Recently we’ve been accused of being the yoga police.
These responses came from two posts calling attention to the trashification of yoga while calling for discernment. While theses articles were called angry and judgmental, they reflected our heartbreak over the erosion of yoga as a spiritual practice. It was not anger or judgment, but love that motivated our writing. And again, in this instance, it is our love for the integrity of the practice and practitioners that we write.
We were attacked (as we will be for this one). How dare we claim something isn’t yoga… Isn’t everything yoga? Who were we to judge what was eroding the integrity of yoga? Doesn’t the mass marketing and sexualization of yoga attract more practitioners? Where was our compassion? Were we the self-appointed yoga police?
Consider these two scandals, both extreme examples of the decay of the practice and a discredit to those who teach it. Over the years we’d hear horror stories about these two men regarding improper interactions with students, and then within the same breath we’d hear the phrase: “at least people are doing yoga.” Why is it okay to excuse bad behavior just because it’s draped in a false flag of yoga and spirituality?
We stood by as a community and allowed impropriety to continue. We all heard the rumors and did nothing. And for what? It is the “yogier than thou” games we all participate in, these attempts at appearing spiritual are only excuses. Moral quietude by hiding behind the word compassion gave tacit approval for the behavior.
Many who were not personally involved have rushed to ‘forgive’ Bikram and John Friend. They claim to adopt compassion for these men that preyed upon and exploited young and vulnerable women. Yet, where is their compassion for these women? When did compassion become forgiving the predator, and forgetting the victim?
Compassion literally means “to suffer with.” Biting your tongue and turning a blind eye when those around you behave outside the moral expectations of a real yoga practice is not an example of compassion. It simply allows the suffering of others to continue. This indifference is irresponsible.
“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of beauty is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, but indifference between life and death.” ~ Elie Wiesel
If we keep quiet on the trashification of yoga because no one wants to be seen as the “yoga police”—it is only going to get worse. The most effective and long lasting communities are those that police themselves.
The truth is that people don’t actually want to deal with it, so they throw out a word like understanding, or any other yoga cliché, because dealing with it is hard.
People are afraid of looking unyogic and any attempt to call out these failings of individuals or communities are rejected.
It seems that discernment is the first casualty of the kali yuga.
Calls for discernment are met by people telling you to “just focus on your own practice,” “that’s just how things are,” or to “practice compassion”—all calls for a passive rather than an active response that further erodes the meaning of the practice. These actively undermine any attempts to change things for the better.
The reason for this seems to be because, for many, the practice is a refuge or escape from the rigor and responsibility they are faced with in their everyday lives. In short, some people do yoga so that they don’t have to think…even if just for a little while. So, calls for discernment in the practice can come across as an intrusion.
Predators reach guru status in the west because some people just don’t want to be responsible. These false gurus command perfect obedience, and this obedience absolves all personal responsibility. This combination makes for a perfect storm that allows for the practice to be eroded, compromised, and cheapened.
What kind of yoga do we want to leave behind for those who follow us? What kind of bridge to the future are we building for the next generation? How about we follow the simple campground rules of leaving it better than we found it? Or, at least not eroded to the point that it is no longer recognizable as yoga?
“Action springs not from thought, but from a readiness for responsibility.” ~ Dietrich Bonhoffer
This is a call to practitioners and teachers to take responsibility for the practice—not just for themselves but those who will follow us. What does the future of yoga hold in the West? Will it be reduced to corporate ownership, making bad classes better, but making great classes extinct? Will it be ruled by greed, glamour, fads and gimmicks? Or will the word yoga become so overused that the inherent meaning is lost?
When we hear of improprieties in our yoga community, we owe it to ourselves and our sangha, to inquire further with the understanding that there are two sides to every story and that an accusation does not equal guilt. Discernment is required here as well. But when there is substantiated evidence of wrongdoing, or years of rumors which seem to hold much truth, we owe it to our community to do something about it. When we see our practice being co-opted and cheapened, we should bear witness and call it out, and not support it with our energy or money. We should all be the yoga police.
At the same time, we should find those islands of authenticity and support them the best we can. In just about every town there is a studio or community like this and usually, they are struggling to survive. If you can find them, support them, and help them grow—you will be better supported in your own practice and you’ll help leave behind a legacy for those who follow.
But if you’re okay paying $10,000 for a teacher training that leaves you unprepared to support yourself or adequately teach, if you’re okay with corporate entities ruling yoga and robbing it of its spirituality, if you’re okay with women being raped, harassed, and exploited…then stay quiet and call it “compassion” or “understanding.” Is this practice worth putting in the effort of standing up and protecting it? Or is it just a hobby or fad that will fade and mockingly be remembered for see-through pants and sex scandals? The choice is yours.
About Chris Courtney
Chris Courtney is a yoga teacher, writer, and adventurer. Sincerely seeking transformation through spiritual sadhana and the integrity of daily living are what Chris most values on his journey as a teacher and life-long student. A dedicated yoga practitioner and teacher (who first learned from his mother at the age of seven), Chris Courtney, offers classes which enable you to link your breath, mind and body – allowing you to stay focused, calm, aware and steady. Chris trained with Doug Swenson and his multi-faceted vinyasa style of yoga; Sadhana Yoga Chi. His teachers and influences also include Swami Chetanananda, Meta Hirschl, David Swenson, and Tias Little. He currently teaches at various studios in Germany, as well as teaching workshops and events around the US and Europe. Chris has been a headline teacher at the Flagstaff Yoga Festival, the New Mexico Yoga Conference, and the Sedona Yoga and Wellness Festival. In 2012, Chris was voted the Best Yoga Teacher in Albuquerque, New Mexico by the readers of Albuquerque Magazine. A former expat journalist, warrior and diplomat, Chris has appeared in Origin Magazine, Flow Yoga Magazine, Elephant Journal, LA Yoga, Integral Yoga Magazine, and Politico. His formal education includes a master’s degree in International Relations from the ETH Zürich and a Bachelor of Arts from Ball State University.