The competitive edge

Published on May 9, 2012 by      Print
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By Nickie Medici

I got my new Yoga Journal in the mail today.  It is a sweeping visual masterpiece.  There is someone doing camel pose in front of a pyramid and some other back bend variation showcased on a pastel blue Volkswagen in a field of yellow daisies.  There is a picture of hundreds of people doing yoga in Times Square.  Don’t forget numerous photos of yoga on paddle boards; where there are paddle boards there must be yoga — and also someone with a camera! There is a picture of a naked woman doing yoga with a conspicuous absence of cellulite.  She wants us to buy yoga socks, which in and of themselves can be very helpful if you’re prone to slipping around in down dog.  But who in the hell does down dog anymore?

Also featured in this month’s Yoga Journal is a section on weight training to support one’s yoga practice: where Cross Fit meets the spiritual pavement.  Improve your plank with kettle bells!  Then there is all the stuff you can purchase as advertised in Yoga Journal.  There is shit-o-lay everywhere, advertised to improve your yoga practice.  Yogi make-up and yogi tea, long mats and round mats and mats made of unwashed diapers from the Christ child.

If you’re more than a yoga practitioner, like say if you’re a sacred teacher on the precipice of becoming a licensed and insured Yoga-lebrity, then you also need all manner of insurance with which you’ll — surprise! — get a free subscription to Yoga Journal for a year, so you can see more advertisements of shit you will need to practice and teach yoga, because, dear readers, Yoga Journal is now the Vogue of the yoga community. Strike a pose!

I have to ask, what is “yoga community” these days?

There seems to be Yoga-lebrities and people who aspire to be or want to be like the Yoga-lebrities everywhere we look.  I do have friends who practice yoga with whom I’ve formed a sort of support group that one might call a community.  But the greater “yoga community” at large seems more like Old Hollywood. It’s all about branding and marketing.  I remember the first time I heard, in reference to building my own yoga classes, “You just have to market yourself!”  It gave me a July chill. What in the hell ever happened to the ol’ “If you build it they will come”?  Now it’s not just yoga but gold-standard yoga with faces we recognize trying to sell us experiences we think we want and shit we don’t need.

The emperor is naked, folks, and it ain’t pretty.

Sometimes I wish I could go back to my old practice, when I didn’t know anyone or anything about yoga.  The only reference point I had was one New York redhead who often confounded and always inspired.  Those were the days.  But being savage and fearless like I am, I decided to jump headlong into all things yoga, and now don’t like what I see.  I feel homesick for when staying still in down dog for five seconds counted as a win for the day.  Now what counts as a win?

Nothing!  There is no winning in yoga.  Practicing yoga doesn’t make you, me or any of us special.  Writing about yoga doesn’t make anyone special, but we want it to.  Maybe it’d be nice to be a Yoga-lebrity with a salary like an NFL professional. After all, in the 21st century, yoga is like a sport, right?  What with all the competition going on and all.

Let’s see, just among friends, who can be the most broken, shattered, enlightened, spoken to by God, forsaken by their guru, lost, found, mutable, bendable, creative and jilted.

Once we’ve got that squared away, let’s put our shit (not the shit we bought out of Yoga Journal, we have to hang onto that) on other people, teachers, friends, strangers… and then we’ll write about how we overcame these things with our superfly Camel Bak water bottle and Christ child diaper yoga mats, which we’ll have signed by our favorite host of American Idol, Yoga Edition.  We won’t tell anyone at American Idol that yoga really does help us overcome all these things. Overcoming is so passé.

While waiting for my callback from America’s Next Top Yogi, I renounce the title of yoga teacher, because I can’t teach anyone anything.  I facilitate classes and hope students dive more deeply into themselves.  I love yoga students and will supply them with floaties but I will not take credit for their depth.  I can’t pull anyone out of a tree; I’m lucky to climb down out of my own perch, and when I land it’ll be on my Jade sticky mat. Yoga materialism notwithstanding, I’m southern and believe that you get what you pay for.

