Fear & Loathing on the Yoga Mat

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas1

There’s a lot of talk about spiritual jealousy, but our spiritual sides have very little to do with it…

We’ve all experienced it. A beautiful young woman joins a class you’re taking, and proceeds to perform every asana perfectly; she opts for the most advanced variation of the pose and still does not break a sweat. And all you can think is: “I hate her.”

Just like stereotype dictates a beautiful woman cannot be smart, the yogic stereotype states that if someone has an advanced asana practice they can’t possibly be spiritual, they are fitness junkies, or simply “collecting poses” (to trade with friends? to display in the credenza? I’m not sure what this means, but I’ve heard it a lot).

This is an immediate dismissal of the individual and their practice—and the dismissal manifests in many ways. We assume the practitioner has a dance or gymnastics background and therefore has no knowledge of the spiritual practice; that they are young and naturally athletic…that they’re just dumb.

This dismissal exists between teachers. If the rival is successful the backhanded compliment of “They’re great at marketing is given with no mention of their practice or their teaching skills. If the rival has an advanced asana practice no compliments are given: “They don’t know anything about the spiritual practice.”

I’ve heard vicious rumors that had no basis in reality regarding teachers. These ranged from basic incompetence to criminal negligence. And then there are the rumors regarding personal lives. Those get ugly. Rumors are just rumors, cooked in the feverish minds of those in the grip of a negative ego loop. But the rumors damage everyone involved.

The ego has two faces. The first is the one that asserts we are awesome! The other, that we are awful. The negative ego loop is when we get stuck in the thoughts of inadequacy and self-loathing. These thoughts, uncontrollable and vicious, are unstoppable. They get tighter and tighter, leaving us wounded and cornered and the only way out is to attack.

The reality is that we have no knowledge of these rivals other than what we see. Much like the presentation of ourselves on an online social networking site, we feature smiling faces and inspirational quotes. Meanwhile, the hardships that shaped us, the traumas and disappointments are absent from prying eyes.

It is only rational to keep our private lives private, but while we publicly celebrate every victory and joy, we simultaneously hide the deeply disturbing and painful experiences that ultimately give us our greatest challenges and strengths. We hide everything that we see as a fault or weakness.

By attending a class or workshop, we hope to learn and grow. Some also take pride in their practice, in the discipline and years of hard work that they invested on their mat. There is nothing wrong with finding joy in the practice and our efforts. These practitioners have no intention of making us feel bad, but they do. The sad truth is that sometimes, the mere existence of this other person becomes a personal attack.

Why are we so wounded by the practice of another? What is it we are lacking that this person has, what is it that we want so much? What is it about ourselves that we detest? Because, having faced it many times, I have learned that jealousy is cleverly disguised self-loathing. I have also learned that the cure for jealousy is love.

It is easy to talk about loving oneself. Thousands of self-help books have been written on how to do so. Love is the ultimate practice, and the hardest. There is no quick fix, because loving yourself means seeing all of yourself: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

After facing, and accepting all of the self, the next step is seeing yourself in everyone and everything. The range of human experience and emotion is limited; no one’s life is unique or special. We have all experienced the same joys and sorrows, the same pain and suffering. We can argue this point, but it would be over degrees, putting value on one life over another.

Of course there are people who go out of their way to make others feel bad about themselves: the yoga mean-girls and assholes. These individuals are that much more insecure and live in a hell of their own making. When you live in shit, the tendency is to spread it around so no one notices the smell.

Imagine the world they live in, one where they must step on others to prove that they are superior. They have become the living embodiment of jealousy. The negative ego-loop is all that remains, along with nothing more than crippling self-loathing.

“When another makes you suffer, it is because he suffers deeply within himself, and his suffering is spilling over. He does not need punishment; he needs help.” –Thich Naht Hanh

Jealousy, like all negative emotions, is a tool we can use to grow. It is important to face all of our short-comings and all of our ugliness (and it doesn’t get uglier than jealousy). By seeing and acknowledging the emotion, we can forgive ourselves, and by extension, others. Compassion can be literally translated as “to suffer together,” recognizing that everyone falls prey to jealousy, and the root cause, should help love for all beings blossom.

As for the yoga mean girls and yoga assholes, treat them with love and kindness, and let them learn from example how to love themselves. By responding with love, they can feel safe and accepted in who they are—creating an environment in which self loathing is transformed into self acceptance and love.

And when we feel ourselves triggered by their insecurity, we can realize that its often because we’re aware of those same insecurities in ourselves. So, being conscious and responding with love is not only healing for them, its healing for us as well.

In this way, we can accept and integrate the side of ourselves we’re afraid others will find unlovable and in the process help others do the same thing.


Tagged under: Yoga Practice
Maya georg

Maya Devi Georg is a yoga teacher,  writer and editor at www.BrahmalokaOrBust.com and writer for Yoganonymous. She is also the co-founder and co-director of MahaLakshmi Yoga School and its Teacher Training Programs. She has studied with Swami Bua, Swami Jnanand, and Yogi Gupta (among many other amazing teachers). Studying since 1999, and teaching since 2002, she has also lead teacher trainin...READ MORE