It’s a challenge for me to write this blog because it may step on people’s toes, it could be controversial and it could offend. But it’s my truth. Here. Today. Modern yoga is like a cult.
It’s weird, you know, not being involved in yoga anymore, not believing all that I used to believe and it’s like all that I was is being stripped away. All that I thought I was no longer exists. I am no longer someone who says “namaste”, who wears an Om necklace in a form of cultural appropriation or is devoted to a yoga practice. I do it when I feel like I need a good stretch. A friend who I was doing my yoga teacher training with said: “Everything has its own time. Only when you are ready, it works.” And implied that it wasn’t time for me to be a yoga teacher. I thought, this is not about me not being ready for a life of yoga, because I’ve been doing it for 20 years, this is about me realising the giant lie it has become and how we aren’t a match anymore.
Modern yoga to me is a bit like a cult or a religion; if you don’t fit in, if you don’t comply with the expected behaviours then you’re not a part of the cult. The word “Yoga” means union and there is NOTHING I can see that unites in separating or elevating yourself above someone because they won’t comply with the predominant culture. I was under a delusion. It is not authentic to take on someone else’s beliefs, or even a whole cultural group. It’s subtle and it’s in no way malicious, it is a culture built on egos, the right leggings and clothes, accessories, Instagram bendiness and acrobatic bodies. That’s not what my experience of yoga is about!
Historically, modern yoga has its roots in the arrival of the British in India in the early 1900s who merged the military fitness regime of the British with the gentler Hindu spiritual practices. It has become all about the asana, pranayama and escaping from modern life. It doesn’t resonate for me anymore and I am sad about that, because it has given me an enormous amount of joy over the years, however, it doesn’t align with my truth anymore. I will view it as a form of experiential exercise, but to get caught up in the culture within modern yoga was destructive for me and misses the whole point of a spiritual practice.
Our spirituality does not depend on whether we practice in ugg boots, woollen socks, braless, hair dishevelled, interrupted, naked or with your favourite music on. Our spirituality does not depend on us listening to traditional and modern Hindu chanting or whether we can stretch into our out of a certain position like the person next to us. Our spirituality does not need us to travel to India or Bali or any other exotic location to be able to access it. And we certainly don't need to be doing headstands or handstands to be spiritual.
We are spiritual. Right here. Right now. We keep seeking these experiences and tools, such as yoga, in order to find this place of peace or contentment when the reality is, when we stop the search, we can see it. We can see the truth of the world when we begin to question everything. The latest search for enlightenment, 5th dimension and higher realms is just another escapism from being here now. It is a distraction from the human experience and from the present moment.
Yes, yoga, when taught well, can be a tool to do this, it can teach us how to be in the present moment, but for now I am disillusioned by it. I don’t know if I’ll ever return to a yoga practice, and that’s sad. And what’s even more sad, it is that now very unlikely that I will complete my yoga teacher training because I just can’t agree with a culture that encourages ego and competition. It is an extension of the commodification of everything good and pure in the world.
The truth about yoga is that it doesn’t matter what colour you wear, music you listen to, or if you have shoes on or not, the timing of your breaths, intentions, how flexible or strong you are, it is time to look after your body and honour it as the temple that houses your soul. Yoga has all these expectations placed about it, when in reality it is just a form of exercise which asks us to be mindful. What you adorn your body with doesn’t make a skerrick of difference to your yoga practice and it certainly doesn’t make you a kind and compassionate person.
©Alyssa Curtayne, 2017
"Even the act of placing my hands in the Anjali mudra at the end of a yoga session makes me cringe, it’s someone else’s truth. It’s someone else’s practice of bringing a yoga or meditation practice to a close. It’s a beautiful practice, but now it feels false. I feel like an imposter."
I have been practicing yoga on and off for about 20 years. As a teacher already, I always wanted to complete my yoga qualification and make the transition into a giver of yoga rather than being a recipient. In 2016, I enrolled in a course and within the first few workshops, I knew that something was not right.
