The Devil is in the Dogma, by Michelle Marchildon
In yoga news this week there was a lot of hubbub about yoga causing satanic possession, and I'm here to tell you my official reaction: Duh.
For 2,000 years, or pretty much since yoga was brought to the attention of the west, it has been confused with being a spiritual practice. I'm not going to insult anyone's intelligence here by denying it. In fact, you can say you heard it here first:
Yoga is both a physical exercise and has the potential to be a spiritual practice.
While many laughed at the Virginia Lt. Governor who claimed that if you practice yoga and empty your mind it could fill up with Satan, I did not.
I also did not laugh at the lawsuit in southern California where parents are suing to keep yoga out of the schools because it contains religious messages.
And I didn't laugh when I taught in a suburban yoga studio and the students asked me not to "Om," because they are Christian.
However, I did laugh when Elspeth Reeve from the Atlantic suggested that the vacuous brains of the Lululemon salesclerks were really the work of the devil.
So what is it about yoga and touching our toes that brings out the crazy? After careful consideration I am quite sure it is our own behavior.
This is one of my personal doctrines. When everyone around you is acting like a jerk and being completely crazy, maybe it's not everyone else? Maybe it really is you? With apologies to the Four Agreements, sometimes it is us, we are the problem, and we need to fix our behavior.
Years ago when I told my family that I wanted to become a yoga teacher, which followed having gone from being a devout Jew, to a dabbling Presbyterian, to a pretend Buddhist, my family's reaction was a unanimous, "Oh God."
"That's fine," my dad said. "Just don't become too ugga bugga."
"Whatever," my husband said, "as long as whoever you are occasionally makes us dinner."
If you haven't been in a yoga class where the teacher was a preacher about how you have to be a vegan, or pray to Ganesha, or that Shiva and Shakti created the pulsation of life which stems from their non-stop lovemaking, well then in a yoga sense, you need to get out more often.
My introduction to the darker aspects of yoga came from Baron Baptiste (I recognize the irony, given that Baron teaches a light-hearted form of Power Yoga). Baron wrote in his book, Journey into Power, that he was a Christian and believed in God.
So you have to wonder, what motivated a world famous yoga teacher to make a public declaration that he believed in God? Hmmmmm (pinky finger at the corner of my mouth, a la Dr. Evil).
Then there was the Anusara yoga debacle. The sex scandal did not upset me as much as that Anusara had been predicated upon a secret, anti-God, anti-Judeo-Christian premise of pagan rituals including the sharing of pubic hairs. And you know I can’t make this stuff up.
It turns out, that the founder was a Wiccan, and that the school had a Wiccan-based spiritual philosophy of nature and seasonality and jumping around when the moon is full and WTF my new Wiccan friends have been trying to explain to me because I worship the old-fashioned way, at Easter, Christmas and Passover.
My local teacher said I should have been paying better attention during the immersions where the philosophy of Kashmir Shivaism was being explained (I thought it was "Cream Cheese and Chive-ism," which I am down with on a bagel). True, but I was too busy trying to stay awake.
Let me be clear (before everyone starts writing in to say in a non-judgmental way that they hate me, again):
There is absolutely nothing wrong with being a Wiccan!
That is, unless you are trying to sell yoga to a mainstream audience. Wiccans are a gentle, but misunderstood people.
Right after Anusara imploded, I was fired from my suburban studio because the owner thought I was teaching sexy witchcraft yoga, even though I am a dedicated Jew-Presbyterian-Buddhist who very much believes in God and only having sex when you need something from your husband.
This brings us back to the current state of affairs where people think yoga is a spiritual practice. If we don't want our students to think we are teaching something religious, then it might be best if we don't preach to them how they should love, worship, eat, or which Gods and Goddesses they should believe in because a lot of people confuse that stuff with religion.
On the other hand, if you enjoy bringing a spiritual awareness to a yoga practice, then quit whining. Not everyone is going to love you all the time, or understand that you are not Satan, or that they are free to worship in their own way regardless of taking yoga. I mean, my kids think I am Satan just for asking them to obey the curfew.
So what if some people believe that the devil is in the dogma? Obviously, (I hope) it’s not true, unless you are shopping in Lululemon, where it might be true. I would be very careful around those salesclerks who tell you that your butt looks really good in yoga pants. Don't say you weren't warned.
Michelle Berman Marchildon is the Yogi Muse. She is an award-winning journalist and the author of Finding More on the Mat: How I Grew Better, Wiser and Stronger through Yoga, and Theme Weaver: Connect the Power of Inspiration to Teaching Yoga. She is a Columnist for Elephant Journal and a Contributing Editor for Mantra and Origin Magazines. She is an E-RYT 500 with Yoga Alliance and teaches Hatha Yoga in Denver, Co. You can take her classes on www.yogadownload.com or www. Yogasteya.com.