Ultimately it’s not about handing over money for exotic retreats.  Videos with Yoga-lebrities showing how awesome they are won’t spotlight how awesome you are. By my estimation, yoga’s main draw is self-empowerment, so long as we don’t get blinded by all the shiny shit that can go along with it and the ever increasing and perilous competitive edge.  Who needs competition and shiny Yoga-lebrities anyway?  It’s not like you can see anything else when you’re in down dog, which somehow became my favorite pose after ten years of practice – once the shininess of everything else wore off.

About Nickie Medici

Nickie Medici fancies herself non-compliant and friendly.  Becoming a yoga teacher turned class facilitator was inspired mostly by her mother’s incessant nagging that she get certified.  Once official, the Florida Gulf Coast didn’t stand a chance against Nickie’s optimism and space for participants.  Learning mostly about yoga by writing about it, she can be caught practicing anytime between mid-night and four am.  She is still holding out for a full-time writing gig and funding so she can open a day spa for cats.  Please visit her blog for instructions on how to pick cat claws out of a yoga mat and other important life lessons.

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  1. trina says:

    awesome. did u see that competition in yoga journal recently about yoga tattoos?
    wow that one took it way too far. send in a pic of your body art and get featured in the mag or something like that.

    • Nickie says:

      Yes, I did see that article about the yoga tattoo competition and I was amazed. Now, I’m quite fond of tattoos and have a couple, but I didn’t get them to help editors fill space between advertisements. How about doing a spread on devotional tattoos, no competing required? But, no, yogis knocking each other down to get to the front is way more entertaining. Thank you for reading Trina….stay in touch

      Response posted on May 9th, 2012 , 1:40 pm Reply
  2. Sandy says:

    Ha! Great article! I stumbled upon this… I’m not involved in the yoga community but it sounds suspiciously like another self-help-guru community I’m familiar with.

    Great writing- this sentence made me laugh “Once we’ve got that squared away, let’s put our shit (not the shit we bought out of Yoga Journal, we have to hang onto that)…. ”
    So funny.
    I’m bookmarking & looking forward to reading more.

    • Nickie says:

      Sandy, come sit by my fire and tell me about this. I’m glad you stumbled upon this article, it’s nice to add humor to a person’s day.

      Response posted on May 9th, 2012 , 1:42 pm Reply
  3. MelanieKim says:

    Thanks. Nikki! I’ve been struggling with this dilemma for a while & thought I was the only one.

    Response posted on May 9th, 2012 , 1:30 pm Reply
  4. In Support of Zombie Yoga « Icy Exhale says:

    [...] “Zombie Yoga” today.  Come on, now, who doesn’t want to support Zombie Yoga? Like this:LikeBe the first to like this [...]

    Response posted on May 9th, 2012 , 2:04 pm Reply
  5. Nancy LaNasa says:

    “Confounded?!” Haha…

    Response posted on May 9th, 2012 , 3:38 pm Reply
  6. Erin Kadan says:

    Stumbled in much the same way Sandy did. Great read, Madame Nickie. I’ll be looking for you here again.

    Response posted on May 9th, 2012 , 3:51 pm Reply
    • Nickie says:

      Erin, you sweet thing, I’m so glad to see you here. Writers supporting writers! We should bump into each other more often. Thank you for reading!

      Response posted on May 9th, 2012 , 6:04 pm Reply
  7. Ashley says:

    As usual your writing makes me laugh out loud. Thanks! Also, love that picture of you and Iola Boylin.

    Response posted on May 9th, 2012 , 5:55 pm Reply
    • Nickie says:

      Ashley, shame on you, that’s your niece Merryweather! I haven’t done a photo shoot with Iola Boylen yet, but it’s coming. I can hear your laugh now and it makes me happy to see you here.

