Is it Sangha or is it Not?

By  Vanessa Webb | 


I have often felt betrayed by the Yoga “community”. What I had thought would be a true Sangha, a community of wise souls, has often turned out to be a group of popular “yogis” who hang out with each other and socialize.  I’ve learned that it is rare to find a loyal community of supportive people, who are willing to connect deeply and in a mature way…a Sangha that is non-competitive and non-exclusive.  Because really, how are either of those words a backbone to how I imagine “community” to be? They are anything but, and in fact, reminiscent of high school.  

I don’t want to sound bitter about this, because I’m not, it’s that I’ve been disappointed and have become disheartened.  And, as said, have felt betrayed in the past when I discovered this through personal experience.  I was most betrayed by an American woman, who claimed to be on the Bhakti path….her façade of the soft appearance, and the compassionate heart was well developed…she even “lived in India” and was always surrounded by people who just loved her.  But what I’ve found is, that commonly, the façade of yoga teachers being “caring” and “supportive” within a Sangha, is easy when insecurities aren’t threatened; but the cracks in the teacher’s practice widen when an inferiority complex is touched.  And this is where it turns sad, when that lack of self-awareness still requires the old fall-back of impressing it on someone else…even as “a beloved yoga teacher”.  

This often turns into power tripping from the person doing it, somehow trying to grasp back whatever they perceive as having been taken from them or lost.    What bothers me is learning that yoga teachers who profess Oneness, are still competitive. Don’t claim to be the “yogi” if you can’t Be the Yogi….because most of us aren’t…we’re still on the path.  

I’m not one to easily fall for the fake smiles and bouncing around like Life is all light and fluffy, now that we’re all happily practicing yoga…but when I connect with even the senior teachers, who continue a façade of loving kindness, yet are self serving in their ultimate aims, to the disrespect of another…this is where I’ve been had many a time. The number of times I have supported teachers in their work only to receive none in return when the time calls for it, disturbs me.  I feel sadness for the fact that they are not only blind to this self centeredness but have a resistance to looking at it. And there is no one to hold them accountable to it, because they gravitate toward the “yogis” who foster all they like about themselves….so there is no challenge in their growth within this Sangha. In fact, they often misread the authentic Yoga of another, simply because of this uplifted view they have of themselves; thinking they’re somehow superior because of the length of time they’ve been “practicing”…no, sometimes the longer we “practice” the more apt we are at practicing the right words, the right body language, the right presence. All of this is easily created. 

Any teacher who claims to have removed the self and yet walks a path of destruction over another, is not in Yoga. None of us bring the same qualities into Yoga, so we don’t need to have an insecure fear of someone being “better than” or “taking away from” us in some way.  Having like mind around asana and living out our fantasies of a “yogic life” are not necessarily enough to be qualified as Sangha.  What are the qualities of a healthy Sangha?...because a popularity contest it is not.

I feel the qualities we bring toward our students are those same ones we ought to bring to our Sangha, our fellow teachers….in support of one another’s growth, development and practice.  I have a view of honouring what each teacher brings and being of support to them in their growth as a teacher, as we would in creating a healthy community of any kind.  Loyalty, trust and accountability, are all aspects necessary for good healthy relationships, including the healthy body of Yoga, so why not support one another? All of us know the challenge of being an authentic Yoga teacher in the mountain of the yoga industry, so why not help each other grow, make it easier on ourselves and each other. I see community as engaging, responsive, supportive, sharing of knowledge, wisdom and experience…how else do we expect to pass on a healthy lineage?  This then becomes a sharing amongst humans rather than holding up a desired image; it fosters being what you are rather than misusing yogic terms and phrases to paint an image that you don’t live behind.  As adults we should be able to live up to these standards, if we’re living the practice that we claim to be…these aren’t qualities of perfection they’re qualities of maturity. This issue is just so common in the “yoga scene” that I can’t not address it.