I am serious

Published on December 11, 2012 by      Print
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By Kimberly Johnson

I am serious. I was born with a furrowed brow.  I live intensely.  I feel the broad spectrum of human emotion and experience that is being alive.

Whether in laughter, joy, sorrow, concern or amusement, I am unafraid to express myself publicly.  In my sincerity, due to the fact that I really, really care about other human beings and their experience, at times I get choked up with emotion unexpectedly or I cannot hide my disgust or disagreement or my eyebrows close in on each other deeply creased from worry or I squeal and jump with joy.

I just got back from teaching at a Yoga Festival in Bahia, in the north of Brazil. The trip was full of firsts. It was the first time that I have taught three hundred people. The first time I taught with a microphone. The first time I tried to include both my perspective on the difficulties that women are having in childbirth worldwide and a perspective on how we humans are losing the ability to move through the world instinctually—and connect those thoughts to a movement practice for three hundred people I have never met or seen in a way that offered a solution to both of these problems. I attempted to create an experience that offered a taste of moving through the practice, i.e. world, connected to the felt sense. Plus I did it all in Portuguese, my second language, which I picked up through necessity and sheer will—not through classes or school.

In my strong desire to offer a somatic paradigm that, while readily available in the yoga world in some coastal US cities, is not the norm here yet in Brasil, I found myself deeply concentrating, and slightly disoriented while I figured out how to work a room so large. I was connecting with individuals and touching them at the same time, and making my way back to the stage when my words were not sufficient to explain what I was suggesting.  I offered an experience of deconstructing the familiar—something as simple as bhujangasana but from various viewpoints—in order to more fully inhabit and feel the poses, instead of just “doing” the poses.  Creating different pathways through movement facilitated the possibility for organic rather than habitual action, and the chance at spontaneous discovery.

When I returned back to Rio, I posted a photo of me teaching on stage during the festival:

Kimberly Johnson teaching not smiling

Photo in question

Moments later, I received commentary from a man I don’t know:

“Looking tooo serious. Slight upturn in corners of mouth please.”

My face got hot. My first impulse was to ignore it. But then I thought, “Does he realize that I am teaching, not practicing?” And he replied: “Always smile teaching, just like your photo on FB.”

Outraged, I had to examine where my anger was coming from.

Here are some of my guesses:

First of all, some guy I don’t know (although we have forty or so Facebook friends in common) is telling me I need to be/appear different than I am in order to be an effective teacher. He has no idea what I was talking about, but it is obvious that I am talking in the picture, because I have a microphone on. He has obviously made the leap that the content of what I have to say is smile-worthy, or rather, that the content of what a yoga teacher says should be smile-worthy. I could have been talking about Eve Ensler’s International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women on February 14, 2013, which I did talk about during this class. I could have been talking about the perineum, which we yoga teachers are known to do.  It would be pretty bizarre to be talking about worldwide violence against women, or the perineum, and smiling. But, apparently, the domain of yoga for this commenter is not a domain for serious inquiry, nor is it political.

The subtext is that the job of the yoga teacher is to smile. To demonstrate happiness as defined in this specific, superficial, narrow, and philosophically handicapped way, outwardly depicting itself as a smile. Forget about authentic self-expression about what really moves me—which is generally what I try to bring to my teaching, especially when I have the honor to teach in front of a large and unfamiliar group like this— just put on the yoga identity façade: a bindi, a rudraksha mala, and the newly added… smile.

Kimberly Johnson emotional

In the heat

That’s already obnoxious. But let’s move on to the not-so-thinly veiled gender bias. Men are not subject to uninvited comments on facial expressions that many girls and women hear growing up.

“You are so much prettier when you smile.”  Or walking down the street, deep in thought: “Cheer up, it’s not so bad.”  The message here is that, as women, we are here to beautify a man’s world. When we are not outwardly cute, smiling and pleasant, we are not acquiescing to that role, “So lighten up, cheer up, and let me see those pearly whites, for God’s sake.”

I am not a fan of compulsory positivity.

