What is Mean Girl Yoga & How to Prevent It: For Yoga Teachers and Students Alike
Going into a new studio, she told me she heard a lot of laughter and chatter. It was a close-knit lunchtime, power class. The women were all in their 20s and 30s. She said that she felt the eyes on her.
In general, there was way too much mental activity in the room. As she took her place in the back of the room and listened to them talk to each other, she couldn’t help but hear their conversations. It sounded like some had been friends for years. There were a few who worked together.
There was an energy in the room that she couldn’t ignore.
Why did she feel unwelcome and judged when she came in, she wondered. It was yoga, for goodness’s sake. If you can’t find kindness and compassion here, where can you find it?
When the class started, she could feel the comparisons being made. She said you could almost touch the competition. Everyone was pushing herself, not to push past her own boundaries, but to show off for her peers.
It was like high school again, she said. After class, she quickly put her props away, navigating through the pushy women, loudly talking in pitched, fake voices. She wanted to get out of there as soon as possible.
My friend never went back to that class. She never went back to that studio. That’s a shame because she is such a wonderful person and yogi.
I sighed with relief that it was not my class. Never! I thought. Not in my damn class.
I want to create a space that is so loving and open that no person, highly sensitive or not, would ever feel even slightly that way.
One time, I had a fellow teacher confess to me that this happened to her at a teacher training. Mean girl yoga among the teachers? Aw, hell no.
And this is not to be sexist. I have seen mean girl activity from grown men in yoga classes. I call it “mean girl” because this energy has that distinct flavor of cliquey exclusivity, competition and judgmental shunning, often seen among mean girls in junior high and high school.
Anyone can be a mean girl. We all know this brand of mental, egoic immaturity: I want to be better than everyone else, even if I have to energetically put others down.
This brand of energy, the mean girl vibe, has happened to a majority of women. And a majority of women have been perpetrators as well. I definitely admit to mean-girling in middle school and high school. There were times, even in more recent years, when I haven’t been totally inclusive. I actually feel pain to think of those times, and I have to forgive myself for that specific brand of fear and ego. I have to forgive myself for that survival mentality.
One quick word about the ego: The ego would have you identify with anything other than your soul for your sense of self: your body, your job, your social standing, your roles that you play, your people, etc. It’s the surface-level sense of who you are according to what your mind tells you. And ultimately, it’s not real. Because your soul is the real you. The ego knows it’s not even real and that nothing it identifies with will last so fear is its primary motivation to anything it does.
In the mean girl mentality, the ego wants to feel superior so it wants to put others down to feel better about itself. The ego knows it’s not even real so it is motivated primarily by fear.
No matter what’s been done to us or what we’ve done, yoga class should be a place where we come to heal, where we come to build each other up.
How can we prevent this mean girl yoga? As teachers and students?
A few ideas for teachers:
1. Keep the spirituality of yoga: Let’s bring back meditation, silence and stillness before class. Let’s bring back pranayama, yogic philosophy and the sutras. If we are only focusing on the physical aspects of yoga, then we are promoting physical benefits only. Yoga is a spiritual practice so let’s confront the ego and its illusions straight on, aiming to bring your students to yolk with the Source—which is the true purpose of the practice.
If you'd like some ideas for meditations, this free email course offers meditations ranging from 5-15 minutes:
2. Show your example: When new students come, say hello kindly and lovingly. Do this in front of your students. Ask the new student not just about any injuries, but also about his or herself. Take a few moments to give some energy to new students. Other students will see this and adopt your inclusive energy.
3. Encourage light-heartedness and even silliness: You have to be willing to show this in your own energy. So if you make a mistake, point it out and laugh about it. People with the mean girl mentality take themselves very seriously. To banish that seriousness, encourage people to be easy, to lovingly poke fun at themselves (without making fun of them, of course). Encourage smiling, laughing and safe, funny imperfection.
A few ideas for students:
1. Keep your practice sacred and honest: Don’t go to a class because it’s cool to do yoga. Or because you want to make friends, or because your coworkers are going. There should be no social ulterior motive. Have an authentic reason for attending yoga, and make that into a solid and sacred intention that ignites your heart and spirit.
2. Say hey: If you see someone new before class, say hello and introduce yourself. If that’s too much, and you’re a little too shy and busy for all that (I get it), just send them some loving, calming energy from afar. Try this: Before class begins, take a moment to send each person in the class peaceful energy. They might not feel it directly, but they will feel it on some level because the energy you emanate is powerful.
3. Stay on your own mat: Keep your awareness to yourself, to your breath, mind and body. Stay awake to instances when your ego wonders and begins to look around to compare itself to others. When you become aware of the wondering ego, return to the flow of your breath, to your own body and try to release your thoughts with your exhales. Mentally, spiritually, lovingly: Keep your attention on yourself only.
For those of you on the receiving end of this behavior, the mean girl mentality is nothing but ego, which is nothing but fear. Once you realize that it’s only fear, you can smile and love and do your thing.
For those of you who are on the giving end, get your shit together and be the love that you are.
Let’s go back to what yoga really is. Let all else fall away.
A version of this post has been published on YogiApproved.
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