Dangerous Compassions

spiritual bypassing

outgoing mail

In yoga class on Wednesday, our teacher talked about spiritual bypassing.  It was at the beginning, and I had a big reaction.  I think our teacher was upset by violence in the news and didn’t want to pretend that collective grief and individual grief isn’t happening.

She acknowledges the grief and pain, and she said it’s ok to feel our feelings in yoga class, including crying and rage.  She mentioned that a reason for doing yoga is to keep our feelings in motion.

what is spiritual bypassing

It gave me food for thought.  I’d heard the term spiritual bypassing and had some questions already.  For my yoga teacher to bring it up is a big deal because I respect her a lot–her good heart and so much intelligence.

What’s the difference between spiritual bypassing and rest?  I face reality: the reality of sunrise, bees buzzing in the garden, my own body’s pleasure and pain, the tattoos of a stranger who’s passing me on the street, guttermancy, Ming’s kiss, a friend’s travels, the dream I had last night that keeps bugging me, ideas in the book I’m reading…

But facing reality like violence on the news, I can only give a small portion of my attention to.  If I’m exposed to a lot of violence, I get nonfunctional real quick.

There’s unfathomable suffering and pain just in my own neighborhood.  Let alone the whole world.  War, domestic violence, violence against queer people, violation of children, violence against the water and the land, rape culture, prisons, police, racism….  Facing all of the world’s suffering is impossible, and doing all the work is impossible.  I need to focus on what makes sense for my skills, capacities, and needs.

Of course it’s ok to prioritize in a way that makes sense.  And rest is vital.

spiritual spaces

There’s a cliche of yoga being for thin white women who are culturally appropriating to feel better about themselves.  Yoga as a waste of time for yuppie-hippies who want to congratulate themselves for doing a health thing.

Yoga is something I did on my own as a teenager, from a book.  Later in classes, it helped me learn how to feel my body, live in my body, and feel pleasure in a semi-public space without negative consequences.  I’ve talked elsewhere about the power of therapeutic relationships and teaching myself that I can be looked at and even touched, and it can go ok.  I needed to learn all that after a youth of trauma.

I don’t see yoga as spiritual bypassing.  For me, it’s like prayer and ritual.  It helps me have the strength to do what I need to do.  It’s the opposite of bypassing.


If the yoginis are CEOs who need to comfort away their anxiety about trashing the earth and oppressing their workers, that’s a problem.  A CEO can do yoga, get a massage, buy a new purse, and drink some fancy wine, to soothe her nerves and help her feel good about herself again.

The idea of waving a crystal at something and saying “good vibes only” seems cartoonish.  It must really happen.  But the yoga I’ve done has never been like that.

What do you think?  Is spiritual bypassing yoga for gentrifiers, river polluters, and business people who won’t allow their workers full time to avoid paying for benefits?  I guess I never knew those people.  My people have mostly been poor.  Or not having power over others like that.


My first yoga teacher brought her Buddhism into our classes, and we always practiced compassion.  We practiced extending compassion to ourselves, a loved one, someone we’re struggling with, and then the whole world via the blue sky, vast and limitless.  I did that for years.

We always thanked the lineage of our teachers, respectfully.  And we dedicated the merit of our practice outwardly.  We were doing the work to ground ourselves in order to do good in the world.  Not to comfort away wrongdoing.  Dharma yoga was an important part of my healing, that lost decade.

True, the yoga class was almost always thin white women, then me.  My youth, scrappy clothes, and weighing 100+ pounds more than everyone else in the room did make me different.

But I would never presume that the lives of those thin white women were easy.  Of course they’d endured unspeakable things, as I had.  Their culturally approved bodies, neat haircuts, and detached demeanors didn’t mean they were exempt from the suffering of being a human.  Of course they had been through hells I could never imagine.


The yoga I do nowadays is with fat people.  Feels great, to do yoga in a space where my body is totally welcome.

Well, it was welcome in other spaces too, like the All Bodies class I went to at Yoga Seed back when Ming and I lived in Sacramento.  But this feels extra special, that my body is not only welcome, it’s treasured.  The validity of my fat body is a given, not something I need to be afraid will be taken away.

I don’t feel guilt because a teacher stops the class to try tailoring a movement for me, or like my slowness is bringing the rest of the class down.  I am 100% ok, just as I am.  Thank you to Ample Movement for the blessing of that.


I deserve rest and spaces where I don’t need to think about current events.  The horror of the day does reach me, some more than others.  Any shooting means people are upset about gun laws and mental health.  As if being crazy makes people resort to shooting.

I do get upset when smart people who should know better say shootings are a mental health issue.  Sorry, we know people with diagnoses are way more likely to be the victims of violence than perps.  I am fully crazy with mood swings, paranoia at times, delusions, and I hear voices on the regular.  But nope, I got no guns and no interest in hurting anyone, not even myself.

The solution isn’t to pour more money into a broken mental health system.  It’s broken–more money isn’t going to help.  It will just flow out of the broken part.

And I don’t think the solution is gun laws either.  I’m an anarchist.  People don’t need laws to know what’s right or wrong–we know shootings are wrong.

It’s so much more work to face reality, heal culture, teach men how to love.  It would require so much change, to get to a place honest enough to even say what men are expected to do with their emotions.  Let alone to find ways to heal that.  It’s so much easier to further scapegoat crazy people such as myself and pass a feeble law than heal culture.


My yoga teacher brought up spiritual bypassing in a good way.  She didn’t talk directly about the violent current events or make us say how we feel about news items.  She opened up freedom, making explicit that we are doing yoga to feel.

Her brief clarifying that we’re free to feel our feelings is kind to us.  I don’t really need permission, but her permission was a gift of love.

It was not intrusive or harmful, to clarify our freedom.  But it was a shock.  Doing grief in groups is intense, and I’d rather know people deeply and do it for real, or not attempt it at all.

moment of silence

It made me remember a chair yoga class I attended in a huge senior wellness center, although I am not a senior.  It was September 11th, and the teacher made us take a moment of silence to think of the tragedy anniversary and “all the brave men who lost their lives that day.”

I felt sick, being instructed to fake-grieve in a group of people who probably felt very differently than I did about 9-11 and how it was used to justify so much violence afterward.  I resented that I went to this chair yoga class to care for myself, and I was being harmed by having normal values imposed on me gratuitously.

It was brief, but it really hurt to not have a choice.  Kind of like Mother’s Day–I don’t want to go out because the grocery store checker is going to wish me a happy mother’s day, and I hide my wince.

not spiritual bypassing

Yes, I need physical movement to help keep my feelings in motion.  I’m allowed to feel any emotions, even huge ones that seem destructive, as long as they don’t get stuck.  Yoga, qigong, ecstatic dance, walking, stretching, and riding trike all help me do that.  Touch, including sexuality, can help in that way too.

I need to move so that I can face reality.  Feeling my feelings is a huge part of life–it helps me be ok, so I can do my life’s work.  That includes justice work and being there for others in a meaningful way.  Radical mental health, the art and writing I do, feeding hungry people, peace work, disability justice, and autistic liberation.  Friend love and family love.

Thank you for all the ways you show up for love, dear reader.  And thank you to everyone who helps us face reality and pay attention in the ways that make sense for us.

By Laura-Marie

Good at listening to the noise until it makes sense.

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