The online comedy Namaste, Bitches takes aim at those narcissistic teachers who promote themselves, not spirituality
There is one fail-safe sign that your yoga teacher is a total namaste bitch. It’s the pigeon pose, aka eka pada rajakapotasana. It crops up on the Insta feeds of yogis who like doing difficult postures on a rock by a blue sea. It’s a great hip opener, apparently, and, according to one yoga-blog star: “Our hips can carry tension, stress and emotion, especially for women. This pose works to release all of this. This pose feels like heaven. You can bet I’m in this pose all the time.”
Which is all great, except the teacher is likely to be the only one in the class who can do it. So all you can do is watch and feel useless. You’ve just been nobbled by a namaste bitch.
Anyone who has done yoga will know that teachers are clever, vibrant people who can sometimes bring bliss and good posture into your life. At other times, they are haughty, self-regarding body fascists with breathy teaching voices, who prance around like the divine offspring of Margot Fonteyn and Jesus Christ, when really all they are is bendy.
They are haughty, self-regarding body fascists
For an activity that is meant to be spiritual, yoga sure attracts a lot of narcissistic pains in the arse — and various muscles. I took one class with a serene twentysomething Cape Town Kundalini princess in a tight white vest and a turban, who spoke to students as if she were an enlightened fairy and they were imbecile orcs. When the Kundalini postures made me laugh, she said: “You’ve never done yoga before, have you?” I had, I said. “Well, not proper yoga,” she returned. Om shanti to you, too.
It’s a wonder that it has taken a show like Namaste, Bitches so long to appear. This online-only series is a comic exposé of the reality behind that forced beatific smile on this world’s face. Created by a former yoga teacher, Summer Chastant, and launched at the end of last year, the six short episodes are about the goings-on at an LA studio called Namaste and skewer “yoga’s underbelly”, as she puts it. LA Weekly called it “the Girls of yoga”. The yoga crowd is loving it, just as the nutritionists all follow Deliciously Stella, the spoof #cleaneating account that features mostly beer and Haribo.
Chastant isn’t afraid to poke fun at the industry she first joined as a teacher during the 2007 screenwriters’ strike. An actress and writer without work, teaching yoga kept her in green juices for five years. Now 36, she still loves yoga and says meditation wrote her scripts. “Stepping out of the industry helped me to get closer to the real yoga.”
Namaste, Bitches lambasts an industry “that is meant to be sacred and spiri-tual”, and often presents itself as morally above the baser pleasures in life — sex, drugs, cigarettes, crisps, wine, tequila and, of course, money and fame. The show is full of exactly that kind of bad behaviour.
Chastant is coy about exactly who inspired her to get off her mat and onto her laptop, preferring to draw on the “many wacky characters and scenarios I encountered”. The show’s star teacher, Jessi, delivers self-serving vapid spiritual lectures, teaches in a tiny tankini and has a habit of pressing her body sexily against her students while correcting postures, which she says makes her students love her. “She’s that typical aerobics-style, sexual, scantily clothed type,” Chastant says.
The secret-smoker protagonist, Sabine, is told she has to flog herself harder on social media and develop her own method, which she comes up with after staying up one night doing coke. Her High Low Flow class is a hit.
While some of Namaste, Bitches is fiction, the vain, money-driven underbelly of yoga is real and puts a lot of people off. When I called round a few mat addicts in London, one teacher’s name came up repeatedly. We’ll call her Shanti. She constantly exhorted her pupils to “look at me” and “watch me” (which men never found hard). When she led retreats at fashionable tropical beaches, she’d go from chugging beer, smoking weed or flirting to a stunning flowing handstand linking to a wheel pose, which let everyone marvel at her body and the way her bikini continued to cover only the essentials of her modesty. “The big question is, does yoga make people like this or does it attract a certain type of person?” Chastant asks.
The larger studios operate like stone-cold businesses; the sector was estimated last year to be worth nearly £1bn in the UK and £6bn in America. Industry insiders say teachers are paid a low fee per class, say £30, plus a small fee for every head in the class. No matter how many Buddhas sit in reception, big names such as Bikram and Triyoga are surely going “Ohmmm, kerching!”
This all creates a discordance with yoga’s origins as a discipline on which to base a good life, and it’s this the show nails most. In a capitalist world, what the consumer wants is, essentially, aerobics — what Sabine describes in the show as “strong flow, good sweat, side of handstands comin’ up!”
Namaste, Bitches is a comedy, but for anyone familiar with the yoga industry, Chastant is something of a whistleblower. She says the reception has been entirely positive. “If you can’t see the humour, you’re taking yourself way too seriously.”
10 signs your teacher is a namaste nasty
1 She teaches at a fashionable studio, possibly even owns it, and slags off all other methods and teachers who aren’t like her.
2 You catch her eyeing herself lovingly in the mirror when she thinks nobody is looking.
3 She wears a turban and a bikini to teach in.
4 She invented her own style within a few days of finishing teacher training.
5 Her Insta feed is basically acrobatic soft porn.
6 She has a special teaching voice that makes you come out of class grinding your teeth.
7 She tells you to “watch me” more than she watches you.
8 She makes it clear that her mind, arse and soul are in better shape than yours, as if spirituality is a competition.
9 At a party, she bangs on about her spiritual philosophies while snorting coke.
10 She makes beginners feel like losers.