      Response posted on May 9th, 2012 , 6:05 pm Reply
  8. Laura says:

    Thanks for this article.
    I dig old yoga books, stuff published in the 60s and 70s, that i buy for a couple of dollars at garage sales and in second-hand bookstores. Guys with beards and long hair wearing baggy clothes and looking vaguely stoned, women with real bodies, cellulitis, stretch marks and body hair, wearing a swimsuit, mainly doing poses that are comfortable enough to hold during meditation, and a great book of naked yoga called The Body Temple” where B&W photos of old and young practitioners of all sizes are inserted in colourful drawings of the animals, gods and goddesses that inspired those poses.
    These books remind me of why i lazily started doing yoga 25 years ago.
    I feel completely out of place in most yoga studios. The branding and competition is something i cannot stomach. In the old times, people attended yoga classes wearing all sorts of comfortable clothes. Most of them wore a tracksuit in winter, shorts and a t-shirt in summer. You were not expected to wear anything designed to show off your “perfect” body, because that would have been regarded as a distraction. There were no mirrors in the studio because people understood that yoga wasn’t like dancing, you didn’t do it to put on a show or work on a choreography. We actually made fun of bodybuilders pumping iron in front of the mirror and checking out their muscles. Well, that was before narcissism became the norm.
    Like you, i trained as a yoga teacher but i mainly practice at home with friends. I teach a completely unrelated subject, and none of my students cares about what i wear and how toned my abs and triceps are. As long as i am an effective teacher, they are happy.

    Response posted on May 9th, 2012 , 8:03 pm Reply
    • Nickie says:

      Laura, I appreciate your long and thoughtful response. It’s intereseting for me to read these stories of classes and experiences from people who may be feeling the way I feel sometimes regarding the materialism involved with something that is very important to me. That’s a good point about the mirror. I’ve been known to have a looksie once or twice, but perish the thought of practicing down dog in front of reflective surfaces!

      Response posted on May 9th, 2012 , 9:11 pm Reply
  9. Laura says:

    my recent peeve is pictures of people doing yoga in front of an infinity pool or on a private jetty lined with candles and lotus flowers. What next? Down dog on the roof of their Bentley? Or Lotus pose next to their butler who is waiting with a wheat grass shot on the silver tray?

    Response posted on May 9th, 2012 , 8:20 pm Reply
    • Nickie says:

      Heavens to Betsy! I haven’t seen the infinity pool – with lotus candles no less. You know, an infinity pool in itself isn’t a bad idea, I’ve often thought I might be able to fit one in my room beside the cat box and writing desk. It hasn’t occured to me what a wonderful photo op that might be, too.

      Response posted on May 9th, 2012 , 9:13 pm Reply
    • Tori says:

      When I see someone pull a handstand on the wing of their in-flight private jet — then I will be impressed. :P

  10. Laura says:

    i usually get a pool of dirty water in my front yard when it rains for days. Maybe i should start taking subversive pictures of me doing tree pose ankle deep in the murky water, with my neighbour’s piles of rusty junk as a a background and a couple of flowerpots for a touch of class.

    Response posted on May 9th, 2012 , 9:38 pm Reply
    • Nickie says:

      If you do that let me know, you be the model, I know a great photographer and I’ll do the write up.

      Response posted on May 9th, 2012 , 9:56 pm Reply
    • Tori says:

      Can we start a set? I will couple yours with one of me in chair pose perched over a cactus. Or a port-a-potty seat (a bit harder to get the lighting right on that one, though).

      • Nickie says:

        You know, with some foil on the walls, I bet we could get the port-a-potty lighting about right.

        • Tori says:

          Okay, but it’s about to be Arizona in summer where I am. You could not pay me enough to climb in a port-a-potty lined with foil, baking in the heat and shitstench.

          • Nickie says:

            I didn’t think of the hot potato yogi in there, my bad. Maybe we can just photoshop a port-o-potty around you, then everyone wins.

