Listen, Learn, Practice: Yoga Spirituality for Atheists

Saturday, March 28, 2015 - 6:08am

Listen, Learn, Practice: Yoga Spirituality for Atheists

I practice Iyengar yoga. Yoga is a discipline. It is grounded in a set of teachings about the body and the mind. What this practice has to do with spirituality is, for me, an open question.

There is no question about one thing: to do yoga in America today is to make a statement. Doing yoga says that you are young and flexible, or maybe just that you are older and determined. You care about more than “just exercise.”

You, and more than 15 million other people, are in recovery from a steady diet of aerobics or running, or too much time spent with re-runs of Sex and the City. Even those who don’t do yoga will gesture vaguely toward the hope that they “should” do yoga, or “get back to” yoga. It is a $5.7 billion dollar industry, with more than 70,000 teachers. The old days of yoga practitioners wearing their tie-dyed T-shirts to the food co-op seem long gone.

I do Iyengar yoga. Not Ashtanga, or Bikram, or the oh-so-generic “Vinyasa” yoga. Naming your yoga is a statement of identity. It situates you as part of a yoga denomination, with a very particular set of doctrines about the way yoga should be practiced.

To do Iyengar is very different than joining into the “flow” of Vinyasa classes, where things go quickly, and sun salutations mix with twists and backbends. There, you might get some music to set the pace — a little Native American flute, perhaps a sitar-inflected hip hop mix, as the teacher tells you to “do what feels good to you.” I’ve even done Oms with Amy Winehouse moaning along. (I’ll admit, I kind of liked it.)

But none of that can be heard in the stolid silence of Iyengar classes. There you find no music, no dancing through a class with your individual flow. You don’t do what “feels good.” You do what is needed, as you launch into an entire class of backbends, or perhaps an hour and a half spent perfecting triangle pose.

Women practice Iyengar yoga in Dolcedo, Italy.

(Andy Polaine / Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).)

As an avowed atheist, with only a tiny inclination toward sentimental humanism, I haven’t had much interest in the yoga sutras or the various books of wisdom that circulate in the yoga world. I’m dubious about collections of yoga poetry or daily meditations. (Although I do have a real fondness for the title of one of those “wisdom” books, which offers a fine bit of Buddhist wariness: After The Ecstasy, the Laundry.) When I challenge my body, quiet my mind, and pay attention to the state of things — this brings me a kind of joy. It is a different joy that what I feel when drinking wine with my friends, and different, too, than the joy of teaching a good class or holding a child’s hand. But a spiritual joy? I liked it when we called that poetry. Or happiness.

I do Iyengar yoga, and as such I am part of a long genealogy. Yoga is a spiritual tradition, thousands of years old, with a complex history intertwined with the development of Indian religious traditions. Americans were fascinated with their understandings of “Hindoo” practices from the mid-19th century onward. Emerson and Thoreau both eagerly read as much as they could about Hinduism. As one yoga history puts it, Thoreau’s A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers “stacks quotes from the Bhagavad-Gita, like cordwood, and recommends it as highly as the Bible.”

Modern posture-based yoga, however, emerged alongside of the U.S. and European physical culture movement of the late 19th century, which associated moral health with physical health, including body-building and gymnastics. The YMCA was a global influence on the early development of this model of intense, individualized focus on athletic health for the masses. The YMCA was big in India, and it had a real influence on yoga’s modern development. In 1905 bodybuilder Eric Sandow traveled to India to promote physical culture; by that time, he was, according to Mark Singleton, “already a cultural hero.”

B.K.S. Iyengar at a conference in Moscow in 2009.

(Marat Z / Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).)

While Indians were embracing physical culture along the Western model, they were also embracing and reimagining yoga into a form of nationalist pride and anti-imperialist cultural production. As we might imagine, there were competing schools and approaches, but most shared the sense that India needed to re-energize its ancient traditions with a vital awakening of the (male) body.

