Who are these “Spiritual Gangsters” on the prowl?

The “Spiritual Gangster” athleisure brand caught my attention, as it was created to do.

I first saw the Spiritual Gangster apparel as a walking advertisement worn by the women, most of them white, at the yoga studios I frequent. Apparently, Deepak Chopra also proclaims himself a Spiritual Gangster, along with celebrities such as Gwen Stefani and Katherine Schwarzenegger. There really seemed to be a great spectrum of folks who were a self-proclaimed part of this spiritual gang.

Yet, spiritual people, it would seem, do not need to announce it.

And gangsters, it would seem, would not be interested in yoga.

What was I missing? Further, what does it mean to be a wearer of the SG swag, to proclaim the so-called gospel of gangster threads?

Spiritual Gangster Holdings, Inc. is a private company, founded by yoga enthusiasts. The company purports to be a “a gang of spiritual people who want to make a difference.” They consider themselves spiritual in their dedication to the practice of yoga, and their behavior of banding together to support philanthropic causes, such as Feed the Hungry, from which a portion of their athleisure proceeds are donated, is where the gangster piece derives. 

So, as I distill it, the brand is about being a gang united by yoga and philanthropy. In effect, they are seeking to flip the script on “gangster” and what an intimidating band of people hellbent on a cause can do--for good.

“Spiritual Gangster,” as monikers go, is an oxymoron. To be spiritual can be manifested - or not - in a myriad of ways, most of them peaceful (though I’m sure plenty of jihadists consider themselves deeply spiritual). To be a gangster, in my view, though, commands some measure of perilous arrogance, whether one simply hails from a a rough and tumble territory, or truly makes her business preying upon the lives of those deemed enemies.

As a yogi, I like a good pair of yoga pants that keep my organs from spilling out of place when I’m in downfacing dog. I’m not particular about brands with yoga; I sweat all over them anyway. But the Spiritual Gangster brand continues to give me pause, long after I found out that they sell a $98 sports bra. Because I’m not sure if I’m bold enough in either of my practices -- yoga or do-gooding; spirituality or philanthropy; inwardness and togetherness -- to make the kind of statement that this athleisure wearers everywhere are making.

Perhaps it’s hubris that I lack, or perhaps it’s humility that I want to attain, but I feel both admiration and envy at the yoga gangsters who aren’t afraid to say who they are, of what they strive to be a part.

I think upon the times when Jesus told witnesses to his miracles not to tell anyone what they had seen. But, almost in the same breath, Jesus tells his apostles to be unapologetic about who they are and if any dismiss them, to shake the dust off their feet as they make their swift exit.

Even Peter’s betrayal of Jesus is, at its core, a denial of core identity. Peter denies that he is friends with Jesus. That he was part of his spiritual gang, as it were. 

At the beginning of many a yoga class, the teacher will tell students to set their intention. For the class, for their day, for their lives. I usually say to myself that I hope I’ll not give up and try to complete the whole class.

The next time I’m on the mat, though, I think I’ll modify my intention, perhaps to be both more spiritual and more gangster. Even if no one can tell.

Reasons That Lady Is Unable to Move Her Yoga Mat To Accommodate Mine

1.) Mercury is in retrograde and she’s bound to tip over and you know--dominoes.

2.) Oosh--haha! She wonders if you think we’ll all fit? All 3 of us in a row?

3.) She’s wearing new lululemon and she’s not sure if they’re see-through.

4.) Because why? Did you get a Groupon for this class or something?

5.) She just watched the Amy Cuddy TED Talk about power stances and this is NOT THE DAY to ask her to shrink back.

6.) She would, but she just told the mustachioed guy, you know the one who doesn’t believe in deodorant, that there wasn’t enough room.

7.) Trust her. She made garlic snape pesto last night and hooodoggies! She’ll be sweating it out of her pores ‘til tomorrow!

8.) Hold on, she just got ReTweeted by Joanna Gaines and she needs to ReTweet the ReTweet right now.

9.) Something about it being time we built that border wall already….

10.) Cooties.

11.) She already set her intention and moving was not something she manifested.

12.) She’s about to teach the class, so yeah, she’s going to stay where she is, right here, up in front.

When church and the yoga studio are kind of the same place

Worry not. You didn't miss anything. I'm not going all Eastern religion on you. Sometimes I go to church on a Saturday (actually, I always go to church on Saturday, who am I fooling? I am married to the Jim Bob Duggar of Korean Adventists. Saturday morning, a-churching we will go!). Then I go to yoga on Sunday. And the church and the yoga studio? I've realized they are not so distinct from the other.

