Yoga's Real Backlash


Eat, Pray, Love has raised the profile of yoga, and now there’s an inevitable backlash — stories about how the seemingly benign discipline can destroy your life.

CBS’s Susan Koeppen tells the story of Rachel Schneider, who says her back problems were exacerbated by inappropriate yoga poses. Koeppen also points out that there are no national standards for yoga teacher certification, and that such certification can be purchased over the Internet with almost no training. Of course, an unqualified trainer is dangerous in any physical activity, and such people aren’t limited to yoga. Indeed, it’s smart to check someone’s credentials no matter what they’re teaching you.

This holds true for the more spiritual aspects of yoga as well. The New York Post‘s Sara Stewart writes about people so enthralled with EPL-style enlightenment that they end up spending their life savings on trips to ashrams:

Rather than using their inner-peace revelations to spur them on to happier lives, they become enlightenment junkies, spending all their time and money in pursuit of what they come to believe is the path to happiness: more and more meditation and Guru worship.

There’s no real smoking gun in Stewart’s piece. She quotes one former yoga devotee who says people sometimes run up credit-card debt at ashrams, and mentions a 1994 New Yorker article that accused Siddha Yoga, which operates the facility Elizabeth Gilbert visited, of sexual abuse. But there are no new allegations, and probably the most on-target observation comes from Gita Mehta, author of Karma Cola: Marketing the Mystic East. She says, “If your guru is a con man and you think of him as a father figure, then you’re certainly going to be in trouble.”

Eat, Pray, Love painted yoga as a path to calm and joy, and especially for those who got into it because of Gilbert, it may be easy to forget that yoga is a) a business and b) a form of exercise. Since most yoga studios and some ashrams are for-profit enterprises, it behooves any consumer to check out their bona fides and avoid getting ripped off. And since yoga can involve demanding physical movements, aspiring yogis need to make sure their teachers are qualified and their bodies are up to the strain. Perhaps because of its association with selflessness and serenity, people may assume that yoga is entirely benign and risk-free. But even enlightenment has risks, and anyone who wants to follow in Elizabeth Gilbert’s footsteps should know that starting out.

Image via Vibrant Image Studio/

Eat Pray Zilch [New York Post]
Lax Regulation Of Yoga May Put You At Risk [CBS]

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