At this point, several sages also began to export their own visions of the practice of yoga to the West. Some, like Vivekananda, taught breathing exercises along with philosophical lectures, while others introduced the few simple postures associated with hatha yoga in India.

It was only in the 1920s that Yogananda (Autobiography of a Yogi) introduced a version of yogic “muscle control,” which drew on the metaphysics of the American New Thought movement and the bodily postures of European bodybuilding as well as Hindu traditions. Yogananda told his followers that this practice offered “the highest possible degree of mental, physical, and spiritual well-being at the minimum expenditure of time and effort.” The Indian sage already understood the efficiency obsessions of his American audience.

I practice Iyengar yoga. The Iyengar style of yoga comes from the teaching of B. K. S. Iyengar, one of the most influential yogis in the world. He died in 2014 at the age of 95, and he was already an extraordinary practitioner in the 1930s. Here is a 1938 practice video:

His innovation was to slow down the yoga practice, and to demand the most profound and particular attention to detail.

B.K.S. Iyengar assists in an Iyengar Yoga class in 2009 in Moscow.

(Marat Z / Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).)

Iyengar-style teachers will teach the poses deliberately, slowly. As an advanced student, when I go to class, I know I will be asked to hold the pose for a long time while carefully attending to alignment: the hands perfectly spaced, the pelvis balanced, the “three points” of the feet positioned evenly on the earth. The teacher may well explain the exact angle for the correct positioning of the foot in a standing pose or how to do camel pose by curling your upper back, right at T4 (for the initiated, that’s the 4th thoracic vertebrae).

These perfected bodily alignments are not achieved easily, however, and Iyengar yoga is known for its students’ enthusiastic embrace of an impressive array of props. There are blocks that extend the reach, and belts to tighten splaying body parts, and blankets and blocks and metal folding chairs, even ropes hanging from hooks in the walls. All of this can make the average Iyengar studio appear vaguely like a set-up for an S&M session, albeit with big windows and cheery lights.

An Iyengar yoga class in Vicenza, Italy.

(Augusto Mia Battaglia / Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).)

B. K. S. Iyengar was still a boy when modern hatha yoga began to become popular in India. He was a student of Krishnamacharya, the famous founder of the “Mysore school” that taught a vigorous form of yoga to young Brahmins. Iyengar eventually went to teach in Pune, a provincial capital in Western India, quite distant from the elite and insulated culture of the Mysore Palace. In Pune he taught students who were far removed from the young, flexible boys who had been the core of the Mysore tradition under Krishnamacharya. Working with non-adepts, Iyengar eventually started to slow down the practice, and to use the props for which he became famous.

From here, there is a longer story that could be told about the embrace of yoga in the West, and the development of competing systems like that of Iyengar and Pattabhi Jois, the founder of Ashtanga yoga. (He and Iyengar soon became global stars and serious rivals.) Iyengar was a much admired yoga teacher in India in the 1940s, but he became the exemplar of modern yoga for the West when he published Light on Yoga in 1966. That book quickly became the standard reference, bringing yoga to a new generation of Americans and Europeans.

In 2004, Time declared Iyengar to be one of the most influential people in the world. The full and rather remarkable history of Iyengar’s life and his global influence cannot be adequately recounted here. It is told elsewhere, including in Iyengar’s autobiography Iyengar: His Life and Work.

I practice Iyengar yoga. Just as surely as it says something about what happens when I walk into class, this statement locates me firmly in the social order of the yoga world. In that world, the Ashtanga yogis are the track stars and the class presidents. They glide through conferences, with shoulders sculpted by sun salutations, looking lithe and confident.

The Bikram folks are purified by their steamy practice rooms. I’m pretty sure the phrase “hot yoga” wasn’t meant as a pun, but it’s hard to avoid the association: these yogis look good, and they wear excellent, color-coordinated spandex. The Anusara yogis are lovely, emotionally open souls who are destined to run the bake sales that raise money for children’s charities. The Iyengar folks like to think of ourselves as more intellectual and precise. For everybody else, we’re more like the kids who stay home on Saturday night, carefully searching for flaws in the design of Klingon war ships.

