March 28, 2012

Celebrity Yogis & Anonymity. ~ Derek Beres

Photo: Ron Sombilon Gallery

Sometimes we hold up our own mirror, and sometimes others do so for us.

“You have to read the link I just sent you,” my wife yelled from the couch as I walked through the front door the other night. “Your name is in it. I think you’ll appreciate the article.” Having my name associated with a piece lambasting the cult of the celebrity yogi may not seem like something one would appreciate, yet as I read “Is YAMA Talent More Harmful To The “Yoga Community” Than John Friend’s Penis Pursuits?,” I immediately recognized why she felt that way, and why I felt the same.

Like many “spiritual” vocations throughout the millennia, yoga is a modern example of a long line of philosophical pursuits that have been deemed untouchably pure by its adherents, regardless of what people outside that community believe. Throw in a century-and-a-half old trend of ‘self-help’ manuals and the emergence of Mayan treasure map hunters seeking the next big return of Saturn, and you have arrived at a very weird junction where criticism is abhorred and positive reinforcement heralded. Yoga philosophy has been confused for New Age rhetoric; quotes about ultimate freedom in the Bhagavad Gita are treasured while those pesky passages about Krishna telling Arjuna to murder his friends and cousins are oddly forgotten.

And so we’ve transformed a discipline from its mentally dexterous and emotionally challenging roots into an aerobic workout. That’s part of evolution, and I would never argue that it’s a bad thing. (It’s still plenty challenging, and yes, I understand that certain styles honor the rigorous and meditative origins). Personally, I enjoy sweating with a few dozen friends in a humid room. Workout aside, what we’ve lost in transition is the mirror that we need to hold up so that we can stare at ourselves in the eyes, the mirror that helps us see how our actions transmit into the world outside of our own heads.

Sometimes we hold up our own mirror, and sometimes others do so for us.

Criticism is a key component to growth. Having that looking glass thrust into your face forces you to think smarter, think stronger and better, and to make better decisions about how you act in the world. You might not agree with the accuser—I did not agree with every sentiment in The Babarazzi post—but having that kind of feedback is crucial and sorely lacking in this discipline-turned-industry. I write this as someone who fully recognizes that a good chunk of my income is derived from said industry, and as someone who has no qualms with that fact. This does not change my devotion to the discipline, nor does it affect the fact that I love what I do for a living.

The key to understanding what The Babarazzi is doing lies in the site’s tagline: Giving Contemporary Yoga Culture the Star Treatment. Think Gawker. Think Perez whatever. There is nothing Yoga Journal about it. Yet because we’ve become accustomed to yoga blogs being promotional and unerringly positive, we’ve forgotten that an integral element of yoga philosophy is viveka, discernment: the ability to tell the difference between real and unreal.

Does yoga help people accomplish amazing things and bring communities together? You wouldn’t be reading this if you didn’t think so. Can we take yoga teachers who are out to “heal the planet” and “save the world” seriously? Come on now. I’m going to go ahead and give the earth more credit than that, file the fundamentalism for the fubar. I’m not dismissing the many positive attributes that come with a dedicated yoga practice. I’m simply through with “celebrity” yoga teachers who spend more time telling you who they teach instead of how they teach.

As for the reason why elephant’s Waylon Lewis pulled the piece from this site, I will say I respect his decision and appreciate his whole-hearted response for doing so. Yet, I don’t see a reason to be bothered by anonymity. In fact, our culture is moving towards it. Two recent examples:

First,  I was informed just yesterday that the Canadian yoga chain, Moksha Yoga, has opened something like 75 studios nationwide. A big part of the success is the individual studio schedules: no are teachers listed, just time slots and classes. The teacher is, in effect, anonymous, in the context of the teaching.
The second is perhaps the most relevant cultural movement of the past year, and one that will resonate throughout the 2012 election cycle: the 99%. That statement is something that resonates with at least 99% of elephant journal readers, as a metaphor as well as fiscal and social reality. The power of that movement lies in big part because there are no leaders, and certainly no celebrity figureheads.

I don’t read The Babarazzi because of the writer, but the writing. Like many sites that I frequent, I won’t agree with everything. But I value that it exists in a space which has sorely been lacking in criticism.


Derek Beres has devoted his life to exposing people to international music, yoga and mythology as a means of creating better individuals and a more understanding global culture. A multi-faceted journalist, DJ and yoga instructor, he is the Creative Director of the Tadasana International Festival of Yoga & Music during which he’ll be teaching his workshop, EarthRise Warrior Flow, as well as DJing as one-half of EarthRise SoundSystem for Sianna Sherman, Sandhi Ferreira and Cristi Christensen. To save $50 off a 3-day pass to Tadasana, use his promo code beres4.


Editor: Kate Bartolotta.

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