Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Potential Exclusive Message of Yoga, Blogs and Movements

I have always loved to read, I've always adored school and language has never been a problem for me. Getting fabulous grades and excelling academically wasn't ever an issue. I know I'm a smarty pants.

My problem has always been sounding like one. Or should I say- not really sounding like one.

Coming from a small village, growing up tromping in the woods, catching frogs and riding four (and three!) wheelers since I was six years old doesn't really suit the use of a higher level vocabulary. Why would I want to use words and phrase structures that others around me would find weird, snobby or not understand? I wanted to communicate, not preach (or pontificate).

Yoga in the park- circle warrior III hands from inside the circle. All students- practicing together!

I think this is an invaluable lesson when trying to articulate your thoughts and form ideas and opinions to be shared. The way a message is packaged, the vocabulary, speaking and reading level, has always been a point of contention for me with academia, feminism and blogs.

It became increasingly clear that those of us who are fortunate enough to be able to afford university do not represent the population as whole. Even less so at the graduate level. I can't understand why movements like the feminism movement, would package ideas and theories at a language level so completely foreign to so many. If we want cultural and social change, shouldn't we be spreading the message in a way that makes sense to everyone? So even my grandmother, who didn't go further than grade 7, would be able to read and relate? (I was kicked out of that book club passive-aggressively, they changed the date and place so I wouldn't know where they were meeting...).

The same applies to the environmental movement, yoga and my blog. Over the past few years I've gone to several public environmental lectures at Dalhousie University. They've all been very interesting and informative. Unfortunately, they've all been wrapped up and presented in an extremely intimidating academia-speak... and predictably the only people there were students and academics (and us). 

These people already get the message, they already buy in to the bottom line. They already know.

At times I find yoga blogs, articles and 'speak' to be similar. In the sense that it's either packaged in an intensely scriptural way, quoting the Gita or Sutras and throwing in countless sanskrit terms. It's not that I don't see the value in using appropriate sanskrit terminology for asana, nor the value of sharing 'parables' and spiritual insights. I just don't feel that it's the most inclusive way to share a message. Honestly, most people are not going to relate. It all depends if that's a goal or not. 

A great example is a recent commenter's use of the word 'proprioception'. I used 'spatial awareness' to describe my inability to know where my own body is in space. As a Speech-Language Pathologist, I know the official 'Occupational Therapist' terminology for this is 'proprioception', which was kindly pointed out in the comment section. I might know this, but 'spatial awareness' will not only be much more self-explanatory (who wants to copy and google a word while reading anyhow?), it will get my point across in a much more inclusive fashion. 

I might also know that our 'ear drum' is technically called our 'tympanic membrane' or that our 'vocal cords' are actually 'vocal folds', and having trouble swallowing is 'dysphagia'. Just because I know this doesn't mean I have to use it in my regular every day speak, or while trying to dialog with an unknown group of readers about a message I think is important to share (like the importance of avoiding q-tips while cleaning your ears, proper use of voice while teaching a yoga class or how to help protect your father's lungs while he eats after a having had a stroke).

When I don't know who my listeners are, I can't assume either way.

When I started writing this blog, it was for the purpose of sharing some environmental insights that I see as being a primordial aspect of Yoga and my Spiritual Pagan path. 

If I want someone to make a small change (or a big one) I could go three ways:
  • intimidate the crap out of them with a very formal science speak. 'I use big words, hear me roar!' Some people prefer this type of rhetoric, but you peeps are the minority.
  • be completely silly and use very low vocabulary and simple explanations. This can be entertaining, but it's never my goal to assume that the reader can't understand a concept- it's insulting. Which isn't my goal.
- Find the balance of an appropriate reading level, humour, approachableness, likeability and respect while still putting forth the information and ideas in an organized manner.

This is the hardest thing. Finding this balance. I do believe that this precarious balance (or failing to find it) is the reason why so many scientists have trouble communicating theories, ideas and science to the rest of us... and why so many people still believe that Climate Change doesn't exist. 

What do you think?

(** ps- I DO think there are a lot of fabulous writers and communicators out there who do an amazing job in yoga, feminism and the environment. Usually, sadly, there's a backlash from the more academic community- think Gloria Steinem, or even Al Gore- for 'betraying' or playing to the media and being lifted up to the 'face of_____insert movement here' as a default of no one else stepping up.)

article and photographs copyright of EcoYogini at


  1. I totally agree! I struggle with this all the time, and I know I end up sounding more formal than I would like, but interestingly, as I have been writing my law thesis this year, I find myself writing it more informally than I would like because of all the time I spend blogging now. The balance is often difficult to find, but the truth remains you cannot please all the people all the time. Thus (see what I mean?), I speak from the heart and hope that connects. I believe that even through purely written forms of communication we can express more than just the words on the page/screen. Our intentions can also shine through. That is one of the things I love about your blog - your heart and passion and personality are all apparent in what you write. Plus, I have family in Halifax, so it's cool to hear about the place. :) Thanks for writing this!

