I’ve seen a lot of sharing of this article by a blogger named Irasna Rising; I am flummoxed, less because it is poorly written, offers no tangible recommendations, and is still getting so much attention, and more because so many people seem willing to blindly accept this brand of deeply personal criticism as salient cultural commentary deserving of some kind of action, as if the author’s subjective issues with yoga are universal and pressing. I suppose it’s not extremely surprising, especially in Canada where we are terrified ourselves of being called racists - it might force us to truly look at and acknowledge our real history (an ongoing saga of abuse towards First Nations people, abuse which is still being perpetuated four years after an official apology was made).
It's Universal, Silly
The article is written by a self-proclaimed person "of Indian heritage" who lives in the West and who is “disillusioned and disgusted” with yoga. Yoga? How can yoga be taken so personally? Immediately I suspect she must not be doing it right if this is where it's led her. But I call off my dogs, remembering that there is no right and wrong, and delve back into the piece. Still, as I read further, what niggles my brain, tickling the forefront of consciousness, is the spiritual axiom that whenever I am disturbed, no matter what the reason, it means there is something fundamentally wrong with me. But before being so simplistic in a response, her points bear looking at, don't they? I read on - surely there is something here since I've seen so many people linking to this article. Surely.
I have to stop reading for minute. "Honey," I say to the author, pretending she's beside me and actually wants my opinion, "Yoga is not sacred."
Life is sacred, yes, and the expression of life is sacred. Yoga is a system, an ancient and refined technology of ecstasy; it is but one path to the reality which lies beyond mind and matter. Yoga, as system, is a tool. This tool can be wielded in as many ways as there are minds that pick it up. I like to think that most people employ the tool of yoga because they want inner peace. Intention governs everything -- even our author says this. But if I am less than enlightened, and I am only interested in yoga because I like how my ass looks in Lululemon man-shorts and that in my yoga community there are 90% females -- what am I really looking for? I am looking for connection. I am looking for communion. I am still looking for the same thing more enlightened beings are after, I’m just not as developed in my search and am blinded by my own ignorance of what will truly bring me awareness, equanimity, and ultimately peace. I just need to work through more ignorance. So if I treat yoga with an attitude of spiritual materialism, hedonism and hypocrisy, would I not be deserving of your compassion rather than your disdain?
Irasna Rising’s complaints amount to, essentially, the following points: 1. yoga in the West is trendy and hedonistic, 2. yoga in the West seems to be only for rich white people, 3. a variation on the first point that can be summarized best by the fact that the author bristles at the sight of white women in saris, 4. another variation on point number three, namely that white people chanting in Sanskrit annoys the author, 5. “caucasians are inferior to Indians” and “Real Indians from India make fun of Westerners behind their back [sic] and make money off their ignorance”, 6. another variation on the first point, and finally 7. a re-hashing of the third point with different examples.
Too Many White People?
The first point is absolutely true, but I don’t think it’s a cultural issue or problem that requires fixing. I certainly have enough indication from my own life that whenever I try and fix, manage or control something with ideas stemming from my judgemental mind, I tend to make matters worse. I have learned that as I proceed further on the path, with less judgement and less denial, more will be revealed and I will shed more layers of ignorance. This leads me deeper into a state of flow.
The second point is tricky because it speaks to a very Canadian deep-rooted fear of being labelled as a racist, but I’m not sure if we need to be concerned about achieving a higher quota of non-white people in yoga classes in the West. The question at root is whether or not yoga is accessible. Well, is it? I certainly think so - I did yoga on my own with the same $20 video for almost three years before attending classes. I was too full of anxiety to approach my own practice any other way. It’s the at-home sadhana (yes, I speak Sanskrit! which is actually - like Latin - a language that has an impact on brain activity, HRV and overall physical health - Dr. Richard Brown tells a fascinating story about what happened to a group of monks and priests who fell seriously ill after Vatican II when the mass was no longer said in Latin) where the magic happens for me. I attend classes for community, sangha, and also to observe where my ego is at. But I have so far failed to take a census on skin colour, though it appears to me that the classes I have attended in New Delhi, Hong Kong, Bangkok, Colombo, Ho Chi Minh City are pretty much made up of people who live in that city and are trying to bring more peace, happiness and harmony into their lives. Any yoga community can only be a substratum of the community it lives and breathes in. As Bryan Kest says, when we bring our shit into yoga, we make yoga shit. The author Irasna Rising seems to be, in my opinion, operating less out of love than out of fear here. She (I am deducing that the author is a woman, but I could be mistaken) has penned more of a drawn-out complaint against the perceived inconsistencies with "the yoga scene" and yoga. The yoga “scene” is trendy and hedonistic. So what? All yoga really asks me to do is breathe, stretch, move, and pay close attention to refine my concentration and awareness. Then I need to let go and let nature take its own course.
This article is clearly not the product of a discriminating, balanced mind. Again, if I am ever disturbed, no matter what the reason, that means there is something amiss with me. This openly racist writer clearly has an axe to grind, and has totally given her own power away by believing her issues lie outside of herself. Take, for instance, the laundry list of dislikes on her profile: "Hip hop, country western music, Nickelback, New Agers, Canadian winters, Stephen King, sheeple, suburban mediocrities, Mexican food, Mondays, jocks, himbos and bimbos, people who ride their bicycle on the foot path and pedestrians on the bike path especially when the two paths are next to each other, people who stand at the front of the bus and block the entrance when there are tons of open seats in the back. You get the idea."
Yes, I get the idea. The very act of itemizing things that get under my skin demonstrate my own ignorance of the reality that what I resist persists. What a torture for my own mind, as if its job isn’t difficult enough already! I am lacking humility in this case, and humility is only the ability to see things as they really are, not as I wish them to be nor as I fear them to be. The antidote to my lack of humility, I have found, is gratitude.
Here is where I vacillate. Maybe yoga IS sacred. I am so grateful for my practice. All of this life is sacred, even the mundane; I remember what I knew once and learned I know not where: there are no ordinary moments. Yoga is not just the practice, it is the fruit of practice; it is both the journey and the destination, the union of small mind with cosmic consciousness, the dissolution of the illusion of separateness, of "I."
If I am striving for the destination so fiercely that I am hating the journey for being what it is, then my compass is busted and I am likely headed in the wrong direction.
I make up that the author just ‘blew up’ here, and really needed to let something big go. As within, so without. Mirror, mirror. There is another spiritual axiom which states that when a reaction to an event is disproportionate to the event, the reaction is always about the past. This article was penned by someone who is suffering, who has evidently been hurt, and whose pain and anger towards yoga is likely a symptom of some underlying pain and - who knows? - maybe even trauma. I can identify with suffering. I am suffering, too -- suffering and riddled with character defects. We all are--if we weren't, we wouldn't need yoga. If I could meet her I would ask her what she needs - an ear? to be held? some love? acceptance of herself just as she is in this very moment? Whatever she needs, I hope she finds it, whether it be through yoga or another path. I hope she can, as Ghandi envisioned, "be the change" she wants to see in the world. I hope we all can.