(Maksim Djačkov / Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).)

For me, yoga in the West began when I showed up at Patricia Walden’s studio in Somerville, Massachusetts, in the mid-1980s. Walden was not yet the yoga superstar she would become when she made Yoga Journal’s "Yoga for Beginners" blockbuster videos. She was, however, an amazing teacher, and I knew it. Nonetheless, I developed slowly as a yoga student.

It was a hit or miss relationship for a long while. I would go to a class, try to do some yoga at home, watch Patricia’s tapes once in a while. I liked yoga — liked it well before Madonna or Gwyneth or Sting. But I was busy living my 20s and then my 30s, and consistency wasn’t my strong point: who had time?

Eventually, and for many reasons, I developed into a serious student with a daily yoga practice. I began to pay attention to the things that happened on the mat: how my body worked in this pose or that. When my mind wandered. When I gave up, and why. I struggled with poses — particularly with my bête noire, backbends. And I struggled, too, to figure out how I was supposed to get better at backbends if I was somehow also supposed to be “non-attached.” And, finally, in the middle of all that attention and struggle, I found my teacher.

I do Iyengar yoga and my teacher is John Schumacher. To name and claim one’s teachers is a common practice among serious yogis, a sign of respect. As a professor, I’m very impressed by this. For me, claiming John is also a statement about commitment; I’ve spent ten years in his classes, and I’m not going anywhere. John, however, is not my guru. He doesn’t do guru. And that’s one reason he’s remained my teacher; I don’t do guru either. What I do is listen and learn. And practice. And practice some more. And again the next day.

John is a particular kind of teacher, one who says relatively little about yoga philosophy directly, channeling pretty much everything through the poses themselves. Funny, sardonic, a little bit reserved, he is brilliant at structuring a class sequence. He demands attentiveness, and he offers attentiveness in turn. He also offers correction and advice, helping all of us avoid injury and commit to our practice.

In the remarkably demanding hours I spend in his class, I learn a great deal, but my emotional state is usually a strange combination of fearless jubilance and despair of my own inadequacy. (Iyengar himself is famously a hard ass; don’t let his winsome smile fool you.) John is a generous presence but a hard teacher. He is not a warm and fuzzy cheerleader for my empowerment. He does not begin class by reading a yoga sutra or end it by reading a poem. I am deeply grateful all of these things.

See, I don’t want to be part of a yoga world of happy talk about unending potential and perfect happiness. I don’t have much time for the kind of self-impressed platitudes that give yoga a bad name. Like so many of the secular, health-oriented, somewhat prideful members of my clan, I do yoga to quiet my brain, not to fill it with nonsense.

And yet nonsense abounds. Several years ago, I dropped in on a class at another studio. As class began, the teacher offered her thoughts about the goodness of the world and its benevolence toward us. “If you just reach out with your intention,” she said sagely, “the universe will rise to meet you half-way.” I almost walked out. The earthquake in Japan had happened the day before.

John also took the time to offer some thoughts. There is generally an opportunity at the beginning of class for us to ask questions, but these mostly involve things like where to put your elbow in a seated twist. This time, someone asked a question about the meaning of a yoga sutra. The sutra (II:3) states that “clinging to life” is an obstacle, “a pain-bearing obstruction.” In response, John said that “clinging to life” does not refer to what we do when we fight off an attacker or get surgery for cancer. Instead, clinging is the refusal to accept the reality of our own deaths, not just intellectually or abstractly, but fully and profoundly. To avoid clinging is to avoid the mistakes we make, both quotidian and profound, when we live without a recognition — an embrace — of our own mortality.

An Iyengar class in Dolcedo, Italy.

(Andy Polaine / Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).)

