On Wednesday evening, someone using my identity posted, under my name, negative spam on a local blog site that is running a “Best of the North Shore” contest. The negative spam appeared on the Best Yoga Studio section of North Shore Magazine’s contest page stating that I thought Yoga Sakti in Salem was the best studio and that they were good because they cleared out “deadweight” teachers like me and hired great teachers, with the clear implication that I was not. The text, exactly as it appeared on North Shore’s website, reads: “Kat Mansfield on Wed, 6th Apr 6:12 PM I would certainly crown Yoga Sakti of Salem the single greatest yoga/trx studio. They do a great job of getting rid of the dead weight (me . . .) and easily have the greatest yoga instructors (not me . . . ) Simply stunning 10 out of 10!!”
Scrolling further down the site, there were also spammed posts from bloggers named “Judas” and “Mussolini” that were negative against Ananda Shanti Yoga, the studio where I have been a partner for the last year and moved on from several weeks ago to pursue my own projects. Other comments noted that these negative posts were “not in the spirit of yoga” and that those making such negative comments should “look within.” There are also more than a hundred posts that simply record the vote of people who log in, showing very enthusiastic support for various studios.
Jennifer Craig, the lovely manager at Yoga Sakti, picked up the negative spam and, horrified, immediately let me know about it and started to take steps with the media organization to remove the post. The post was taken down yesterday morning by Lauren Carelli, the Web Editor at Northshore Magazine. In her response email, she said, “Unfortunately this type of stuff does happen because we have over 1000 comments coming in every day. Keep me posted if you see anything else and thank[s] for catching it!” I then emailed Ms. Carelli to thank her and to let her know about the “Judas” and “Mussolini” posts. She wrote back to say she was not in the office yesterday afternoon and therefore was not able to remove the posts. It is my hope that the remaining negative posts will be removed as soon as possible.
There is so much wrong with this disturbing story that it is hard to know where to start. My immediate reaction to reading the negative post about me was, simply, “Why?” and then, very quickly, “Who would write such a thing about me? And using my own name?” It is an intense feeling of violation. Unfortunately, there are no controls or filters on this type of site; anyone can impersonate anyone else and registration emails can be pilfered or made up. In addition to the feeling of violation, there is also helplessness in the complete inability to protect myself.
It is true that I support Yoga Sakti, practice there on a weekly basis and send many of my students there. I am on excellent terms with the management of the studio and Cheryl Swansburg, the owner, made a special effort to call me yesterday to reassure me that I am very much appreciated at YS, valued at a teacher and a student and welcome anytime. She even wanted to put up a “We love Kat Mansfield!” poster in the lobby, which I assured her I appreciated very much but felt was unnecessary. I am also supportive of Ananda Shanti Yoga, feel grateful for my association and proud of my work there over the last year and wish Shankari and the ASY community the very best success, now and going forward. I was truly saddened to see comments by aliases like “Judas” – a horrifying betrayer – and “Mussolini” – a ghastly dictator and murderer – being brought into any sort of conversation about yoga and especially against a sangha which is so important to me.
And now to the conversation itself. Why is there a contest for Who Is The Best Yoga Studio On The North Shore? In fairness to local studios, they are voted in by their fans and don’t put themselves directly in the running for the contest. This is media hype, initiated by a news outlet for promotional purposes. One thing is for sure: it ain’t yoga. And in my experience, when yogis start messing with stuff that ain’t yoga, we ALL get in trouble. We are meant to be in the world, but not of the world. If we check in with Patanjali’s yoga sutras [2.35-2.39], we are meant to be practicing non-violence, truth, non-stealing, awareness and continence, and non-aquisitiveness. We are reminded that if we don’t, we will suffer from unending misery [2.34]. Scrolling through the blog posts on the contest site, even aside from the blatantly unkind and untrue posts against me and others, there is a tone of bragging, competition, incontinence, aquisitiveness and, well, unbridled ego writ large.
My first teacher, Bikram Choudhury, has engendered no end of criticism for instituting yoga competitions and trying to get the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to accept asana as an Olympic sport. Currently, Yoga Journal is running a competition to see who should be on the cover of this industry-dominant magazine. My friends David Romanelli (of Livin’ the Moment fame) and Joslyn Hamilton, who writes a blog called Recovering Yogi, have commented with knife’s-edge humor about the perils of that contest. I have multiple friends across the country emailing and Facebooking me to vote them on to the cover of YJ. While I appreciate that there is some sense of fun in all of this, there is also considerable depredation of the true nature of yoga, which we can all surely sense in the atmosphere of commerciality, competition and me-me-me-ism that is the unavoidable result of such exercises.
On the one hand, the negative spam on North Shore Magazine’s blog is merely the work of pranksters. It is unkind and untrue but not lastingly harmful unless we allow it to be. But on the other, there is a kind of mean-spirited, juvenile compassionlessness to it, born out of commerciality and competition, that devalues all of us who are practicing, teaching and working to create a true yoga (or at least yoga-ish) community. If our dharma is to be happy and our karma is to help others be happy, then popularity contests and non-compassionate comparisons do nothing to help us in those noble pursuits. In short, it’s a bummer. Let’s support ALL the studios that bring us yoga on the North Shore. Believe me, it is hard, hard darn work to keep a studio up and running. Hats off to all yoga studio owners, yoga teachers and the students who work and practice together fearlessly and with devotion every day.