Unscientific Postscript to Yoga is Dangerous • 25 September 2007

I’ve thought over this matter in the past week, thanks to the many people who have emailed me. Thank you, everyone. Sometimes it amazes me that there is true community here, and that these are relationships where we work out aspects of our practice as much as we participate in creating a bottom-up side of astanga culture. We are creating this world as much as its authorities who we mostly revere, and that is sort of revolutionary.

So, two notes on the matter of petite brunettes with daddy issues.

One. If the desire to “put oneself out there” as irrevently funny trumps a sensitivity to the real power big men have over small women—if ego trumps empathy—then clearly this person has not gone through the process of self-examination of inherited gender conditioning, and radical affirmation of human equality, that I’d wish he had as a modern yogi.

To do that, to learn to be feminists (get over the word already: it doesn't connote female domination and you know it), most men need to have a transformative relationship with a fully realized woman.

In the same way, white people in this country don’t even begin to undo their inherited racism (even if they emotionally antd intellectually despise racism) until they enter in to deep relationships with people of color as equals. It's not just a matter of professing the right politics. Politics is surfacy, but race and gender are visceral. 

It is difficult to imagine someone who understands the process of self-transformation through relationship explicitly taking advantage of his gender and size to leverage a sexualized power over small women. Someone who’d sensitized himself accurately to any women’s subjectivity would have some idea of the almost primitive responses that would call up in her, and would respect her enough to give her space. (It's not like women don't create gender inequality just as much or more than men.)

I do hope this teacher will find this discussion, because maybe he truly doesn’t know that his conduct is symbolically freighted and viscerally affecting. It's so much easier to be lighthearted about this, and not see its serious side. But you are a powerful man, man. Have some respect for that power of yours.

Two. WHATEVER! Ashtanga yoga is about doing what is uncomfortable. That's it. End of question-period.

This practice is a process undoing fears through direct experience. I worry that I have made a “thing”—a personal mental obstacle—out of my feelings about this stranger.

"I won't go to that teacher because he scares me." Hmmm. Really!? Again, whatever. Doing your practice in the presence of fear is one of the few things about which SKPJ is explicit.

Most people are still sexist on some deep level. This behavior is common in the world I inhabit: people who get it are the exception. It’s just not up to me to care. Or correct. Though if I'm in a relationship that's messed up, of course I have to do some pushback and take responsibility for protecting myself. Doing that is itself just a part of facing fear.

So it looks like at some point I’ll have to track this joe down and practice with him. Not repeatedly or anything, but for the sake of it. I’ll try not to flirt with him, which is exactly what I would have done if I hadn’t seen that profile (because word is he is a funny guy, and I would have cued into that to take the edge off any potential authoritarianism). But I might have to do something that violates his sense of propriety on my way out of “his” room. Any suggestions?