If this sounds like the yoga version of The Bucket List (or, worse, Tim McGraw’s maudlin country hit, “Live Like you were Dying”), it wasn’t. The point is that the practice of attentiveness — the fundamental practice that yoga cultivates — should lead us to contemplate the full reality of our life, which includes its inevitable end. As the yogi Richard Freeman puts it:

“Yoga is a rehearsal for death.”

That is the universe rising up to meet you.

For me, this discussion was a rare moment when I had some inclination of what “yoga spirituality” might mean, particularly for someone who doesn’t actually believe in spirituality. In this version, there is no promise of health or happiness. There is only our embrace of reality, in both its quiet joys and its suffering. We recognize ourselves as part of the universe, and we accept that universe’s fundamental indifference to us. Then we see what flows from that.

I suspect that this embrace of death, and life, doesn’t arise from an act of will or from reading the right books. Maybe, though, it comes from the act of the placing one’s feet in exactly the right alignment, and paying attention.

This essay was originally published on the SSRC Frequencies blog and is reprinted with permission under a Creative Commons License.

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Melani McAlister

is the chair of the Department of American Studies and Associate Professor of American Studies, International Affairs, and Media & Public Affairs at the George Washington University. She is the author of Epic Encounters: Culture, Media, and U.S. Interests in the Middle East since 1945. She has also written for The Washington Post, The New York Times, and The Nation.

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I practice Bedroom Yoga. That is, yoga I practice every morning in my bedroom, from a book I bought 40 years ago when I was looking for a way to quiet my anxious mind. I practice Bedroom Yoga to keep my spine straight and supple as I grow into old age, and to get my ass moving in the mornings so I don't end up on the couch watching reruns of Madmen. And even though the neighborhood yogis all day long bustle with purpose to and from the yoga studio down the street from my home--and some, I confess bustle with self-importance--I'm still quite ok with my Bedroom Yoga because it creates order, quiet and a sliver of self-discipline in my life. But I don't begrudge the neighborhood yogis their gurus, their beliefs or their mantras--if it brings them peace, Ahhh, they are lucky to have found some.

I practice Bedroom Yoga. It has no founder, no guru, no teacher, except a 40 year-old book on Hatha yoga. And that's ok too.

funny, I practice living room yoga every morning for years more than I care to count. nothing fancy, just poses I have picked up in classes and magazines that work for me. I know my life and my children's lives have benefited from my practice so will keep it up. maybe one day will study deeper, but this has been enough to date and I am grateful for it.

Well said. I learned yoga from a book I ordered in 1968 from Eve Diskin in Miami. She was so happy that someone wanted her book that she sent it to me for free and my roommate and I practiced on beach towels in the back yard to the hoots and laughter of the others in the dorm. There was good solid health information in that book that I use and apply - lo these many years later. It all comes down to you and the good that you can do yourself with a little help and a little discipline.

I took my first yoga classes in Miami with Eve Diskin. I have since found and love Iyengar yoga. As we age and have physical restrictions BKS has, by the use of props made the practice available to all.

So funny! Though my particular couch weakness is the New Adventures of Old Christine.

Very interesting reflections on yoga practice, thanks for sharing them.

I hope the author can get through her anger and fears using her yoga practice.

And a word of caution, the metaphor of "quieting the mind" is a powerful and yet potentially dangerous one.

Curious, what anger and fears do you see here? What I see is a profound level of self acceptance and moving toward something that works for them as an individual. What I see in your comment is self-righteousness and unnecessary arrogance. Perception is an interesting thing, and mindfulness carries through how we choose to construct our communications.

Clinging to a yoga identity, ie. Iyengar, is identifying with a wave in the Ocean of Being. Yoga has existed for thousands of years and over a large span of Earth. Identifying with style or asana is as unliberating as identification with body. A quiet body and a quiet mind may help lead the prepared and dedicated practitioner to awareness of Self/Reality/freedom. Breath, linking body and mind, is but one unmentioned awareness in the article. There is so much more, as well as depths of Silence which yoga offers us. Don't settle for a brand, seek the source.

