Hello, my name is Zach, and I’m a yoga ‘C’-word.

By Zach Spafford

In a previous blog post concerning the accountability of those who profit from yoga asana’s image/appeal but minimize the conversation around asana injury, I added the following statements in anticipation of the inevitable tone policing that is standard fare in the yogasphere.

In reference to speaking out against the proliferation of irresponsible imagery via social media I wrote, “I see yogis taking stands against all sorts of civil, social, public, political, ills. But it’s like pulling teeth to get them take a stand on simple issues within our own industry”.

I went on to write “There will always be those who want to straddle the crack and try to appeal to everyone. This is the very wishy washy complacency that bogs down the change that is so desperately needed”.

When criticizing something yoga related I always try to be clear that I am engaging in constructive criticism and that I am making analytic distinctions that are not often examined publicly for the purpose of initiating healthy discourse. I don’t call people out personally. But I do ask the reader to examine the concepts and adapt accordingly as new information becomes available. In this way, we can better understand the problems and begin to make those important distinctions that need to be made if we are going to progress with transparency and integrity as faithful stewards of our chosen art.

Many people respond to our yoga industry critiques with gratitude, thanking us for speaking up audaciously in a consumer powered industry bent on whitewashing us all into a robotized, doe-eyed Stepford Wife submission.

Those who oppose… drop the ‘C’ word.

Because this word keeps coming up, I think it’s important to clarify its meaning in order to establish a baseline understanding of the term in order to keep the valuable conversations from stalling out on the tracks.

Typically the insertion of the ‘C’ word evokes images most of us find distasteful when thought of in its literal context. But when used figuratively, it is often viewed in a much more favorable light.

One definition of crusade is – a holy war undertaken with papal sanction

The other is – A CONCERTED EFFORT OR VIGOROUS MOVEMENT FOR A CAUSE OR AGAINST AN ABUSE: a crusade for literacy; a crusade against drunk driving.

Here are a few more examples of the second definition

– a crusade for women’s rights (women’s suffrage).
– a crusade for civil rights (desegregation).

I could go on, but that should suffice.

We would be hard pressed to glean any sort of negative connotation from any of the above examples from the second definition. I would imagine that when referring to the above examples, those who used the term “crusader” in a derogatory manner where probably those who did not want African Americans to integrate, women to vote, and so on. I don’t know about you, but I’m happy for the crusaders who crusaded on behalf of those who were marginalized, oppressed, used and abused.

Which brings us back to how that word is used in yogaland. In my experience with previous articles, those who mentioned crusades were those who were directly challenged by the premise. Not out of a sense of realization as in “I never thought of it that way! Maybe I should reconsider the way I look at things!”

But rather, out of a sense of “Oh crap… These people are exposing the schtick that I rely on as part of my performance. I’m not willing to change. I wouldn’t know how to change if I wanted to! I just want them to shut up!”

These people often assume the role of the diplomat/parent figure asking everyone to get along, saying “Now, now, no need for a crusade…Let’s all get along shall we?” These are the very people I was referring to when I said “There will always be those who straddle the crack and try to appeal to everyone.” Keep in mind, people have an natural aversion (dvesa) to things that threaten their pockets and their power (raga).

In my experience, the people who try to be everything to everyone in yogaland often have the biggest agenda and the biggest investment in maintaining the status quo. To reinforce this point I’ll give you a specific example.

I posted a FB rant that featured an unsafe adjustment being performed on Instagram. A known individual entered the thread feigning likeminded views on a few tangential subtopics and then proceeded to steer the conversation away from accountability. They danced and shuffle footed around the real issue in order to distance themselves from culpability by virtue of their proximity to the fire much like an arsonist who watches his handiwork with the crowd from behind the yellow caution tape. This shuffling turned out to be nothing more than lip service of course, because the same individual went on to perform similar irresponsible adjustments on the public as part of their social media show. While they didn’t directly call us crusaders, they dropped the idea in there sideways in a typically indirect fashion common to the moral relativist.

To those of us who are part of the movement demanding higher standards and accountability in yogaland, this passive, subtle pin prick mention of “crusade” in relation to our legit concerted effort for a worthwhile and meaningful cause, is a not so subtle from of tone policing meant to subvert the efforts toward reform.

Because the word ‘crusader’ is loaded with two very different definitions, the user hopes to subconsciously insert the generally unfavorable idea of militarism in order to gaslight those who are on the fence into abandoning the cause.

It can also be used as a covert way to ‘red flag’ a conversation and undermine the positive efforts of the rabble rousers to passers-by, by delegitimizing the ‘crusaders’ point of view, again via the subconscious association with militarism.

By setting up the argument that a) crusaders were militant and b) militancy equals ‘bad’, the people using the ‘C’ word are implementing a straw man tactic meant to shut down criticism, all the while consciously neglecting to acknowledge the alternative and completely positive usage of the term.

I have done a lot of self inquiry over the years both in this life and past lives. Short of what might have been a past life stint as a teutonic warrior who died in battle, I’m fairly certain that I’ve never been involved in a militaristic holy war. So, I know I’m not the ‘bad’ kind of crusader.

I do however find myself making a concerted effort for a cause (i.e. raising education standards in yoga) and participating in vigorous movements against clearly defined abuses (i.e. inexperienced, untrained Instagram performers cranking students bodies around in an irresponsible, unsafe manner).

And ya know what? I’m OK with that.

Just look around you at all of the crusades that yogis participate in under the belief that they are righteous causes based on egalitarian, altruistic and humanist ideals.

Yogis will stand up against the POTUS’s energy policies. ‘Environmental Crusaders’.
Yogis will stand up against police brutality. ‘Civil Rights Crusaders’.
Yogis will stand up against regressive political ideologies. ‘Humanitarian Crusaders’.

The list goes on, but you get the point.

We can’t stop people from using words. But we can change the way we allow these words impact us. The next time you’re out there standing up for the underdog and someone uses the ‘C’ word, consider NOT letting it diminish your resolve.

Try owning it instead.

Hi, my name is Zach and I’m a crusader for higher standards of education, accountability, and safety in yoga.