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  • Alicia Waters

Shaming is Not Yoga: On Yoga Girl, Speaking Up, and Social Media Drama

This is Rachel Brathen, aka Yoga Girl, not me.

Did any of you catch the little yoga social media fire that ignited the other day about yoga brands and their black Friday sales? Rachel Brathen, who is a well-known yoga teacher and entrepreneur, posted a (self-proclaimed) rant to her Instagram followers about a particular yoga brand who was promoting their holiday sale with the code SELFLOVE. Her point was that she felt that capitalizing on the term "self love" was disingenuous because it equates loving yourself with buying more things.

Of course the backlash from the teachers who actually promote and profit from that brand was swift, and in the end, Rachel turned her attention to another worthy conversation: sexual harassment in the yoga world and how it's silenced. (She's opening the #metoo conversation specifically in the yoga sphere, so if it's something that you're interested in or have a story to share, go check out what Rachel is doing on her yoga_girl account.)

I have to admit, I admire Rachel for speaking out and taking a stand about something she knew wouldn't be popular - and I kept coming back to her words and the other teachers' responses in my head over the next days...

Moments like this are always interesting to me because I feel like this is what yoga is really all about: taking grand, esoteric principles and trying to express them in our individual lives.

For me, the exciting part of yogic philosophy is translating the ideal into the real.

What do concepts like non-violence and non-greed look like in our modern lives? Can you embody those concepts and simultaneously promote a corporation that is manufacturing high-cost products and marketing them to a customer who likely already has more "stuff" than they need? Can you use your yoga practice to attract an audience and then sell things to that audience on behalf of a large company? Is that integrity?

I'm not going to give a concrete answer on that one, because my true feeling is that there is no concrete answer. Maybe it's obvious to you one way or the other, and that's great because it gives you a clear answer to use for yourself. I do have my own concrete answer, and I use it to steer my personal and professional choices in a way that lets me feel good about myself at the end of the day. But I am absolutely willing to accept that my choices might not be right for someone else at this moment on their path.

So no, this is not a post about the evils of consumerism and capitalism right before you do your Christmas shopping ;)

What this post *is* about, and what I couldn't get out of my head, were the responses from other yoga teachers that subtly (and not-so subtly) tried to shame Rachel for speaking up at all. There was a teacher who slyly chastised her for getting angry, because as yogis we should always "choose love" and not anger, which she equated with hatred. (Side note: anger is not hate and shaming women for expressing feelings of anger is so last century.) There was another teacher who got defensive and rationalized the promotion by saying that some people really deserve new yoga clothes because they practice consistently and don't have a lot of money and might wait all year for the one sale where they can afford to buy some nice new yoga pants. Several voices called Rachel out for "spreading negativity" and basically bringing them down.

What stuck out to me as I read all these responses was the overarching message: "stop rocking the boat - what you said is making us uncomfortable so we're going to try and make you look bad for saying anything at all."

And this is where I do feel strongly - SHAMING IS NOT YOGA.

Here's why: Shame is a feeling of humiliation and disgrace. It is what you feel when you've done something wrong, and when you believe that there may be something wrong with you too. Meanwhile, the essence of the yogic teachings is that each and every one of us is inherently worthy, that there is a drop of the Divine in us all that cannot be taken away no matter what we do. To try to make someone feel otherwise is the antithesis of yoga.

That doesn't mean that we should never feel shame or that shame is bad. We will all live through moments where we realize that our actions have caused harm, and shame is our natural inner compass to steer us away from those actions in the future. What's problematic is making shame personal. What's dangerous is believing that shameful actions stem from a person who is "wrong" or "flawed" or "not okay" by their very nature.

Right now in our world we are in a time where we need to be able to have difficult and uncomfortable conversations because so many pieces of the status quo are not working.

So much of our cultural programming is harmful and corrupt. But that doesn't mean that we are corrupt.

And that distinction is super important. (Coincidently, I feel like it's a line that Rachel walked well in her original rant, being really clear that she wasn't judging any of the individual teachers associated with this brand, but bringing up a larger conversation around big companies with questionable ethics co-opting the language of yoga and healing for profit.)

We need to distinguish between the value of the action and the value of the person who committed it. That allows us to feel the pain of our shame (which is natural sometimes, remember) without feeling the pain of being unworthy. The first type of pain is a catalyst for change, the second is so heavy it paralyzes us and makes us defensive.

So, friends, let's all agree first that we are okay just as we are. And then let's be willing to have the uncomfortable conversations. With ourselves and others.

Let's be willing to hear and speak our truth in the moment that it arises for us, without fear of the shaming that might follow. Let's walk in the protective light of our own inherent that we aren't afraid to peer into the shadows. Yes, even the yoga world has shadows.

And with that, I wish you all a wonderful start to your holiday season. I'll be sending you all tons of love and joy from my heart to yours...but I won't be sending a discount for yoga pants ;)



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