Well said. Yes yes yesssssssss.

The greatest alignment of all is consciousness; technique is no substitute. May we all be liberated from hierarchical labeling and compassionately and respectfully allow others their own path.

Thanks for the article which I enjoyed. It got me to thinking about the many conversations I've heard and participated in about yoga over the years. What strikes me is that in all of the talk about schools and styles and identities- something that we can lose sight of is the "why" - why do we keep at it? In these conversations we can lose sight of the joy of living and of the ways we work to recapture this joie de vivre. I've taught yoga [my version] as well as many other forms of exercise, improv, movement and sport. Nothing works for everybody. What interests me is what will be effective to bring back that spark of life for the person I'm working with. What I love most is working with people who will never be athletes or accomplished yogis or brilliant performers. Yoga is just the vehicle to get things rolling. There comes a time when we graduate back into our lives and being the person we were created to be. Just my two cents. Thanks for the article. Good job.

I appreciate the author's honest perspective. It was very eye opening for me. However, I do not appreciate her seemingly self-important and judgmental tone.

To me, yoga is about yoking with God(dess) and feeling my connection to a source that is expansive, loving and powerful: a connection I feel acutely when embodied, attentive and quiet, which often happens for me on the yoga mat. As a Hatha, Christian yoga instructor of five years, I welcome my students to use the practice to connect to the God of their own understanding. I've come to learn that my style of teaching is not for everyone and that that's completely okay. I get that those who prefer a hyper focus on alignment will not return to my class and I don't take that personally. We live in a diverse and abundant universe where there is plenty of room for each instrument in the symphony of life and each "style" of yoga. We can only be who we are authentically, and if that means being someone who reads Rumi poems at the end of a yoga class, so be it.

The author's tribal and dualistic way of thinking seems to be yet another fearful way of walking through the world, and it saddens me that this mindset exists in the yoga community, too. It's this "us vs. them" mindset that will keep us in a cycle of segregation, war and beyond.

Agree. While I appreciate the opportunity to consider the different types of yoga, the amount of judgment in this article is disappointing.

I came to yoga, without any idea of the various "schools", to connect mind and body during a difficult time in my life. I've come to love it because of instructors that emphasize non-judgment and openness. If this article had been my introduction to yoga, I may never have stepped on the mat.

In looking at Iyengar's teachings, it does not appear that this was what he intended:

“You must purge yourself before finding faults in others.
When you see a mistake in somebody else, try to find if you are making the same mistake.
This is the way to take judgment and to turn it into improvement.
Do not look at others' bodies with envy or with superiority.
All people are born with different constitutions.
Never compare with others.
Each one's capacities are a function of his or her internal strength.
Know your capacities and continually improve upon them.”
-BKS Inyengar, Light on Life

I see some are discussing style(of yoga) style is of use as a guide its not the end, you can come to the end of style and be liberated in your practice. Try this, absorb what is useful, reject what you find useless, and what is specifically you (your own) choose nothing extraneous, be efficient, and make practice yourjoy.
-so says a guy after 30 years in arts of the marital kind...


Hathayoga, because of its focus on method, has a long history of encompassing divergent philosophical, religious and even completely non-religious backgrounds. The Dattatreyayogasastra, an early (c. 13th century) manuscript that teaches hathayoga states:
Whether a Brahmin, an ascetic, a Buddhist, a Jain, a Skull-Bearer or a
materialist, the wise man who is endowed with faith and constantly devoted
to the practice of yoga will attain complete success.
(translation by James Mallinson)

I don't know why people join organizations or movements of any kind, only to criticize what birthed them; it's really not fair.
This very critical article shows to me a fear of spirituality; a very common human condition.
Until she is ready, suggest she practice her physical prowess in a gym.

