“Yoga Student’s Bill o’ Rights” Take Two! /// A Note About Being Specific /// The Post Where We Make a Very Un-Snarky (Yr Words) Suggestion

“Situationists” Michèle Bernstein, Asger Jorn, Colette Caillard, and Guy Debord discuss small enclaves of like-minded yoga bastards

[NOTE: This piece is in no way attempting to be a joke].

The Babarazzi get itchy around grand plans that attempt to speak for large swaths of people. Nine times out of ten these “initiatives” well overstep their own author’s limited perceptions, and ultimately end up being presumptuous about their audience’s needs and wants. We are, however, excited by “precepts,” “tenets,” and “suggested guidelines” that come from within small communities that help to orient a collective’s vision. For us, J Brown’s “Bill of Rights” (BOR), while no doubt very well intentioned, assumes a much more unified “yoga community” than we believe exists (thankfully, IOHO). As such, we believe the BOR, despite its attempt at being über-inclusive, extends well beyond the author’s own personal understanding of what a yoga practice is. In doing so, we believe this draft actually limits what’s possible for a student of yoga, “householder” or otherwise.

But, that does not mean Bills of Rights such as this have no place.

After thinking about the BOR for a spell, we began to re-frame our approach. What if we pretended that The Babarazzi were asked to seriously consider where the BOR might best work? We imagined we were on a Board of Directors such as this one, though with more mustaches and less dudes….

Old-timey board meeting discussing yoga’s future

We began to wonder: is there a community that might benefit from a BOR such as the one proposed by J Brown?

When we started thinking in this way, we began to realize that the BOR’s lack of specificity actually does it a disservice (this is also a general belief of the Babarazzi as a whole). While we all could benefit from “safe spaces,” there are some communities that might actually need some form of codified vision such as the one Brown recommends in order to keep people safe. For us, it’s important to recognize that while we actually welcome a fair amount of play with regards to power dynamics, inverted social norms, and “decorum,” there are many people and communities where such activities would put them at risk of injury.

So, The Babarazzi got to thinking: What if we read this Bill of Rights not as a Bill of Rights for the entire world of yoga practitioners (because that’s just crazy), but rather as a Bill of Rights for, say, yoga practitioners whose developmental disabilities were so severe that simply being “in the world” (for lack of better term) was a risk to their well-being?

Then it clicked:

“Bill of Rights for Yoga Practitioners with Severe Developmental Disabilities”

As a yoga student you have the right to:

– Be personally introduced to your instructor
– A safe and courteous instructor who is attentive to your needs
– A knowledgeable instructor who instills confidence
– Decline to be pushed into anything that feels wrong to you
– Not be compared to anyone or made to feel small
– Ask questions and get sufficient answers
– Feel comfortable and that you are among friends
– Be discerning and make your own determinations

Now, some of us actually have ass-loads of experience working with communities of differently-abled persons, so we know that, as it stands, this BOR isn’t really appropriate for some random hypothetical school for yoga practitioners with developmental disabilities. Not to mention, a BOR of this nature would need to be written specifically by care-givers and their patients (if they were able to do so), utilizing a language appropriate to their own specific community. What we’re suggesting by framing the BOR in this particular light, however, can be broken down into three tasty statements:

  1. The “yoga community” is far too large and diverse to be asked to adhere to any one single set of tenets, no matter how generous and “open” the language therein.
  2. Small communities of one or more peoples should define for themselves the guidelines or anti-guidelines by which they engage the yogic tradition (if they so desire).
  3. Attempts at being “universal” in language is usually anything but universal.

Make sense? Good.

Now for some heart-trembling Sufi music by a couple of Moroccan women to get us back in the right frame of mind.

Respect your elders

_____________________

Title image by Gary and Suzy Zahradka.

18 comments

  1. Better than my first cup of coffee. X

  2. Sheryl

    As Cool Hand Luke’s wise warden once said, “What we have here is a failure to communicate.” I suspect that those who make sweeping proclamations for the imaginary “yoga community” tend to be the same people who claim that yoga can be anything you want it to be. This sets up a situation in which words have no agreed-upon meaning and dialogue becomes fraught, if not impossible. Fortunately, this is easily fixable if we can just press pause and agree on an objective lexicon.

    I won’t presume to speak for others, but here are a few suggestions from my own experience. When I speak of my “yoga practice” I’m talking about my daily, decade-long practice of asana, pranayama, and meditation; ethical, philosophical, and textual studies (in the yoga and Soto Zen traditions); and psychological spelunking all undertaken under the watchful eyes and firm but gentle hands of two very wise and experienced teachers. These teachers sometimes make me cry, frequently make me laugh, and always always challenge me. They know my shit better than most of my blood relatives, and though I don’t always like them I trust them with my life. When I say “yoga” this is what I mean, and, in my perfect world, it’s what everyone else would mean as well.

