The More You Know – The Less You Realise You Know

I tried to engage in dialogue on social media a few weeks ago. I disengaged fairly quickly.

I feel that there is a ‘new normal’ in the world of yoga online that includes a great deal of trolling, arrogance, nastiness and general rudeness. Sometimes it is blatant, sometimes it is cloaked in fancy words.

In terms of the content, I am just disappointed at the division which is occurring, everyone is the enemy. True dialogue requires listening and inquiry. It seems that everything and everyone is now wrong, doing wrong, or could be doing better.

Don’t realise that you are a cisgender male and thus totally privileged? You will probably be told in a way that actually shuts down you ever listening. 

Don’t understand why simply because you had a good experience with a yoga teacher doesn’t mean it is still important to engage with the harms that have be done? Watch out for some epic trolling by the righteous coming your way.

I don’t disagree that the world is an unkind place to many, that there has been abuse in yoga communities which needs to be addressed. I know that awareness needs to be raised and conversations need to be had.

Yet, I don’t see any bridges really being built. In fact I stopped reading and engaging because I didn’t feel good about the way these conversations were occurring, and how people were speaking to each other.

What I have seen behind the scenes in the yoga community – both business practices I have been exposed to and the behind the scenes shenanigans of some of the ‘shining lights’ is deeply sad, and quite regrettable in my mind. To behave one way in public, yet behind closed doors to act vastly differently is disturbing.

Also, I am basically dumbfounded by the arguments that are being presented. There is no methodological integrity, and, in my opinion, there is too much cross over between profit and healing. We now have a new hierarchy – those in the know, and those that dare to question them. Those who have unique, well-formed researched perspectives have simply opted out of the conversation publicly. Like me they have little time for this drama – and it is a shame as I know out of the online area they lament the new normal – which has its own oppressive quality, not unlike those that have occurred in yoga communities. Those opting out are people who have been researching, studying and practicing yoga in and outside of universities for a long, long time. Even for survivors of trauma who may have valuable perspectives to share the atmosphere is simply too toxic to have a dialogue.

In the dialogues I engaged in, one of the most common arguments is the argument ‘ad hominem’.  When it comes to sexual abuse and yoga – participating in the discussion if you have practiced within a lineage this might be your experience too. For me this is because I am an Authorised Ashtanga teacher (not that I use that when I advertise my classes or workshops these days). Yet I am also a childbirth educator, qualified school teacher (this my interest in pedagogy) and have PhD in Feminist Theory and Eastern Philosophy.  I am also studying psychology.

The ad hominem arguments of attacking the person rather than what they are saying often goes along quite nicely with some faux humility. Additionally what we read online is stated so authoritatively it feels uncomfortable to question. A great example I came across was a world leading Yoga Therapist talking about the ‘unstable pelvis.’ This sort of alarmist language would make pain researchers cringe – because it is unhelpful and more than that – it is factually incorrect. The pelvis is strong and there is no such thing as SI Instability (read more here). What is worse is that this sort of talk can cause iatrogenic pain Iatrogenic in Greek means, brought forth from the healer. So in this instance it would be chronic pain that is worsened by the yoga teacher.

This is an example in the yoga community what is known in psychology as the Dunning Kruger Effect . When we have deficits in our knowledge or our expertise we lack the skills to realise we have those deficits! As such we don’t recognise the shortcomings of what we think we know, so we teach and write from a ‘expert place’. When there is a dynamic online platform such as Facebook – these voices are then amplified. I believe both in lineages and outside of them there is a methodological crisis. In the world of yoga correlation has become causation and regularly I observe a singular truth being presented by yoga teachers underpinned by a methodology which does not lend itself to making such generalisations – both in lineages and outside of them.

What I wish to see in the world of yoga is some appreciation for the in-betweens, the transitions, the moments wherein we can connect and listen and truly learn. The not knowing – let’s embrace that. The more you know – the less you realise you know. When we dwell in that not knowing for a long time and are open and curious, over time we begin to have more informed and well researched understandings and opinions. As you can see from the visual below explains the Dunning Kruger effect, we start knowing nothing, then we get a little knowledgeable. At a certain point we think we know a lot. But then we decide to go on a journey to really understand our confidence in what we know slumps. And you know what? Our confidence is never is as high as when we were more ignorant! Because most people who truly ARE experts know it is COMPLICATED!

Yet debates rage with very confident voices in the yoga world – who don’t necessarily see things as all that complicated. When you think you know a lot – you often are not quite as generous with people who are still learning.

I don’t usual post these sort of commentaries – but basically, it’s a sad day for the yoga world. Abuse happened, people ignored it, the responses from many within and outside of traditions have shut down rather than opened up dialogue and well, you dare not disagree or yes you shall be epically trolled. Yoga Teachers lack the skills to be trauma aware and a 200hr training with a few policies put in place as advised by yoga teachers who are overstepping their skill set and scope of practice might be a start – but it isn’t a long-term solution. Moreover discussion and dialogue which could truly allow us to see the potential of yoga to help is occurring quietly and not sadly not centre stage.

For me I firmly believe we need to talk to the actual experts. The people who have spent decades researching or living what we hope to shine a light on. Let’s try not have the new normal be a new dogmatic paradigm which has no space for learning, becoming self-aware and growing. We need to be cautious that the new liberators don’t become the new oppressors. If you watch these debates online, or they occur in your yoga community – ask yourself, where are people’s vested interests? Are they truly altruistic – and if not are they transparent about this? Ask how they go with people who disagree – are they always right? Does debate result in nastiness? Is their worldview dogmatically singular, or is there place for plurality of experience? And moreover perhaps be aware of the over confident crusaders – as it might be that they haven’t reached the “it’s complicated” stage as outlined in the image displaying the Dunning Kruger effect.

Me? I love practice, I love teaching. I even still love Ashtanga Yoga. It all looks pretty different now and I love that too. I am ok with not knowing – and not being the expert, especially on other people’s experience or teaching pedagogy. Yet, as always, since the day I enrolled in a Philosophy degree at age 19, I am open to questioning. And what I notice is how people respond to questions says a lot. So if you have a teacher or follow online yoga personalities perhaps ask them a challenging question and see what happens. The response will be revelatory, as their silence might also be.


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