The author’s path to a certain kind of joy starts from challenging her body, which quiets her mind and allows her to pay attention to the state of things. For others that path can also begin by challenging their bodies, but in different ways. My friend is not a good swimmer and has to be mindful of his swimming technique to keep afloat. For him the swim is active meditation. The practitioners of other yoga styles I think would feel the same way. Even if their yoga style is not as precise nor as rigorous as the one the author practices. (Or more rigorous, as in power yoga.) It quiets their minds and takes them into the present moment. It brings them joy.

The author’s disparagement of other forms of yoga posture practice, and those who choose to do them, comes from a place of reverence for her own beloved Iyengar practice. It’s a common and very human tendency (i.e. “Go Red Sox! Yankees Suck!) To each his own. I honestly can’t knock her too hard for her narrow-mindedness. Yoga as it’s proliferated today in the West has been diluted and sanitized of most of its depth, to make it more palatable and marketable in our secular world; it’s become a form of exercise and not the ethical (and spiritual) practice it truly was - and is.

But, even though the author seems to bemoan the dilution of yoga practice, she herself admits that she has NOT chosen to study any of the ancient yoga texts, or the philosophy (perhaps because of the taint of theism or spirituality she might find there?) I find this curious, especially because she’s an academic. I’m guessing after 20 years of practice, though, the author is aware that Yoga is not just doing postures, but also includes breath control, inner awareness, concentration, and meditation. And that it also includes ethical precepts of compassion, austerity, cleanliness, non stealing, non accumulation, and self study. All of which can be practiced as an atheist. (Patanjali, who wrote the Yoga Sutras 2300+/- years ago, stated that a surrender to a higher power is also helpful - although not required - when doing these practices.)

She seems to clearly find her solace through posture alone (“I practice Iyengar Yoga.”) I wonder: perhaps her attitude of criticism, insecurity and judgment could be attributable to this avoidance of the other very vital limbs of practice?

Done regularly and consistently for a long time, with reverence for the process, ALL the yoga practices clear the conditioning of ignorance and fear from our perception of reality, so that eventually, we may become fully realized human beings. In the process of becoming fully human, we more readily manifest compassion, reverence, joy and equanimity towards our other fellow planet dwellers - even when they seem to least deserve it.

Check out Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra 1.33 for more on this. In fact, I highly recommend to the author that she get past her bias against the ancient texts and consider reading them. There’s wisdom there.

That's a really good article, just so complete.

Thank you for an intelligent and honest article. I also am unimpressed by "feel-gooderism" in the yoga world. Sometimes you feel good, sometimes bad, this is always life. I very much dislike the current use of the term "the universe" in such situations. It feels like a new superstition. That they might as well as substitute it with "Jesus" or "Santa Claus" or "the Easter Bunny".

In terms of Iyengar Yoga, which I practised and loved for several years, several years ago, the main issue I have is the lack of emphasis on movement, in particular flowing movement. I am emphatically not talking about Vinyasa Flow here, more along the lines of Tai Chi or dance. When these elements naturally start to evolve in my practice, I noticed a rapid and easy freeing up of areas that, whilst progressing in more regular Iyengar-esqueholds, were still resistant. The flowing actions, I feel, created conditions that enabled these areas to Allow themselves to let go. To Ease out of their constriction. I introduced gentle flowing actions into my class, still very much informed and supported by technical structuring from my Iyengar experience, and the results were fantastic. I believe that along with passion, a certain casualness, elegance, ease creates truly beautiful yoga... or, work smart, not hard.

One thing I noticed afterwards was, when going out dancing with Iyengar Yoga teacher friends, was certain staccatto quality to their movments. A certain lack of physical freedom. A bit uptight... I notice this in Astanga Vinyasa people also, bodies that are flexible but not open, strong but not light. The key is water, the strenght of softness.

I also believe the strict style is completely old fashioned, artificial and insulting to intelligent adults, that all the late 19th century and 20th century famous yogis were all essentially Victorian prudes, their spiritual talk sounds the same as some English country vicar, and that in general Yoga philosophy has got it wrong when it teaches disidentification from the body towards a "soul". The body is the intelligent one.

