Monday, December 5, 2011

Is it possible to become a yogaholic?

Does she need to go to a Yogaholics Anonymous meeting?
[Image taken from here]

In her latest post, Bindy writes about yoga addiction. Is it possible to become addicted to yoga, i.e. is it possible to become a yogaholic? In this post, I'm going to do a little philosophical analysis, and offer my own diagnosis of whether such an addiction is possible. I think this is going to be fun. Maybe you won't think so, but what the heck, this is my blog :-)

Let me just start by quoting Bindy:

"i’m doing ok without my bike & my asana, but i do miss the yoga. but not like other people who i have met over the years. missing just one day for some people makes them go bat-shit. and that is FAR from healthy... to me that’s fucked up. yoga isn’t supposed to take over your life. unless you give away all your belongings, tie yourself in a lungi & move to a cave in the Himalayas. yoga is supposed to assist you with your daily living. yoga in of itself is NOT supposed to be all that you care about. it’s supposed to be about balance."

Interesting. Perhaps we should start by coming up with a working definition of "addiction". How do we know if somebody is addicted to something? Let me start by proposing this definition:

Definition I
One is addicted to x (where x can be a substance, an activity, or even a person)

if and only if 

(1) one needs to do/ingest/see x very regularly in order to function normally; 

(2) one suffers from withdrawal symptoms (including "going bat-shit") when one goes without x for longer than a certain period of time.

This is, admittedly, a very broad and loose definition of addiction. Definition I definitely covers the kinds of addictions that we are mostly familiar with (drug addiction, nicotine addiction, etc.). Under this definition, it would also be possible to become addicted to yoga, if there are indeed people out there who go bat-shit if they abstain from yoga for more than a certain amount of time.

But there's one problem with Definition I: It's too broad. Under this definition, food would also be an addiction, since food is something we need to ingest very regularly in order to function normally, and one definitely suffers from withdrawal symptoms (both psychological symptoms such as being cranky when hungry, and physical symptoms such as, uh, starvation and malnutrition) when one is deprived of food.

Since we don't want to say that somebody with normal eating habits (as opposed to somebody who is indulging in emotional eating) is suffering from food addiction, we need to fine-tune our definition. Perhaps what we need is something like:

Definition II

One is addicted to x (where x can be a substance, an activity, or maybe even a person)

if and only if 

(1) one needs to do/ingest/see x very regularly in order to function normally; 

(2) one suffers from withdrawal symptoms (including "going bat-shit") when one goes without x for longer than a certain period of time;

(3) One does not need to do/ingest/see x in order to survive. 

This definition seems to capture better what we normally mean by addiction. One can be addicted to drugs and nicotine. But one can't properly be said to be addicted to food, since food is something our bodies need in order to survive.

But we don't need to do yoga in order to survive. So if Definition II is correct, then it is certainly possible to become addicted to yoga. Q.E.D.

Well, now that we know that it is possible to become addicted to yoga, further questions arise: Just how much must one need to do yoga in order to function normally, before one can be a certified yogaholic? How bad do the withdrawal symptoms need to be, i.e. just how "batshit" does one need to go when deprived of yoga in order to be a yogaholic? Is being a yogaholic a bad thing? After all, it can be argued, there are way worse things one can be addicted to...

Ashtangis may be the most likely yogis to be yogaholics, since the "good Ashtangi" is supposed to practice six days a week, minus moon days and Ladies' Holidays. But simply practicing six days a week doesn't make one a yogaholic (Ashtangaholic?); according to Definition II, one also needs to suffer from withdrawal symptoms if one is deprived of practice for a couple of days. This being the case, there is no way to know just how many Ashtangis out there (if any) are yogaholics, since no studies have been conducted to date to find out just how many Ashtangis go batshit when deprived of practice for a couple of days.

Verdict: It is possible to be a yogaholic. Given the sheer frequency and intensity of Ashtanga practice, Ashtangis may be especially vulnerable to yogaholism. However, because yogaholics do not typically display straightforwardly anti-social behavior (unless one counts being an Ashtanga Police as anti-social behavior), there is no straightforwardly objective method of determining just how many yogaholics are presently lurking in yoga studios and shalas around the world. So beware: You never know if the person on the mat next to you is a silently-long-suffering yogaholic.        


  1. Hi Nobel; I read the post on the studies that linked Yoga practitioners to mental disorders last week; and it made me Laugh out Loud; But not as much as your last sentence: " Beware: You never know if the person on the mat next to you is a silently-long-suffering yogaholic" !!!!

    I have to admit I do feel very unbalanced and call myself "crazy" when I haven't had my dose of Ashtanga. Maybe we should conduct this study within the blogging Ashtangi community to weight out just how "addicted" we all are.

    Would be fun! ;)

  2. Thanks for sharing, RV. Actually, for the last two years, I have been doing at least some asana everyday; I cheat a little on moon days too, by doing a couple of Surya As, just because I can't stand being all stiff and such. So I may be addicted without knowing it; it's just that I haven't had the opportunity to suffer any withdrawal symptoms :-)

    I'll think about how to go about conducting the study/poll.

  3. Your definition II isn't valid either. Take tooth brushing as an example and you'll find that it is

    1) done very regularly.
    2) you suffer symptoms if you don't.
    3) it is not necessary in order to survive.

    Like some people can have compulsory eating disorders where they eat way more than needed to survive/stay healthy others can probably also have compulsory teeth brushing disorders - like if they brush and brush and brush all day long and neglect life and social contacts on that account. Or if they spend all their money on new tooth brushes and maybe even take loans to buy more and more.

    Likewise a yoga addiction could be when you do yoga (asana?) from morning to midnight everyday and forget to eat and work and pay your bills and take care of your kids.


    The term addiction is used to describe a recurring compulsion by an individual to engage in some specific activity, despite harmful consequences, as deemed by the user themselves to their individual health, mental state, or social life (from wikipedia)

  4. Hello Roselil, I think you are right that my definition II isn't valid. I guess the wiki definition that you quoted would have to do for now :-)

  5. careful now....i'm glad this funny article is being seriously discussed all over the internet. i wonder how some yoga people would like to stop doing asana for half a year! that's me. now it's 30 minutes of pranayama & 30 of sitting. i haven't died yet but boy am i getting tight. oh well. life happens.

  6. Thanks for writing all these thought-provoking posts so that people like me can have something to blog about, Bindy :-) I hope you heal quickly and resume your asana practice soon. In the meantime, please continue to write.