Negative Spam

On Wednesday evening, someone using my identity posted, under my name, negative spam on a local blog site that is running a “Best of the North Shore” contest. The negative spam appeared on the Best Yoga Studio section of North Shore Magazine’s contest page stating that I thought Yoga Sakti in Salem was the best studio and that they were good because they cleared out “deadweight” teachers like me and hired great teachers, with the clear implication that I was not. The text, exactly as it appeared on North Shore’s website, reads: “Kat Mansfield on Wed, 6th Apr 6:12 PM I would certainly crown Yoga Sakti of Salem the single greatest yoga/trx studio. They do a great job of getting rid of the dead weight (me . . .) and easily have the greatest yoga instructors (not me . . . ) Simply stunning 10 out of 10!!”

Scrolling further down the site, there were also spammed posts from bloggers named “Judas” and “Mussolini” that were negative against Ananda Shanti Yoga, the studio where I have been a partner for the last year and moved on from several weeks ago to pursue my own projects.  Other comments noted that these negative posts were “not in the spirit of yoga” and that those making such negative comments should “look within.” There are also more than a hundred posts that simply record the vote of people who log in, showing very enthusiastic support for various studios.

Jennifer Craig, the lovely manager at Yoga Sakti, picked up the negative spam and, horrified, immediately let me know about it and started to take steps with the media organization to remove the post.  The post was taken down  yesterday morning by Lauren Carelli, the Web Editor at Northshore Magazine. In her response email, she said, “Unfortunately this type of stuff does happen because we have over 1000 comments coming in every day. Keep me posted if you see anything else and thank[s] for catching it!”  I then emailed Ms. Carelli to thank her and to let her know about the “Judas” and “Mussolini” posts.  She wrote back to say she was not in the office yesterday afternoon and therefore was not able to remove the posts.  It is my hope that the remaining negative posts will be removed as soon as possible.

There is so much wrong with this disturbing story that it is hard to know where to start. My immediate reaction to reading the negative post about me was, simply, “Why?” and then, very quickly, “Who would write such a thing about me? And using my own name?” It is an intense feeling of violation. Unfortunately, there are no controls or filters on this type of site; anyone can impersonate anyone else and registration emails can be pilfered or made up. In addition to the feeling of violation, there is also helplessness in the complete inability to protect myself.

It is true that I support Yoga Sakti, practice there on a weekly basis and send many of my students there.  I am on excellent terms with the management of the studio and Cheryl Swansburg, the owner, made a special effort to call me yesterday to reassure me that I am very much appreciated at YS, valued at a teacher and a student and welcome anytime. She even wanted to put up a “We love Kat Mansfield!” poster in the lobby, which I assured her I appreciated very much but felt was unnecessary.  I am also supportive of Ananda Shanti Yoga, feel grateful for my association and proud of my work there over the last year and wish Shankari and the ASY community the very best success, now and going forward.  I was truly saddened to see comments by aliases like “Judas” – a horrifying betrayer – and “Mussolini” – a ghastly dictator and murderer – being brought into any sort of conversation about yoga and especially against a sangha which is so important to me.

And now to the conversation itself. Why is there a contest for Who Is The Best Yoga Studio On The North Shore? In fairness to local studios, they are voted in by their fans and don’t put themselves directly in the running for the contest.  This is media hype, initiated by a news outlet for promotional purposes.  One thing is for sure: it ain’t yoga. And in my experience, when yogis start messing with stuff that ain’t yoga, we ALL get in trouble. We are meant to be in the world, but not of the world. If we check in with Patanjali’s yoga sutras [2.35-2.39], we are meant to be practicing non-violence, truth, non-stealing, awareness and continence, and non-aquisitiveness.  We are reminded that if we don’t, we will suffer from unending misery [2.34].  Scrolling through the blog posts on the contest site, even aside from the blatantly unkind and untrue posts against me and others, there is a tone of bragging, competition, incontinence, aquisitiveness and, well, unbridled ego writ large.

My first teacher, Bikram Choudhury, has engendered no end of criticism for instituting yoga competitions and trying to get the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to accept asana as an Olympic sport. Currently, Yoga Journal is running a competition to see who should be on the cover of this industry-dominant magazine.  My friends David Romanelli (of Livin’ the Moment fame) and Joslyn Hamilton, who writes a blog called Recovering Yogi, have commented with knife’s-edge humor about the perils of that contest.  I have multiple friends across the country emailing and Facebooking me to vote them on to the cover of YJ.  While I appreciate that there is some sense of fun in all of this, there is also considerable depredation of the true nature of yoga, which we can all surely sense in the atmosphere of commerciality, competition and me-me-me-ism that is the unavoidable result of such exercises.

