Sadistic gymnastics, love-ins, catfights and other red flags.

Published on January 13, 2011 by      Print
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I’m a recovering fanatical yoga practitioner, once belonging to a posse of other such types.

And really it’s only when I catch a glimpse of a random yogini straining at a perversely advanced posture and find myself sighing nostalgically and thinking, “Give me ten sun sals and I could totally school that bitch,” that my commitment to life sans that-kind-of-yoga falters. By that-kind-of-yoga I mean the sadistic gymnastics taught by megalomaniacs in tights, barking technical instructions that would confound a surgeon and oozing new-age prose whilst caressing an unsuspecting student’s ass — which these days substitutes for the other yoga, or simply stated: “a-really-old-something-from-india-that-is-actually-supposed-to-be-good-for-you taught by calmer, smarter, and saner individuals.”

There were numerous signs along the way that I had enmeshed myself in a questionable, if not a bit creepy, pursuit and was not in fact part of an elite, emotionally and spiritually advanced “kula.” But newbie naïveté and a cliché quarter-life crisis fogged my historically logical sensibilities. It didn’t help that I was teaching abroad, thousands of miles from friends whose day jobs did not require chanting, and was eager to fit into my new community—or that on an individual level this was a group of pretty cool people.

Excuses aside, I was pounding the Kool-Aid double-fisted, sashaying around in my lulus with the life ambition of nailing handstand, pining for adjustments from Major Teachers, alongside a fan-base rivaling crazed tweens at a Justin Bieber concert—and over-using woo woo buzzwords like “connected” like so much cheap perfume.

The top ten signs that I was not on your typical spiritual journey:

  1. Teacher soirées were the experimental teen years I never had. They involved copious amounts of booze and substances that shall remain nameless—much like the people involved. Later, we would call them enlightening, even tantric forays into the otherworldly. The loss of brain cells and the funny feeling inside about bearing your soul to co-workers in dark corners while they stroked you would hint otherwise.
  2. Aforementioned festivities sometimes raged on until the sun rose, at which point a few sad bastards who had not managed to swap their classes with one of the not-kula-enough teachers dragged themselves off to the studio to teach, on occasion passing into sleep whilst leaning up against the wall rattling off Bikramisms: “Like a Japanese ham sandwichhhhzzzzz ZZZZ ZZZZZZ.”
  3. Massage trains, partner yoga, deep hip adjustments, and other questionable touching in candlelight amongst half-naked sweaty and often horny individuals.
  4. Anorexia masquerading as a “detox” masquerading as a spiritual stepping-stone.
  5. Three-hour asana practices named after Rocky anthems, starting when even God was still sleeping, and often involving leaning over backwards until your hands slapped the floor—and other such movements appropriate only if you are: a) a prepubescent Chinese gymnast, b) auditioning for Cirque, or c) freakishly flexible and lacking actual bones and joints—say like Gumby or a beanbag chair. (If you are pausing to contemplate, no, I do not mean you.)
  6. Teachers with yoga-related knee, back, shoulder, hip, and mental injuries who, not unlike those suffering from Stockholm Syndrome, would take a bullet for their guru du jour.
  7. Yogi love triangles and other such material a reality TV producer could only dream of. (Suggested title of show: Yogasm). Subsequent jealousy, betrayal, and catfights amongst staffers and students befitting of a Greek tragedy, or Days of our Lives.
  8. Major Teachers with God-complexes working their mojo overtime for any old bright-eyed and bushy-tailed piece of emotionally vulnerable T&A contemplating a divorce or breakup that walked through the studio door.
  9. Loss of desire/ability to relate to the outside world, including outward distrust of and derision toward non-yoga types and clannish behavior in non-yoga social settings.
  10. Any move away from the group or methods of teaching promoted by Major Teachers and their Star Trooper-like minions and/or the loss of desire to beat one’s body into yogic submission ultimately resulted in excommunication, self-imposed or otherwise.

This is not to mention the behind-the-scenes corporate shenanigans at XXX Yoga, best summed up by a dear friend and former teacher, now working in New York, who a few weeks prior to his departure from the country, browbeaten and weary, greeted his students with, “Welcome to XXX Yoga, may I take your order please?”

Yes, we were on our way to working for the McDonalds of yoga. It is rumored that the company’s goal is total world domination. Small studios across the globe beware; these people are not fucking around. I’ve seen them come after penniless ex-employees for daring to teach at other studios, like with real live lawyers. If it were legal to implant tracking devices in a person—say someone who works for you—they would so be all over that. I could delve into the incriminating details, involving massive pay cuts to bankroll shameless expansion, but genuine fear of Big Brother’s reach is holding me back. Aum shanti.

After 5-odd years I transitioned to part-time teaching partially out of disgust and partially out of burnout—but in fairness I held out until one of the chief minions pulled me aside and told me that in order to be a better teacher I needed to “kill my students.” Alarming images of standing over my sweet little old lady crowd with a bullwhip, screaming, “I said chaturanga, motherfuckers!!” flashed into my head. Long-story short, eventually I left entirely—well, was sort of forced to leave (see “Top Signs” #10).  Blessing in disguise, as they say.

It took a while, but I am now happily settled into a small studio run by a pleasantly rotund middle-aged couple.

Frank wears a gold chain and Aloha shirts. I doubt he has done a down dog since Woodstock. Maureen has a thick Jersey accent and calls students “honey” and “sweetie.” Sometimes we stay on the floor for the first thirty minutes of class, and not because we are stuck with our legs behind our heads. I shamelessly wiggle and sway in postures, let my rib cage fall all over the place as God intended it to, willfully hold my breath, occasionally snort out loud, and bend my knees just because I can.

