As a yoga teacher in Florida, Erin Motz often joked that she was a “bad yogi” because she didn’t adopt what she saw as the typical lifestyle associated with the practice.
“I didn’t have a problem with it, but I never felt like I fit into it, “ Motz says.
In 2013, Motz turned the term into her own brand, and Bad Yogi is now one of a growing crop of businesses that want to offer inclusive alternatives to a yoga culture they feel can be rigid, exclusive, and judgmental. “We really set out to redefine yoga culture and drop the notion that you have to fit into any box to do yoga,” she says.
On Wednesdays, we wear pink (yoga pants)
One of the first things Motz wanted to address with Bad Yogi—which offers online classes you can access as a member of the Bad Yogi Club and on YouTube—was the feeling of exclusivity she saw arising in studios and that then gets projected into mainstream consciousness. “It kind of feels like the mean girls. You’re just never going to be cool enough to sit with them…it’s what you’re wearing and how many malas you have, and if you have a perfect messy bun,” she says.
That image is especially pervasive in the age of Instagram, where trendy legging-clad masters spend hours styling images of themselves in perfectly executed fancy poses and celeb Kundalini practitioners make it look like yoga must be practiced within 10 feet of a gong while wearing a turban and exuding spiritual purity.
And it’s one issue that the creators of DirtyYoga also set out to provide a counterpoint to when they launched their online yoga platform in 2012, which offers a variety of daily online 30-minute(ish) classes that are athletic and no-frills. Co-founder yogi Jess Gronholm teaches them generally in a nondescript gray t-shirt and shorts in front of a white-washed background, sans Sanskrit or spiritual instruction. It’s basic and accessible with irreverent marketing language. “We can’t promise you’ll lose weight or be popular or achieve enlightenment. We could but we’d be lying. That kind of stuff is all you,” reads one line of the “Dirty Manifesto.”
“We consistently find that people really respond to our brand, our humor, and the fact that we look and sound different to everything else out there in ‘yoga world,’ and those attracted by our different message also tend to like our approach to yoga,” says co-founder Susi Rajah, who says DirtyYoga has grown 300 percent over the past two years and attracts categories of people who are traditionally underrepresented in yoga, like the uber busy (it’s affordable and efficient) and men.
Bending the rules
But while one part of the culture shift is about opening up the yoga world to those who would otherwise be intimidated or feel shut out, it’s also about providing spaces for practitioners who are already doing yoga but feel stifled in their communities by a sense of judgement about their lifestyle—if they eat meat, for example, or generally prefer cocktails over kombucha.
“Living in New York City and having a spiritual life is an interesting juxtaposition, and at the same time both inform each other in really incredible ways,” says Heather Lilleston, the co-founder of retreat company Yoga for Bad People. “We wanted to emphasize not only that you can do both, but that the balance is really the yoga. It’s about finding that middle path, and you don’t have to abandon worldly life to be on a spiritual path.”
Lilleston says that Yoga for Bad People started as a name for a retreat she and Katelin Sisson hosted to Brazil in 2012. “Brazil’s vibe is about nightlife and going out…we didn’t want anybody to come on the retreat and expect it to be silence and really serious.” (In other words, shaky dancer poses caused by hangovers from late night dancing are okay.) The name and concept resonated, so they built it into a company that now runs about 10 retreats a year in locations around the world, plus regular studio classes at Bandier’s Studio B in Manhattan.
And while the lithe 20-something New York woman attending those classes and retreats may be very different from the older man with back pain trying his first Bad Yogi class at home in Kansas, they may both be part of what Motz calls a “gentle rebellion” to open up yoga culture. “The message that should be out there is that we should all be doing yoga whenever we can,” adds Rajah, “in any way we can.” Good, or bad.
Guess what? You can even do yoga in bed. Colleen Saidman Yee shows you how, here.