by Tali Thomason
“I don’t really know him that well but he practices yoga so he’s got to be a good person, right?”
Have you ever said or heard something like that? Maybe it’s online dating or making new friends or a new business partnership but you’ve said it or thought it. I know I have and lately I am having more and more conversations with friends and even with life-coaching clients about the false sense of trust we have with our fellow yogis.
While yogic studies give us guidelines, the reality is that someone’s ability to press-up to a handstand in the middle of the room or share breathtaking yoga selfies doesn’t guarantee they live in accordance with the Yamas and Niyamas. Bottom line – yoga doesn’t automatically make you a nice or good person. Even though we know this about ourselves, we know that it is an ongoing process, sometimes we just give our trust away and let people in because they’re fellow practitioners and unfortunately, we can end up very hurt.
When it comes to taking care of ourselves and each other there are three areas that we can focus on – Gurus, Gossip, and Gaslighting. With a little transparency and care we can avoid some heartache, dings to our pocket books, and protect our faith in humanity and love.
First let’s talk about Gurus. By definition a Guru is a spiritual teacher and usually one that imparts initiation. However, in Western culture, Guru tends to mean expert. A true Guru is spiritual leader - someone who has dedicated their life to living in accordance with their spiritual beliefs and transmitting that knowledge to others. Often, we fall so in love with how we feel after yoga that we award this title to the teacher. We seek out mentorship with these individuals because our experience in their classes makes feel good about ourselves. Unfortunately, a good yoga class doesn’t always translate to a great teacher training or mentorship. I implore you to research your teachers well if you’re going to study with them for your teacher training or any form of mentorship. Ask questions and ask for references. Ask who they study with. The best teachers are always students. If your intuition tells you to keep looking, then keep looking. The right teacher will show up at the right time.
Now when it comes to asking around about other people’s experiences you may feel like you’re Gossiping or inviting gossip in. This is such a fine line for yogis. We don’t want to talk about people poorly but sometimes people do bad things and by not discussing them honestly we are hurting each other.
In the past year I have heard of people
- signing teacher training contracts with payment plans and then cancelling their credit card to avoid payment
- a teacher offering advanced trainings claiming to be registered with the Yoga Alliance and featuring international teachers when in fact none of that was true
- teachers partnering on retreats with other teachers and then embezzling money from the joint account
BAD THINGS HAPPEN EVEN BY PEOPLE WHO PRACTICE YOGA! So when it comes to asking for referrals notice if the person providing the referral seems as though they’re providing you necessary information in a kind way. If you’re hearing negative experiences are they repeated by others or does it seem to be a one-off incident? What should be taken with a grain of salt and what is something with gravity? When giving referrals always be kind, always be honest, and always give only necessary information.
The final thing we should keep an eye out for is Gaslighting. Manipulation happens everywhere, even in yoga. Unfortunately, when someone is behaving badly there are various steps they will take to protect themselves:
- They will want to keep you from comparing notes with others. They may tell you that someone said negative things about your or refer to others as “crazy”.
- They will challenge your dedication to living a yogic life. If you don’t want to work for free you’re being selfish. If you want to work at another studio you’re being disloyal. If you seek advice from others about a situation you’re being a gossip.
- They may try to convince you that something was your idea like signing up for a training you cannot afford or picking up a class that you didn’t want to teach.
So if you find yourself in a situation with a Gaslighting peer, friend, teacher, and/or mentor what can you do? Take notes, document, interact via email, and if something feels fishy talk to other people. Call out gaslighting and manipulation for what it is and do not be afraid of comparing notes with others. As long as you keep the conversations productive, kind, necessary, and honest you won’t be gossiping but rather protecting yourself and your tribe.
I honestly hope that if you’re reading this you never need this information. The tides seem to be turning a bit and we are learning to protect ourselves and our community through transparency. Please remember – yoga gets tender. We make ourselves vulnerable. We share deeply and love with a vibrancy. It’s okay to guard that love and not give it away and not let just anyone with a nice Pincha Mayurasana in. When the right mentor, friend, lover, business partner comes to light your intuition will guide you and you have the guidance of your tribe as well.