Students wear sweatpants and socks and are not reprimanded by the teacher. I proudly don old t-shirts advertising soft drinks and ancient, fading spandex with stains on the crotch. I only aum if I feel like it, which isn’t often, and am not chastised for my silence. If I’m feeling really crazy I might do a deep cobra. When teachers adjust me I don’t get the feeling that they want to tap my mulabandha. I no longer have deep, protracted, and self-indulgent conversations after class about how I felt practicing, what came up for me, how sorry I feel for those soulless inflexible types, etcetera. No, I scurry off with my dear friend J. and grab a bowl of fatty spareribs and rice at the cheap eatery next door, without worry that the Jivamukti swat team is going to show up.

Filed under: Boundaries | Shady Gurus | Zombie Yoga and Tagged:


  1. Laura Neal says:

    “Chaturanga, motherfuckers!” Says it all.

  2. Devi says:

    I love it that I’m not alone in my disillusionment with this whole hype about yoga. For the record, I still teach, practice and love yoga. I’m not sure I like many yoga practitioners though.

    • Pua says:

      Hi Devi!

      Yes, I’m with you — still practicing, and loving my practice but much more so now that’s is a bit “saner. “

  3. Janine P says:

    These words are so true..I experienced it so much in the world of acting, so have avoided it whenever I see it rear it’s ugly head in my yoga time…but it is really becoming more apparent over the past 6 months.

  4. Caleb Nicholes says:

    Love it! Keep ‘em coming. LOve, Beets

  5. Amy Liu says:

    You put into words what I had thought about yoga for a long time (especially in Hong Kong). I noticed it 10 years ago when I first started to practice yoga, and this is probably why I waited so long to start teacher training…unfortunately, that training was put to a traumatic halt yesterday. I feel like a lost bird after what happened with “the small studio run by a pleasantly rotund middle-aged couple”.

  6. Pua says:

    Amy, glad this resonates with you. Such a bummer about the studio, and so bizarre! I’m really hoping someone opens a rockin’ space with fabulous (but down to earth teachers) in this town, and sooner rather than later…

  7. Charlottec says:

    I loved this piece. I’m an “old school” yogi and teacher who’s been practicing since 1982. I have steered clear of the trendy studios, and am sad to see yoga practice reduced to a reflection of the ego-driven, image-obsessed culture that it has the potential to free us from. The stories I hear about the political intrigue at trendy studios make my hair stand on end. I’m happy to hear that you have found a “small studio run by a pleasantly rotund middle-aged couple.”

    My own teacher and his wife of 30 years eschewed the opportunity to become traveling yoga stars 27 years ago and instead opened a small retreat center that could hold no more than 10 students at a time. The retreat center thrived on its integrity and the fact that in such a trustworthy and intimate setting, people felt safe to go incredibly deep. My hope is that these types of humble centers will someday rise again when the hype and craziness passes.

  8. Lorraine says:

    Definitely resonates 110% ! The funny thing is I also had a few of the students that told me “You are a good teacher, but you should market yourself better and teach those much difficult poses like teacher XXXX or XXXX! They have full attendance. You have to kill the students”!!!!!!!!! @__@

    p.s. I am totally out of the company now! Hope can find some place to continue my practice happily. Take care~! =D

  9. Holding up a big fat mirror says:

    [...] things happened in the days, nay, hours following my last post, which aired the dirty undies of the yoga community I had been involved [...]

  10. Renee @ says:

    You’re totally funny. I especially enjoyed point 4. “Anorexia masked at detox.” As insensitive as I can be sometimes, after hearing more than 5 people in a really small studio saying they are doing a juice fest and smelling like dead vegetables, I do remember remarking loudly, “I’m just anorexic before 5 p.m., and bulimic afterwards. No juice fasting for me.” Sorta a test to see who responded. Usually I can be more sensitive, but there are points when the self-righteousness gets to me.

    Thanks for writing.

  11. N says:

    I was one of your students in HK, and you are missed terribly. I can totally see the truth in your article. The teaching has gone downhill! The chain has lost its soul.

    Sad that I didn’t get the chance to say goodbye and wish you well in person, but I hope you are very well!

    Response posted on March 10th, 2011 , 7:10 am
  12. Why R U Here? Explore the ?! @Yogging Heads Toronto. | elephant journal says:

    [...] lies that can flourish in spiritual communities, and the soul-sucking scenes surrounding certain “yoga stars.” (For me personally, the many comments on my “Yoga Teacher on a Pedestal” post came as quite a [...]

    Response posted on June 27th, 2011 , 8:02 am
  13. Nicky says:

    As I was reading your blog I started to wonder if you had by any chance been teaching in Hong Kong as it was sounding very much like how I feel about a certain studio here. How funny to read further and find that you were infact teaching in HK.
    Thank you for summing it up so well. As part of the local teaching community I applaud some of the good they have done by helping to stage the yearly Evolution conference. However, I am very disappointed when I see how big egos have turned teachers who were at one time very inspirational into ego-maniacs who are reckless with their students physical wellness and safety.

    I applaud you for bringing it up! Well done! When we get our Yoga Alliance certificate we also agree to a code of conduct that protects the physical and emotional interests of our students. I dont think theres any harm in reminding them and all teachers of this fact!