A Tale of a Post Gone Bad: Why Words Matter

Words by Jean Marie Hackett

I felt ill watching the number of likes, laughing emojis, and hand claps grow following the post of a popular yoga teacher.

An Instagrammed tweet that twisted the rallying cry of the George Floyd protests following his murder by the police. A yoga joke, but one made from the phrase of a marginalized group’s movement.

I got the joke, the play on words. I also got, that it wasn’t funny.

I’d actually had this thought myself, I just didn’t use it. Use of the term “Ashtanga Police” is one thing. Manipulating a BLM phrase to generate tweetable ashtanga yoga humor, is another — and it ain’t ok. Especially when folded into the Mysore room — a space where the mostly white, able-bodied, and privileged go to breathe. Something George Floyd could not. 

You can’t breathe in kapotasana? Tell that to the man who died as a white police officer’s knee pressed on his neck for over eight minutes.

So, yeah, I felt I needed to #callitout:

Given that ‘defund the police’ came about after George Floyd’s death, this doesn’t land right.” 

I hit “post.”

Several comments came in a similar vein to mine, but more thorough and informative, including substantive input by a woman of color.

Others commented that those concerned or offended should just “lighten up,” or advised, “chill the fuck out, get on your mat and do your practice!” One dismissed critical commenters as “some real performative white saviors.” 

“Yep. Mean girl shit is the worst,” said another, suggesting that critical commenters were doing so in service of some teenage pettiness. The thread grew twisted, ugly and unruly.

At one point a white woman told a commenter, who identified as someone of color:  

“I mean this in a nice way. Stop taking this all so seriously.”


In a private email later, one woman who was clearly shaken by the whole exchange, wrote me this:

“I was so angry / in shock that a community which so rarely holds space for people of color … could utilize the defund phrase casually to hurt each other without a thought and then defend the faux pax by berating other women.” 

Lordy, it was ugly. And like I said, enough to make this privileged white girl feel sick. Meanwhile, the author of the original post said nothing — though eventually, erased all the comments, including those from a member of a marginalized group in our community: 

Those whose voices need to be heard. Those who can actually teach us — silenced, yet again.

But the original tone-deaf, racially insensitive post remained.

After which, another well-known teacher publicly stepped forward to #callitout. Then things take an even more ugly turn. As various aspects of this whole saga– from the comment thread, to the stories, to the posts to the memes — get deleted at various stages, the story gets rebranded. The whole damn thing begins to look like it’s just some petty ‘ashtanga drama’ — a fight between two Social Media yoga heavyweights about the policing of a yoga practice. Not the co-opting of the phrase “defund the police.” Not the insensitive taking of a movement’s phrase that emerged in the aftermath of the death of yet another black man by a white police officer. 

Next thing you know, there’s a meme featuring two animated spiderman superheroes poised to spar, with a third figure watching, hoping the two big Instagram accounts can “work it all out.”

What about us? How are we going to “work it all out”? 

Because, as you have probably already guessed, the whole thing is gone now. All the teachable comments along with racist and bullying ones …  the Instagram stories …  a quasi-apology from the original poster … and the meme — gone.

Then the original post? Poof! Erased too.

I get that, in a sense. I get the need to drop it and move on. You might wonder why I’m not doing the same. It’s all been deleted right? But here’s the thing: the ability of some to walk away robs us all of an opportunity to evolve. The ability to watch a comment thread you created catch fire–  and then walk away, delete, and keep going, as if nothing’s happened — is itself a privilege.

I’ll be damned if the opportunity for this community to evolve, put its actions where its words are and grow, disappears right along with it. 

You know, in Ashtanga, we give a lot lip service: No practice is ever wasted. You move through the series and get more poses as you are ready for it. Practice and all is coming. Oh, and the yamas and niyamas. 

None of that came into play here. So this becomes just another wasted opportunity for us as a community to grow. Unless …

We’re ready for this change and growth. It’s the post #metoo, hierarchies are so yesterday, new normal land: And we don’t need hashtags, big followings, or memes to do it either. You get on your mat everyday– sometimes it isn’t pretty. But you do it.

So, get in loser: We’re changing the Ashtanga conversation. Here’s a few ways we can start:

1. Comment Constructively.

Life is too short for internet drama. But it’s not too short for caring about others.

I commented on this offensive post because the issue presented was bigger and more important than any very real fears I had about comment thread ugliness. I tried to do so respectfully and constructively. I still suck, a lot, but I’ve come to see that to best help others sometimes means the longer tougher road– not avoiding all conflict, but navigating it with clarity. Kinda like this practice. It’s a life practice. It’s not about the short term. It’s the moment, yes, but knowing that each moment is part of more to come. If we’re going to talk about ahimsa, we need to think about it when we with our powerful and privileged positions hurt others. For me ahimsa is listening, ahimsa is apologizing, ahimsa is planting seeds for a better future….Um, have I mentioned I still suck at this? And isn’t that, what this practice is about?

Ahimsa, Ashtanga– it’s not playing to likes within a certain aspect of the community, not when there is a need to yield to the effect on what the community is ultimately capable of becoming.

2. Don’t Delete: Own, Apologize And Edit. 

Here’s a thought: Keep the original post. Strike through the offensive words. Add a carrot, to insert better words, such as  “#stoptellingpeopletheyaredoingitwrong.” In the caption add: EDIT. I apologize for posting “#defundtheashtangapolice.” I understand now that I was taking the slogan “defund the police” that emerged after the murder of George Floyd by police and misusing it for ashtanga yoga humor. I want to apologize for offending you. I understand that by casually using and co-opting the slogan “defund the police,” I was making light of a serious movement by a marginalized group in our society. I’m choosing to keep this post up, with edits, to spread awareness. I posted this misstep of a tweet in the midst of black history month, so perhaps this shall serve as inspiration to google and learn about the phrase “defund the police” and the murder of George Floyd. Thank you to my followers who took the time to comment. 

Here’s an example of how “Shut Up And Yoga” did such an apology edit (that served as my template). So, how about we just shut up and start doing it?

3. Stop Using The Phrase “Ashtanga Police.”  

Really. It’s not funny to joke about a practice rigid, dogmatic and hierarchical enough that it must be “policed.” The phrase is even more cringeworthy now, when our society’s relationship with the police has been shown over and over to be, at a minimum, problematic, particularly given the disparate treatment of — and brutality against– people of color by the police.

I’ve written a blog with this term in the past. But it’s over now. Talk about the “Ashtanga Hall Monitors” if you must. Or call them as I do:  “Ashtanga Trolls.” Don’t feed them.

During protests in Dallas last summer on Juneteenth, hundreds of people carried yellow umbrellas with the names of victims of police brutality painted in black. Might our apologies, our edits, our messy growth serve the same function? Missteps with a big account like this could plant yellow hope for the future while acknowledging the ugliness within our yoga world, its lack of openness, diversity and accessibility. But first… 
I mean this in a nice way. We need to start taking this more seriously.

When Jean Marie isn’t on Instagram, you can find her in Park City, Utah where she expects to stay until she turns into a shriveled husk of a human flying down the mountain on skis.

Or (once this whole COVID thing finally passes) take one of her yoga classes, where you can expect high-energy vinyasa sequencing inspired by her own Ashtanga home practice, breath awareness, and perhaps a little music.

Read more from Jean Marie by visiting her slightly irreverent blog, here.