At this same conference, during a roundtable discussion, a student asked about what urban violence has to do with yoga. Most of the responses included references to Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now, saying that if we remain in the present moment, we will be happy. As the comments escalated in their spiritual escapism, I became increasingly uncomfortable. Providing a safe haven for students to feel whole and receive support so that they are not living in fear is one thing. Indeed, their inner peace extends to their families and hopefully contributes to resilience if and when they are to be subject to that violence. Tackling the myriad systemic problems that create urban violence is another. And living in the present moment, taking care of your own mat or cushion, I’m afraid, is not an adequate response to the pathetically low investment Brasil is making in education compared with the rapid growth and demands of being a BRICK nation. Even teaching yoga in a favela, which is a worthwhile endeavor and the dharma and well-meaning desire of some, does not equip people with the real world skills (i.e. reading and writing) that are necessary to be engaged citizens. Yoga is no doubt a powerful coping mechanism, and at worst, a harmless offering. Yoga can also operate as a palliative or a shield from unpleasant emotions and complex and difficult questions.

If we are all interconnected, then we should all be outraged at societal injustices that lead to urban violence and violence against women.  Anger and outrage, while not hallowed emotions in the yoga world, are potent and necessary to mobilize real change.

I do view yoga as a political tool.

In a world that increasingly emphasizes front brain activity, where women worldwide are having a harder and harder time giving birth, where increasing numbers of children are diagnosed for mental illness, a time to stop and sift through mental, emotional and physical plaque can be revolutionary.  The right practice can build life force so that we have more strength and resilience to face difficult situations and savor joyful ones, and can help us maintain a sense of inner wellbeing so that we are effective in our attempts at making larger change in often hopeless situations.  We can be woken up by the deep sorrow of injustice, woken up to the power of collective action, and motivated to apply the spiritual to the political.

Dictates that say that a yoga teacher should be skinny, flexible and smiling both undervalue yoga itself as a transformational tool on more than a cosmetic and superficial level and are a great disservice to students who then think that they should live up to this ideal, and if they do, that they are practicing good yoga.  Yoga also maintains its elite status this way, because it perpetuates a message that yoga is only for those who look a certain way already. The marginalized (fat, inflexible, dark or unhappy) would never view yoga as for them.

Kimberly Johnson - Cece

With my daughter

Uninvited comments on appearance, decidedly in the male to female direction, belie a woman’s lack of ownership over her own body and personal space. The message here being that my body, appearance and affect are not my own domain exclusively and are open to comment at any time. In other words, that women should be accessible and available to others at all times—to beauty, to caretake, to nurture, to serve. When women are habituated into not having control over their bodies in public space, the leap is much smaller when it comes to turning over your personal power to another.  I see that here in Brasil, where men feel free to comment upon your appearance, suck their teeth, yell after you and ask you if you are married whenever they want.  In line, women in Brazil define their own desirability/worth/sexuality much more in terms of what is attractive and desirable to the other by very hetero-normative standards (for example, long hair, tight clothes). I see a connection between this and the shockingly high Cesarean rates—where women hand over their pelvis to mostly male doctors, with very little information about what a Cesarean means for their baby, or at least little information about the power they might derive from the rite of passage of natural birth.

As women, we are accustomed to how uncomfortable it can make people when we are assertive, unpredictable, emotional or simply take up too much space.

A client said to me recently: “My husband can’t stand women who cry.” Even laughing too hard can be outside of social confines. I laughed so hard I cried the other day, which is one of my greatest pleasures in life. Someone came over and offered me a glass of water and told me to take deep breaths!

Kimberly Johnson smiling

Preferred photo

The perception that who we are is wrong (not smiling) or too much (just have a glass of water and calm down), in whatever direction, is what silences voices and lulls status quo acceptance.  These perceived judgments also deaden our sensory world, contributing to the inability to live life fr

om an instinctual place where spontaneous action is actually a possibility. We keep ourselves from feeling and expressing fully, as they are unwelcome interruptions to the social order.

I am not interested in a yoga that succumbs to popularized ideals of women’s beauty nor society’s need to normalize difference and leave male privilege unthreatened.

I am interested in a yoga that engenders a strong sense of justice, discernment and unconditional love and whose hallmarks can be recognized and felt as something much deeper than a smile.

