yoga mean girls

Photo: lululemon athletica/Flickr

Don’t be a yoga mean girl.

Don’t do some complicated, super advanced pose as if you’re warming up, while we’re all just waiting for the teacher, and don’t pretend you’re not looking to see if everyone is watching you.

Don’t say under you breath, “Fat girls shouldn’t do yoga.” Don’t move someone else’s yoga mat because you deserve to be closer to the teacher even though you came into class late. Don’t name-drop all your famous teacher friends, saying ...”I was having lunch with Deepak last week...”

If you’re a yoga teacher: Definitely don’t be a mean girl — in fact, I’d go so far as to say don’t be a yoga bitch. Don’t preen in front of the class and demonstrate the hardest poses and then tell your students to “be 100 percent responsible for not getting an injury.” Don’t demonstrate the hardest poses as if you’re on a shoot for a yoga magazine instead of walking around making sure people know what the hell you’re talking about.

Don’t blather on about your latest book/video/CD during class. Don’t tell long, rambling stories about yourself. Don’t ignore everyone who can’t touch their toes, who isn’t sexy, who appears to be frightened and cowering in the back. Don’t yell at people or laugh at them. Don’t single out a student and say “Where’d you learn that?!” Don’t make fun of people. Don’t judge. Don’t be a yoga bitch!

Expecting compassion and generosity

Even in the yoga world — where we’re supposed to be all one and compassionate and generous — people aren’t always nice. There are mean girls, bad boys (who mostly just take off their shirts and make inappropriate adjustments, but that’s another story...), showoffs, cliquers, and holier-than-thous. I thought, perhaps just like you, that yoga would be a sanctuary, away from the small cruelties of the regular world. I thought, here I could put down my mat, open my heart, and relax. But fear not: Yogis are just like everyone else. I can tell you firsthand: Yoga bitches abound.

In my first few years in the yoga world, as a student and then a teacher, I didn’t realize that yogis were simply people too, struggling with their simple-people struggles: insecurity, fear, anxiety. I thought they would be kind, or at least trying to be kind, or at least self-reflective when they were not kind.

Maybe there’s something about yoga that brings out the inner bitch. Maybe it’s the skintight, sexy clothes. Or the way your body starts to be able to do crazy things, like splits, or flying side crow, or forearm balance. Things that make you feel better than everyone else who can’t do those things. People look at you with envy and awe, and then blammo! You start to think you might actually be cooler than everyone else. And all of a sudden, you’re a yoga bitch.

It was a lesson I would encounter again and again on my journey and it took me far too long to realize that these small-minded and incidental cruelties were a result of insecurity. Of course this type of behavior is hardly confined to the yoga world. This is life in general. Somewhere right now, a girl is making someone else feel bad. But somehow, in yoga class, it just feels worse.

Unfortunately, faux-gis abound

These faux-gis are the ones whispering behind their hands, commenting slyly and rudely — and sometimes being openly hostile. My shock that this type of girl is so overly represented in the yoga world was eventually replaced by an understanding that just because yoga espoused kindness, it didn’t mean that all yogis would be kind.

But I knew that I felt infinitely happier when I saw a nervous student enter the class and I went up and introduced myself and welcomed her. That’s all any of us want on a deep, soul level — some community, some camaraderie, someone to see us and say hello.

Even when I’m teaching the huge classes, the international programs, making the DVDs, I am still the victim of the snide sideways glance. Until I move to the front of the room and start to teach. Then those students who were just condescending to me turn on the shine, because I might have some benefits to confer on them. Not as a teacher, but as someone closer to the power center that they crave.

Blame it on insecurity

I try hard not to take it personally. I know we are all just human, just doing the best we can. We have to forgive others for their bad behavior. And by practicing that, we learn to forgive ourselves for our own imperfections and our own bad behavior.

The yoga bitch has her insecurities, troubles and fears. In fact, her behavior points clearly to that. No one acts rudely and mean out of a place of inner peace and contentment.            

There is some innate fear in each of us that we will be the one singled out, the one getting the slushy in our face, for being different. For not belonging. And often, we take our fears, and instead of examining them rationally, simply force them away. Often, to ensure that we don’t become the victim, we become the victimizer.

But is the answer to meanness, meanness? Is it an eye for an eye, or turning the other cheek?

Or maybe it’s a third alternative, a yogic answer. First: If you feel like being mean, stop, and reflect on why. Take a moment of svadyaya — self study. Is there some part of you that is hurting? Instead of acting out, find some way to comfort yourself within. And for those on the receiving end of a cruelty, try offering an olive branch to someone who might just be insecure and acting out that insecurity by being mean. Maybe be nice to them instead. Because if we all just keep beating each other up, pretty soon, we are all just beaten.

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