  11. C init says:

    Okay, I am what someone on yoga journal referred to as a blog stalker. I read and comment on almost every post. I can’t help it. I love RY. This post was great, thankyouverymuch, but the comments once again kill me in a good way.
    And I will say, without a skosh of defensiveness, that I totally use the mirror, because I am a crooked soul. I need some visual cues for alignment. That said, several years ago, there was a gal who came all decked out, full make-up etc…She always positioned herself next to a post so she could be up front and center, but also right on a mirror, into which she turned her head between every single posture, and fluffed her hair, dabbed her lips, whatever. I know, I’m a terrrrrrrible yogi, but she distracted the crap right out of me. And, there, I’ve done it. I’ve written a long response. Sorry, it’s off subject too, but the mirror comment made me think of this.

    Response posted on May 9th, 2012 , 9:40 pm Reply
  12. Nickie says:

    First let me say I like long comments, it presents an opportunity for dialogue that I enjoy. I agree there’s nothing wrong with the mirror, per se, but one time in gym yoga (where I now facilitate classes by the way) I remember when the previous teacher decided the class should FACE THE MIRROR! Oh, the horror! Of course, I’ve been known to have a look at my triangle when the pose feels more like I’m trying to take the shape of a suspension bridge and I want to know what’s going on. On the regular, the mirror is just a horror. I don’t want to know what I look like while my butt is perched on a block. Gasp.

    As for make-up, I’ve seen extremes – from the extremely unkept to the majestically made up and I don’t suppose either one is right or wrong. I have to admit I never go anywhere without a dusting of Bare Essentials, liner, mascara and gloss. That said, what you should know about me is that the first photo taken of me and my mom when I was no less than five minutes old, me mum was fully made up, Farrah Fawcett wings and shimmery eye shadow galore….fast forward twenty-five years later and my little sister takes the same picture with her five minute old son. The only difference is that her hair is cascading and blonde and the eye shadow is most certainly not blue. If the women in my family can give birth and look awesome, I feel inclined to look like I didn’t just crawl out of a gutter when I land on my yoga mat. I do not ever recall having had the pleasure of seeing someone fluff their hair in yoga class, but now I know someone who does. Finally, something tells me that you are most certainly not a terrible yogi, just a human one :)

  13. Nancy LaNasa says:

    Laura, in the old days we didn’t even have yoga mats. We used beach towels on the floor. My first yoga mat was carpet padding, cut into the appropriate length. Of course sometimes our toes would get caught in the little bits of webbing…and we wore our jammies to class. Then we graduated to Danskin black leggings and Metallica t-shirts. I’m hanging on to the olden times…but not my Metallica shirt!

    • Laura says:

      Oh yes, i would bring my own Thai blanket to the studio. Some students used towels, but the teacher had a beautiful Tibetan rug he had brought back from the Himalayas. My teacher spent ten years in India. He travelled from Milan to Delhi on a magic bus with a bunch of hippies.
      Classes were held in his basement, and once a week we shared an Indian dinner his wife cooked for us. It just felt like a big family, we volunteered to paint the studio, and those who couldn’t pay for classes, helped his family in other ways. There were Hatha yoga, philosophy, meditation and Pranayama classes. Most of the students were older than me, and some had done yoga for many years. Yet there was no showing off, no competition.
      The last time i went back to Milan i found out that the family had moved to the countryside, obviously life in the city no longer appealed to them. I wonder what he would make of the current yoga craze.

    • Nickie says:

      Nancy, I’m gonna try yoga on a beach towel and kick it old school, but I’m gonna insist that there be a picture of The Little Mermaid on it. You know, my own version of old school ;)

  14. J. Brown says:

    You had me at “mats made of unwashed diapers from the Christ child.” I’d also like to throw in a gripe against videos on youtube of skinny dancer girls doing acrobatics/yoga in their living room. Some people think its inspirational but I’m over it.

    On a serious note, you won’t find the “yoga community” in Yoga Journal. For that, you got to look at the grassroots:

    Thanks for keeping it real.

  15. Nickie says:

    I’m rather fond of those Christ child diapers myself, sir. I thought about letting the youtube videos make me feel bad about myself, but pulled me right out of that by the hair. Sometimes I just want to fold over a bolster and call it a day and to my knowledge that’s not a video worthy practice. Certainly they’re lovely and beautiful girls, but I think it may put people off who see that and think if they don’t have that level of physical ability then yoga isn’t available to them, which couldn’t be farther from the truth.