Kimberly JohnsonAbout Kimberly Johnson

Kimberly Johnson is a yogini nomad who recently put the earth boots on for motherhood. After a lengthy love affair with India, she was relieved to fall in love with Brazil, then a Brazilian—and now lives in Rio de Janeiro with her 5-year-old Brazilian daughter. She leads retreats on the most beautiful place on earth: Ilha Grande, an island with 100 beaches and no cars; leads teacher trainings; gives Rolfing sessions; waxses poetic about the importance of pelvic floor health and the future of humanity and tries not to pronounce Sanskrit with a Portuguese accent. Rearranged by childbirth in every way, she is currently working on a project to fill the black hole in women’s health, which is the post-partum period- helping women heal their bodies and fully mine the new identity of motherhood.

Visit Kim online at:
www.kajyoga.com

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49 Comments !

  1. Karin L Burke says:


    thank you, always and again. Recently had a fellow yoga teacher criticize me for being ‘too intense’. Now, I know I am intense and prone to cyniscim – that it can devastate social mores and relationships. But I also know that the inquiry itself – the caution and questions and sometimes outrage – has integrity.

    Yoga is up for serious inquiry – or it is nothing.

    And the role of a yoga teacher, if it is to demonstrate anything, is to invoke that inquiry.

    Which you do.

  2. CyndiF says:


    A very thoughtful and engaging article, Kimberly. I once had a coworker refer to me as a Stepford Wife, claiming I was too stiff and unnatural. Though well-read at 16, I still had to go look that one up! Even at that age, I remember wondering why he thought I had to perform for him.

  3. Joslyn hamilton says:


    I am in solidarity with this 100%. This has been a lifelong pet peeve of mine: the complete stranger (always, always a man) stopping me on the street to tell me to smile more. I could be solving world hunger inside my head, but all he sees is: “not smiling, not pretty enough.” I know that on a superficial level it is a way that men engage in flirting. But it’s degrading and demeaning and, on a more subtle level, serves to make a woman feel like she is being put in her place.

    • Bob B. says:


      Really saying to someone to Smile is putting them in their place? Now if I follow that with saying how hot you are , I get it. But this is a smile we are talking about. Some famous song by Louis Armstrong once said, “When you’re smiling, the whole world smiles with you.” I don’t think he wanted to get in your pants

      • Kate says:


        Whether or not it is intended as a gender biased remark, it is felt that way. If you would allow, I would challenge you to explore why you feel the need to tell someone to smile – and look at the pattern of when and how you make these requests. (Please note that “you” is directed at you b’c you are here and not b’c I know anything about the actual you!) Do you ask men to smile too? Do you ask a person to smile when you are unsure of their assessment of you? I get asked to smile all the time. I find it degrading and infuriating and it mostly happens when the man in front of me thinks I’m not paying enough attention to him.

  4. Jenifer says:


    This article is awesome. If wasn’t so focused on my immigration paperwork, I would engage in awesome dialogue with you about the many great points you bring up. As it is, I have to immigrate.

    Much love. And I’ll return to this later if I remember. If not, maybe we’ll pass each other again soon. :)

  5. Lindsay Bell says:


    LOVE.

    The ways in which we attempt to manage gender through emotion are constraining at best, humiliating and dis-empowering at worst. This is a very insightful look at how this even happens in the space where we would think we can just ‘be’, smiling or not, :yoga.

    I am in Miami at the moment for a contemporary art exhibition and as I made my way through endless amounts of neon and so-so commentaries on the human experience I was stopped with a “hey, smile!”. To engage with art, at least for me, is to give way to its affective qualities, whatever those may be. This runs the range of emotive experiences and solicits an endless number of facial responses, the lamest in some ways, smiling. Think of the art pieces that have stuck with you over time, is a grin the inevitable/ desireable response? More often it isn’t.

    What was the message being sent by my fellow gallery go-er? Your experience of the world needs to be mediated by those physical signs that make me comfortable? If it was a flirtatious opening it failed. This article and comments remind me that it is OK to want to be solicited into conversations based mutual engagement, and not an interference with the ways I am engaging with art, yoga and others.

  6. Ruthie Streiter says:


    thank you for this. amen.

  7. Wendi Sargent says:


    Kimberly-

    You’re a bad ass (and I mean that it the very best way).

    I’m a compulsive smiler, and I’ve noticed so often that that’s gotten in the way of real, honest communication. It’s been pounded into me to smile so much so that I don’t even notice half the time when I’m doing it- and I look like an idiot and unnatural and inauthentic when I do it.

