March 2, 2012

No More Airbrushed Yoga! ~ Sarah Shapiro

A psychotherapist’s views on the John Friend story

Let’s start with the basics: the word yoga literally means “yoke” or Union.

How can we have union when we pit one training program against the other or one person against the other? There is not one school of yoga that is the truth or “better or worse” than the other. This comes from ego and ego alone. The “cult of yoga” proliferated in the West when yoga studio owners decided to differentiate their teachings from that of the masters and the sacred teachings such as Krishamacharya.

While most pay homage to the great masters (Krishamacharya, Iyengar, Bikram and Pattabi Jois), many have felt either financial pressure or some personal desire to imprint or “update” what had come before. To be fair, a few of these early 20th Century master teachers did decide to brand themselves such as Bikram. This branding process has led to all sorts of ego conflicts and suffering in the yoga community.

Of course we all have to pay our bills but there has become a “cult of ego” in the yoga community. We, in the West, are obsessed with the body and with the “speediest route to enlightenment,” sometimes at the expense of the feelings of others and our own well spiritual and emotional well being.

Many of these studio owners have talent and, either willfully or innocently, built up studios with massive followings. Unfortunately for some, the intoxication of power, money and sex lead some further and further from the spiritual teachings of yoga and their original intentions. They, along with their following or Satsang, became ungrounded.

We must not stop at looking only at the studio owners or “cult leaders.” We, as students, are just as culpable and we are responsible for our own choices and our devotion or non-devotion to the yogic principles. Many yoga practitioners may read the Yamas and Niyamas during the training or at a workshop but there are very few who embrace the study and implementation of these principles into all facets of daily life.

This is rigorous study. I repeat rigorous.

However, most practitioners believe that they have “got it” in one or two readings. Many do not reflect on their actions, thoughts or words on a daily basis and this is what is required to awaken. There is an epidemic of what I refer to as “Mc-Therapy” and “Mc-Yoga” that can sometimes undermine the beauty, truth and integrity of a four thousand year old system. This is the un-airbrushed truth.

In ancient times, the yoga master would not allow one to practice Hatha yoga until they studied and mastered the Yamas and Niyamas. Of course, in small villages there was greater access to accountability and observation. Even in small yoga studios there is little honestly and personal accountability. Students often remain silent if they observe unethical or unusual behavior and they often support and feed on the narcissism at the studio. Student and teacher are a lock and key.

In Jungian terms, we project our disowned beloved and toxic parts of self onto the teacher who then “carry” our projections for us. Over time, the teacher will ultimately fall from grace and “take the fall” for us. The student can then leave the studio with little responsibility or personal insight. This is not to say that some of the studio owners do have to change their ego-centered and sometimes destructive behaviors, but it is dance of student-teacher.

I believe this is what is happening with John Friend. It is what Carl Jung calls the emergence of the Collective Shadow. Often in groups, there comes a time when the group can no longer contain the negative energy and there is, if you will, a kind of explosive “acting out” that draws all eyes on the darkness. As stated above, we must be careful not to isolate this to “one person” and assign John Friend or anyone as 100% responsible for these collective outbursts.

This kind of behavior and “cult like” following has been epidemic in the yoga community, even in India. The Guru model simply does not work. It draws out all sorts of dark and destructive behavior. In short, many of us are wounded yogis who have not done adequate psychological work, project all over the Master Teacher and expect all sorts of infantile fulfillment, admiration and attention from these mere mortals. We do this not just with John Friend but with, everyone, unless we do the rigorous work of Consciousness and learn how to manage our own projections.

 How can we heal from this event and others? How can we grow as yogis and as follow travelers on this planet? How can we re-create Harmony?

 It comes back to the practice of svadayaya (Self Study) one of the Yamas/Niyamas.

Becoming conscious is a process. The practice of svadayaya is an ancient practice; however, some forms of modern Psychology such as Jungian Archetypal Psychology or EFT can lead to transformation and awakening. As yogis we must become aware of our projections or what the yogis call “delusions of mind.”

Next, a student in question might sit on their mat and become aware of their feelings. We must practice not running from these feelings, rather, moving into them and breathing through them. After we spend time observing feelings we then become aware of “patterns” in our mind such as feeling ‘hurt” or “rejected” if the teacher pays more attention to another student or if the front desk receptionist forgets our name.

What does this trigger? We must “connect the dots” and take ownership of our own feelings and thoughts, rather than acting them out in power fantasies and projections. All of us have a “story” of rejection, neglect or abuse such as an abusive father or a depressed and absent mother and so forth. We need to see that our need for love, attention and acknowledgement is not outside of ourselves in the Guru or teacher, rather it is inside. This is the only place we can go.

We must turn our attention back to svadayaya. We must ask ourselves the deeper questions. Why was I drawn to Guru in the first place? Do I need admiration, guidance, attention, connection? What is it I am longing for? Then we must sit with the feelings until over time, bubbling up from the Unconscious Mind and in the deep stillness, we arrive at an answer.

Psychotherapy, psychoanalysis, dream work, journal writing and EFT are all paths that can lead to awakening if one practices with an open heart and mind. It is a daily practice. Yogic tools such as meditation and Hatha can all lead to awakening but they must be practiced with Conscious awareness and with great integrity and rigor. Yoga is a science and a psychology and this is often forgotten.

The cold hard Truth is that most people do not want to be bothered with the rigorous and daily work that is required for us to heal and to become whole, but this is our only hope of creating a harmonious world. 

It is now time do to the work. If you are reacting strongly to the John Friend situation, take a few moments to write down your judgements and then ask yourself honestly, if you can accuse yourself of any of these behaviors? You may be surprised at what you find.

 Posted by Aminda R. Courtwright/Editor: Kate Bartolotta.


Sara Shapiro: As a licensed psychotherapist I have worked with hundreds of patients over the course of 20 years. I teach Jungian Archetypal Psychology and workshops in the Chakras and Energy Medicine in Canada and the US. Yoga helps keep me sane through most of that.  Check out her book on Amazon titled Divine Intervention.



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