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Are Yogis Self-Absorbed?

By on June 17th, 2011 — Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.

Over the years, as I have become more deeply steeped in my practice, my circle of friends has grown to include amazing, wonderful human beings who are engaged in a process of self-knowledge and self-care. And I, too, have been on this journey. Whether I am on or off the mat, I am often considering every subtle aspect of my life and existence. I have become acutely aware of what I am thinking, feeling, and doing in most moments. I see this in my friends, as well, and we can spend hours talking about how we behaved in or processed a certain situation, how our bodies run differently depending on what foods we eat, and what style of Hatha yoga best suits our personal constitutions.

The upside of all of this internal investigation is that life stays extraordinarily interesting and, the hope is, that it makes us more conscious. The downside, as one of my teachers once said to me many years ago, is that yogis can be some of the most self-absorbed people around. Now, I get that the greater goal (or one of them) is to become more present with ourselves so we can use that self-knowledge to be more conscious when we are out in the world. But, on the way, we certainly are focusing on our own selves a lot! I think, sometimes, it can lead to a sense of tunnel vision. For instance, are we missing out on important things happening around us? Can a sense of hyper focus on diet and lifestyle create myopia or anxiety? Do we start to discount the perspectives of those who aren’t yoga practitioners?

I have found, too, that people in the yoga community (not discounting myself) can sometimes tend to be flakier, or more likely to break plans, than people not in that community. We’ll bow out of something if our energy feels off that day, or if we feel like one of our doshas might be out of balance. The upside, again, is that we take care of ourselves better and we really do need more self-care in society. The downside: It can feel like plans we make never leave the category of “tentative” until they actually happen!

Have you run into self-absorption and flakiness amongst yoga practitioners? What are your thoughts on how to mitigate tunnel vision as a yogi, and stay in the stream of life even while increasing discernment and moment-to-moment awareness? Write in and tell us what you think!

 

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6 Reader Comments

  1. Posted By: Helene 6/17/2011 @ 3:55 pm

    Flaky? Yogis? No! LOL

    Well I really don’t think it’s the yoga that did it – I think you’re born flaky or not… just that the kind of thing yoga is these days attracts flaky types :)

    As for the lack of awareness of one’s surroundings, I don’t think that’s true. I’m much more aware of my surroundings. I see more clearly, I feel much more compassionate than I ever used to, I smile a whole lot more which makes other people smile back. etc. All in all more present in the world.

    If you’re self absorbed you,re not really a yogi, you are a wanna be yogi, going through the motions, gazing at your navel all the while. Not cool!

    My 2 cents :)

    Namaste

  2. Posted By: Dr. A 6/18/2011 @ 9:09 pm

    I agree with with the comment above. A yogi is fundamentally a person developing awareness of self and others. The gymnastics that poses as yoga today is posing as an athletic endeavor but fails to meet the yogic requirements of kindness and higher understanding. I feel in many cases it’s the teacher who falis to transmit the yogic bhavana for the deeper groove to be felt. Too many teacher trainings and not enough time to cultivate a deep truth in the teacher prior to teaching. Plus the modern notion that yoga is only stretchy/bendy/work outs. All are blessed just a few do yoga. no separateness only descriptions. True yogi and yoginis are rare. Blessings to all on their path. Namaste.

  3. Posted By: David Nelson 6/19/2011 @ 10:37 pm

    I’m going to fall in line with the others here. What we are calling yoga is attracting a higher-than-average concentration of people who are self absorbed and tend to avoid responsibilities and commitments; people who have “dropped out to tune in” –if I can lift a phrase from the 60′s.

    I say this without negative judgement — it’s the nature of what we are doing and those who we attract. We have created a scene that is drawing people who are directing their life energies toward their own self-actualization through self-cultivation. I don’t think this is “un-yogic” — rather, it’s very typically yogic. We have a heritage of people who have gone off to the woods and the caves to be self obsessed. Others pursue self actualization through service to others, through advancement of knowledge, etc.

    And, yes, the ranks are filled with folks that are flaky and have found a comfortable space in the yoga community to play it out. As a yoga teacher, I’m always reminded that 1) people are only doing the best that they can, really; 2) meet them where they are, and; 3) inspire them to grow.

  4. Posted By: Daniel 6/20/2011 @ 7:04 pm

    People have wrong ideas about what yogis actually were like in ancient India. To think that they were some type of heretic who abandoned society to do whatever the hell they want is a mistake. Indian society was an interdependent society, like a body where each limb and organ works together for the whole. Each and everyone had their own duty in life, known as svadharma. The students had their own duties; the householders had their own duties. The priests and scholars had their own duties. The king, minister, generals, warriors had their own duties. The Indian society also had a support system for people who had developed complete vairagya (dispassion) to become a monk or ascetic. Even though they were renunciates, they realized very well that they were dependent and working within the larger body of Indian society with the grihastas (householders) as the bedrock of the entire civilization.

    The renunciates were not like modern day hippies, but followed a strict disciplined life and they also had their own duties to perform. As long as one is alive, one cannot give up performing actions and as the Bhagavad Gita states, good actions purify even the wise. One also has to realize that the practice of yoga was not something limited to monks and ascetics. The Bhagavad Gita deals largely with a type of yoga that is to be practiced while performing one’s duties in everyday life. Modern yoga though has become an isolation of physical practice with an instructor that keeps yapping in new age language. Authentic Hindu wisdom like this is not taught in yoga studio. The lack of knowledge causes misunderstanding, confusion and lack of touch with everyday reality.