    So- to stay short and sweet- I’ll just say that I appreciate people who don’t smile when they don’t mean it and who don’t try to fake something that’s not there. It often takes away from someone’s experience to force a smile (I’m thinking about how often I’ve wanted to smack down an instructor for walking around the room reminding us to smile when I’ve been in pain or challenged in a pose- it’s ok to be uncomfortable and not to be happy about it).

    Loved this article. And it…ehem…made me smile.
    W

  8. Tracie says:


    I grew up with a mother who didn’t know what to do with my intense emotions, whether they were happy, sad, or angry ones. The message I got from my stoic Scandinavian roots was “don’t feel too much, and if you do, don’t show it.” I, too, have had people tell me to “smile” because the corners of my mouth naturally turn downward, or worse, they would ask me “what’s wrong?” It always irritated me to no end and it felt as though I was there to appear “right” or attractive to them. As a yoga teacher, rather than tell my students to smile, I will simply suggest to “soften the face” if I see a lot of tension in the jaw and the facial muscles. And then let the results of that be as they may.

    Beautiful essay…thank you for putting into words what I have long experienced.

  9. Vision_Quest2 says:


    Don’t forget that the concept of “emotional labor” originated with the working class, such as flight attendants and customer service representatives of both sexes—having to smile, to be polite, to never raise their voices …

    Yup. Didn’t yoga get commercialized or WHAT?

  10. Carol Horton says:


    Great post. I agree with everything you say, but am particularly drawn to the fact that you link the issues raised to women’s experience of childbirth. I feel that our female potential as mothers is not celebrated enough. It has become associated with a right-wing agenda rather than with a liberating one. This is terrible.

    There was a woman in my yoga class today who was so thin I immediately thought she had an eating disorder. I thought about how women’s bodies are naturally meant to have some fat so that we can be fertile and nurture children. There is something frighteningly life-negating about a world in which so many women are starving themselves. This is of course just one more manifestation of the larger complex of problems you’re pointing towards.

    Thanks for your great work and congrats on teaching 300 people! Wow.

    • guest says:


      Carol, I am a bit offended that you assume eating disorder when you see skinny. Some people are naturally skinny, I have a friend who is so skinny that she hates to wear skirts and passes out during her period. She eats like a horse. No eating disorder here. skinny=starving is just another assumption people make (just as fat=lazy)

      • Carol Horton says:


        I had zero percent body fat until I was 25, while eating more than any other girl I knew, so I understand what it’s like to be naturally skinny. (Alas, those days are gone . . . ) I think it’s not so hard to differentiate healthy/natural from starved/strange – there is a physical vibrancy in the former and not in the latter. You can see it if you look beyond form to embodied feeling. Or at least that’s my intuition.

      • guest says:


        I too used to think some people were “naturally skinny”, until I started working in a naturopathic medical clinic. In the two years I worked there I processed many intake forms. Without exception, every super thin (the people I totally thought were just naturally that way) person checked off “eating disorder” as one of their health issues. I was shocked at how prevalent it seemed, especially because they weren’t actually seeing the doctors for that reason. I think when we normalize something, we make it an attainable goal that girls and women so easily find themselves chasing, or then lamenting why they aren’t “naturally skinny” too. And the cycle continues. I’m not saying there aren’t naturally skinny people out there (of course there are), just fewer than we think…

    • susan says:


      “female potential as mothers is not celebrated enough.” wow. now that’s really offensive to me. many women are child-free by choice…I am. as if a woman is more of a woman because she can reproduce?

      • JBO says:


        Hope you don’t mind me interjecting here Susan. I am also childless through what I have always believed was my own choice, yet I’m increasingly becoming aware that this “choice” is more a reflection of the overwhelming lack of value and support given to mothers in general by the society we live in which seems to want to keep us in a prolonged state of adolescence. Crossing the threshold into something mature and committal like motherhood doesn’t seem to sit well in our overwhelmingly frivolous culture and I am in agreement with Carol’s comment, which to me doesn’t in any way imply that women are less worthy without children, it simply states correctly that mothers aren’t valued as they should be. The hand that rocks the cradle does rule the world after all… On a separate note I don’t think it’s a generalisation that we women have an innate instinct to nurture and this affects our career choices. We are twice as likely to seek out meaningful careers than men and this too is rarely encouraged by society.

