March 9, 2012

Mean Girls. Meaner Adults? ~ Heidi Broecking

{Judgement disclaimer: I have been tumbling the idea for this blog around in my head for awhile. I went through my own judgement phase (acknowledged) then moved into observation and question mode pretty quickly. This blog is based on personal experiences, observations, questions and maybe conclusions. I do not know, I have not got to the end in my head yet. Sit back and get a drink, it may take a while.}

I use the word “adult” in the title rather than “grown up” with intent.

There is a distinct difference in my head. An adult is what we all physiologically grow in to over time, a fully developed animal. Grown-up is an adjective that describes our behavior. That may not be correct by definition but that is how I have it defined in my head.

I have attended classes at more than a couple of studios.

Each studio has it’s own vibe. Some are more mellow, some are high energy, some cleaner, some are light, some are darker, some more positive, some flat, some just plain weird and some just wrong for me. Its completely subjective. If you’ve practiced for awhile, you can tune in to the energy of a studio after a few classes and know if it’s the right place for you or not.

After venturing out into the greater universe of Yoga, I have become fascinated by the amount of judgement I have come to see in some Yoga classes. Especially among women. And it isn’t just judgement, it harks back to a very definite developmental time for all of us, high school. The first time I observed it, I wondered to myself,

“Self, are you attaching personal feelings to this or are you just surprised to see high school level herding and culling behavior manifest in adult women?”

I determined it was surprise mixed in with a little disbelief. Especially because we are all in a Yoga room, supposedly doing Yoga, together, in a room, doing Yoga. My expectation is that when we are in a room, together, doing yoga, we just do our own yoga and don’t freak out on other people’s yoga or yoga stuff.

I am an almost 48-year old woman. It’s taken me a pretty long time to become mostly comfortable with who I am. I say mostly because who I am is an ongoing process. I change every day so I need to observe learn, every day. I don’t even know who I am so I actually find it pretty hilarious that others think they do know me by just:

1.  How I look

2.  What I wear

3.  How I speak or

4.  How I practice Yoga

It my understanding that in the United States, the largest percentage of people who practice Yoga are women.

I don’t have a number but I’m going to guess it’s a boatload. Most classes I have attended 95% of students have been female. When you get that many women in room together and there isn’t alcohol or chocolate involved, two behaviors can happen:

Sisterhood and/or Mean Girl.

The ratio is directly dependent on the adult vs. grownup factor. Here are some descriptions of observations/experiences that reminded me of above mentioned high school behavior. I should say now, it is not lost on me that I have created my own generalizations:

The “Stuff” People

These are the people who check you out when you walk into class.

What brands are you wearing and who made your stuff? Is it lululemon? Athleta? Hard Tail? Target? Jade? Manduka? Gaiam? Purple mat off the roll? Toms? Crocs? Clogs? Tank, tee or sport bra? capris, shorts or tights? Low rise? High rise?

I was at a pretty high brow studio a couple of months ago, wait, that’s not accurate, it was seriously luxe. I’ve never seen a studio like it. It was so utterly fabulous, I feared sweating on the very perfectly finished hard wood floor beneath my feet. I received interesting looks sitting on the linen covered bench above the cubbies into which I placed my well-worn Doc Martens 10-holes. As I set up and got my props, I could see casual glances at my mat and at my clothes. Who’s the new lady and what’s she got? It was the most extreme example of stuff inventory taking I’ve ever seen. And, I believe I am uniquely able to say that as I grew up in Darien, CT the first 18 years of my life. The Land-o-acquistion-and-judgement.

The “Clicque” or “Multi-Mean Girls”

These are people who attend the same classes, together, all the time and want you to how awesome they totally are. They stand together. They giggle. They whisper. They giggle again. They create a huddle in the room. Physically cutting themselves off from the rest of the community in the room. It’s like the popular girls in gym class.

The “Competitor”

Behind you or beside you. This is the person who is checking out all your asanas either first hand or in the mirror. When you move, they move. When you lengthen, they lengthen longer. They stay longer in every pose. When you fall out of a pose, they smirk and give you they “oops!” face with a shrug of the shoulder.