    When one says self absorbed, it can mean different things. When a psychologist for example would say this, it means something entirely different than when a yogi would say self absorbed. When the yogis talk about the self, they talk about one’s own true nature. When the self absorbed modern hippie is being self absorbed, they are entangled with the ego. Self absorption is the result of yoga, but not the egotistic materialistic self absorption of objectivism. The objectivists believe that one’s goal in life is one’s own rational self interest and that one should not expect anything from others or sacrifice oneself for others. This type of thinking is prevalent in the self help community and is also creeping into people that are window shopping spirituality. Note that the ancient Indian view of an ideal society as an interdependent whole where people do their work out of duty is completely opposed to this. Commercial yoga is run by the rules of supply and demand, not by a firm grounding in traditional wisdom. This renders modern yoga rather useless beyond some simple benefits to one’s health and wellbeing and it attracts certain type of people that are mainly concerned with the ego personality or those who are interested in yoga, but are gradually led to that type of thinking by an ignorant yoga instructor.

  5. Posted By: Lisa 6/24/2011 @ 6:20 am

    In a word: yes. And I’ll admit that I judge. But first let me say that yoga has been a transformative power in my life, far apart from and above the physical benefits (which support the mental/emotional/spiritual practice. Oh, and I like the way my ass looks.) A lot of that transformation is exactly what you talk about, Karen: I am aware of my own process, emotions and reactivity in a way that allows me to be more present for others in my life. It is a beautiful gift that I have received from the practice.

    But the culture that surrounds the practice I see as very solipsistic, also in the ways you mention.

    People are too worried about their doshas to taste something that is lovingly prepared and offered to them.

    People excuse and accept their own chronic lateness because they don’t want to have such a linear relationship to time (or something like that) without considering that being late disrespects other people and translates into the message that the late person believes themselves more important than the person who waits for them.

    The pressure to buy, buy, buy is ever present: the latest $150 Lululemon outfit, fancy drinks packaged in plastic and shipped across the world, the latest miracle ingredient (coconut, acai, whatever). And there is never any countervailing encouragement to look beyond our own microscopic examination of our bodies to consider that many in this world–including in this country–can’t afford to eat and don’t even have access to fresh fruits and vegetables.

    A fine recent example of self absorption was the stampede I witnessed among the yoga community to get iodine pills and seaweed in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, in case radiation traveled to the west coast of the U.S. I did not hear a single person in the yoga community talk about sending money to Japan and certainly didn’t hear anyone suggest sending their iodine pills to people who were really–not hypothetically–exposed to high levels of radiation.

    All of that said, I know many beautiful, giving, compassionate people whom I have met through the practice of yoga and I will continue to cultivate those relationships. And I will continue to squawk when I see behavior that strikes me as off-kilter with the values I think should be nurtured as human beings living in community with others.

  6. Posted By: Molina 6/9/2012 @ 9:52 am

    Flaky ?

    Maybe. I used to belong to a health store co-op where flare ups between customers and staff were quite common. I found this to be quite odd since presumably people were more aware of human and world issues and would be commensurately more tolerant of their fellow people. In my opinion though many of these people were clearly on the their last legs in finding a solution to whatever chronic problems they hadn’t been able to solve using more conventional methods. This is why, for example, the lady who couldn’t find a specific brand of wheat germ would scream at the stock person about how insensitive he was for not providing a comprehensive explanation followed up by a pledge to personally contact the supplier who would then guarantee an overnight delivery. As is that specific brand of wheat germ is the fulcrum oh her existence.

    At a second level many were there to “pick up” and used a superficial interest in personal health as a facade. My girlfriend at the time worked as a cashier in this place and eventually she quit because she got tired of being hit on all the time by middle-aged guys who would seek her advice on, for example, the correct methods of vitamin E application to scars or some such thing. Of course they didn’t give one rat’s a** about vitamin E or scars or whatever. Even if she shrugged and ignored them they kept returning with a never ending litany of approaches with the most popular being a variation on “do you want to go with me to this new yoga studio that everyone is talking about”.

    Relative to yoga. In the mainstream I see some of the same behavior especially in the co-ed studios. The same games, motivations, and attempts to hide serious problems are all there.
    So is it a surprise that some yogi might be a little off ? Not to me. On the other hand its like anything else in life. You need to shop around to locate those who are in it for balanced reasons and who exhibit maturity and experience. I don’t go to yoga studios for spirituality or religion – that’s a private matter and I don’t want to plague anyone with my beliefs nor do I want to be plagued by what others believe. Taken this way, I’m seldom disappointed in another’s behavior because my expectations don’t necessarily include some type of bonding experience with anyone there. Friendships are organic and have an arc all their own, which can’t be forced. If it happens then it will but let’s not use the fact that we are both at the same studio at the same time as an inference that the universe somehow wants us to be together.

    Let’s just work through the hour with some dedication, we’ll be polite and considerate, maybe even share a conversation that could evolve into a friendship or a deeper understanding of things – but ,hey, don’t take it personally if I leave and get on with my life.