        • Carol Horton says:


          Just to clarify, I definitely do not think that there’s any one-size-fite-all solution or answer or value regarding women’s individual life choices. For some, being a SAHM is best; for others, never having children; probably for most, neither extreme. But, everyone’s different and has their own life circumstances to contend with, so no one can say what’s right or wrong for anyone else on these matters.

          BUT, I can look at our culture and see what’s given more value on the whole. What I see championed for both men and women is: individualism, competitiveness, physical attractiveness, “success” in terms of power and money, etc. What’s not celebrated: nurturing, cooperation, trading off “success” for quality of life, etc.

          And, what’s became the territory of the right-wing – celebrated there but not much elsewhere? motherhood and “family values” (ick, right?). This I see as problematic.

  11. Michaelle Edwards says:


    Kim, What a powerful message for women to be authentic and stop trying to wear a happy face regardless of our feelings and intentions. Excellent essay. thank you.

  12. Bob B. says:


    Speaking from strictly a male perspective, this type of post is the type of thing that sickens me. Your viewpoint or at least the way you convey it is from a far extreme feminist point of view and you seem to lump all us men into mysogenous pigs which is totally unfair.

    Now, I get it. Women all over the world are scorned upon, hit on without regard to emotion and even treated as sex objects when they shouldn’t be but you don’t describe this in your article whatsoever. You were given what some might think as a compliment, others might view as a suggestion and someone else might view as just pure admiration. Any of those possibilities might have been what this person thought when he suggested you smile. Besides, he clearly did not have all the information for you to jump to such an accusation against him and any other man whoever gave a compliment to a woman.

    That said, I agree with most of what you believe in women’s issues and clearly see this as a problem but you’re seeking the wrong solution in this case. I always try and give compliments (or as I view them) and occasionly have stuck the foot in the mouth myself. But,there was never any intent of treating that woman with malicious intent or any sexual innuendo intended. I simply acknowlegde that person’s feelings and offer my sincere apologies.

    If you are true to the human spirit as you say you are then you ought to open up, let your feelings known in a productive way rather than condemning the comment without thought.

    • JBO says:


      Telling a woman you don’t know to smile in order to express admiration is ineffective at best (we all hate it) and downright chauvinistic at worst. I’m no suffragette, nor do I castrate men who hold the door open for me or pay me a compliment. Yet I agree with the conclusion of the article: that it’s a subtle way some (insecure) men try and put women in their place. In fact it’s so subtle that I myself hadn’t properly thought about it until reading this and am thankful at having it bought to my attention.

    • Brooke says:


      I think you are misinterpreting this, how is it a compliment to criticize someone’s facial expression? I spent many years working behind a bar, and am a very warm person who smiles easily and authentically (not a bad temperament to have if you work for tips). I can remember every single time, usually and older gentleman would tell me that I needed to smile, it was no compliment. I quite like compliments, and I know one when I hear it. My gut doesn’t get tied up in knots, and I don’t feel small and meaningless after receiving a compliment. It clearly wasn’t hitting on me either as you seem to think she/us normally take that comment, but it did imply that whatever I was experiencing (shoes that grew painful halfway through a shift, a 2nd degree burn acquired moments before, debilitating cramps, death in the family, relationship breakup, seeing someone get hit by a car on the way to work, etc.) was less important than the expected superficial comfort that normally transpires between customer and service worker.

      • Bob B says:


        I don’t think I misinterpreted anything at all. I get what you are saying. However, this is not so different than all of political correct BS that has infiltrated our society over the years. IF I call an African American a “Black” person am Iputting them down? I think not. I highly doubt highly that when someone tells you that you look better when you smile that their intention is to dominate your feminism or that its me being a chauvinistic pig. This is not to say that it does not happen because I am sure that it does but stop the war on compliments for heaven sake! We live in this uber sensitive world these days and not everything is always about power and domination. Sometimes, people are nice. Hard concept to relate to, I guess..

        • JBO says:


          If a patronising command like “Looking tooo serious. Slight upturn in corners of mouth please” from someone you don’t even know is a “compliment” then it’s a pretty barbed one. I’d be very surprised if you’d had any success using this kind of passive aggressive flirting technique whilst playing the field… There’s nothing gallant or nice about it.