  2. Oh, you have so hit the nail on the head!!! So often people in "professions" use huge words and formality, when simpler words and a more informal tone would do. I know I've been guilty of it! And I've also been criticized professionally for speaking like a normal person--I know I have a lot of education, that doesn't mean I have to rub it in people's faces!

    I have noticed some elitism in some online communities, and a snobbery that doesn't make much sense to me. If one truly wishes to change the world, then preaching to the proverbial choir isn't going to cut it. Using friendly language that can be understood by the masses, not only those with advanced degrees would be a better choice.

    Thank you for coming out and saying it on your blog!

  3. I too agree! One of the most informative lectures I have been to was given by a woman who was trained in science but decided to go into media. Now her job is to train scientists to get their message across to the general public. She knew her job was done when a scientist invited to Jon Stewart Show or the Colbert report could get their message across effectively in a potentially unpredictable situation and a very short amount of time (not sure if you went to that one). It was entertaining and educational at the same time. We need more people like her! I personally find that teaching second year science students has improved my communication skills and allowed to think about how to get my message across to students who have not yet learned or are just learning the vocabulary.

    I have a feeling this week's lecture on the tar sands will be for the general public. David Schindler has been working closely with First Nation communities on the topic. He is also the one who discovered that phosphates caused algal blooms in lakes, a huge topic in the '80s. He had to get his message across to the general public then so they could push for change in the detergent companies... and it worked! I guess you will be the judge!

  4. @Rebecca: definitely a struggle, and I can see it would be even more so when you're immersed in writing something very formal!
    Thank you for the kind words- I think some posts I achieve a pretty good balance, and some go a little off the rails ya know? I wonder if I've grown as a writer over the past few years.
    Also- fun that you have relatives in Halifax!! :)

    @Nicole: yep, i agree with the word 'some' elitism- there are so many amazing blogs out there. This was just something I struggle with, so thought I'd write about. Thanks :)

    @Diego: ahh I am excited about the talk this week!!! it's going to be great. I've enjoyed all the talks actually, it's just a little niggly thought that I've had about them and how we can spread the message. I understand that some blogs and lectures will be geared for a certain audience (ie not the public) and that's fine too. :)
    We missed that lecture- but it sounds like it was interesting! What a fantastic idea for a researcher.
    Also- I didn't know you were teaching second years!!! we are out of touch, I look forward to catching up this friday after the lecture with you and A! :)

  5. I agree with this!! I remember when I was in grad school and we were talking about conferences and they told us: "Don't talk to parents using the terms you learned here. Those are professional terms and the parents may not know them all. Don't make them feel stupid - just talk to them like a normal person." I think that applies to everything!

  6. Thanks for that post! And thanks for using 'spatial awareness'instead of 'proprioception', which I, as a not native English speaker, would not understand at once ;)

    Actually I wanted to comment on your post of "Yogi Confession: Yoga Class Drop Out" but I feel like it fits in here too or even better:
    Today I went to a Yoga class done by an elderly woman with a lot of other elderly women and housewifes. It is part of some sports center, which means: located in a not hip simple room next to the football ground, costing almost nothing. I just go there once in a while cause there are not much possibilties here and the timetable of the "real studio" doesn't fit to my life right now and that "sports class" has at least some big mirror for me to check on my postures.
    But the important thing today was this: I went there, even a little bit more grumpy about the not soothing facilities as usually (cause I had a f*** day) BUT when I reached the gym I found myself infront of the toilet mirror which had been simple but lovely decorated with some autumnal stuff, and I couldn't help smiling about this pure piece of care. And it continued in the class, when one of the old ladies gave her congratulations and some good advices to an obviously just recently married young woman (one of the 2 under 40 girls ;). And it made me really wonder about myself and the commonly way of thinking about yoga and all the good smelling, hippie coloured and perfectly pendulum dowsed rooms while getting enlightened through philosophical lectures... for some people there is no need for that. These women were also practicing mindfulness e.g. - in their own way: Doing disciplined their asanas while the good smell of food came from the nearby restaurant and reminded them to enjoy their supper at home afterwards even more and of cause telling each other what that will be and what the secret ingredients are, instead of spouting off the vata quality of garlic.

    To be honest, I enjoy high minded yoga philosphy a lot, and being a student of humane sciences somehow infiltrates my language in ways I am not always aware of so unfortunately sometimes e.g. my mom can't follow me?! So too much of this isn't getting us closer to enlightment but to snobbery and I really do myself a favour continuing with that easy minded yoga class a little bit longer.

    Thanks for reminding!

  7. Writing about yoga can be hard because much of the philosophy is pretty intensive and involved.

    That said, it's more work to break something down in order to be understandable to the masses rather than just use sophisticated or scholarly language.

    But actually, having the ability to use simpler language is a true test of how well you understand what it is you're talking/writing about - can you say it in your own words instead of just parroting back what you've learned?

    I remember when I first started studying yoga philosophy, that I felt it was all so far over my head. It was very confusing. There are texts I still find difficult to read, but I know that my understanding has grown by persisting in my studies.

    I think we all need to remember what it was like to be a beginner in ANYTHING. Because when you're trying to learn something new, simple is best, yeah?


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