The “Competitor2”: I-am-a-way-better-yogini-than-you

They can also fall into the competitor category but it extends beyond asana. This is the person who has lost more weight, has a better acupuncturist, a better reiki master, has a way better ayurvedicmacrovegetarianveganglutenfreenonfat diet, a better chakra therapist, better books (even though they are the same books you have), corrects your sanskrit AND has a clearer mind because they meditate better than you ever will.

The “Mean Girl” Teacher

This one surprised me. Before a class, the teacher was part of general chatter which evolved into talking to the group about how yoga is practiced from the inside out. 

DIGRESSION AND BACK STORY! That day I happened to be wearing a necklace (see photo at the beginning of the blog). I wear it often. It is an “AH”. A Tibetan symbol which signifies the sound made in chanting that represents all the wisdom of all the Buddhas. My husband gave this to me when my son was 2-years old. It had been a truly horrible, no good, very bad ‘mom’ day. I had called him weeping while the Boy napped and confessed my hideous motherdom. He comforted me. When he got home he handed me a tiny box and said,”This is for you to wear and remember that no matter what, moms always have all the wisdom of all the Buddhas.” Yes. He is like that all the time and yes I am that lucky. I cherish this small silver symbol. The point is that it is NOT an “aum”. Similar, but totally not. Back to anecdote…

The teacher then started to discuss philosophy and how as yogis we need to practice from the heart, apply the yamas and niyamas and understand that all the trappings of Yoga are just trappings. Right down to “the little aums we wear around our necks”. She turned and looked right at me as did the other ladies in the room.

Wait. What? What? Seriously? What just happened here? Did you just do that? Why yes, yes you did. What was that? Make the new girl totally feel like poser so she knows who’s in charge?

It made me really, super uncomfortable. As class continued she pointed out students the with good and bad poses. Some students became visibly stressed. It was upsetting both as a teacher and as a student.  I left the class well before savasana (final resting pose).

For whatever reason, each one of these people has a reason to want to feel better and they do it at the expense of others.

I’m sure everyone has come up against that and not just in the studio. But, a really big but here, I have to say, in most studios there is an overwhelming sense of community. A feeling of generosity, tolerance and dare I say it? Love. The Yoga community is a wonderful community. A community we learn to be ourselves in and learn to allow others to be the same.

So what’s the point?

First of all, a yoga studio is a sanctuary. It is meant to be a safe place for all who enter and want to practice. It is the responsibility of every teacher and student in the room to create that atmosphere.

Second, stuff is just stuff. It doesn’t represent who you are. I don’t really care whose pants you wear in the room, as long as you wear them. The practice is for learning and applying that learning internally. Thinking you have a better tank top is not the place to start your journey of self-discovery. Aparigraha! My new one note Samba/Yama. Attachment will cause suffering.

Third, we are adults now. As adults and hopefully as grownups, we have to realize there is absolutely no more room in the world for more meanness. There is puh-len-ty. We need to practice mindfulness and kindness. The more we practice, the more we model it for others, especially our kids.

Lastly, it’s really simple. We need more Sisterhood, and a Brotherhood. We can lift each other up without tearing each other down. Our differences are our strengths. This doesn’t just apply to women. It’s universal. And if by modeling that, it makes one other person aware, that is awesome.

So remember, friends don’t let friends be mean because being mean sucks.


Edited by Tanya L. Markul

Heidi Broecking earned her 200 hour teacher certification in 2010 and is a YA-RYT and Level 1 Yoga Tune Up® teacher. She started practicing Yoga after migrating north of New York City with her husband and then 10-month old son in 1997. Her yoga journey began with Kundalini, Iyengar inspired yoga and evolved to a committed Hatha yoga practice. She was drawn to both the physical aspects of asana and to the thoughtful and meditative parts of the yoga path that guide us in our daily lives. Yoga dovetailed perfectly with her evolving Zen Buddhist practice. Yoga has helped Heidi, an avid cyclist, develop her concentration, focus, balance, flexibility, patience and strength on the bike. Her continuing education, specifically in Yoga Tune Up®, has enhanced her base knowledge of body awareness, biomechanics and human anatomy. She is inspired by her teachers Lena Madsen and Jill Miller, all things anatomical, and her son and husband. Heidi believes that a sense of humor is essential in both life and practice. Laugh loud and often.

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