What is the Yoga Ghetto?

night-squareI’ve been saying this in person for years. And more than a few times recently, been quoted (and sometimes credited) online. 

This is a loaded topic, but not at all a weapon. At least not when in my hands.

Why lay hands on this topic? To get clear in my own head about what it means.

The yoga ghetto is a place of bliss, soft voices, pretty colors, serpentine bodies. It’s pretty much an anger-free and negativity-free zone.

Sound good?

Not so fast. Let’s pause and reflect.

Question. One I ask myself often. The answer I KNOW IN THEORY but don’t always find myself LIVING IN ACTION.:

Which would you prefer to be?

  1. A yogi who appears on the surface to be more enlightened/at peace/grounded than she is deep down, in a world of yogis who approach nirvana from the outside in?
  2. A yogi exploring how to embrace who she really is, allows the world to see her- warts and all- as she makes her way – and occasionally stumbles- along a path to self-acceptance and self-love?

If you’re like me, you want to answer these questions a little to quickly and move on to a discussion about asana, how awesome your favorite teacher is or– anything really– besides tough questions like these.

Zigzagging around in the maze of self-inquiry that questions like those lead us through might be a lifelong puzzle to complete. They’re questions that continually appear in the solo seeker’s path and in the larger journey the yoga community makes.

I got no answers for ya except this one hunch.

The choice #1 gives us a glimpse into the world symbolized by the yoga ghetto and the latter seems to be the key to getting out of it.

So, finally, what is the yoga ghetto?

The yoga ghetto is actually a pretty elite place.

  • The yoga ghetto might even be a gated ghetto because, let’s face it, as ghettos go, it’s a pretty expensive place to live.

There is donation-based yoga. But the price of most classes is more than the average American (which is relatively elite on a worldwide scale) spends on food for a day. And those who can’t afford a proper pair of yoga pants are likely to show more of their “vulnerable side” than their self-respect can handle.

  • The yoga ghetto is a place where physical beauty is (still) more valued than anyone wants to admit– and physical beauty is defined as thin, graceful, flexible (despite the emergence of “curvy yoga” and “yoga for the inflexible”).  Inner beauty gets some attention, too, but the problem with inner beauty is that it’s harder to recognize and easier to fake.

No one WANTS or INTENDS to be a fake. Yet, everyone has their less-than-authentic moments. Even yogis. Especially yogis. Why? Well, when the standard is as high as Enlightenment, well, um, just fake it till you make it. Yep, we all do it. Is it wrong?

Who knows. These are difficult-to-answer questions, but important to ask. Hiding from them like they’re bogeymen is giving them a lot of power. And hiding from them = hiding from ourselves. And from growth. And from love.

The yoga ghetto doesn’t have such a scary face. How does it stay pretty? Well, there aren’t rules, but don’t be caught doing these things:

  • Showing anger. Remember: you’re the good yogi. You’re practicing patience, tolerance and lovingkindness in the face of adversity and injustice.
  • Critical thinking? Well, that’s okay in college. But in the yoga ghetto, criticism =  judging. Humble yourself. Talk about acceptance and forgiveness instead.
  • Whistle-blowing. Who are you to say that renowned teacher lacks integrity? (That requires judging. Look at all the good she does in the community.. Besides, she’s more spiritually-evolved than you, so what do you know?)
  • Punk rock, carnivores, horror films, alcohol. Ew.
  • LuluLemon post-2012

(At least one item in the list is likely to be pretty appalling to you. I know which one is for me.) But let’s ask ourselves why these things seem so wrong to us or why we feel aversion to them. Is it because everyone else says we should, or because the Sutras say we should….or….?

Or have we really turned from these things out of having listened to our own individual heart and made the decision on our own?

What we take in through our senses affects us all very deeply. But what the senses find desirable or pleasurable is very subjective and individual.

You get a Yoga Smiley-face for these. Mention them as often as possible and include them in your social-media selfies.

  • Green juice
  • World music
  • Studying with the most popular teachers (regardless of their character or credentials)
  • 20+ minute hugs
  • LuluLemon pre-2012

Don’t get me wrong. I love green juice, sitars. Hugging. Smiley-faces.

I love the Sutras. But, let’s put them in perspective. The world they came out of was pre-evolution, pre-science, pre-psychology, pre-feminism. Also, with many, many great works in the yoga tradition, why the emphasis on the Sutras?

In any case, the Sutras are meant as a roadmap to use until you’re able to wander around safely and wisely on your own.

I never wore LuluLemon, but that’s just me….

The Yoga Ghetto is like any ghetto in one very unfortunate way. It’s a place where people live apart from the world. Some by conscious choice, others not so consciously, but still by choice.

Like other ghettos, people look, talk and act the same. It can be elitist, authoritarian and conformist.

What’s the point here?

To reflect on this: The yoga community isn’t a bureaucracy, a church congregation or a sports team. 

It’s not Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous

It’s not even a lifestyle– though a healthy, peaceful, truthful, courageous one comes highly recommended as part of the eight-limbed package.

It’s also not asana, or the ability to perform asana. Nor is it any of the other limbs of the yogic tree.

It’s least of all about flashing the badge of lifestyle, pinning on the medal of practice, wearing the uniform of bliss.

At its best, the current American Yoga is a flawed, but very worthwhile spiritual experiment in the Modern West.

Yoga allows the freedom to travel to strange places in the inner landscape and takefly
notes. To experiment 
in the spirit and practice of finding out the truth of who we are.

Lots to be learned from the yoga ghetto, including but not limited to this: don’t be afraid to leave!  

And that the key that opens the big, tall, heavy gate might be that question that keeps jumping out at you that you keep not wanting to answer.

Better yet, realize that Yoga can exist anywhere. It’s a journey. Travel light. Without a map now and then.

You’re worth it. You’re one of a kind. Love is a trustworthy compass but it often leads us down the road less travelled.



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