Don’t “should” me

Published on August 8, 2013 by      Print
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By Joslyn Hamilton

Don't Boss Me

Because I worked in the yoga world for so long as a yoga teacher, assistant and manager of various yoga studios and businesses, pretty much any time I run into an acquaintance I haven’t seen in a while, their very first question is: “So, you still doing yoga?”

To which I say, “No,” and try to change the subject.

But that never works. Because in the Bay Area, where I live, saying you don’t do yoga is like saying you choose not to pay your taxes or decided to grow a third nipple just for the hell of it. It incites shock and awe (and pity), and people need to know more. So then I have to get into it. And lately, I’m realizing that the one thing I am more sick of than the yoga world is talking about how sick I am of the yoga world.

You’re probably wondering why I am taking the time to write about how sick I am of talking about yoga. Touché, indeed.

But recently I put my finger precisely on what it is that bugs me. If I had to dial it down to one single thing about the culture of the yoga world that repels me, it is sentences that start with these words:

“You should….”

If you’ve spent any time at all around yoga people, you know what I’m talking about.

“You should have a home practice.”

“You should cut out gluten.”

“You should read the new Eckhart Tolle book.”

“You should eat more kale.”

“You should exercise in the early morning. For your dosha.”

You should you should you should you should you should… STOP!

When someone starts a sentence with the words “You should…” my ears close up involuntarily. Tell me about your experience. Tell me what worked for you. Tell me—and while you are telling me, keep in mind that I am not you. I am a wizened old lady who has spent a lot of decades figuring herself out. And I know me way better than you know me.

I know, for instance, that I am not gluten intolerant. I know this because I once did a rigorous 3-month elimination diet where I cut out gluten, dairy, sugar, alcohol and nightshade vegetables for God’s sake. And guess what? It turns out that not only can I eat gluten, but dairy is also no problem whatsoever. So, that’s not it. (By the way, the reason I did this elimination diet is because my acupuncturist said “You should…” but she is exempt from all of this because she’s brilliant.)

I’m glad cutting out gluten worked for you. I’m touched that you’re inspired to share your success with me and everyone else within earshot at any possible opportunity. But. Boundaries. We’re not the same person.

I'll be taking your advice never

When it comes to the practice of yoga, I think it’s a great thing. I know people whose daily practice has literally saved their lives. For others, it’s saved their backs/necks/knees/spirits/whatever. And that is really, really great. No, I mean it. It’s terrific. For them.

But for me, after fifteen years of asana practice, I know that yoga isn’t the be-all end-all to my problems. Yes, it can make me feel good and calm me down. It also sometimes jacks my shoulder, and then I have to sleep with a heating pad on it. And don’t even talk to my left knee about yoga. Thankfully, after cutting back on asana across the spectrum of styles and intensities, and then taking up hiking, my knees are happy again.

Besides how it treats my knees, there is another, much bigger reason that I love hiking so much. Mt. Tamalpais, where I most often trek, never says “You should…” It just says, “Here I am, if you want to.” But it doesn’t take it personally if I choose not to hike.

And talk about spiritual experiences:

hiking 4

Mt. Tam at sunset — Mill Valley, CA

hiking 3

Tennessee Valley Beach in Marin County, CA — only accessible by hiking in

hiking 2

Hiking in Mill Valley, CA

Hiking 1

The view of Tennessee Valley Beach from the Marin Headlands in Marin County, CA

Joslyn Blowing DandelionsAbout Joslyn Hamilton

Joslyn Hamilton is a freelance writer living in beautiful Marin County, California. She is one of the co-founders of Recovering Yogi and also launched Creative Truth or Dare. Joslyn has an imaginary spice + skincare line called SimpleBasic. She is a functioning craftaholic and counts hiking, cooking, reading and rabid tweeting among her many chaste vices. Reach her directly at

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  1. Matthew says:

    Somewhere, as I type this, a dedicated yogi is trying to figure out how they’ll convince you to go to a yoga class without using the word “should”

  2. Carol Horton says:

    From my perspective, you *are* doing yoga – or, at least, connecting to what I consider meaningful in that word. You’ve found practices that works for you (hiking, connecting with nature) and abandoned those that don’t (asana, gluten free diets, etc.) That’s awesome.

    From my perch in the Midwest, I always think that a lot of the problems that people in California complain about when it comes to “yoga,” are more accurately described as problems of yoga culture in your beautiful but incredibly f*ed up state (no offense . . . just an observation). People out here are much less fanatical and more down to earth, IMHO.

