Friday, July 10, 2020

Musings of a modern Yogi

So, I have a confession... several confessions actually.

For several years I've had an internal struggle with calling myself a 'Yoga Teacher'. It has been a kind of internalised shame and guilt that I just couldn't quite put my finger on. I had some vague idea that this feeling was linked to the conditioned idea that a Yoga Teacher isn't a 'real job';  This correlation might explain feelings of embarrassment, inadequacy and insecurity although it didn't quite explain the feeling of shame and guilt. I've thought of changing my 'title' to something other than 'Yoga Teacher', but until I understood my inner resistance and resolved my inner conflict, I couldn't come up with a suitable name for the role I play. Until now, I resigned myself to moving forwards, with my inner struggles unresolved. I've felt disillusioned with the western version of yoga, but simultaneously I deeply respect the evolutionary practice and it's ancient roots. Through my direct experience of it's benefits, I hold the altruistic belief that it remains my duty to share yoga and meditation with others.

This year, 2020, has led me, like so many other people, to dive into long periods of introspection, retreat and contemplation. I've been asking some big and potent questions of myself and have been searching for answers to meaningful questions to try to make sense of the ecological, political and social mess we find the world in today. Questions like; "What is happening?, "What is my purpose?", "How can I help?, "How have I contributed to this mess?" "What can I do to contribute to the collective changes required to move forwards in a positive way?"

I've felt a growing disconnect to my work and my truth.

In late 2019 and early 2020, my home country Australia was on fire....literally. Billions of native animals, hundreds of thousands of hectares of native bushlands, farmlands, residential areas, homes and infrastructure were consumed by raging out-of-control bushfire. My fears for the future, my lack of faith in political leadership and my anger at humanity for being major contributors to this disaster, ( through negligent, mass, over-consumption of finite resources)  intensified as we witnessed this destruction. I felt helpless. I donated money. I gave goods. I signed petitions. I wrote to politicians. Still, I felt helpless and disconnected from my truth. I deeply felt collective grief and pain from the loss and destruction; and heavy shame from the role I played in this mess.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic took hold of our planet and nation, our communities, our homes. 

I fell deep into reflection again... "What will the new normal be?", "How can I help create a new earth, one that is less greedy, more connected?"... "When so many have lost so much, how can I be in my integrity with my work and my life?", "How can I live in alignment with my values, AND support others through this time of global crisis?".  

Then the Black Lives Matter movement took centre stage. My social-feeds, inbox  and podcast playlists were filled with stories, images, accounts of the ways that we have perpetuated the oppression of POC for hundreds of years. I fell silent. I didn't know how to respond. I didn't know what to contribute. I felt unable to identify my feelings.... I felt confused, lost, powerless.... I felt ashamed. I felt ashamed of my life... raised with all the privileges of white supremeists... choice, freedom, education, health-care and opportunity. "How can I contribute to the movement of radical empathy?". I asked "How can we dismantle these oppressive systems and create more inclusive systems?"

I started to feel shame for all the times I have been unkind or unhelpful, and I judged myself for being a less-than-average version of myself at times, in my past. I felt disconnected from my joy and my hope. I felt stunned, frozen. I was afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing.... I was scared that I didn't have any answers.

I have been asking myself, again and again "What can I offer to help create radical change?", " How can I use my platforms and my voice to inspire others to adopt new behaviours that support global ideals of ecological protection, radical empathy and united collective healing, growth and empowerment?".

In the crises that have erupted, thus far, in 2020.... I've begun to see patterns ... correlational patterns.

I come back to Yoga..... it does not provide all the answers... but it provides infinite scope for inquiry. 

Of course, as a teacher of yoga and meditation and as a teacher to teens, I know that I don't want to teach fear. I don't want to practice despair. I don't want to model fear and guilt and shame and inaction.

