Eleven years ago I was living in London and I treated myself to a yoga class at a nearby studio. There were easily fifty other students in the class. The instructor walked in, a man with shoulder length blond hair, and immediately began the class. He was going extremely fast, and very few people were keeping up. One brave woman asked if he could slow down a little, and he stopped the class completely and marched over to her. Pointing at her face, he exclaimed, "Oh, you want me to SLOW DOWN? Shalllllll IIIIIIIII tallllllk liiiiiiiiike thiiiiis?"
I sort of smiled, and caught the eye of the person next to me as if to say, "That's a joke, right?"
But he continued. Further embarrassing her, he dropped to the ground at her feet and slowly preformed a sun salute at a painfully slow rate, and asked her if that was slow enough.
It was ridiculous. And at this point, the others in the class were getting uncomfortable and murmuring to each other. I am my mother's daughter, so I did what my mom would've done.
The class was silent, and I turned to the woman and said loudly, "I've had enough. I'm not listening to this anymore, and you shouldn't either." I rolled up my mat, and walked out, followed by a number of others. (I then walked up to the front desk and let the manager know what was going on.)
A confession: It isn't all incense and fuzzy feelings in the world of yoga.
On the contrary, there's a dark side. One part of this was revealed in Hell Bent, a book about competitive yoga and the controversial yoga guru Bikram. The Bikram controversy was further fueled by a lawsuit for alleged rape. Another side was revealed when Lululemon ex-CEO made degrading comments about women whose thighs touch, and just as uncomfortable was a former Lululemon ambassador publicly asking him to "kiss her fat ass". And, unrelated, who could forget the Equinox video featuring Briohny Smyth that was deemed overly sexy?
But none of that is what I really want to talk about today, because those types of issues are splashed over front pages all the time. What I want to talk about is being mindful of yoga's dark side in our own experiences.
Unfortunately, that class in London isn't the only bad experience I've had in yoga. Besides a touchy feely instructor, I've also had instructors preach that their diet of choice (usually vegan or vegetarian) is the best for everyone (blanket statements like that really get me fired up- even the Dalai Lama isn't a vegetarian). I've had other instructors talk about their method of instruction and style of yoga being the best, and worse, I've seen instructors insult the methodology or personal practice of other instructors' from the same studio.
And, of course, there was the time that my mom went to class wearing a regular, normal tank top and was told she should cover her shoulders because yoga is a "sacred" practice. This just killed me. Not because yoga isn't sacred, but because have you seen what the first (male!) yogis wore back in the day?!
Anyway, I say all this not to be that girl from Mean Girls who wants everything to be rainbows and smiles, but to give people in the yoga community, especially new people in the yoga community the heads up that this dark side exists. And encourage people to avoid it, instead seeking out kind, knowledgeable, authentic instructors and communities in their area. Speak up for what you feel in your heart is right, say no to your yoga teacher when it's necessary, and remember that even though we attend yoga classes with lots of other people, it remains a very individual practice, so always do what is in the best for your body, mind, and soul.
PS- More confessions of a yoga teacher.