online for culturally misappropriating dreadlocks cuz I’m white. And yet. They have no idea who I am or why I wear my hair this way.
Lighten up, will you?
Mantra 5: Speaking Sanskrit is not a sin
But it’s better if you get a little guidance on pronunciation. I like this guy’s pronunciation guide. I don’t know if he is Indian or white and using an Indian-sounding name and faking an Indian accent. Regardless, it’s been helpful for me in better asana pronunciation.
Mantra 6: Bikram Choudary is to Yoga as Mike Murdock is to Christianity as Donald Trumpet is to Anything Presidential. (It’s a mouthful).
I have no experience with exotic yoga guru culture in India. Personally, I am disinterested in and avoid having a guru of any stripe. What struck me though is when you wrote this sentence.
“Real Indians, in India, make fun of many Westerners behind their backs and are making money off of their ignorance.”
That just makes me sad. The image of being made fun of and taken advantage of is an ugly one, when I think so many people are seeking understanding, acceptance, connection, redemption, and transcendence.
Be nice people.
Mantra 7: Always have an editor
Irasna, if I had been your editor, I would have cut out your numbered points 1 through 6 as they detract from what I find to be your best, poignant, and most coherent writing.
These paragraphs, from your #7, capture the spirit of what I think you really meant to convey in your piece.
“[India] 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, Keralese, 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. They 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?”
It was only, when I read these two paragraphs that I finally connected to your experience and my impression of you shifted. I would like to see you unpack and write about your personal experience of yoga as a Indian woman with a particular culture and religion and diet and language and customs and history, who is trying to reconcile these aspects within the confines of an evertrending Western yoga scene. I would like to hear your story told not with vitriolic blame and judgement, but with humor (punching Russians & Poles) and with the heart of a teacher.
I circle back around to my initial comment that maybe you just needed to explore other yoga studios. Four years on, if you are still experiencing yoga as a high-school popularity scene, then you have not done your due diligence. There are Western yoga studios out there for you that will cause you much less disillusionment and dissonance and might even express a bit of that elusive authenticity. Keep looking.
Now, where’s my editor?