Traditionally yoga was intended to free ourselves of illusion, to see things clearly as they are, to achieve 'self-realisation' and ultimately use that to step out and help others and help humanity. One of the four paths of yoga is Karma Yoga... the call to action, the call to service and an invitation to step out and do meaningful work in the world. Interestingly, modern research on 'Happiness' and it's causes consistently reveal that helping others, contributing to others/the world and giving 'service' is one major factor that leads to true inner-fullfilment. 

Back to my initial statement, I think I've realised why I have struggled to hold the label "Yoga Teacher". In my 15 years of teaching and over 20 years of practice... I've seen a great shift in the way that yoga is represented in the media ( mainstream media and social media in particular) and potentially understood by the lay person. Sadly, it seems that yoga has become more about lycra and the label on your pants than social justice. It has shifted from the path of Karma Yoga, of contributing to something different, something better, something worthwhile to a more self-absorbed, self-obsessed, narcissistic route. Yoga seems to permit and applaud the socially acceptable 'humble-brag' culture (even overt-bragging!) which might actually be contributing to a sense of consumer-driven competitiveness and, importantly can lead the viewer to judge and bully and shame themselves for not being enough ( good enough, pretty enough, worldly enough). "Look at this amazing shot of me, in this stunning location, making this shape with my body, wearing the latest on-trend outfit, where my skin and hair are flawless!"   I really hope that we are all moving beyond the superficial yoga, and collectively shift towards being more genuinely humble yoga-warriors who are out there practicing Karma Yoga and making real changes in the real world. 

There also seems more of a focus on 'calming down'.... taming your wildness and being 'peaceful'. Peaceful? Or is it being malleable and agreeable, in disguise? Question everything. Even the traditional teachings of yoga!

I realise that my uneasiness about being represented as a Yoga Teacher was linked to my struggle with being viewed as just another privileged white girl taking pictures of herself doing a pose, set against an aesthetically pleasing background. I was uncomfortable with the juxtaposition of commodity over community.  We have made something that is sacred into a commodity.... linking a spiritual practice to protein powders, toned booties and designer yoga gear. This same attitude has led to the exploitation of the planet and certain marginalised people.... it's the same disregard for life, for the sake of profit, that has enslaved people, filled our oceans with plastic, and caused mass-ecological destruction.

So, here is why I've felt uneasy about being called a yoga teacher....

  • I don't want to be linked to the superficial, materialistic, over-commercialised, bragging, self-absorbed, McYoga movement.
  • I also don't want to teach fear and scarcity and competitiveness. 

I need to accept my role in the above, until now, and actively make efforts to change.

I believe, simplistically, that inside every one of us, there exists a peaceful yogi and a fierce warrior. Some of us relate to one more than the other, but it is our own individual quest to seek the path that creates harmony and balance between the two. 

I think this is the moment in time, when we all need to realise that inside us there resides a warrior who wants to fight -take action- and contribute towards change for the betterment of the world and ALL of its inhabitants, no matter how small an action that might be. What do you want to fight for? 

I think we can all agree that whilst there is so much beauty in the world, there is also so much pain and injustice. We do need more Karma Yoga... we need more passionate people to be out there, acknowledging their inner-warrior and being an active part in the change they want to see in the world.

2020. It's a time of opportunity.

Opportunity, disguised as disruption and disaster.

We have choice in how we move forwards. I urge you to listen to your inner warrior and harness your wild inner passions and cravings for positive change and step out into the world and take action.


I do LOVE seeing beautiful pictures of beautiful bodies in beautiful poses in beautiful locations. It's awe-inspiring .... however, the beautiful, athletic, graceful postures are just one teeny part of the wholistic system of yoga.

I am well aware that there are countless numbers of  humble yogis out there who ARE living in service, who are actively walking the path of Karma yoga and are intentionally boycotting the over-commercialisation of yoga. Likewise, there are also yogis who knowingly use the filtered images of their bodies in postures to lure people into the path of karma yoga.  RESPECT to them/you!

Whatever it means to you, I humbly offer you this suggestion ...

Be bold and beautiful.... caring and courageous....step out and make great changes

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