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Why Do Yoga People All Sound the Same?

Why Do Yoga People All Sound the Same?

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Image credit: Liz Kaoh Yoga

In the same way that yoga teachers lecture on chakras and asanas, most yoga practitioners have a set of go-to expressions to regurgitate as well.

“Be open. Be present. Practise gratitude. Love. Forgive.”

If it’s not these, it’s some variation on them. Sometimes they blossom into complete sentences, like, “Pain that has not yet come is avoidable.”

Yogis, apparently, love mantras.

But don’t get me wrong. It is not yoga that’s the problem. For many, yoga has proven to be a way to work through certain difficult periods in their lives or figure out who they are and what they want. Mindfulness meditation, which often accompanies the practice of yoga, has even been clinically proven to help with battling mental illness.

The real problem rather, is the language. And the fact that literally every yoga person now sounds the same.

Yoga speak tells us that we need to do and be certain emotions

Yoga speak, in itself, is pretty benign. But as aphorisms that have been repeated to death, it’s easy to forget that these are not truths many of us have come to realise on our own. Instead, they constitute a language that has been offered to us by the yoga industry, by the filter of Western revision that this Indian discipline has bee squeezed through.

By simply touting them, we create a barrier between who we really are and who we think we should be. Yoga speak tells us that we need to do and be certain emotions, and we rely on these words to direct the way we live. But what if this isn’t who we are?

What if some of us embody our best selves on that edge between between frustration and giving up? What if some of us do our best work while angry and under immense emotional strain?

Stop, breathe, and don't forget to post a selfie!

While yoga is meant to be a respite from all these difficult, problematic parts of life—what we might otherwise describe as day-to-day stress—what’s happening with a lot of yoga practitioners now is akin to addiction. Some practise 6 times a week, filling their lives and their social media feeds with updates on what pose they’re on or how they’re changing their lives. Accompanying these revelations are often the trappings of yoga speak.

“Blah blah heart opening blah shining blah blah love and light.”

But what do these words even mean? Over the past decade, as yoga has exploded into urban life, the industry has evolved into a highly organised system of things to do and places to go. Teacher trainings have become as common as classes, and there is constant pressure to devour more and more, to make yoga your life rather than to just do yoga on the side.

However, “more and more” remains an abstract promise, in the same way that yoga speak offers a state of being that is often simply aspirational. We repeat these words, but do we really know if this ideal, inflexible state of being “open” and constantly in search of spiritual healing is who we truly want to be? Are we really as fucked up as we’ve been led to believe?

intoning such empty phrases can be a completely shallow or meaningless exercise

On the other hand, what if we really are fucked up? What if we have real trauma to deal with, and have gone to yoga in the hopes of seeking closure or catharsis? What if it’s professional help that we really need rather than philosophical platitudes that tell us to remain honest?

Is yoga speak and its culture of mandatory good vibes really the answer?

In the same way that yoga folks repeat mantras in Sanskrit, a language many of them don’t even speak, intoning such empty phrases can be a completely shallow or meaningless exercise. The culture around yoga speak has evolved such that these words have become memes. They’ve become a kind of defining trait that people who do yoga feel they need to wear often and loudly.

Without expressing themselves through yoga speak, some might think, we might never find what we went looking for in yoga in the first place.

If you actually think about it, do we really live in a world where the only thing that matters is what you think of what you do? Perhaps, if you live in a bubble.

At the same time, perhaps yoga speak is not so much a concerted effort by yoga folks to disengage from the real world than it is a product of how yoga itself is practised. During a session, it’s common for teachers to employ singsong, chant like phrases that sound like run-on lines in a stream of consciousness monologue. The point is to come across as warm and encouraging.

In the process, a lot of words end up functioning as fillers; passive, meaningless language that then translates into a kind of blueprint we use and wave around, hoping it’ll inform the way we live.

At its most extreme, the pursuit of complete yogic harmony can result in a gratuitous cycle of more conferences, more trips to Mysore, more courting of Master teachers (who bring with them their fair share of scandals and lawsuits), and more supposedly cleansing diets. If we don’t stop to think about the language we use to package all of this in, we might never stop to question why we really do yoga at all.

As with any other form of exercise or discipline, yoga comes with its own jargon. But by sticking religiously to various modern manifestations of yoga speak, one can end up seeing the world through a very narrow dichotomy—one that says you are either at peace or not. You are either on the mat or not. You are either open or not.

Real life, as we all know, is a lot more complex than this. Real life, as famously written in Brave New World, is also hunger, apprehension, sin, ugliness, and unspeakable pains. One cannot deal with these things by choosing ignorance and encasing oneself in a blissful bubble of cliches; of stubbornly imagining that we live in a world where we can choose only to see the light.

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Joshua Lee