The Discovery of Ignorance

I’m teaching a yoga workshop this Saturday the 15th from 1pm-3pm at Samsara Wellness Center 5301 Office Park Way, in Bakersfield. Please come!

Before my stint at YogaWorks in the late naughts I perform sukhasana sitting Indian style. You know, legs cross, butt on the floor, like a kid. Check out “Light On Yoga” published in the early part of last century, you’ll see what I mean. Last century all the yogis do easy pose this way. Sukhasana isn’t a thing, a challenge, a sweat inducer until my membership at YW. My teacher for the 200hr yoga teacher training insists the pose is a swastika. She wants my shins parallel to the front edge of my mat, each ankle directly beneath each knee, with my ankles in deep flexion. This causes tremendous pain in my damaged hip. Disappointment sets in. This simple pose is one of the beginning ones and it hurts like hell.

How am I going to teach people how to sit like this?

I gotta find out before I’m loose on the world as super-Kumari, secret agent yoga instructor. After class I ask the teacher to observe me. Nothing I ever did in yoga before was painful and this pose is agonizing. I ask her to tell me what I’m doing wrong. Education, that’s what I paid for, I’m justified in asking. If she can’t show me how to do this level one asana then who’s failing whom? So. So there I am in a quasi-gym with a skinny young person yoga instructor, a woman who wears make-up to class and torn t-shirts without a bra. A person who calls us “yogis” and “yoginis” even though no one in class is living this as their actual religion. Jackie tells me right off the bat I don’t know what I’m doing. Duh. I stubbornly reiterate, “that’s why I’m asking you, because I want to learn how to do this pose.”

“You’re never going to learn it,” Jackie insists. wow. I feel a flush of rage channeling up my spine. “You’re never going to learn it,” she repeats Stoically, “unless you get off your ego and start sitting on blankets.”

wait, what? What do I do with blankets? My course lasts a total of nine months. Here we are in month 8.5 and this is the first Jackie mentions of my sitting on blankets? If my body type necessitates such a prop she’s a pig for not mentioning them on day one. My opinion of her has never been high, but now it dissolves to nothing. What would she have done if I had not asked? Graduate me with an utterly meaningless 200hr certificate? She is (obviously) willing to let me complete the whole course without explaining the very basics. The discovery of ignorance is probably always a little sticky. But this? Qualifies mos def: sucks more than average. What with the way she yaks about “detachment” rest assured she doesn’t give a fuck. Show me a person who is totally detached and I’ll show you a sociopath. Egoism creates altruism.

Egoism creates altruism? The yoga teacher who does well hires an agent, a manager and lots of assistants. These people work together to provide more yoga to more consumers. These people also all receive paychecks and spend money. What happens next? An entire community is enriched rather than just the swami-guruji. Feudalism may be based in divine will, but it benefits very few. It supposes nothing can change, and nothing will as long as the vast majority of people work very very very hard for subsistence living. Under a caste system treating others poorly due to the accident of their birth is considered cosmically correct. For an Untouchable to aspire to the life of a Brahmin – that’s just their ego talking. I say “You Go Ego!” Without my ego I’d never aspire to anything, let alone proficiency in yoga.

Jackie may be a white girl from So-Cal but she absorbed the worst aspects in her wholesale cultural appropriation of yoga. She, and others like her, exemplify a caste system where the yoga teacher performs in front of the class rather than instructs. When posed with questions she’d rather not answer she defers to the misty-eyed blame-the-consumer with blanket statements “That’s just yer ego.”

Yoga of late has split into two main camps: Yoga as a spiritual practice and yoga as a healing modality.  Spiritual Yoga doesn’t have to make sense any more than taking a wafer and snifter of grape juice as holy communion has to make sense. Faith is as faith does, faith doesn’t have to make sense. Yoga (small y) as a healing modality ought to make sense. Yoga needs to provide focus to cure ADHD. If I’m using yoga to lose weight it should be aerobic. If I’m using yoga, which I did, as physical therapy for my hip – the yoga must not damage me. Pain indicates tearing. Internal tearing of tissue heals as internal scar tissue. Scars on the outside of my body are thickened skin. Scars are less flexible, less supple than unabraded skin. Internal scarring tightens muscles, freezing them in place. After my stress fracture I’m working on increasing my range of motion.  At this pivotal juncture with the blankets conversation I learn that Jackie stands on the side of spiritual practice.

Clue number one is her reference to “ego.” Spiritual teachers aim to erase ego. Clue number two? She doesn’t present her material in an orderly fashion. Teachers of healing modality strongly value the student understanding the process. They teach methodically. They teach sequentially. Teachers of spiritual yoga value the student’s confusion, bewilderment, utter dependence on the guru, on surprise pearls of wisdom. On flashes of insight. This is why she never brings up blankets before, preferring instead for me to be unclear why they are available in every workout room. After Jackie leaves I experiment sitting on the edge of one. The pain is excruciating. I try two, then three, then four – to no avail. Hiking my hip into that height is unbearable. How painful is it for me to sit on blankets? Painful enough to evoke tears. (you can read that either way, as rhyming with “years” or “airs.”)

Don’t expect education from spiritual teachers, that’s not their agenda. Expect a religion. They’re looking for acolytes, groupies, fans. They’re hoping for worship, adoration, cool-kids-club. In India they seek donations to support their ashram. In America they’re looking for lifetime clients. Consumers too afraid to trust their own judgement. That’s a weird place to be: unable to trust your own judgement. I say if you can’t trust your own judgement then get more information, but for heavens sake don’t hand over the reins to someone else. But Kumari, you protest – don’t all teachers seek steady clientele? Yoga teachers in the healing modality need customers too – but we’re honest about our business. We sell practices one can replicate, not impossible ideals. The healing modality yoga teacher will give you an alternate pose. She won’t  ignore you outright because you are physically compromised.

What if you love your swami/guru/baba? That’s fine. Spiritual teachers won’t interfere with your yoga, but your yoga will interfere with spiritual teachers. Because yoga, when practiced diligently, is an adjunct bullshit meter.

Now y’all play nice.

Sat Nam