    You are also correct about there being no yoga community in Yoga Journal – but I remember when I thought that was it. Whew! Thank you for sharing your information, I look forward to checking it out this evening. Cheers to you as well!

  16. whitney says:

    you rule, Nickie!!! see you in down dog.

  17. Pam says:

    Nickie I am so glad to have met you – I love your class and your blog! My yoga-licious comment would fit right in here huh!! Your outlook on things is so fresh and unique! As for counting your wins – getting me to bend forward at the hips each week, keeping my posture right, is a real win! I appreciate your facilitation in class and look forward to my continued growth in this new thing called “yoga”!!!!!!

  18. Nickie says:

    Pam, it’s a win everytime you walk through the door! It wouldn’t be a class without the people there with me, so thank you, thank you very much. I loved the yoga-liscious comment, too honey! My neice calls this business “yo-guts” which I’ve been known to throw around a time or two on my own. See you this week – hug you!

  19. Michael Satori says:

    As one of the probably 10% of men that guide yoga classes and practice.. your article was so great to read ( did I mention I’m a ‘re-invented ‘ 60′s baby boomer that gave up the corporate 6 figure moved to the Southeast :( but have enjoyed guiding classes at an active Senior Retirement community. Your writing was so on target. Thanks for sharing it…

    • Nickie says:

      Thank YOU for sharing. Your life sounds interesting. That move you made couldn’t have been easy, but I bet was fun! I’m glad the article worked for you and that you enjoyed it.

  20. JJ says:

    Somebody just ordered cynical with a side of bitterness, hold the irony

    • Nickie says:

      I don’t feel like I ordered bitterness or cynicism, though my exhaustion with the irony that yoga gets hawked alongside all manner of wares could be mistaken for that. If bitterness is present, I’m bitter because I bought into this too, dutifully ordering a subscription to Yoga Journal to learn more about what I loved and every month coming to a deeper understanding that I was just annother potential buyer. I think the worst, though, is selling the faces, the names and the Yoga-lebrities that aren’t any more adept than the neighborhood teachers who have trained and taught for more than twenty years.

    • Rae says:

      JJ posted on another article something also antagonistic and pretty unfunny about haterade. Don’t lower yourself by justifying him with an intelligent and thoughtful response.

      Here is what he said on the other article, “If they had a Haterade competition you would win hands down…whats your point, hater?”

      the term douche-buffalo comes to mind immediately – but then my monkey mind is kinda mean, and much funnier than DB.

      I love reading the comments, but this guy is just not very witty. Your article was fucking funny – and so true. After feeling like the only yoga teacher at my studio who wore baggy simple clothes, I finally caved and got more stylish stuff, but it did not make me happier, or teach better. I guess it’s marketing. But somehow it just doesn’t feel very authentic. my pops was a yogi, so I grew up doing it, and no one gave a rats ass about their outfit, or gear. they just wanted to feel better and be happier. Oh well, so it goes….

  21. Stewart Lawrence says:

    Nickie, loved your article, this especially, for some reason —

    “While waiting for my callback from America’s Next Top Yogi, I renounce the title of yoga teacher, because I can’t teach anyone anything. I facilitate classes and hope students dive more deeply into themselves. I love yoga students and will supply them with floaties but I will not take credit for their depth. I can’t pull anyone out of a tree; I’m lucky to climb down out of my own perch, and when I land it’ll be on my Jade sticky mat.”

    Refreshing — and isn’t it sad that we must insist on re-stating what should be a time-honored, almost obvious, truth.

    I think the yoga world has gone insane, and the inmates are now running the asylum. And frankly I hope the whole thing blows up, so we can start over from scratch.

    I remember the yoga – and the yoga teachers – from the mid to late 1990s, when yoga first started coming back on the scene, but BEFORE the current big yoga boom.

