Guerilla yoga: setting an intention, or crying for attention?

I love getting pictures like this. It’s a fun and kind of silly thing to do, and it makes for a good photograph.

However, this is one pose. I have never practiced yoga, outside of dedicated yoga spaces. I know a lot of people who do, and I’m not “against” the idea, I just haven’t ever done it. One of my favorite teachers loves to practice at the capitol in downtown Indianapolis, IN. People practice in airports or other busy, public locations. Fans of this type of individual “guerilla” yoga feel that cultivating awareness and finding center in these places adds a new challenge and fulfillment to their practice. The space that they claim with their mat becomes their yoga studio for a brief moment in time.

yoga in times square (timessquarenyc.org)

Along with the individual guerilla yoga trend, many cities have outdoor yoga activities. I participated in one last summer with my friend Amy in Des Moines, Iowa. Chicago has yoga every Saturday in Millennium Park. EcoYogini plans her own yoga in the park in Halifax. It feels good to practice with a sense of community, feeling the sun shining on your face. As a group, yogis transform a public space to a public yoga space, if only for an hour.

nytimes.com/2010/05/06/business/06YOGA.html

Last Saturday I was in Chicago for fly yoga. While we were walking down Michigan Ave after class, on the outskirts of Grant Park, I saw a woman about my age practicing yoga. She was by herself, on a mat, in the shade. She was in a three-legged downward facing dog. I got excited. “Look! Guerrilla yoga!” If she hadn’t looked so Zen I would have cheered “YOGA RULES!” or something else to encourage her. Here she was practicing while thousands of people from all over the world were bustling by, shopping, yelling, rushing to appointments, and hailing taxis. I felt empowered for her.

Other people around me did not feel the same way. Two young women were rolling their eyes. One of them said something, her voice dripping with sarcasm, about how Michigan Avenue was just so peaceful, that obviously it’s a great place to do yoga. The general tone was “look at the silly yoga girl, why can’t she do that in her living room? Why does she need so much attention?”

yoga in millennium park (abclocal.go.com)

It’s a good question. When we practice in public spaces, we inevitably draw attention to ourselves, our bodies, our yoga. This seems acceptable when there is a group. Just a few blocks down the street and a few hours before, hundreds of people gathered in Millennium park for yoga, and no one blinked an eye. This girl, just a few hours later, was the subject of scorn and seen as attention hungry.

Is it just because she dares to do something as an individual, which others do only as part of a group? Is she just as self-indulgent as the girls wearing 4 inch heels with lots of cleavage tottering around Rush street at 11 pm? Is she cut from the same cloth as the guy wearing the sandwich board screaming about the Bible?

Are we supposed to limit ourselves to practicing in places that are already peaceful, or can we seek to create peace in unconventional spaces?

Is doing yoga alone in a public space some sort of cry for attention or recognition? Or is it an effort to rise above all of that?

Namaste,
Jamie

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7 responses to “Guerilla yoga: setting an intention, or crying for attention?

  1. mega commenter today. I think it could go either way. I would never practice for “attention” but you never know what other people’s reasons are! I have recently done my first few outdoor practices and LOVED it so I totally understand the reasons behind it!

  2. and oops, that was me commenting from my (private) blog for my post-training projects!!

  3. Depends on the practitioner really. I know people who do guerilla yoga who are on a MAJOR ego trip. And I know people who just like to do yoga.

    Personally I like the privacy of dedicated spaces. I’m shy like that….

  4. I think it’s Multiple things – it’s a way to really enjoy the outdoors instead of always thinking about it, and a way to conquer your fears of what others think. Good for them!

  5. You know, what your comrades said was a bit much (like you kinda alluded to, I think) but I do believe there is something to the “attention” issue. Practicing yoga on the sidewalk while people are bound to notice you is pretty attention getting… many cities have green spaces and more private areas to practice, while keeping it outside.

    i dunno, i just can see how it could transform into something more about “me me me” and less about getting a practice in wherever you may be.

    I do agree that having more people around you really does imbue a sense of community and connection and helps to create a sense of “event”. Like they are supposed to be there for a ‘reason’ to spread a message.

    you’ve given me something to think about :)

  6. great question.
    I think yoga is vulnerable to a lot more judgment in this situation than other things because it says more about the person’s beliefs. It’s like if you just met someone and they told you about their religous preference before they told you their name. it’s a little offensive.
    BUT, there are plenty of great reasons to practice in public, especially in a city.

    I practice Acro Yoga at the park in Brooklyn because if we fall it is a hell of a lot better than falling on our hardwood floor.

    It’s outside and safe! mmm fresh air and sun.

    there is a lot of space and it is free and timeless.

    it’s interesting to be around distractions to see what happens to your mind.

    yoga feels good. some people like to twist in their chairs before getting on a 5 hour flight. I like to get on the ground and go a little deeper.

    it’s easy to judge someone that cries in public, and maybe it’s for attention, but maybe it’s because her mother died. If you don’t know then it doesn’t matter.

    Ben – Solyoga Trips

  7. Practicing yoga in a public setting should not be perceived any differently that walking, jogging, or bike riding.

    Personally, I do enjoy a more peaceful & relaxing environment. :)

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