          • Bob B says:


            See there in lies the problem. You’re a woman I’m a man. Me paying a compliemnt to you becomes “patronizing” or “flirtacious.” That’s just a ridiculous premise from the start and from my point of view that’s just pure feminism without regard to my humanity. I call BULLSHIT!

            What makes you think you know what I am thinking when I say you look good in a smile. It could be that I’m just a nice person and not degrading or trying to get in your pants. Heck, you don’t know who I am. Am I married or gay or both? And where does this end? Can I tell you that I like your outfit or your hair, you have nice teeth, you look good in that car, you sound very smart or 100′s of other things. Someone saying that you have a nice smile might mean just that he thinks you have a nice smile. That’s all

            Not all men are pigs and this type of BS just sends that message.

            • Kimberly Johnson says:


              Bob-

              Here are examples of compliments:

              “wow you look great in that dress.”
              “you have a beautiful smile”
              “you look deep in thought. i am intrigued- a penny for your thoughts.”

              things that are not compliments:
              “smile.” (bossy and directive)
              “you are prettier when you smile.” (note: different from “what a beautiful smile.”
              “tooo serious.”
              or tooooo anything actually. (message: i’d feel more comfortable if you were different)

              Sorry that you are having such a hard time with this, because as you can see, many women do not appreciate the non-compliment category. And I am sure all appreciate a genuine compliment. I do.

              • Bob B. says:


                Kim,

                You seem like a very nice person and I’m sorry that things offend you easily, especially this thread to your article. I just think this is so overly sensitive and sees the worst in people when more often than not that person is probably just as nice as you are. I’ll just smile as much as I can if we ever get a chance to really meet, please do the same so I don’t have to say anything.

                :)
                Bob

  13. Dani says:


    The fastest way to get someone to frown is tell them they should smile. Love this article.

  14. PeggyB says:


    This discussion has been going on lately, the smile command, many woman experience it from strangers on the street who feel they have the right to demand some type of behavior. When you get it from colleges it’s even worse.

  15. Nadine Fawell says:


    I have short hair, big shoulder muscles, and a really loud laugh.

    Basically, these are the reasons my last relationship didn’t work. I was simply to much myself, and yes, taking up too much space in the world, and my partner didn’t like that I wouldn’t toe the line and be pretty-conventional.

    I spent a bit of time wondering whether this made me somehow wrong. Nope. I send here, myself, teach yoga in the same way you do, I suspect – for sovereignty.

    And I will take up as much space as I need, thank you very much.

    Really awesome article, Kimberly.

  16. julian walker says:


    great contemplation on some seriously important issues. if only part of yoga teacher training was being asked to consider such questions outside of the usual new age framework.

  17. Uli says:


    Great article!
    So sad to see the dissociation/degradation of Westernised yoga…
    “…how the current focus on Hatha-Yoga as a set of volitional practices or statically imitated asanas and pranayama can miss the deeper pranic roots of all Yoga as kriya, or spontaneous developmental actions…. In order to view physical Yoga and meditation as just endogenous to our development (and as awesome) as gestation once was, as taking one’s first post-umbilical breath, as adolescent puberty, we must deconstruct the over-formalized pedagogical edifices that have grown around it.
    Both indigenously over the ages and in their translation and importation into the West, the “innately arising” (sahaja), panentheistic, Dionysian origins of Yoga and meditation have been shaped and over-shaped into apollonian pedagogical constructs and otherwise tamed and over-tamed to avoid real or imagined dangers.”
    http://www.cit-sakti.com/kundalini/sahaja-spontaneous-yoga.htm

  18. Laura says:


    Thanks for a such a cogent article.
    We live in a society that places excessive importance on entertainment to the detriment of other modes of experience.
    I know this all too well because i teach an academic subject and yet i am expected to become a clown the moment i step into the classroom. We are evaluated by students at the end of the year, students whose attention span is extremely short thanks to their daily diet of media entertainment and who may remember a joke but that’s about it. Teaching becomes akin to entering a popularity context. No wonder we burn out so easily. After repressing our real emotions and wearing a fake smile for years, the feeling of inauthenticity finally raises its ugly head.
    Obviously the last think i look for in yoga is more of the same bullshit.

