A response to “Can you really be a Recovering Yogi?”

Published on September 21, 2011 by      Print
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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).

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  1. dave says:

    What a great article, thanks for your words. I feel very fortunate to be exposed to this blog and posts like these as a brand new practitioner. Need to get the Ecstasy/Laundry book, it’s on D’ana’s TT reading list, and has been highly recommended, thanks for the reminder! :)

  2. nikki says:

    I f*cking LOVE you guys!!!!! I love what yoga has done for my life, but I am so over “the scene”. I’d rather stick needles in my eyes than continue to compete in a popularity contest that has more pressures and is more clique-y than my entire middle-school, high-school, and college sorority experience combined.

  3. amelia says:

    thanks for the positive reflections! this was a really vulnerable one for me to put out there, and seeing it out on the interwebs makes me feel like i want to pass out a little bit. so i really appreciate that you all witnessing in this way. *passes out*

    • amelia says:

      and of course that sentence should read either “i really appreciate that you all are able to witness my experience in this way” or “i really appreciate you all witnessing [me] in this way.” a testament to my delirium.

  4. somePhillygirl says:

    hi! this was a great post. I have been coming here to read the various articles, but do not have the RY experience in relation to yoga, but to spirituality in general. uh, i mean that i didn’t do the whole yoga route but ended up just as spiritually disenfranchised as you all anyhow. i’m not sure how to explain that without sounding like a jerk – it’s just that so much spiritual endeavors end with these massive break ups and shame and guilt… it’s a lot like being an abused child (which i was). so, yeah this was great. fan of Kornfield and other spiritually-minded books that leave out the annoying “spiritual hierarchy” I often feel exists.

    • Amelia Catone says:

      Thank you for your response, somePhillygirl… it’s funny, as I was talking to a friend tonight about this post going public, I expressed the fear (utter terror) that my former teachers might read it, and the shame that my story might not be important or relevant, may not be worth sharing. I am still living that “recovery” and probably always will be. I appreciate your identification with my sentiments and your own acknowledgment of the process of healing. It might not ever end, but at least we’re working with it, right? Keep at it.

  5. Yogini5 says:

    Recovering Yogi won’t turn me into a recovering yogi because it isn’t in me to drink the teacher training Kool Aid in the first place (nor did I ever have the funds); same as I don’t have the potential to develop bulimarexia and make myself throw up to keep my girlish figure. Way back when, I had looked to bulimics in my feminist therapy group to provide me the support to enable me to have the strength to leave an abusive short marriage.

    Becoming a yoga teacher in an active yoga style and making yourself throw up all the time (not that the two are totally mutually exclusive) each require a strength of will that I could only fantasize possessing (discipline, YES—to practice at home; strength of will is different in kind, though not degree).

    That being said, almost counterintuitively, Recovering Yogi will strengthen my marriage to yoga—NOT the “yoga scene”, not any guru, not any one lineage, not even yoga as cross-training for a sport. But my marriage to yoga itself!

    May sound crazy (never said I was totally rational), but, somehow, it works for ME!

    • Amelia Catone says:

      It might be a strength of will or it might be a pattern of switching off of that advocating adult voice that we all have inside of us. I find that the latter tends to be responsible for a large amount of harm we cause ourselves. Either we never developed that voice to begin with, or we actively ignore it in times of trouble. Or not even in times of trouble. Avoiding that part of us that stands up for our wounded child (not to get too psycho-babble… this is my own experience) just keeps on with the wounding. When we choose to show up to ourselves and defend that wounded part against damage that can be helped – whether it’s us perpetrating it or allowing another to do so – that’s where the growth, the growing up happens. Would you agree with that idea, Yogini5? I am grateful not to have suffered from an eating disorder so I don’t know the parallels here personally. But I do know that my own personal advocacy switch short circuited during the time that I describe, and that falling and regrouping over time has led me to where I am today (eschewing the fuse box for solar…).

