Has Yoga Created a Culture of Escape?

One of the most valuable things about yoga is that it gives us an opportunity for refuge and renewal.

In coming to the mat, we have the chance not only to step away from the pressures and pains of everyday life, but to nourish and fortify ourselves so that we’re better able to deal with them. This is true whether we do yoga simply for exercise and relaxation, or our practice extends to include deeper commitments such as spiritual growth.

Either way, we take precious time for ourselves in order to grow stronger, healthier, and more vital.

This is beautiful, valuable, and much needed in our super-stressed, hyperactive society.

I’m afraid, however, that the yoga community has an all-too-common tendency to exchange refuge and renewal for escape and denial.

And while they sometimes look the same on the surface, they’re really not the same at all.

photo credit: ericskiff

What’s the difference? Seeking refuge and renewal involves recognizing that life is hard and that to live well, we need to fortify ourselves.

Embracing escape and denial, in contrast, involves cutting what we don’t like out of our conscious awareness, and insisting on telling ourselves and others stories about how reality is whatever we want it to be.

Why do I think this? Here are some examples that I’ve run across in recent weeks:

  •  A woman I meet at a yoga conference confesses that while she’s been practicing with a group that proudly celebrates their commitment to positivity and community, the reality is that there’s so much pressure to be happy together that people go home and cry alone at night.
  • A new friend explains to me that after years of teaching yoga and loving it, she’s become disillusioned with the community because after her studio underwent a hostile takeover, everyone quickly told her to “move on” and “let go of negativity,” rather than recognizing her pain and legitimate sense of betrayal.
  • I read one more well-meaning, but clueless post insisting that the only reason that yoga teachers aren’t rich is because they’re manifesting negative attitudes about money, and that if they’d only become more positive, The Universe would bless them with all the prosperity they could ever dream of.


  photo credit: Lemsipmatt

In my mind, these instances all exemplified the same underlying problem of trying to escape and deny difficult and painful realities – and then rationalizing that evasion as “yogic” because it seems to preserve our little bubble of peace and positivity.

And to me, that’s not yoga at all.

But what do you think?

What distinguishes refuge and renewal from escape and denial?

Has the yoga community created a culture that favors one over the other?

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- who has written 8 posts on Yoga Modern.

Carol is a Contributing Editor to Yoga Modern. A Certified Forrest Yoga Teacher, she teaches yoga to incarcerated women at the Cook County Women’s Detention Facility with the non-profit group, Yoga for Recovery. Author of Race and the Making of American Liberalism (Oxford University Press, 2005), she’s currently finishing a new book entitled 21st Century Yoga: Paradoxes of Contemporary Practice. Carol holds a Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Chicago and taught American Politics at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota. Since leaving academia to be with her husband in Chicago and start a family, she’s worked as a research consultant to nonprofit organizations, specializing in issues affecting low-income children and families. In addition to Yoga Modern, her online activities include blogging at Think Body Electric and Elephant Journal, maintaining a Facebook Page dedicated to news and discussion about yoga and meditation, and mixing it up on Twitter. Carol lives in Chicago with her husband, two sons, and two krazy catz.

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