  19. Guest says:


    Interesting article, interesting comments.

    I am not a fan of compulsory positivity either, though I am a fan of observing our emotions (positive or negative) and becoming a witness within the context of our own experience. On one end of the spectrum, I might not be so offended if someone were to ask me to smile more. I might feel irked if I were having a bad day, but not offended. On the other hand, I am aware of the general pressure women are under to act, behave and to dress in a particular way in order to achieve certain goals or to be perceived a certain way. Where I do draw the line is violence against women.

    I once approached a well known yoga teacher about physical and emotional abuse I experienced in a relationship. I kept quiet for a very long time about it because my ex and I were involved in a yoga community. I was afraid of expressing “intense” and “painful” emotions in a world where I felt pressure to be happy all the time. I thought it was my fault. I didn’t want to rock the “shanti dharma boat” so to speak. When I finally did reveal my true feelings, this teacher (who ironically promotes women’s health, birth and empowerment) did not believe me and immediately cut me off from her life. Not only that, she went on to have an illicit love affair with my ex and then accused me of stalking him. This has by far been the most painful experience of my life and completely rearranged my naive and optimistic view of the yoga community at large. The response from others not involved in the yoga community has been completely different and much more empowering.

    So I wonder, what are we doing in yoga? What are were teaching, learning, expressing? Are we practicing what we are preaching? Is there really room for the full expression of emotions in yoga? I am not sure at this point. My experience was painful, but I have learned some valuable lessons.

  20. Joslyn hamilton says:


    Bob, rather than arguing the point with every woman on this comment thread, perhaps there is something to what we are saying? A lot of women on this thread seem to feel the same way about being commanded to “smile” by a male stranger in public. This is not about “politically incorrect BS” or “pure feminism” by any stretch of the imagination. We’re not having an intellectual discourse about feminism here. We’re talking about how it makes us feel when men say something to us. And for you to invalidate our feelings is just proving our point. Your radical reaction to this post and the ensuing thread of comments indicates to me that you are taking something personally here. Well, take it personally. It’s not okay with us. And yes, some guys are just nice guys. You aren’t striking me as one of them on this thread.

    • Bob B. says:


      Sorry Jos, somehow you all stuck a chord with me and we shall all just agree to disagree. No malice intended here just expression of thought. You all do great work here and I can only hope I provoked a viewpoint that perhaps you didn’t think of or at least see the good intentions that I perceive what someone’s intent (probably) was rather than what the message that was received. If not so be it..

  21. cresta says:


    So this outrage all began with a Facebook comment…Reason number kajillion why I think Facebook is terrible and why I will never participate in it again. It seems to inspire more misunderstandings, jealousies, coveting, pride, hurt feelings, etc. than anything I can think of. Not to mention a huge waste of time. Plus I was reading on Elephant Journal, how it’s misogynistic as well. Yuck. It has a nasty vibe.

    I can relate to this whole theme of seriousness/ femaleness though—as a shy, introverted, cute gal, I was first told to “Smile”, in 7th grade by a male guidance counselor as I was conducting an interview for the school paper. I’ve gotten this comment several times since then and it always knocks me off my center and makes me feel momentarily sad and insecure. “You’d be prettier if you smiled more.” —Aaargh!

    I admire the author so much—she’s obviously living her Dharma, inspired about her teaching, politics, fighting poverty, improving conditions for humanity, etc. I am happy for her—admiration and applause!

    I also feel for Bob though and want to give him a big friendly hug. He was brave to join this conversation and I think he is genuinely trying to understand why this hurts women. And he MAY be a sweetheart.

    Both sides of the story have been hurt by the established gender roles of our culture. The feminine has been asked to carry joy, beauty and pleasantness and the masculine has been asked to be stoic, strong and serious. Until each gender can comfortably span the spectrum of characteristics, we will all feel incomplete and constricted.

    • Cindy says:


      Have to agree with you regarding elephant journal. There is so much offensive content there that I have to wonder why so many people who do yoga, writes for them. But then reading recovering yogi might just answer that question.

  22. WTH? says:


    Instead of Bob attacking and being defensive, I would suggest he look at his own behavior. Telling a stranger to do anything with their face is clueless and socially obnoxious. I’m not giving him any slack in some attempt to be “fair and balanced.”