      • Yogini5 says:

        I am no stranger to having taken scores of commercial yoga classes myself. There was always this pitch at the end of class, when our collective prana was into overdrive (and mind you, I got centered after these classes on a FLUKE—one time in a class, I’d gotten so riled I threw a foam yoga block across the practice room!) for workshops, retreats, teacher training; as well as their bumbling interpretations of they thought was karma yoga, etc.

        • Yogini5 says:

          So, it takes someone absolutely emotionally impervious to anything but maybe their bank balance, their job and their mortgage … NOT to be enticed down that proverbial rabbit hole …

  6. Susi says:

    YES, YES, YES….you said that really well…I was just looking at my journal to verify that it wasn’t just my imagination…your experience was so similar to mine! It did hurt so badly; what was also painful was to hear over and over again about the “wisdom”, “compassion”, “spirituality”, etc. of these same people who clearly manipulated me.

    I guess what I’m grateful for in all this is to trust my own intuition more. I’m still not cynical; in fact I’m surprisingly naive (in that I’m always surprised when someone DOESN’T do the right thing) for my age. The yoga community can be a strange beast – very loving and embracing but it can turn SO quickly, becoming cold and isolating…

    • Amelia Catone says:

      Yeah Susi it’s all too common. If you haven’t read the Kornfield book, pick it up. He’s a really incredible author and advocate – completely straightforward and deeply and authentically compassionate (uh oh, I used the C word haha) to others going through it. Thanks for the reflection, it’s appreciated. As I’ve mentioned I’ve been terrified to show my ass but when I read that others derive some understanding from it I know that it’s worth it. To me this is what RY is really all about. Good for you for trusting your intuition more. Don’t question it. Thanks again!!

  7. Jenifer says:

    This is really beautifully expressed! I think that it is so important to recognize — in these situations — what is “yours” and what is “theirs.”

    I really resonated with the fact that i was all too willing to take all of the blame for what happened, and it took me a while to point out that it wasn’t *all* my fault. Some of it was theirs to own, and some of it was their humanity and error and whatever else. But it was still mean.

    And, it was defining, too. I mean, I wouldn’t be here today unless I went through it. I learned *a lot* about myself, about my teaching, about business, and about who I am and how I want to be. So, i have gratitude too.

  8. Cookie says:

    Wow. There are others, you are not alone, and I thank you for being so bold. I know it’s scary. I experienced something similar, and I, too, failed to heed the voice that told me, FROM THE VERY START, that something wasn’t right. No regrets, lessons learned and all. Mean people still suck, though, and I can’t get the money or the time back. Got some good alignment out of it, and I don’t feel like I need to lick anyone’s boots with gratitude about that. That’s one of the things that gets me. I heard over and over again how we need to be grateful for our teachers and humbly thank them ad nauseum, but MONEY CHANGES HANDS. They are a providing a service, and we are paying for it.

    • Yogini5 says:

      No truer words were ever spoken. Now, since I have no extra time to donate for an “energy exchange”, nor am I interested in teacher training, my mantra is (since they did try to get to me, too …):

      Yoga Freeloader, No; Home Practitioner, Yes!

      • Cookie says:

        Yogini5, Here’s to being a Home Practitioner! I stopped going to class about 4 months ago,
        (tho’ my breaking away from a method I studied happened a few years back). The world continues to turn. I enjoy practicing at home, I am saving money, and my yoga students have responded really well to whatever shift this has brought to my teaching. I will not be marketing any yoga teacher training to supplement my income, because I will not be leading any. No looking for greener teaching pastures, not only because I am not ambitious, but because I like my current classes and feel pretty lucky about where they are and how little they require of me other than the…teaching part!

  9. jen says:

    It seems yoga is littered with unstable people who can’t quite get over that they have been duped by dopes.

    • Cookie says:

      I get what you are saying , Jen, but I think the rather more stable of us get wise and get out of the situation.
      And where do you figure in, Jen? What brings you to RY?