    • Joslyn Hamilton says:

      No offense taken, Carol. I could not agree with you more! Even though I have now lived in the Bay Area for more than half of my life, I still consider myself an east coaster through and through. I try to make the distinction between YOGA and the YOGA CULTURE in my writing, for the most part. But part of the yoga culture here is a belief that YOU SHOULD DO YOGA. I do not believe in subjective mandates like that.

    • Bob B. says:

      I echo Carol’s response as your blog entry really only addresses the Asana portion of the practice. What I have found, is that there is so much more to yoga than the what I will call the “Western” style of Asaana-centric practice. Further, I find myself in hikes, mediation, breathing, and just plain general finding myself practicing yoga off the mat.

      More to your point however, I have to whole heartedly agree with you that the Words “You Should” shall never begin any sentence ever. Just keep practicing what ever it is you want to call it and when that weirdo asks you if you are still practicing yoga perhaps a canned response like, “I am but it’s a not the yoga you might be thinking as I am more focused on what I should be doing and not what someone else is telling me what I should be doing.”

      Kudos on creating your own personal yoga space or what ever it is you are calling it!

      Response posted on August 8th, 2013 , 1:44 pm
      • Joslyn Hamilton says:

        Bob, you are brilliant. From now on, when I am asked, I’ll say “yes…”

        I will also concede that when I talk about yoga, I tend to talk about asana. While I have studied the whole 8 limbs and whatnot, it’s the asana practice that I maintain an ambivalent relationship with, and what most people mean when they ask me “Are you still teaching/doing yoga?”

        Response posted on August 8th, 2013 , 4:26 pm
  3. Bruce says:

    You *should* write more entries like this–you know, if you really wan to! :-)

  4. Kate says:


    Response posted on August 8th, 2013 , 1:25 pm
  5. Doug Cummings says:

    What’s annoying about someone saying “should” is that in saying it they implicitly assert their superiority and appropriate authority over their audience, in this case you.

    Some people become yoga teachers because they like to put themselves in that position and do that kind of stuff, and there are plenty of people right there waiting to lap it up.


    Response posted on August 8th, 2013 , 1:46 pm
  6. Boodiba says:

    I used to encounter a lot of failed actor, yoga instructors in my earliest days of practice at Crunch. Those fuckers love to talk! And the class was their captive audience.

    One thing I loved so much about Astanga was that you didn’t have to hear about the instructor’s metaphor laden epiphany on the subway, earlier that day.

    Anyway great post. I too am allergic to all forms of group-think, which frequently include shoulds.

    Response posted on August 8th, 2013 , 4:05 pm
    • Joslyn Hamilton says:

      Of all the types of yoga I’ve tried, I will admit that Ashtanga was one of my favorites for just that reason: the NO TALKING. But as I’ve gotten older, I simply don’t have (or, more aptly, choose not to have) the discipline and commitment for such a rigorous style.

      I’m sure this comment will bring out the outraged Ashtangis to tell me that “Ashtanga isn’t hard!” Okay.

      Response posted on August 8th, 2013 , 4:27 pm
  7. Bob Weisenberg says:

    Love this, Joslyn. I don’t make any secret of the fact that I don’t so much asana. Why? Two reasons. One, my physical capacity is already occupied with tennis three times a week and related weight training twice a week.

    Secondly, I happen to more interesting in studying the Bhagavad Gita and other ancient Yoga texts, and applying them to my everyday life, including tennis and weight training.

    Which just goes to illustrate what that other Bob said above–that there are many ways to practice yoga. You should try my way. (LOL).

    Posting this to Best of Yoga Philosophy.

    Bob W.

    P.S. Sorry I missed you when we visited my sister in Mill Valley a few months ago. It was a very quick stop. But we did have a chance to hike the DIPSEA trail all the way to Stinson Beach past Mt. Tamalpais–you and my sister live in one of my favorite places on earth.

    Response posted on August 8th, 2013 , 6:08 pm
    • Joslyn Hamilton says:

      Thanks so much, Bob. And thanks for the post! Next time you’re in Mill Valley, I love to share my love for hiking here! We could “do yoga” together ;-)

      Response posted on August 9th, 2013 , 9:41 am
  8. ljord says:

    Amen & Hallelujah! I practiced/taught yoga for almost 20 years and still get the same question you do. And the “should” statements. I believe there are many layers of yoga – asana is only one layer – albeit the one most people think of. Walking, hiking, swimming, whatever can all be “yoga” if done mindfully. Thank you for conveying so clearly what I have been feeling for the last several years!