Also just to say that the yoga tradition that first came to the west, known as the Krisnamacharya lineage, from what I can gather is a lineage that really just began with him. Within the wider context of Indian yoga alone (and yoga is not an Indian trademark no matter what Indian nationalists like to claim) it is merely a footnote. And all these guys were essential conformist Brahmin family men, adapting strange occult practises for ordinary people. I dont hold this against them, they had families to support,and can see why this helped them to be palatable to the West. But these patriarchs dont appeal to me, as a nonconformist outsider. Yogis (and much as I dislike and dont use this term, here I use its original meaning as some kind of committed Adept) did not pursue such lifestyles.

Finally, on these lines, the turgid, dull Patanjali is in no way the summit of yoga philosophy, one among many and largely forgotten before the Victorian prudes seized on him, perhaps because he is easy to misinterpret along moralistic lines.

Ok. Thats me. Thanks again and so nice to hear other yoga people who think for themselves.

No namastes for me... rather kindest regards

Hi! I like your comment! And I am also a nonconformist and believe in incorporating movement into my practice on a very solid and technical base (so is my instructor, though I sometimes have to ignore her when she talks). :) I essentially find practicing asanas and being precise, breathing techniques, meditation as I have come to understand it, and the idea that my practice can allow me to let go of things that aren't serving me (I like that term) are the only traditional class instructed values that I can hold onto and believe. I am, unfortunately, unaware of any like-minded individuals in my studio, so it has been difficult to explore my practice further, which is disheartening as I am fairly new in my own practice. If you have any recommendations for sites, blogs, books, or just a general recommendation of ignore all of it and just move I would really appreciate it!

I really appreciated this article because I too struggle with some of the spiritual teachings in yoga practice. As a student of gender/race issues (intersectionality/privilege) as well as a dabbler in the sciences, the idea that the universe is influenced by my intention or that there is some sort of system of positive/negative checks and balances is absurd to me.

Yesterday at yoga my instructor asked us to send our positive energy that we had built during pranayama and meditation out to someone we cared about...or to Syrian refugees in crisis. In that moment I was so heartbreakingly torn between feeling forgiving because of the good intention of it, and feeling disgusted by the sheer lack of understanding of privilege. It is important to be aware, not only of the issues that are occurring globally, but that it is gauche to think that an outpouring of energy (aka endorphins) from a bunch of privileged people paying a bunch of money to practice yoga is in any way meaningful beyond giving yourself a pat on the back. Your comments about Fukushima and your practice really hit home for me there.

It is so interesting to me how valuing yoga for a divergent set of reasons causes people to lash out as though you are being judgmental, and in truth I am. So are they. We are human, and being discerning and biased is a thing that we do and from which we have no escape. This is also why this article is so important. Instead of creating conflict in a studio and in your own life, you found a place where you fit and a teacher that fits you (as you fit him). Why can't people see that is a good thing instead of demanding that your practice resemble their own?

Glad I found this! I am currently getting certified with my 200hr training and it has been frustrating that my teachers and classmates put such emphasis on the spiritual aspects of yoga-- professing of heaven, reincarnation, and other supernatural beliefs. They definitely have a right to believe what they want to, but I wish we could practice in the world we live in, if you know what I mean.

Like Tori, I am also in the process of getting my 200hr certification. After this past weekend entirely spent on chakras and with discussions of "energy" and "the universe" and "vibrations", I was feeling alienated so I googled around and landed on this article. I strive to exist in the real world. Yoga has had a profound effect on my life, but not because of the "energy", but because of the mindfulness and the embodiment it has provided me. That's why I'm in training so I can teach that. But I want to be so careful to stay firmly grounded in reality and, also, avoid the blindness of privilege. So huge thanks to the author of this article and Tori, I'm glad to know that there's someone else in this boat too.