    We have gained nothing since those days. ZILCH. All my teachers from that era have run for their lives.

    Thanks again.

    • Stewart Lawrence says:

      Well, actually, we did get the wide-bodied John Friend Manduka yoga mat – but apparently that’s now gone, too. They’ve sent them all to a landfill in Encinitas I think.

      • Nickie says:

        I never got down with Manduka, it didn’t seem to travel well, not that I’m a jet setter and all, but in my mind I am ;) I can fit Jade in my purse, but of course what is that saying about the size of my purse? Thanks for your comment and I appreciate the solidarity. The inmates running the aslyum indeed….I liked that point especially. Of course this isn’t a sweeping statement, I have access to wonderful teachers. But! also, it’s insane!

        The whole “I can’t begin to teach this but will only be a facillitator” is something like a mantra now, because I DO facillitate classes and sometimes I leave with as much of a rush as the people participating. It feels so good to finish leading a class that I can feel proud of because I put all my ass behind it (not literally of course, but I’ve got quite a bit of intellectual ass, too) but it’s nothing for me to feel proud of per se. I was lucky enough to have people in there willing to participate. Without them I wouldn’t…

  22. Vision_Quest2 says:

    To all yoga teachers who state, “Yoga is not a competition”, I take you at your word.

    Now, when you teach a class, what is there about the above statement that you don’t understand, if I take the liberty of actually going into child’s pose … or forward fold … or not wanting to go into pigeon …

    My history with you starts or ends at that point … and, NO, I am not interested in a private session …

    • Rae says:

      exactly – i love when students respect their own practice – i encourage it and with almost every pose i tell them, if this doesn’t serve you or feel good skip it and don’t suffer. have fun. breath, practice something else you like or just chill. we are only tour guides as teachers. you’re the one in the body doing their practice, you know when to leave out a pose and be happy. no one pose equals yoga, so do what serves you.

      Just today I had a student comment on how she loves how my classes feel so uncompetitive, and she feels so welcome, and has a great time. she really made my day, as I aspire to have each student just doing their thing and not worrying about their neighbor, just enjoyin blissful epic sad release rejuvenate nap whatever the fuck yoga time. why not?

      • Nickie says:

        Your yoga time sounds wonderful! I know what you mean, having your day made by positive feedback from someone. Thanks for your response!

  23. Sam Trewick says:

    Thanks for this — it’s like you pulled the words out of my brain.

    I would love to work on a list of “old school” yoga resources … teaching and practice tools that aren’t drowned in marketing but are also relevant to today. I strongly feel that yoga appropriately has evolved from when it was developed by tiny Indian men, but I think we share the opinion that all the hype has introduced a cheapness that conflicts at its core with the guiding philosophies of yoga. Got any good leads on where to turn?

    Love ya,
    ~ Sam

  24. Nickie says:

    As for good leads, I have resources that I turn to over and over again. I reference The Bhagavad Gita – my favorite translation is by Eknath Easwaran (he’s pretty old school). I have been surprised by how diligent Iyengar has been in offering material that’s sourced for the modern Western mind, not only his “Light on Yoga” but other books as well. Of course I have all manner of books, but I have learned to rely on my friendly neighborhood teachers for assistance in asana practice, but supplemental resources help, too. Another new addition is “The Eleven Karmic Spaces” by the late Ma Jaya Sat Bhavagati, which is philosophy. An excellent source of inspiration is an Eastern author Ramesh Menon who has translated The Siva Purana, The Mahabrahata and Ramayana into almost novel form for the Western mind. Let me know if this is what you were looking for. I haven’t found a total old school compilation – unless you count the videos from the seventies of Pattabhi Jois teaching the next generation of teachers. Thank you for your comment and inquiry.

  25. Your Sanskrit Tattoo and Its Sacred Graffiti « sanskritforyoga says:

    [...] since Yoga Journal recently announced in one of its latest issues a “yoga tattoo” contest, I’ve finally surrendered to the fact that this is an official trend—and a not-so-new [...]

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