    Response posted on August 8th, 2013 , 6:26 pm
  9. Kristen F. says:

    Thanks for the great post. I have also grown weary of “yoga culture” and appreciate folks who understand the difference. Reading this also made me realize the most destructive *should* is the one that I continually issue to myself.

    Response posted on August 9th, 2013 , 5:04 am
  10. Becca says:

    I love this article because you can switch it to so many things. For instance, I rescue domestic rats. The rat rescuing culture can often times be like a soap opera because of all the “should”s being thrown around.
    As someone who is chronically ill and oftentimes cannot do much yoga I am particularly susceptible to the ‘should’s. Even though I’ve been sick since I was four (I’m 26 now) and have managed my own care for the last seven years by researching, trying new drugs, diets, herbs, meditations, asanas, etc. people still think that they have a “should” for me that will work. Dude, I know my body more intimately than most people know their best friend. You are not me, my doctor, or my parent. Like you said, it’s great when people share their own experience and maybe I learn something from it, but NO PUSHING. We are turning into personal Jehovah’s Witnesses (no offense) knocking on each others metaphorical doors and trying to push our way in with “should”s.
    Thank you for this article.

    Response posted on August 9th, 2013 , 7:33 am
  11. Daniel Goldsmith says:

    Well put. I think one thing we shouldn’t (sic!) lose sight of is that people who ‘should’ us are often doing so out of good intentions, because they’ve found something valuable and think we could benefit from it as well. Of course, there can be the ego element in trying to ‘covert’ someone to your way of life. I was quite guilty of this when first starting meditation and yoga since I found it so powerful. But now I understand that if you do want to genuinely share something, the best way to do it is simply to live it and let who you are be an example.

  12. Tara says:

    Thank you for the permission I have been desparately trying to give myself. The permission to let go of the fact that I have attempted to try Yoga on in many various forms for the last 25 years and haven’t seemed to settle in, master, or feel a part of its culture. Maybe I “should” own the fact that I have been searching for the divine externally which resides so deeply inside me and is expressed so simply through me when I hike, experience beauty, relish nature, sit quiet and mind my own business.

    I want to also thank you for sharing the most beautiful photos of an area I quite love and new places to roam when I get the next opporutnity to visit.

    I am not quite sure how I accidently on purpose found this blog but I must confess it surely speaks loudly to the true rebel that is me who changes direction quite frequently. Tooshay.

  13. Marianne says:

    Couldn’t agree more about the ‘should’s

    I do still practice yoga, but not nearly as much asana as most people and more than anything else, my yoga is a practice in staying curious – and curious doesn’t go so well with ‘should’

    I also teach yoga and caught myself in class the other day saying ‘You should feel this pose in your…’ – happily I heard myself, stopped and said ‘What am I saying? Who knows where you should feel this. I usually feel a pretty strong stretch in my right glute, but I have no idea what you might feel. You’ll figure that our for yourself’ Happily, the class laughed. They are a forgiving bunch.

    By the way – that walk up and over into Tennessee Valley Beach from the south was one of the highlights of my summer so far. GORGEOUS!

    Response posted on August 9th, 2013 , 1:13 pm
  14. IMO says:

    Whenever someone starts saying “You should……” to me, I just tell them to
    “Stop shoulding on me.” Works more times than not.
    You SHOULD try it!>>>>>>>You really should! ;)

  15. paul says:

    Shoulds are opinions, I’ve found more ease in agreeing (for real) or at least to “hunh maybe” than to shouldn’t shoulds, which has been a way for me to say, “fuck off I’m bitter you don’t know so shut up,” a melody I hear in this piece with “and any opinion I’ve agreed with in the past and don’t now is shit” woven in. To “fuck you I won’t do what you tell me” an “ok I agree don’t do what I tell you” shows the inherent contradiction and inevitable ruination of shouldn’ting shoulds. Peace is easier to find observing cause-effect than molding everything till it’s perfect; where is the mountain etc..

    • Joslyn Hamilton says:

      I do agree that I have a wee bitter streak. Twenty years in the Bay Area will do that to an East Coaster! In all seriousness, though, I agree that “shoulds” are merely opinions, and not reacting to them is something I work on every day. And there is something ironic about the “You shouldn’t should me” attitude I seem to have. Where does it end?

      • paul says:

        I’m not sure it does or can end. I feel the most enjoyable aspect of bitterness in the way it refutes everything including itself, a self-propagating hypocrisy rather than self-defeating as most hypocrisy is. If being bitter can be enjoyed, maybe it’s ok going nowhere; saying “yes my master” to everything doesn’t mean anything gets done.