It started when I wore my beautiful necklace with an OM pendant into the petrol station and the Indian attendant looked at me strangely and asked what it meant to me. He looked uncomfortable and moderately offended, I felt like I had violated something sacred by wearing it. Shocked and surprised by his response, I failed to capture how I felt about the symbol in any recognisable word form, it was a feeling I had about Om, not a thought. He nodded. I left, feeling like I had taken something that didn’t belong to me and started questioning our appropriation of Hindu culture, particularly in the yoga and western spiritual community. They wanted their teachers to be of a particular style and I didn't fit it.
It wasn’t overt. It wasn’t intentional. All of the people in my training were very well meaning and loving, but the culture that was created was an extension of the bigger issue and that is, everything we think that we know, we learned from someone else. The culture of yoga is something that is constantly evolving, but for me this is more than having a serious look at yoga culture and our appropriation of something that isn’t embedded in our modern society.
Increasingly I started questioning all of these things in my life. Everything I thought that I believed in, were being stripped away. I felt like a caterpillar emerging from a long metamorphosis, where I was shedding everything that I thought that I was. I was questioning my spirituality and the “spiritual” community with their loving intentions but behaviours that they have learned from others and how, in the way you react to someone, tells them whether their behaviour fits the culture or not.
What I’m feeling now, is that everything I know, I have learned from others; from people, books, media, culture, socialisation but what about what I KNOW? Where is honouring who I am deep within and the resonating truth that exists in me? Even the act of placing my hands in the Anjali mudra at the end of a yoga session makes me cringe, it’s someone else’s truth. It’s someone else’s practice of bringing a yoga or meditation practice to a close. It’s a beautiful practice, but now it feels false. I feel like an imposter.
And if it doesn't feel authentic to me to copy the rest of the class, where does that leave me? How do we, with our reaction to their behaviour, suppress who others are, their infinite beauty as an individual? And if people don’t comply to a set of behaviours, how do we exclude them from the social group?
I didn’t fit in the yoga culture of that studio and unfortunately I may never finish my qualification, but I have gained something infinitely more valuable, myself. My sense of self and knowing who I am and what I stand for. But this is bigger than the yoga or spirituality, it’s about acceptance of everyone on Earth, who they are and where they are on their human experience journey. I am so tired of so-called “spiritual” leaders telling people to “find their passion,” or “wait for the right one” or any of the other seeking-type behaviour. As the wise Alan Watts says, the only purpose of life is just to BE and every time we tell or show someone that they don’t comply with a social construct, we are asking them to put a mask on, to play the game how someone else wrote it.
It’s time that we took charge of who we are and really OWN who we are and share our gifts and not continually look to others to try and give us the answers. We need to stop looking to others to tell us how to be and trust the innate knowledge that we have within. And for me, learning yoga through teacher training, doesn’t honour who I am, and I’m okay with that.
©Alyssa Curtayne 2017
"What I’m finding that the only thing I know for sure is where I am now. I cannot make any promises for the future or plan too much because ultimately I will die, and the path that I take there will be dependent upon my decisions and reactions in the now."
Richard Dawkins, in his 2006 book, The God Delusion, proposes that all religion, particularly those with a creator of some form, is a kind of collective delusion, “that a belief in God is both irrational and profoundly harmful to society.” This theory is often applied to Christianity, Judaism and Islam, but increasingly I’m finding it coming up in the worlds that I inhabit. I have always been, I suppose, a spiritual person in the sense that I appreciate nature with a huge sense of gratitude; I am in awe of this planet from the microcosmic to the macrocosm of all that science has discovered. But I have never been religious in the traditional sense.
When I was about 10, I discovered that I was the only one of my primary school friends who wasn’t Christened, and I was mortified. What was I missing out on? I attended Sunday School briefly and after my parents discussed it with the minister, who astutely advised to wait until I was old enough to make my own decision, I didn’t get Christened. I vividly remember writing a poem about Jesus and was quickly put in my place by a girl who asserted her literary and religious dominance.
