10/16/2012 03:34 pm ET Updated Dec 16, 2012

Yoga's Dark Side

There's a giant pink elephant on the yoga mat, and I'm just gonna come out and say it. How come when I go to any new-to-me yoga studio, or hang out with a group of "yoga people," I feel more judged there than anywhere else? At least half the time these yogi cliques are way too cool and I feel more like I just crashed the party at the Mean Girls lunch table, not like I'm about to spend a relaxing hour in stretch and meditation.

Yoga has begun attracting a crowd that promotes exclusivity and division. I'd like to underline the point that people in the yoga community can be some of the harshest and meanest critics out there. Once I suggested egg whites as a reasonable, light snack to have a couple hours before a yoga class, and was sternly (and seriously) asked by a fellow yogi if I'd taken my "stupid pills" that day. He was flabbergasted that I, as an instructor, could endorse the consumption of animal products despite my efforts to go out of my way to always buy organic, local, and humanely-raised meat and dairy.

This is just one very small incident that happened to me, but this is definitely not the only one of its kind. This is what's happening: In my own experience -- and in tons of others' I've spoken with about this -- judgment and what seems like genuine aggression toward yoga teachers and practitioners who don't fit the yoga stereotype.

Not too long ago, the picture of a yogi was drawn out something like this: friendly, inclusive, open-minded, and warm. They had a little bit of the "hippie" spirit in them, wanting to ensure everyone felt good in the space they practiced in. Now, in many places, the picture looks much different. Studios are full of people who can barely be bothered to make eye contact, let alone build any kind of friendship. The laid-back attitude of the yoga community has been diluted to one full of self-righteous egos that are decked out in $150 mala beads, outfits that cost a car payment, and mats with a matching price tag. They can put together a great outfit, but there's no authenticity. I'm not saying that any of this stuff is inherently bad, and my argument is not against having nice things, including fancy mats and malas -- I'm the first to admit to spending too much on some of these myself! My argument is that we've introduced a lot of frivolous stuff into the picture and it's clouding what the real meaning of yoga is: union of body, mind, and spirit.

It's about continuing to built on the concept of following a path of low resistance and embracing people of different ideas, cultures, communities, and diets! Why be insulted that someone hates the taste of green smoothies and enjoys a burger on the weekends? Why throw out insults to someone else's style of teaching because you think your own is superior? We already live in a world that forces you to constantly have your guard up, and it's nice to go to a place where you can not care what you're wearing or how your hair is or whether your Warrior is low enough. That's what yoga is really about and that's why I love teaching it, too. I get to create that environment for others, where they can let go of all the stresses we carry around all day in the "real" world.

Whether you're a teacher or a student of yoga, remember that it's OK to celebrate differences and remember why you started practicing. At the end of the day, we're all made up of the exact same "stuff." That's what yoga is to me.

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