Yoga starts and it is hot as all get out. That's the point. You get all sweaty betty and your muscles loosen and hey! look! You're contorted like a seahorse, you flexy lexi!

Church can be equally steamy, or it's freezing cold. There is never a happy medium at church, have you noticed this? Either your make-up is melting off your face and the choir is passing out under its robes or you are shivering your tochis off and you no longer wonder why elderly women always wear seven cardigan sweaters on top of one another in July. It's because they spend so much time grocery shopping and at church. Which are also the same thing: the frozen food aisle and church.


Once you get into the yoga routine, you are trying mightily to keep your third eye open, and I don't even know what that really means, other than the yoga instructors always say it when we're supposed to Be Mindful and Have Awareness. Awareness of how many women in the studio are wearing lululemon athletica and how I'm wearing Target yoga pants from 2001? Oh sorry, not that?

Everyone knows church is a fashion show. It will always be a showcase. The hats, the bags, the shoes, the dresses. I have nothing new to contribute to this, other than that I've lived in four different regions of the country: Midwest, Midatlantic, New England, Southeast and it is all the same. Except in the Midwest. People sometimes wear sneakers (white! ghastly!) to church and that is pure blasphemy in the South.

During the church service at a Negro church in Heard County,...

By the time we're really into the vinyasa flow of the yoga class, the instructor will say something like, "Yoga is all about showing up. You show up for your practice and that is enough." I always internalize this because this is often the point in the class when I do a faceplant onto my mat after attempting crow or eagle and then I remember I'm not a flying species. So I can hear the yoga teacher offering these platitudes for the class while totally looking straight at me (maybe with her third eye?), like, Hey girl. Points for trying.

Back when I was a reluctant churchgoer in the Haus of Catholicism, my old man told me that once I made my first communion, I had to go to church every week. And that happened. Every week for a long lot of years. You pretty much had to be hit by a stray bullet to get a church pass when I was growing up. When I got to college, I still went to church. I can't say for sure if it was the Catholic guilt or if it was what my dad said, about having reached a part in my life where I was grown up enough to have to do something like go to church on a weekly basis. I'd like to think that somewhere I've always believed that we gain a blessing just by showing up. Sometimes our church practice, like our yoga practice, is just lazy and sloppy and tired. Sometimes we're feeling strong and secure in our pew or on our mat and we're smiling even when the sermon or the vinyasa runs a little long or gets a tad repetitive. Showing up. It takes courage, doesn't it? For church where we sing and sit and listen and pick the play-dough out of the carpet that we foolishly brought thinking it would occupy our children when really it is occupying our time in the wrong way. For yoga we sit and bend and starfish out next to the guy who is sweating out the garlic he ate for lunch.

Billy Sunday  (LOC)

Church and yoga studios are, for all appearances, neat and tidy places. But they are in the business of doing very messy work. We sit on parallel seats, be they pews or mats, and we try to stay quiet except for when we're not meant to be quiet, as with singing or heavy breathing. We follow our cues like good little boys and girls but then the past week's stresses come pouring out, sometimes without warning. Something strikes us as true in a sermon or something pinches a muscle that we overexerted this week and the real messy stuff comes uninvited. And yet, this is precisely where it should be.

Saleby Church, Västergötland, Sweden

Because beyond the climate control and fashion show and the whole attendance policy is this sacred space where hurts are dealt with and minds are allowed to focus or run wild and people grapple with the eternal and the right now.

War game drill on SEATTLE  (LOC)

At the end of a yoga class, the yogis bow with their third eye and utter a Namaste. Sometimes they clap. Good job. I've been enriched by you practicing alongside me. Even if your lululemon swag offends me with its cuteness and your sweat is now all over my mat.

At the end of a church service, we usually close the service with a blessing and a song. The difference I see is that the work was not just about what happened here in the service, but ultimately, about what Jesus did for us; this worship was just a response to that glorious sacrifice, that eternal expression of perfect love.

We all need our sacred spaces where we feel a sense of predictable and orderliness but aren't afraid to deal with the untidy business of life, either. The most important part, in my view, is that we be changed by the sacred, that we not file the experience away as another class, another worship service.

Pootjebadende nonnen op het strand / wading nuns

I want always to be changed because of what Jesus changed for this world and by what He is preparing for us in the next. I strive to be changed by showing up, no matter the weather inside or out, and no matter what I'm wearing on the outside or what's happening to me on the inside.

Change me, Lord. That this little body might be something of its own little sacred space. Hot and cold, strong and weak, fancy and sloppy, totally neat and one giant mess in need of your grace.