Who are these “Spiritual Gangsters” on the prowl?

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Photo by bruce mars on Unsplash

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.

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