I needed to convert to Islam when I was about to be married, as my ex-husband is a Muslim. However, Muslims believe that all people are born Muslim and nobody converts, they revert back to what they always were. Needless to say, I didn’t take this reversion seriously and said all the right things to become Muslim so I could marry. But I didn’t revert from anything because I have never had a label attached to my belief, so in my mind, nothing changed.
Religion has skirted the edges of my life and I have met some wonderful people of all faiths but I wonder if Richard Dawkins was right all along and we are all under a delusion? If I transfer that thought process to my recent growth and development, I am very influenced by Buddhist and Hindu teachings, particularly around my yoga teacher training. Interestingly, I think all religions originated in India and the big five; Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism are just a different interpretation on the same thing. Somehow the message gets warped and it turns into its own version of events and wisdom. The culture that is developing in the new age or spiritual community is an interesting one and I’m asking myself now if we too aren’t under a delusion of belief; if the things that we all started out believing are being warped into this ego-version of what it originally was. Our shared stories are turning into something else.
So if all oral and written stories aren’t true and there is no great God or Goddess, what are these stories? Are they just a way to explain our existence? Are they a way for our tiny minds to find some meaning in why we are here? And why are we here? What is the point of life? And why haven’t the beliefs of Indigenous populations become more mainstream? The reason for our existence is truly a question that has no answer and not one of us will ever find the answer. So many people turn to religion because it is familiar, it is comfortable, it creates community and there is historical evidence of sorts that the people in the stories were real or that they provide lessons in the best way to be human.
I’m finding that I’m questioning all of my beliefs at the moment and I think that is a healthy way to be, I get to be conscious about what I believe in. I love the human story, our collective history, and while growing up in Australia has been a fairly Western, Christian version of events, I’m constantly asking more questions about the human story in other parts of the world. We are all influenced by so many things and in this age of the internet, while we have limited censorship (at this stage), ideas can spread and, in technological terms, go viral. That, to me, is so exciting. We can start to hear the voices of other humans and not just from Western, English-speaking countries.
And the future? How can I be sure of the future and do I really want to know what will happen? If I spend too long worrying or thinking about the future, I miss the dragonfly that lands on my chair or my children asking for my attention, or being thoughtful as I vacuum the floor and being grateful for electricity and a home to live in.
What I’m finding that the only thing I know for sure is where I am now. I cannot make any promises for the future or plan too much because ultimately I will die, and the path that I take there will be dependent upon my decisions and reactions in the now. There is no delusion in the present. The messages that go to our brains from our senses; what we see, hear, feel, smell, taste and intuit that is true, it’s how we interpret and react to them that then defines us and our human experience.
©Alyssa Curtayne, 2016
Kalamunda naturopath and Kundalini Yoga teacher Andrea Gabriel is one of those women who you just want to emulate; she has a lovely, grounded energy, is gorgeous and a seemingly perfect life. When Andrea invited me to join her Kundalini Yoga class, I admit, I didn’t want to go. I was resisting. I felt hesitant, afraid and to be honest, somewhat afraid that I might walk out on her class like I did the first time I tried it.
The first time I tried Kundalini Yoga, I nearly packed up my mat, never to return. The teacher was amazing, but the venue wasn’t ideal and in all honesty, I protested in my mind about how it WASN’T “real” yoga. In the end I sat in meditation trying to address the massive resistance I was feeling. As an Iyengar, Vinyasa and acro-yoga aficionado, all the breathing and accessories that accompanied Kundalini Yoga stressed me out. It all seemed so…well, contrived. I ended up planning to never do it again. But something in me was fighting. What was this? Why was I resisting? Was it because I was blocking something with myself, or did I genuinely not enjoy this style of yoga? If it was my first ever yoga experience, I probably would have never gone back, but I knew there was something deeper at work.
When many people first start yoga, they are not aware of the abundance of different styles and diversity amongst teachers. It takes a while to find a style that suits you and also a teacher that resonates with you. The first time I walked into Andrea’s beautiful home studio overlooking rolling hills and met her, I knew that she was a teacher I could relate to, but the style, Kundalini Yoga, I was still not sure about.