    • amelia says:

      jen is totally right. yoga is just lousy (and i mean that in the sense of full of lice, not crummy) with us unstable folks. and we’ve been duped! by dopes! it’s so true! does that make us unstable dopes!? oh, the humanity!

      • Yogini5 says:

        This sense of loss and bewilderment is just a part of living.

        Being duped by they who were themselves duped at one time (but may have survived in some way) does not just happen in yoga.

        An example is multilevel marketing and direct marketing. Yoga seemed to apply MLM and direct marketing techniques to holistic health, IMHO.

        • Amelia Catone says:

          I like that point, Yogini5. Maybe RY is a forum for those of us who are doing our best to end the cycle of duping by dopes. Not to be confused with doping by dupes, which I think would involve highly oxygenated blood. Which might actually make us even better at yoga! Because you can never be too good at it, really.

          • Yogini5 says:

            Actually, it is rarefied air such as found at high elevations, that causes the human to develop muscular endurance; this is one of the reasons Olympians are sent to train in Colorado Springs. This develops your red blood cells. Needing high-octane “fuel”, the athlete can also put away more calories per day as well.


            Stuck at 60 feet above sea level—
            Used to live in Colorado

  10. Chrissy says:

    Well done my fellow Boston sistah!
    I do have to address Jen when I say that I was never duped, attended a training, or drank the Koolaide, however , I can truly see why it could be so enticing…as human beings we have all felt lost, shamed, sad, etc….some people need to try to make sense of it or find a meaning or ” lesson” in life’s hiccups..it takes time and maturity to look around, own your shit and not rely on the universe or platitudes to wipe away regret, embarrassment , and all of the other yucky feelings that come with dealing with life from a place of integrity…anyone who says that they haven’t felt these things or have been in such a place ( related to yoga or not), is full of (here’s a down home East Coast Italian word)….CRAPPOLA…
    So please…cut it, and again Amelia…well done… :)

    • Amelia Catone says:

      Chrissy! Paesana!! Crapola you crack me up. I might get that tattooed under my “om” tramp stamp, because it’s so relevant to what happens in that vicinity. Thanks for reading, m’dear. I appreciate your cents! All two of them!

      And as Yogini5 writes, “This sense of loss and bewilderment is just a part of living.” She pretty much sums it up. No one is immune. Except jen, apparently.

      • Chrissy says:

        And really…it is kind of like those people who refuse to believe that they could ever be unlikeable…just because they are annoying…they have that ” oh well, their hating me has nothing to do with me” …yes, yes it does…so cut it out …we all have flaws and have all been shaken to the core…anyone who hasn’t is either pretty darn lucky or takes enough of ( insert whatever here) to be as numb as F**k…

        • Yogini5 says:

          At times I AM that person; but, you know what? After a certain age, who GIVES a flying f*k if they are not liked?

          • Chrissy says:

            I could not care less about being revered…it is the people who want that, and proceed to plaster themselves and opinions everywhere, yet have no clue or awareness that they could possibly be hurting or offending the people around them that bother me. Case in point,one teacher telling my girlfriend that her husband ( who was being treated for cancer) had to get away from the ” bad” energy surrounding him, and THEN he would recover …now had my friend asked about anything other than which juicer she liked best ( because at that point anything was worth a shot), I would have been able to invite that type of dialogue, the rest? Mean offensive and unlikeable, and while people like that are everywhere, I have found most of them within several yoga communities…and I LOVE yoga, so no haterade there…

  11. michele says:

    Great article. I love RY, it’s like a place of sanity for me, a place of some reality and humor. And your comment, Nikki, I am so with you girl!

  12. TroublesomeYogini says:

    WOW!! Where is my “LIKE” button?? Love everything that you have ALL said here. It’s such a shame that yoga has become such a business. Recently, I experienced the same kind of thing and it’s made me completely cynical about yoga, which is a shame. Keep shining on, ladies (and gents). ;D

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