Take a deeper look at the wellness brands and yoga teachers you follow and the language they use to promote their products, classes and retreats to you. Do you notice bypassing language or behavior?
Follow vital work being done by leaders in the yoga and social justice space, take their courses, buy their books, and pay them for their time. Remember, people are not resources. When you reference a person as a resource, you are saying that their sole purpose is for your (and predominately white people’s) consumption. Books, podcasts, publications, emails – these are resources.
What is spiritual bypassing?
Spiritual bypassing is to sidestep dealing with pain, strong feelings, trauma, etc. It can be helpful when we are not ready to confront difficult emotions in our lives. However, it is commonly used to avoid acknowledging privilege because doing so is inherently messy, painful, and requires continued awareness.
Yoga has often been co-opted in the West as a feel-good practice where you are supposed to ‘empty your mind’ and achieve calm every time you practice. I’d argue that the actual function of yoga is to direct the mind, connect with your inner knowing, and to develop discernment and clarity. When yoga is practiced in its sincere form, it can bring up a lot of discomfort. There is a difference between having the appearance of processing something difficult and actually processing it. One of my teachers distinguishes this as acting out of patterning versus authenticity. Though on an individual level no one can truly know this distinction except you, the consequences of spiritual bypassing harm others. A common example is when someone shares something difficult they are dealing with and you immediately respond with “love and light” style advice rather than actively listening and holding space for their experience (Instagram).
How does it show up in wellness?
Spiritual bypassing in wellness is deeply embedded in societal conditioning. It’s most easily identified as constantly chasing the ‘feeling good’ or, in other words, always chasing the light without sitting in the shadows. Sitting with what is can be incredibly uncomfortable and is therefore not as ‘marketable’ and ‘palatable’ for widespread consumption.
“Good vibes only,” repressing the full spectrum of emotions, being overly compassionate, and anger avoidance are a few examples prevalent in wellness spaces and in individuals who are deeply seeking relief from their past pain. Think of how many times you’ve been in a yoga class or scrolled your social feeds and heard students and/or teachers share how we are all the same or to ‘love and all is coming.’ In part, these are beautiful sentiments. But what do they actually mean in the context of the current state of our communities? In the context of hundreds of years of oppression against Black folx? Against Indigenous folx?
Privilege is being able to step in and out of these contexts at your leisure, without any difference in how you are treated or any difference in how you are able to move through society. Spiritual bypassing shows up so often in wellness that I feel it actually has warped into what is ‘normal.’ It is ANYTHING but that.
JP Gratrix (Instagram), a South Asian yoga teacher and author, distinguishes loving kindness and toxic positivity. She shares that cultivating compassion and loving kindness for yourself and those around you is not the same as only leaving room for positivity, particularly in the face of discomfort.
Here are examples of how spiritual bypassing sneaks into common phrases and interactions in wellness:
Saying ‘love and only love will bring us together.’ Love for our fellow neighbors is vital to our progress as a community, but excluding anything other than positivity isn’t being in a state of yoga. Understanding brings us together too.
‘We are all one’, ‘we are all human’, or ‘stop creating division!’ Acknowledging our differences and listening to the stories of those who are left out of wellness spaces comes first (Instagram). True unity comes when we can acknowledge how we play a role in perpetuating disparities.
Asking your BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) friends to acknowledge that you’re doing the work to be a good ally. Also, wanting them to offer you gratitude for the work you should already be doing to better understand their experiences.
Using the central philosophy in yoga that ‘separateness is an illusion’ as a reason to reject the existence of BIPOC-only wellness spaces.
Using yoga terminology to bypass difficult conversations that challenge you and therefore invalidate the experience of the person approaching you.
What does it mean in relation to race?
Spiritual bypassing minimizes the experiences of marginalized folx. Neglecting to understand how generations of racism and brutality have affected Black communities and other communities of color is against the first ethical value of yoga, Ahimsa (non-harming). Practicing ahimsa is more than holding space for someone’s experience. It is holding space for your biases and internalized racism, too. Holding many things at once is not the easy path but the necessary one for collective liberation.
Invalidating painful experiences of racism is also an act of erasure (Facebook). It can cause BIPOC folx to feel that they need to continue to bury their own experiences and emotional responses in order to make room for the dominant culture. This can show up as BIPOC experiencing “freeze response” in response to racist actions, and when met with “Well I’m not THAT kind of white person. You should have felt comfortable sharing your experience with me.” This bypassing centers the white person’s importance rather than harm caused to BIPOC folx.
When yoga teachers fail to acknowledge current events that are affecting communities that are also underrepresented in wellness spaces, it harms students of color that are seeking spaces to feel seen and heard (Mic). It also prevents white students from learning the unmistakable intersectionality of yoga and social action.
When you are practicing spiritual bypassing, you are deceiving yourself into thinking you have attained a ‘higher state’ of being than you actually have. This harms everyone as it is a misuse of yoga. As you deepen your yoga practice, you don’t become “above” this world. You become more of this world. You see more clearly the injustices in the world you live in and better understand your role and purpose in taking action.
Spiritual bypassing is avoiding dealing with strong and difficult emotions, pain, and/or trauma. It is often used in the wellness industry to avoid acknowledging privilege and the harm white-centered spaces cause to BIPOC communities.
It is harmful because by bypassing the history of racism in the U.S., white communities turn a blind eye to their complicity in racism and cultural appropriation in wellness spaces.
Spiritual bypassing actually limits one’s spiritual growth and the ability to develop clarity and discernment – the actual purposes of yoga.