Disclaimer: This article is NOT directed at John Friend, Anusara Yoga, or any one group in particular. It is my honest and heartfelt reflection on trends I see in the yoga community in general.

John Friend has been called a celebriyogi. So you better believe I was oh-so-relieved when a very down to earth and personable guy plopped down next to me on the couch for our interview at the Wanderlust Festival in Vermont. As soon as he started teasing me about astral projecting into the future (I mistakenly said we were at Wanderlust 2012 in my introduction), I felt myself relax and quickly took a liking to the “yoga mogul” as he’s been called. Ever since our conversation, my mind’s been all abuzz with thoughts about that tenuous boundary between cliques,  kulas, and communities in the yoga world.

I spent a lot of time studying social psychology in college. But if you really want a lesson in group dynamics, there’s nothing like Wanderlust Fest to bring the theories of old men in armchairs to life. I love to people watch, I can’t tell you how interesting it was to see bedazzled yogis asking for autographs from their favorite teachers or see the looks of confusion as English-speaking yogis struggled to find common language (she says inner-spiral, he says internal rotation). We’re a fascinating breed, us modern-day yogis. When almost everyone I met introduced themselves in terms of the yoga “kula” they belonged to, I couldn’t help but wonder if I’d flashed-back to high school.

I may tussle a few feathers here. But this is my heart speaking. I’ve gotta get it out.


Photo via Wanderlust

 What’s the difference between a clique and a kula? Well to start off with, as John notes in the interview, the word clique is a modern term that’s typically used in a pejorative way. We often use ‘clique’ to describe a group of individuals who exclude and act derisively toward those in the larger community. Kula, on the other hand, is a Sanskrit word often translated as family, clan, or community of the heart.

“I don’t like to think that any yoga group would be cliquish because that would presume that they have an intent to somehow look on the others in a disharmonious way.”

I really resonated with John’s heartfelt answers during the interview, and since returning home I’ve continued to sort of chew on the topics we touched on. One thing that seems to keep showing up for me, no matter how much I resist looking at it, is the sense of divisiveness and imbalance of power I sense in the yoga world. Frankly, I don’t like to think that yogis would be “cliquish” either. It definitely paints a prettier picture to suppose that we all see one another as brothers and sisters, that there’s no sense of competition among different styles of yoga, and that no one ever gets excluded or cast out of the kula. But is that the reality? I’m not so sure.

I wonder if those in leadership positions really see all the things that happen under the radar in their kulas and the yoga community at large. Or maybe some do and are too wrapped up in the dynamics of it themselves to sound the alarm. I don’t know. I’d like to give them the benefit of the doubt. I have to admit I feel vulnerable tackling this issue at all, but my hope is that by sharing a little personal anecdote here, we can open up space for an open-minded and respectful dialogue.

Photo via Wanderlust

As a fiery young twenty-something who lacks a real rootedness to her family of origin, I’m hyperaware of my tendency to get pulled in by the allure of family-like clans. There’s a strong desire — and I believe this exists in all of us, not just those of us who are in our youth or come from broken homes — to belong, to be accepted, to be a part of something bigger than our individual selves. This desire, I believe, is in part what drives human beings to form tribes, to build families, and to create communities throughout world. We want to believe we are held by something greater, and it’s in the arms of others we find the reassurance we need.

Yes, I see you. I value you, and you’re wanted here.

But there’s a shadow side to the yearning for community as well. Often (and I know this from my own process), we get so wrapped up in our desire to be accepted that we end up losing our connection to our Self in order to be accepted by the clan. We begin to idealize the leader(s) in the community, we start to meld our beliefs and value systems to be more in line with theirs’, we lose our capacity to rationally evaluate the teachings or demands being made because dissent might result in us getting kicked out of the group…

…continued at YogaModern.com