A response to “Can you really be a Recovering Yogi?”
By Amelia Catone
I had been giving thought to what it means to be a Recovering Yogi already, and Allison Haugh’s recent contribution to RY helped spur me to assemble my thoughts in print. Thank you, Allison!
I think her quote holds the kernel of what makes one a Recovering Yogi:
Everybody has their own ideas about what is true, and we are so immersed in these ideas that we argue and even go to war over them. We believe them, because someone told us to or it sounded good at the time or it was the way we were raised or our culture expects this of us. But life is all about you and what you want to take from your experiences — not mine or someone else’s. I’m no spiritual guide. I sometimes know what works for me, but when I don’t, I come crashing back to reality.
I can only of course think for myself on this topic, but what illuminated the nature of my own experience in the yoga community was Jack Kornfield’s idea of “Betrayal as Fierce Initiation” in his book After the Ecstasy, the Laundry. You can read the book; it’s an indispensable work for anyone who is exploring their spiritual self, but what resonated with me and what has further informed my understanding of Recovering Yogi-hood is the idea that the most painful and most jarring aspect of being involved with any level of manipulation as it relates to a spiritual practice (and in this case I absolutely am characterizing yoga, its practice, and teaching as a spiritual undertaking and relationship) is the betrayal of self. The idea that we very well do know what is best for us, but that sometimes we ignore our own best interests in favor of what an authority, a teacher, a friend, a guide tells us is “right.”
For me, it was trusting my teachers-cum-employers so implicitly, riding the current of what “the universe” was telling them was right (not what “the universe” was telling me was right).
I compromised myself so seriously – my finances, my relationships, my physical health and wellbeing, my self-confidence – in an effort to be as “in the flow” as I possibly could be. When I was summarily fired in a corporate fashion (take your things, leave your key, you’re off the website, we’ll sue you if you talk smack), I felt devastation over being excommunicated from a community of people whom I thought had my best interests at heart, under whose guidance I had undergone what I thought was significant personal transformation. It was a breakup of epic proportions, and the level of injustice and powerlessness I felt was like nothing I had ever experienced. I kept mum. I carried on. I continued to betray myself by assembling all of the reasons it was my fault, all of the little wrongs I possibly could have perpetrated that would have led to such an extreme severing of relations. I had a long list, of course.
I floundered for what felt like a long time. I sought solid ground, anything to offer up my responsibility for myself to someone else, some idea again. It remained perpetually elusive. I continued to teach yoga, but the effortless and naively confident voice was stifled. The best I could do was to deliver alignment and breath cues. I left the inaccurately attributed Mother Teresa quotes and imposing adjustments behind. I re-relocated. I kept my head down.
Unexpected solace came a year later when I met a studio owner who, unbeknownst to me, was a fellow Recovering Yogi from the same school.
I issued my disclaimer to him about my past, and our connection was cemented wordlessly when we understood what the other had been through. That’s the thing about Recovering Yogis: it’s not just that we have little one-line quips about Lululemon or Wanderlust or Yoga Journal; we’re not simply disillusioned with the commercialization and co-opting of an ancient Eastern ascetic way of life; we’re recovering because we’ve been hurt, have allowed ourselves to be hurt under the guise of being good, and we still see the inherent and still incredibly subjective value of the practice as well as of our own experiences.
I don’t feel the need to bang the drum and tell all of the gory details of my story, nor am I laying blame on anyone else. If you threw yourself under the bus in the way that I did (and in the way that I’m pretty sure some of the other RY pals did), you definitely don’t need to dredge it up. Plus, that would indicate that recovery hasn’t really yet begun, right? We’re recovering because we’ve left the past in the past but appreciate connection in the present with others whose compassion comes from a place of real knowing, real growth, real discernment.
A new wave of anger, confusion, and, ultimately, connection came several years ago when I learned that a fellow teacher had followed an identical path to mine and been met with the same outcome. As disgusted as I was to learn of her all-too-similar heartbreak at the hands of the same group of people, that was the permission I needed to realize that maybe how things went down wasn’t entirely my fault after all.
In Recovering Yogi I found my kindred minds, similarly mending hearts. I laugh when I read comments from people decrying us as “bitter,” because I know that there is a deep distinction between bitterness and honesty. And the level of sarcasm I and others bring to our writing may very well be an East Coast thing, but that’s not bitterness either. That’s just us thinking we’re being friendly. “Recovering” is the perpetual gerund, the unending process in which we can acknowledge ourselves not knowing it all (or very much for that matter), where we refuse to impose dogma on ourselves or others, and where we can appreciate that the way strangers and acquaintances present themselves is informed by a history about which we know nothing, so probably we shouldn’t judge. Recovering comes from a release of ourselves from our own judgment, our own criticism (mostly), and from the courage to call a spade a spade. And showing our own asses in a public forum in this way encourages other readers to do the same. So drop those Lulus and show us where you’ve been. Thanks RY.
About Amelia Catone
Amelia Catone and yoga have been together for about a decade; around 2006 their Facebook status would have been “it’s complicated,” but they worked out their differences and have decided to settle down together in Boston. Like Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee, they have the tattoos and scars to commemorate their love for one another. Amelia and yoga have created one child, who is now a wonderful two-year old named Selah Vera (whose name, Selah V., has also made it permanently onto her mother’s body).