On the one hand, the negative spam on North Shore Magazine’s blog is merely the work of pranksters.  It is unkind and untrue but not lastingly harmful unless we allow it to be.  But on the other, there is a kind of mean-spirited, juvenile compassionlessness to it, born out of commerciality and competition, that devalues all of us who are practicing, teaching and working to create a true yoga  (or at least yoga-ish) community. If our dharma is to be happy and our karma is to help others be happy, then popularity contests and non-compassionate comparisons do nothing to help us in those noble pursuits.  In short, it’s a bummer.  Let’s support ALL the studios that bring us yoga on the North Shore. Believe me, it is hard, hard darn work to keep a studio up and running.  Hats off to all yoga studio owners, yoga teachers and the students who work and practice together fearlessly and with devotion every day.

4 comments

  1. This response from Lauren Carelli, the Web Editor of North Shore Magazine was sent to me on 4/8/11:
    Hi Kathryn,
    I deleted the posts [Judas and Musollini] for you. Again, I am sorry for the inconvenience and I wish there was a way for us to filter the comments. I understand that this produces a negative atmosphere for the yoga community. I myself am a huge yoga fan and go to Yoga Sakti regularly, and for someone (who I assume is or was an instructor) to disrespect the practice truly speaks words of their character.
    Keep me posted if you see anything else and have a great weekend!
    - Lauren Carelli

  2. In my freshman seminar on “the social impact of social media,” and sometimes in introductory sociology classes, I engage with my students on the dilemmas of digital identity, privacy, anonymity and pseudonymity. Like Sherry Turkle, I find facilely self-serving Mark Zuckerberg’s unquestioned assertion that privacy is irrelevant. Moreover, there are important functions of anonymity and pseudonymity, as when netizens wish to participate in online support groups, or discuss sensitive issues on a blog. However, I do feel that news organizations which elicit opinions should verify the identity of posters. Certainly under the sheer weight of negative comments, many feel pressure to do so. Requiring a verified identity to post seems to raise the overall civility and quality of posts. Unfortunately, it may still take online policing of the sort you document, to eliminate vicious hoaxes such as the one to which you were subject.

    To the topic of contests in yoga, I must say that I have in the past voted for my local studio in a “best of” “contest.” I have always seen this in a positive way, as supporting a local concern rather than detracting from another. I now actively support an entrant into Yoga Journal’s talent search, but again, only as a way of supporting a friend’s journey on and off the mat. I also see both of these as of a different order than self-promotion.

    Lastly, I wish to comment on the commerciality of yoga. I have recently finished reading Stefanie Syman’s The Subtle Body: The Story of Yoga in America. I have discovered that many pulsations, including one between spirituality and commerciality, have existed from yoga’s earliest introduction to these shores. Yoga studios are businesses. They seem to require this, to a greater or lesser degree, to survive in this cultural context. To me this is first chakra territory, or better still, part of the manifesting current—limitation is as required as liberation. I prefer to think of this, then, non-dually. People need to make a living to be able to offer others a path to their self-liberation. While we may clearly identify excesses in this regard, we will not eliminate this need while in this form, at least not at this time in history. However, I do feel it would be constructive to converse about how we may better bring yoga to underserved populations.

    On balance, I am grateful for your post to the extent that it identifies that we have yet much to work out within this community, as we seek to live out our aspirations more fully and authentically.

  3. Thank you for your thoughtful comments, Richard. As someone who has earned her living teaching yoga for the last decade, the self-promotion thing is, indeed, a very fine line. Clearly we cannot provide an opportunity to teach the dharma if no one can find us or not enough people come to class so we can keep the lights on. However, while compassionate comparison is a spiritual practice, competitive comparison is not. I think there are ways to make a living in yoga without holding contests, particularly if they pit studios and teachers against each other and encourage students to relinquish ahimsa and satya in order to get “their” studio or teacher in the forefront. As to the privacy piece, well, I am afraid there is no hope for it. I’m on the internet, I teach publicly and that makes me a target, I guess. Fortunately, no harm done this round and my post is just to make sure the facts are clear and rumors quenched. Thanks again for your discernment.

  4. How anyone can say anything remotely like that about you, Kat, completely boggles my mind. I haven’t been to one of your class in some time, but you were always the most wonderful, positive presence in the studio. I agree with you on the silliness of yoga competitions and yoga instructor rankings/ratings, etc., but I will at least say that you are my favorite yoga teacher (and that’s really saying something because I have had classes under Jeanne Magazu as well!). I send you much love, Kat, and some of that positiveness you always supplied in such abundance!

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