The Yogi Doth Protest Too Much


This article was required reading for my yoga teacher training, part of our consideration of the psychodynamics of teaching and learning. It was quite eye-opening, and helped me make sense of some of the discomfort around some of the interactions I have on occasion witnessed, especially at very large workshops. My reaction follows the excerpt.

Yogis like to argue as much as any other subculture, despite the mislabeling of us as pacifist. But one fact that most yogis can agree on is that the overwhelming percentage of yoga practitioners in the US are women. Probably as much as 90%, though in some city centers, where yoga is more mainstream it might be more like 70%. Regardless, women make up the largest demographic. And as women, it makes complete sense to be extremely upset by the sexual use and abuse by male teachers in the highest echelons of yoga. From the Indian men who brought yoga to the west, right down to the recently humiliated John Friend, male yogis have been abusing their power the way men usually abuse power – sexual exploitation. So yes, the yoga women, in my opinion, have every right to be angry, rageful even.

But lest the pot be accused of calling the kettle black, I think it is important to look at the other side of the equation. No one, to my knowledge, has ever called out the abuse by women in the yoga community. From the highest echelons of female yoga teachers, down to the newest girl graduate from her weekend Teacher Training, women yogis abuse their power the way women usually abuse power: by being cruel, demeaning, spiteful, catty, cliquey, condescending, manipulative, and downright mean.

via Yoga Modern » The Yogi Doth Protest Too Much.

This is the comment I posted to the blog:

I feel like I have just walked past the girls’ locker room when some conversation spilled out. Of course, this occurs over 30 years too late for me, because I went to an all boys’ high school. But it would take yoga to flush out an awareness of this dynamic I had not had before.

As a sociologist as well as a yogi, I do feel compelled to point out that culturally, it is male dominance that causes women’s appearance to be valued over their many other fine qualities. Structurally, it is wage gap between men and women that make yoga studios—numerically dominated by women—a site for women’s success, and therefore also of the seamy underside of competition. So even as we seek to identify “mean girls,” we should trace this aberrant behavior back to its source in the gender stratification of our society.

This article is for men, too, even if in training to become a yoga teacher we are seeking both to participate in a female-led enterprise and consciously to eschew the more gross abuses of male power. We still may fall prey to these more subtle ones, by allowing ourselves to be flattered by and drawn into the orbit of one of the particularly flash yoginis, participating in the form of bullying that culture and structure open to them.

This post is especially thought-provoking and I am grateful you have had the courage, wisdom, and insight to shine light upon this issue.

I’ve written it rather densely above, seeking brevity in my comments. But basically I see it  this way: hooray for yoga. In a society dominated by men, here is an enterprise, spiritual and otherwise, in which women get to lead. A true humanist should jump at the chance to participate in such a reversal. “Women hold up half the sky,” says a Chinese proverb, and sometimes a bit more, others have added. It would be good to act like it.

But women sociologists have pointed out more subtle instances of sex discrimination in the workplace. Even in the academy, which should know better, women are sometimes valued for feminine characteristics, writing in a faculty evaluation, for instance, that she is “very nurturing” toward her students. And we know in yoga that what is more subtle is more valued. So male yogis, especially those of us seeking as I am the path of teacher training, should be aware, not only of the egregious abuses of our brethren, but also of the ways in which women use power over each other. As I sociologist I see these ways as artifacts of a system which makes women feel lack. They are devalued to the point where their appearance becomes all-important, and scrambling for scarce resources even in these their own businesses. It’s not enough for us humanist men to work on the abstract, macro level cultural and structural level. It’s not enough for us to become merely aware of what’s spilling out of the girls’ locker room. We must particularly be vigilant about having our male egos flattered by the mean girls, thereby being drawn into these power dynamics, in which we already participate, by virtue of male privilege.

Needless to say, this article is very provocative and has set my brain on fire, so to remind me ever to seek my heart in this. The question becomes how to respond, not only with awareness, but compassion, and good, solid boundaries.

About Richard Hudak

I am Senior Adjunct Faculty in Sociology at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, and I have been a practitioner of Anusara™ yoga. I have completed 200 hours of teacher training within its diaspora community, consistent with its philosophy and alignment principles.
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4 Responses to The Yogi Doth Protest Too Much

  1. Seb says:

    Thank you for this article and your comment. Much welcomed for great discussions.

    I believe that we all have to work on the root of violence and the different expressions it takes to realize that, although shaped by cultures and the internalization of various disciplinary apparatus (including genderization practices), violence goes much deeper than all this. Our relationships to violence is generic at this point: it is characterizing our very expression as a Being, modulating much of the ways in which we relate to the world, including neo-darwinian rationalities about the “laws” of Nature and ourselves; schemes of economic competitiveness in hope to generate world peace and prosperity; the praise of agonistic politics since at least Montesquieu in thinking that political opposition is key to “free society,” biopolitics via the rise of new eugenic such as transhumanism, and so much more of what constitutes what we share as worldviews, currently shaping our understanding of what is true/false, bad/good, fair/unfair, male/female, and so on.

    I do understand that women just like men are subjugated to very similar degrees of conditionings. I neither deny the particularities of women in this (as this would deny the advances of feminism in recent years and promote the mere assimilation of women by making them “no different” than men), nor to I deny the particularity of their mistaken ways, when occurring.

    Yet it would be mistaken to level out the ways in which pernicious hierarchical filters have been created in much of the male-dominated cultures on Earth right now: women may have to deal with egoistic behaviors similar than men–yet somewhat differently expressed–they are still the object of incredibly damaging and disproportionate violence on this planet, mostly encouraged by this mindset that believe that male are superior by Nature, associated with the mischief of sorcery and Nature that ought to be dominated (see the work of historian Carolyn Merchant) more politically fit (from Aristotle to lately the new Catholic Pope Francis), favored by God in have rightful authority over women (the Coran), excluded from yoga practice or their higher forms, and the ways in which they are subjugated by strait-up male cultural domination in some expressions of Hinduism, as remarkably illustrated by the movie of Deepa Mehta, Water (a must see).

    In short, although I agree we have to recognize the particularities of women in facing the challenge of embracing ahimsa (non-violence), this shouldn’t waterdown the extreme degree of violence, persecution, degradation at sometimes the most subtle levels they are enduring and internalizing in a vast amount of male-dominated cultures.

    In a world disproportionally dominated by males, I believe that this topic is something for women healing circle to investigate and address. We, as “men,” have enough to work on when it comes to the part we play in replicating–sometimes at very subtle levels–thoughts, indignations and behaviors that directly harms women as we project them to be.

    May all being be free and happy

    Seb

    • Richard Hudak says:

      I agree, Seb. I don’t believe I am at all watering down the injuries of male dominance. Rather, I am suggesting that the subtler things that women do to each other, what we might relegate “women problems,” (“oh, let’s gawk at those cat fights, how ’bout it, fellas”) have their origins in male-dominated culture and social structure. By no means does this let anyone off the hook for their own behavior. It means that more conscious, humanist, or even feminist men can’t satisfy themselves that they are different, without attending to the subtler ways in which their participation also perpetuates the system.

  2. Seb says:

    Beautiful Richard. Just wanted to make sure that potential readers have a better understanding of our respective positions on such a delicate issue. Thank you so much for the conversation (and sorry for the typo above, I cannot fix them hahaha).

  3. Pingback: Knowledge | The Considered Kula

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