  16. AD says:

    I fell out of love with asana several months ago, but thankfully my yoga friends don’t “should” me! The problem is that when I do a few poses at home just to stretch, I feel like my body misses it. It still feels amazing, even though my mind is not into it anymore.

    And like you, one of the things I love about Ashtanga is that there’s no talking before, during or after! But my body needs more twists and backbends to go with those forward folds, and you have to do a helluva lot of forward folding before getting to 2nd series, it seems. So, I’m just meh about it all.

  17. Best of Yoga Philosophy–Weekly Recap. | Bob Weisenberg says:

    [...] Don’t Should Me ~ August 8, 2013 ~ Joslyn Hamilton ~ “Any time I run into an acquaintance I haven’t seen in a while, their very first question is: “So, you still doing yoga?” To which I say, “No,” and try to change the subject…” [...]

  18. Devi Asmarani says:

    So true. I realize, after I stepped away from yoga (sort of), I no longer hear people telling me about the wonder of raw diet or juice detox or some cleansing method based on hathapradipika or how to best open your shoulders (my shoulders are pretty damn open, thank you) or this or that. I’m an avid cyclist and I love cyclists, despite their obsessions with bicycles, because they never tell me how to do things (unless I ask), or wax lyrical about how cycling change their lives (even though I know that cycling potentially has a life-transforming effect as much as yoga).

  19. Rebecca Ng says:

    I love and agree with every thing you described and put a stand to, because I’m in the exact same position, and I’m in Singapore. “These people” think I dislike yoga, and I even had someone asked me, if I was simply in defensive mode because I wasn’t practicing, and therefore I no longer have anything to offer to the students.

    Unfortunately, their yoga, is limited to Hatha yoga only, and they will never understand that the reason we are this way, is because we love yoga, (not just hatha yoga) so much, that we chose to represent the truth in our hearts.

  20. Kim says:

    Yoga is part of my life, not my whole life. (I’m waiting for the lightning to strike me down) Your hiking spots are beaut. Mine is Table Mountain Cape Town.

  21. mike says:

    This was very good. Sorry I’m catching up on reading old posts so my feedback is half a year late.

    You know, regarding about the “shouldn’t shouldn’t shoulds” discussion above, you’re a writer. Writers SHOULD provide stimulating food for thought, and you did that. It’s hard to imagine writing something interesting if it’s written entirely from a non-dualistic point of view.

    I’ve been going through a similar thing because I stopped taking public classes due to a shoulder injury. When I run across former yoga peers, it’s always, “Where have you been???” Always in a very worried tone like I’ve got cancer or have sunk to frequenting opium dens. Why is the yoga studio the center of the universe? Do I disappear if I’m not there? The other thing I realized is that, even though this is supposed to be a “community”, none of these worried people ever got on the phone to chat or tried to email me. And neither did I call them, to be fair. There are a handful I still consider friends, but I learned the bonds of this community are pretty tenuous and are mostly conditional on the convenience of attending the same studio.

    There is definitely a judmentalism that comes along with yoga culture: Some self-congratulating over being “on the path” or being “heart centered” or “authentic” or their “conscious community” or whatever. Then I try to remember that a lot of people aren’t going on and on about themselves and that most students are there just to feel better. They are part of yoga culture too, but just don’t get (or demand) so much attention.

  22. ruby says:

    I am only speaking for myself here. Yoga lulled me into the belief or assumption that I was much further along in my spiritual journey through life than I really was. While I was busy being present with all kinds of physical and emotional experience, I still somehow came away with the overall message that I “had all the answers within me”– which, to my simplistic brain, became “I have all the answers”.
    I am still a practicing yogi who is still in love with yoga. Yoga has never, ever been a should for me. It has always been something I indulge in, for myself and for my well being. But life experiences have come along in recent years that have slapped me into reality, illuminating blind spots in a painful way. My yoga wasn’t enough to get me through that. I needed other forms of help, mentoring, and most of all, I needed to dig deep and get very humble and very resourceful. I needed to finally grow up and develop personal responsibility, a non black-and-white perspective, and the humility to recognize that I don’t, actually, have all the answers within me. Yoga, somehow, allowed me to remain blind to a lot of that.
    What it DOES do for me still is allow me to be with whatever is happening in that very moment in my life. Now that I’ve got some other tools and burgeoning skills to apply to those intense circumstances, I can utilize yoga as one of many tools in the toolbox.