    When I say “asana class” I’m talking about those many hours I spend in a room with 4-6 students as I lead them through asana, breathwork, and concentration. I know all of my student’s names, the names of their grandchildren, their health histories, and what they like to eat for breakfast. There is no great spiritual or psychological transformation happening in these classes because I am not qualified for such things, but I like to think they leave feeling at ease in their bodies and a little more engaged with their lives. May I suggest we call this type of thing “asana class” and maybe for clarity’s sake find a way to be even more specific–“small-group iyengar asana class,” “large-group vinyasa asana class,” “super-sized hot asana class with rockin’ 80s soundtrack.”

    When I meet with a student 1-on-1 and we explore ways to relieve complaints such as anxiety, thyroid issues, or knee rehab though asana, meditation, and breathwork, I call this “therapeutic yoga.”

    Of course, each individual’s “yoga practice” will look different, and there are as many types of “asana class” as there are teachers, but it’s a start, no? I’d love to hear others’ suggestions. And mostly, I’d love to have an occasional meaningful, honest discussion about “yoga” in which everyone is speaking a similar language.

  3. I don’t know Baba. Quite a stretch here. Seems like you’re trying awfully hard to be controversial without much to go on.

    First, I’m not sure how my little piece on yoga that included a hypothetical BOR assumed any particular unity in the the “yoga community.” Believe me, I am fully aware that there is no such unity. And I don’t know how much it was intended to be a jab but my limited perceptions and personal experiences are all I have to base my understanding of yoga on. That is all any of us have to understand yoga.

    If it is presumptuous of me to assume that folks are not making informed choices about their yoga then you are certainly guilty of the same. Babarazzi would not exist were you not making the same presumption about your audiences needs and wants. And can you explain further why encouraging people to be discerning is limiting?

    Also, I think your tendency towards nastiness does your intelligence a disservice. I can see the attempt at satire in suggesting that if someone isn’t naturally employing my silly BOR then they have “severe developmental disabilities” but, frankly, your point is easily lost in your seeming disdain for people that are not as astute as you fancy yourself.

    I agree that broad platitudes are insufficient and limiting to addressing the specific needs of individuals and communities. However, regardless of the size and diversity of the “yoga community” there are some tenets that it is safe to assume we would all adhere to: honesty, kindness and self-study – just to name a few.

    I’m sure you can utilize your Situationist perspective to find some reason to suggest that these things are not universal. But if Guy Debord had the broader questions of life all figured out then he probably wouldn’t have killed himself. If you think that suicide is an appropriate means to resolve the difficulties of life then I feel sorry for you.

    Yoga is universal. Language is inherently limiting when it comes to articulating this universality. If no one ever attempted to finds words for things that were universal, at least in a literary sense, life would be very dull. There would be nothing for Babarazzi to rant about.

    Respectfully, I think you are on safer ground when you stick to cheesy yoga dvd’s and advertising. Otherwise, you are going to have to risk showing a little more heart.

    • This post was not in any way intended to be nasty. In fact, just the opposite! We actually took out that disclaimer at the top figuring people would know that. Apparently, we overestimated that assumption.

      For us, your BOR, and others like it, work best when directed at specific communities, and not communities on the whole. I think it’s fairly obviously your original intent was to employ a far-reaching breath of language to include everyone. As a practice, that typically does not work. But, when seeing your BOR as a set of specific guidelines for specific communities that could use it most, it really begins to shine!

      Why would you think we were being nasty or satirical? You missed the critique of universalism entirely! What a bummer….

      • Suggesting that the specific community who might benefit from common sense precepts, like in my almost-wish-I-never-created BOR, are those with severe developmental disabilities is potentially satirical but pretty nasty if you ask me. Perhaps you were just being funny but, in this instance, I feel like your humor belies your purpose.

        If your intent was to critique universalism, I think you need to be a little more specific. If we are talking about some dogma that everyone is supposed to follow then I’m with you completely. But if we are throwing the baby out and saying that there is nothing universal, even dare I say love, then we most certainly part ways. Whether or not we can find language to communicate to one another that which is universal is another matter entirely. I maintain that is worthwhile to try.

        The post that contained the YSBOR was about how individuals and grassroots yoga communities might, despite the influence of money and business, still do right by themselves and ended with a quote from Mos Def about how what is happening with each individual is what is happening with yoga. There was no suggestion that the “proposed first draft” of the YSBOR was to be adhered to. There was no attempt to pigeon hole anyone or impose anything on anyone.

