10 Not So Great Things About Yoga

In no particular order:

Teachers who do not walk their talk

Yoga teachers are vulnerable human beings with good intentions. We do our best, but may not always be able to live up to high spiritual ideals, either our own, or those projected onto us from outside. However, that said, there is almost an epidemic of scandal amongst high profile teachers and schools these days, some of which is shocking beyond belief. It seems hard to imagine how these teachers have been able to behave in such an unacceptable manner for so long – why do their students not speak out? If a teacher is consistently in breach of commonly accepted yogic qualities (such as humility, self-awareness, kindness, discernment and authenticity), then I strongly advise that you attend class elsewhere.

Gimmicky styles and franchises

I read an article in a well-respected yoga publication recently telling new teachers not to waste money on further training, because success in the yoga industry was '20% knowledge and 80% business acumen'. With this in mind, these new teachers were advised to develop a niche market in order to offer something different from their 'competition'. Hence the advent of an extraordinary array of embellished yoga franchises, too many (and some too silly) to list. There is a widespread, somewhat earnest, belief that spirituality and money shouldn't mix. As someone who earns a living from teaching yoga, I obviously do not adhere to that belief. But to deliberately commodify something as noble as yoga, to patent it and package it, to turn it into something superficial and market-oriented, does it a great disservice.

Astonishingly expensive yoga accessories

Supinity Retreat Jumpsuit, £125. Devi Yoga Pant, £88. Liforme Yoga Mat, £100. YogaToe Separator, £36. Ok, so ethically sourced, specially designed merchandise doesn't come cheap, but am I the only one who finds these incredibly priced 'must have' accessories inappropriate? As far as I understand it, yoga is about inner transformation and simplicity, not outer appearances. Which is not to say that we shouldn't dress in ways that please us, or practice yoga with accoutrements that make us more comfortable. But let us not be misled into thinking that yoga is a status-oriented fashion statement.

Over zealous adjustments

The subject of touch in yoga class is a thorny one. Some people love it, some people hate it. My view is that adjustments work best when the client knows they have permission to refuse them. Less is more, too, just gentle encouragements in the right direction. I have personally been yanked and twisted, unexpectedly and alarmingly, by well-established teachers who I might have hoped would know better. I am flexible. My body can move deeply into a posture – but it isn't always appropriate for me to do so due to certain physiological weaknesses. I know this, but a teacher new to me wouldn't. This has been a problem at times, but absolutely shouldn't have been. Anecdotally, I have been told many stories about over zealous adjustments that have lead to injury and to the subsequent abandonment of practice by the student concerned. This is not yoga. This is abuse. As is any touch of a sexual nature.

Saccharine spirituality

True spirituality is not about being 'nice'. Neither is it about being constantly calm, or continually positive. It is certainly not to do with who you hang out with, what you eat or whether you are the picture of health. I consider someone to be spiritual when they are willing to meet exactly who they are, in all their myriad shades of light and dark, and give thanks. This requires extreme and absolute self compassion, out of which heartfelt compassion for others will inevitably arise. The process of self acceptance is greatly aided by (but not dependent on) techniques such as yoga, meditation, chanting and prayer. These activities in themselves do not make us 'spiritual', rather, the way we are in the world, the quality of our being, how real we are with others, is our testament. Let us attend to that.

Noise and speed

Since I first attended class twenty years ago, yoga has speeded up. It has also got a lot louder. This is confusing to me, as I believe yoga's greatest gift to be its invitation to slow down and experience the profound inner silence that can arise as a result. I have attended workshops so musically slick that they seemed like West End theatre productions, complete with lighting and sound effects. They were fun in a way, but they weren't very settling. It seems like our society is terrified of stillness and silence, yet these are the very doorways to insight and revelation that we need so much. If we can't find peace and quiet in a yoga class, then something has gone wrong somewhere.

Competition and elitism

As human beings, we are competitive by nature. We are also hard wired to understand the most subtle of pecking orders and our place within it. But competition creates stress and division and thus, to my mind, is contrary to the unifying philosophy of yoga. I understand that yoga competitions have been running in India for a long time, but this doesn't make it right. How can we come to a place of self acceptance and shared humanity when we are pitted against another? It makes no sense. So if a class encourages competition, be suspicious. It probably isn't yoga, no matter what it looks like on the outside.

Stereotyped advertising

So I own up to being a young(ish), thin, white, able-bodied, middle class woman, but are we really the only demographic that practices yoga...? Unfortunately, virtually all the trainings I have attended over the years suggest this to be true! But why? I would love yoga to be more inclusive – it's for everyone! Maybe changing yoga advertising would be a way forward. Move over beautiful blue-eyed blondes sitting atop a rock in lotus with eyes closed, let's make way for someone else.

Yoga as a random merchandising tool

Yoga laptops? Really? Why? In what way does this pertain to spiritual awakening?

Focus on the body beautiful

I will say this again, because it is important. Yoga is about inner transformation, not outer appearances. Achieving perfection in asana is not relevant. Neither is the shape, size or colour of the practitioner. I do not approve of yoga programmes designed for weight loss, not because weight loss isn't appropriate in certain circumstances, but because they feed into the cultural insanity we have around body image and surface values. Stylized online videos of glamorous women practicing complex postures in scant underwear isn't my bag either, no matter how impressive the sequence. Rather than getting caught up in these external trappings, let's honour and accept who we are in this moment and work from there, with curiosity about, and respect for, the unfolding of our inner reality. Then we are engaging in yoga.

Shanti Om.

Penny Jane Fuller 2015


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