Kundalini Yoga is a style of yoga that was brought to the U.S. in 1969 by Yogi Bhajan in response to a need he felt in American society. According to Andrea, he was the last in the Golden Chain, a lineage of Yoga Masters who left behind an abundance of great teacher trainers after his death in 2004. Andrea’s own path into Kundalini Yoga is very different from my own. Andrea went through a very “dark” time where she felt out of place and didn’t care whether she lived or died. Following a serious car accident where she walked away with only a scrape to her head did she realise that things needed to change. In seeking healing from her accident, she came across a book: “The Eight Human Talents” by Gurmukh. Everything in the book resonated with Andrea and she started practicing the meditations and practices in it, often in secret, because it seemed so “weird” and not mainstream. Soon her clients noticed a change in her and wanted some of her magic. Before long Andrea had started practicing Kundalini Yoga with small groups and soon was drawn to the teacher training.
Like many people who do yoga teacher training to deepen their own practice with no intention of teaching, Andrea was no different, “what I did was to create a space for sharing with others.” That was six years ago. Now she has a beautiful purpose-built studio adjoining her home and offers classes as an aside to her Naturopathy business. “Kundalini is a spiritual and uplifting yoga, but very grounding,” she said. It is about shifting the energy from the base up rather than being driven by animalistic desires, addictions and survival patterns of living. The mantras are grounding but connect to the greater self, “creating a safe place to practice in.”
Some of my biggest blocks when I went to my first Kundalini Yoga class were the teacher’s head cover and dressed all in white and the rapid and intense breathing that accompanies the movement. I think more than anything, I wanted to understand the logic behind it all. The headpiece is not religious and Andrea explained that it is designed to both keep the bones in the skull in alignment, but also covers the crown chakra, allowing for the spiralling energy experienced in the class to rise up to the crown and instead of being released, returns into the body, building it’s intensity as are the pranayama (breathing). The white clothing is for expansion of the energy into the auric field.
After being a yoga participant for nearly 20 years, I would have to say that this would have to be the most overtly spiritual yoga practice that I’ve come across. It doesn’t hide the energies, or the chakras and isn’t about achieving the pose the best, or wearing the latest pants or accessories that so often accompany yoga these days. There is no room for ego in Kundalini Yoga. “Kundalini is for everybody…Yoga for the most part is quite physical,” but Andrea says this style is a “fast-track to get into spiritual awareness…it’s the energy of the whole experience…it’s a technology, a science that’s proven.”
I won’t deny that I had a very strong resistance to Kundalini Yoga, after all, I’ve had mind-blowing ecstatic orgasms through Kundalini Dance practices with Leyolah (http://www.kundalinidance.com/ref/11/ ), I’ve got plenty of books on Kundalini Shakti and tantric arts and the energetic aspect is not foreign to me. The resistance is there because there is energy that needs shifting, Andrea said. “Resistance means that you need it even more,” and she’s right. I might not need Kundalini Yoga specifically to get myself back on track, but I need the connection that it brings. In those moments where I forget that I’m a soul experiencing a physical incarnation, I need to re-connect. “Whenever I teach, I’m here, I come back, I’m present,” Andrea said.
I’m glad I went back for another go at Kundalini yoga. Andrea recommends at least three sessions before making your decision about it. Resistance is often about energy that is blocked that needs releasing and on the other side of resistance is bliss, the energy shifts and you can “feel the most intense feelings of love and acceptance,” she said. The key to overcoming this resistance is through repetition of a mantra, thought pattern or habit for at least 40 days, it may take longer. Even if you didn’t like your yoga class, or your teacher, you will find the style and teacher that work best with you, just like a good hairdresser, it takes time. Embrace that resistance.
Contact Andrea at www.raisingvibrationsyoga.com.au
©Alyssa Curtayne 2015
Follow me on Instagram: ALYSSA_CURTAYNE_AUTHOR