A few months ago, in yoga teacher training, we came across a scripture that addressed how in order for one’s yoga to progress, one would no longer mix with what’s known as “common people.” Since then, it has become a running joke where we’d make statements referring to the so called, “common people.” Although we use it in jest, yoga snobbery is a very real situation. Personally, I have had statements, often laced with a tone of judgment, like, “oh we’re not likely to do so and so because we’re yogis,” “you’re a yogi so you won’t do so and so,” or even, “he eats McDonalds and smokes cigarettes, so he’s that kind of person.”
Yoga, in its essence means “to yoke,” or “union,” and correct me if I’m wrong, but this segregation of seeing ourselves as “yogis,” and therefore above other people, instead of uniting us, separates us from others. Yogis generally adhere to the five yamas (nonviolence, truthfulness, non-stealing, non-excess and non-possessiveness) and the five niyamas (purity, contentment, self-discipline, self-study and surrender). But what about the practice of compassion? What about the practice of feeling for others without putting them on another level, often lower than we are?
How could a bunch of tree hugging hippies be snobs, you say?
What about the snobbery that looks at people who don’t practice yoga or meditation as lesser beings, and at the other level the snobbery that looks at people who don’t or can’t practice certain things (including some asanas) as lesser yogis? How many times have you had a yogi flick you off by saying something like, “I’m a yogi,” with an unspoken side of “that makes me more enlightened that you are?” Yoga practitioners, have you had an incredulous yogi say to you, “oh you’re not a vegetarian?”, or “you smoke?” Sometimes you might even find yourself looking at another yogi and OMG, they’re NOT wearing Lululemon, so they can’t be serious yogis, can they? Don’t get me wrong, I love my Lulu gear, but I know that if I was a student who had to pay for university, rent and yoga classes, I wouldn’t be able to afford them. Would that mean that I treasure my yoga any less?
Honestly, I can be just as guilty of yoga snobbery as anyone else. Not just to others, but to myself. It’s not just that voice where your judgment eye is turned outwards, it’s also when your judgment eye is turned inwards, looking for reasons why you you’re not good enough for yoga. I often find some vice or reason why I’m not a good yogi. The fact that I hate the word, “resonate,” might make me a bad yogi, actually. In fact, although yoga is a big part of my life, I often refer to myself as a yoga practitioner instead of a yogi. It’s not anything, I just don’t think I’m there yet, wherever there is.
That’s the thing with judgment and snobbery though. A truly enlightened person often is not judgmental at all, and they really wouldn’t bother about what people are wearing, or how long people are holding their handstands for. A person who was born into wealth within an old family is often more humble than what we would call the nouveaux riche. A spiritually experienced, although he or she might guide you through and occasionally make fun of you, would not segregate in a way that makes it seem some are less than others, and they sure as hell won’t talk down to people.
Yoga is a great place to be, but there can also be a lot of pretentiousness, especially as with our consumerist, achievement mad and socially conscious society, we have started to take the same shit into yoga. The pretentiousness ranges from people who pretend to like kale because it’s the “yogi superfood,” to people using certain words or speaking in a certain way because it’s more yogic (by the way, yoga originates from India, so technically to properly use yogic words, you’d speak Sanskrit or a current language that originates thereof), to holding back on swearing because it’s un-yogic, to a view that someone who can’t move in a certain way are considered un-yogic. And don’t even think about being a sci-fi addict, or loving beer, or wanting to own things. There is almost this idea that you have to tick boxes to be a yogi and if you don’t, then you are just not there.
A lot of people are starting to get interested in yoga for all its benefits. Who are we to say that while people are only practicing some aspects and not others, therefore they are not a yogi? Who are we to say that someone who has never stepped foot in a yoga studio is “common?” Some people choose not to practice asana at all, focusing instead on pranayama or the yamas and niyamas. Some people practice asana but spend their time judging those who don’t. Perhaps it’s time for a bit of svadyaya, a turning of the focus inside, and realizing that there are guidelines, but there are no rules that makes others more of something, or less than. Some people just don’t like kale and enjoy a steak and beer, or a cigarette once in a while. The smell might be unpleasant to you, but that sure as hell doesn’t make anyone better than anyone else.
Judgment is judgment no matter where it comes from and a snob is a snob even when you’re sitting on an expensive piece of rubber meditating five hours a day.