        Again, I think your style suits you well when you are taking on “yoga-bleaching.” But beyond that, snarkiness can only get you so far my friend. And if you agree with DimensionsYoga that yoga is personal and none of this bull matters then why are you anonymous and why did you start the conversation in the first place?

        Just trying to keep it real.

        • We were in no way trying to be funny. Read the title. We were being specifically UN-“snarky,” as people like to call us. Why are you so offended that we think your BOR would best be suited for communities that might require a very close watch when engaging with the greater public world? Why is it so hard to imagine that your BOR, as simple as you intended it to be, actually created a discussion (which you had hoped) and lead some people to think that something of this nature would fare much better attached to highly specific communities? even historically marginalized ones.

          Think of it this way: I have the luxury of being able to walk among the “Chogyam Trungpas” and “Oshos” of the world, and engage radical upheavals of my comfort zones. In fact, I welcome this (sometimes). Your BOR, on the other hand, would preclude these kinds of so-called “crazy wisdom” relationships from happening. That to me is unacceptable. There are other people, however, that don’t have this luxury. There are people who simply can not be expected to navigate through teachers pushing well up against their personal spaces and basic fragile senses of self. It is my/our belief that these people might best be served with a set of guidelines much like yours.

          I’m sorry if for some reason this offends you. My suggestion: look into that.

          Aghori

        • I am not the least bit offended. I am merely holding you to task in the same way you do others. If there really is no irony to your suggestion that the BOR is only useful for those with “severe developmental disabilities” (your words) then this does not cast you in a very good light.

          You wrote: “we know that, as it stands, this BOR isn’t really appropriate for some random hypothetical school for yoga practitioners with developmental disabilities.” So clearly, you intended some amount of irony. Frankly, I was generous in referring to your extreme example of developmental disabilities as snark. And your argument that a public service announcement that speaks to the professionalism of yoga teachers and their accountability, with no legal binding or persuasion, would in any way preclude or impede your freedom to “engage radical upheavals of your comfort zones” is thin at best. Anyone could simply disregard the BOR and subject themselves to inconsiderate and injurious teachers all they want.

          You are right, I did want to start a conversation. And here we are having one. But we are not talking about a commercial or a product. We are talking about the writing of two people, you and me, and the ideas that we are putting forth. You see, I have often defended you. I like that you are out there taking pot shots at the superficiality and hypocrisy that sometimes overshadows something I hold dear. I want you to keep doing it. But I want you to do it well. And if you don’t back up your assertions with some real soul then it’s just gossip and too easy to write you off.

          My suggestion: Consider utilizing that insight of yours as more of a gift than a weapon.

          Warmly,
          J.

          • The use of the two statements by us was to show that our response was both an exercise in really rethinking the BOR, as well as coming up with an honest suggestion. It doesn’t have to be taken literally, but the approach makes sense to us.

            Don’t worry though, no one is reading this post anyway.

  4. yoga is so personal, none of this bullshit matters.

  5. justbehonest

    i take to heart that such a bill of rights being suggested really does lean towards “people who are in need of basic daily living and social skills”. and therefore can see that the population that you suggest this would fit, is in fact not snarky but a reality. this is indeed how this population is served, taught and protected by those who serve them.
    it is interesting (and a sign of complete luxury and entitlement) that it needs to be discussed that “yoga students” (any more then the general public? ) should have a bill of rights, and that any teacher training could exist that did not train deeply in ethics. the eight limbs (sutras) start and end with the fact that without ethics yoga is not happening, no matter where you can put your leg, or how high you can pull your pelvic floor to your eyebrows, or how many corporately sponsored events you headlined in the last three years.

    • amphibi1yogini

      Honesty is always the best policy. In fact, it should be a given with yoga teachers. Too many don’t practice what they preach, due to being busy or up for the next best thing … But the declining market for commercialized yoga, and trends (such as the hipsters moving on), have a way of correcting this …

  6. Oh I’m reading it alright. And, yes, it does help me pooh. I have a lot more to say, too, but I just can’t find the time and I don’t want to write anything half-assed… Because then my jeans wouldn’t look as ok as they do now. I don’t know how you guys find the time for such fine commenting, jay brown and aghori. I don’t even know if I should be using “guys” in the plural sense. All I know is that I want you to keep it up. X

  7. bor? this guy knoooows how dumb and pretentious that shit is right? He could print it on hisyoga tank top for a 75 and older -seniors with dementia class.. then id get it… i think.

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