What Is Mean Girl Yoga? Here’s How Teachers and Students Can Prevent It

Liza Jones
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She told me she heard a lot of laughter and chatter going into a new studio. It was a close-knit lunchtime, power class. The women were all in their 20s and 30s. She said that she felt all eyes on her.
 
In general, there was way too much mental activity in the studio. 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.
 
She wondered why she felt unwelcome and judged when she came in. It was yoga, for goodness’ sake. If you can’t find kindness and compassion in yoga, where can you find it? Isn’t all yoga supposed to be inclusive yoga?
 
 

The Opposite of Inclusive Yoga: “Mean Girl” Yoga

When the class started, she could feel the comparisons being made. She said you could almost touch the competition. Each woman was pushing herself – not to push past her own boundaries, but to show off for her peers.
 
It was like high school all over again, she thought.
 
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! 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 even slightly feel 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!
 
 

Mean Girls are Not Only Girls

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, ego-based 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 totally promoted inclusivity. 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.
 
Feel like you’re one of the mean girls? Read: Do You Practice the Eightfold Path of Yoga? Why it Matters
 
 

Inclusive Yoga Has No Place for the Ego

A 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, the 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 for anything that it does.
 
In the mean girl mentality, the ego identifies with superiority, so it wants to put others down to make itself feel more substantial – out of fear of the other.
 
No matter what’s been done to us or what we’ve done, yoga class should be a place where we come to heal and where we come to build each other up. All yoga should be inclusive yoga.
 
So, how can we prevent this mean girls’ yoga – as teachers and students?
 

 
 
 

How Teachers Can Create an Atmosphere for Inclusive Yoga

Here are a few ideas for teachers to discourage mean girls and, instead, promote an atmosphere for inclusive yoga.
 

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 yoke with the Source – which is the true purpose of the practice.
 

2. Show by 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 him or herself. Take a few moments to give some energy to new students. Other students will see this and adopt your energy of inclusivity.
 

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 mean girl mentality take themselves very seriously. To banish this 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.
 
 

How Students Can Create an Atmosphere for Inclusive Yoga

Here are a few ideas for students to discourage mean girls and, instead, promote an atmosphere for inclusive yoga.
 

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 wanders and begins to look around to compare itself to others.
 
When you become aware of the wandering 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.
 
 

Inclusive Yoga: The Takeaway

For those of you on the receiving end of this behavior, the mean girl mentality is nothing but ego. Ego is the fake sense of self that sometimes puts other people down because it fears not being good enough.
 
Once you realize that it’s only fear, you can smile and love and do your thing – spreading inclusivity.
 
For those of you who are on the giving end, get your shit together, drop the fear, and be the love that you are.
 
Let’s go back to what yoga really is. Let all else fall away.

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Liza Jones

Bio: Liza is the founder of soulrises.com and is a certified yoga teacher + certified nutrition consultant. Her intention is to uplift souls everywhere through yoga, meditation, holistic nutrition and mindfulness. Raise your vibe every day.

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