    Examine your misbehavior, Bob, instead of continuing to defend the indefensible. I guarantee it will be a lesson well learned. Good luck with your transformation, should you choose to start listening.

  23. Renee - Blacksheepyoga.com says:


    This was my favorite part.

    ‘Dictates that say that a yoga teacher should be skinny, flexible and smiling both undervalue yoga itself as a transformational tool on more than a cosmetic and superficial level and are a great disservice to students who then think that they should live up to this ideal, and if they do, that they are practicing good yoga.’

    I appreciated your insights; and how you pointed out some of the ways in which the yoga community seems to forget that violence and poverty cannot be solved by simply “Being here now.”

    Thank you.
    Renee

  24. DaSilva says:


    “I’m afraid, is not an adequate response to the pathetically low investment Brasil is making in education compared with the rapid growth and demands of being a BRICK nation.”

    “In my strong desire to offer a somatic paradigm that, while readily available in the yoga world in some coastal US cities, is not the norm here yet in Brasil,”

    Wow ! This burns me up ! Brasil has its problems – that is for sure but with all due respect I don’t know that we need an ex-pat living in one of the most stereotypical Brasilian destinations for foreigners to recommend quick fix “solutions” that come from a place of entitlement. Its a big country – you might want to spend a few *decades* getting to know it better before prescribing remedies. It takes more than visiting a yoga retreat in Bahia or a favela to understand the dynamics and history that has led to the challenges Brasil now faces.

  25. D says:


    Thanks for your fantastic words linking yoga and oh yeah – the rest of the world in real life! Working for a huge humanitarian organisation I often try and merge the two, more successfully some days than others. Keep on keeping it real girl! D x

  26. Alexis says:


    Maybe try opening yourself up to something that doesn’t come naturally? Maybe consider those around you, and accept feedback for what it is rather than come to your ego’s immediate defense?
    Reading this, it sounds like you do need to lighten up. It’s honestly not meant to put you in your place – it’s meant to help you think outside your immediate reaction, to ponder that truth can possibly come from many places, even an intrusive stranger.
    I’m amazed in a way that someone who would go so thoroughly into the spiritual and mental aspects of yoga practice would have so little insight into her own behavior, and so much vitriol would be directed at a stranger who POSSIBLY was making a friendly suggestion. Maybe he wasn’t, but I personally have found little benefit from nuturing resentment.

  27. Alexis says:


    Also, I’m concerned that someone who is involved in women’s health doesn’t realize that a full 90% of OB/GYN residents are female. How is it that Cesarean’s are being performed by “mostly male doctors”? As a female physician, I’m insulted that so many of my professional colleagues are somehow invisible.

  28. Jenny says:


    There are some good and valid points made in the article. But I have to agree with some of the commenters about the nature of your reaction to the gentleman who made the remark on FB. FB is such a contrived reality, and people often invest too much of themselves in this fantasy world….often misinterpreting what is expressed even more so than e-mail and texts. It really should not be taken so seriously.

    I also feel that becoming so offended at this man’s remark is likened to upper-middle class, white women’s “first-world” problems. While most women in developing nations are more concerned with clean and safe drinking water, feeding children and fuel for making fires, worrying about a man asking you to smile is FAR from engaging in the true nature of most women’s issues around the world.

    Instead of bitching and complaining about other people, (pointing out what is wrong outside of yourself), take a deeper look beyond the reaction to what is arising inside. You might be surprised at what you find.

  29. Lynn says:


    This article gives affirmation to yours and is a commentary on American culture from an Irish guy, so I thought you might be amused by his thoughts about Americans and their insane insistence on displays of fake positivism , especially:

    3. Smiles mean NOTHING

    http://www.fluentin3months.com/usa-clashes/
    It seems to draw a larger picture to explain the silly comment by the guy who saw your photo and felt free to critique it.
    When I see things in a larger picture it makes me feel better, so I thought I would share it with you.
    Al the best to you and your readers.

  30. Hajera Ahmed says:


    This article is amazing. I am a yoga teacher and agree with the whole needing to smile things- people think I am intense and serious but there are things to be intense and serious about. Loved reading this piece, and thank you!

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