life in these Yoga States (apologies to the Reader’s Digest)

WARNING: GUARANTEED TO PISS OFF SOMEBODY SOMEWHERE

yoga studio owner

There are many things in this world that make me go hmmm……and one of them is the way yoga teachers are treated.

My long-time readers know why I no longer teach weekly classes in studios and you can read my sorry stories here.    But over the years of writing this blog I’ve received emails from both teachers and students venting about things in their own little corners of the yoga world.   I’m a bit overwhelmed that people trust me enough to share their feelings so openly with me, someone they only know via this blog.

Of course there are good, thoughtful, and compassionate studio owners, the majority I’m sure.   Of course I have been treated well and fairly and I respect many studio owners and count them as friends.  It’s tough to be self-employed and run any business and I am sure owners have many complaints about teachers — I’ve heard owners’ stories about teachers not showing up to teach.  After more than a few years I have ventured into teaching a public class again not at a yoga studio but at a belly-dance studio and I love it because it’s a very different vibe.

But unfortunately in my experience and in the experience of those who write or tell me things, the ill treatment of teachers by owners is, let’s just say, something special.  Weird.  Puzzling.  Passive-aggressive.  Even diabolical sometimes.  Should the yoga biz be any different from the real world?  I’ll get to that.

I know a teacher who went to the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram for private classes.  She shared what she learned in the asana classes with her students.  She told her students “this is what I learned in India” and she said her students loved the practices.  Well, all except for one student.   In the teacher’s words:

“Students were eager to learn and experience for themselves the KYM style of yoga.

They embraced it even though it had a different rhythm. Many said that it was simpler and they felt more responsible for their practice and found that they were able focus on their breath and breath as they repeated poses on their own.  A student from another teacher dropped into my class one day and didn’t like this different style and thus reported back to other students in her regular classes and ultimately the studio owner that they did not like the way I was teaching my class.  Don’t get me wrong, everyone is entitled to their opinion and free to go to the class of their choosing with a teacher that they resonate with.  However, when this unconstructive, third hand feedback was shared with me by the studio owner there was an implication that what I was doing was wrong or bad or strange or something – just not preferred by her students.  OK, whatever.” **

From a Canadian yoga teacher:

“The studio owners came to me and asked me to change the style of yoga I was teaching as they were moving towards a branded style of yoga.  As a yoga teacher with 10 years experience and a specific training that involves pranayama and therapy in asana, I said I could probably change some things about my class (i.e., create a similar class that was a more challenging level of practice and make the class more of a flow class), but not change the focus on meditation in my class, the seated and focused pranayama at beginning and end, and the attention paid to mantra. 

This conversation was conducted over email and the owner’s  response was that my classes were not at threat, but that she would like me to attend her training sessions in order to teach her new style of yoga.  I told her I could not attend as they were half day workshops on Saturdays, I already taught two back-to-back classes on Saturdays, and that would mean I would be away from my family for 6-8 hours on Saturdays.

After this discussion my pay checks stop coming.  I did not get paid for 2.5 months by this studio.  I vocalized my disapproval in a series of professional emails.  On the cusp of the third month of not being paid for my three classes a week, I was finally paid and with this pay told I was no longer needed to teach at the studio.  They gave me two days notice.  They told me not to come back to the studio.  They told my students I left for personal reasons.  I later found out I was not the only teacher treated so poorly. 

The studio is a hot yoga studio with three locations.   I was told I was being let go because I had created a feeling of resistance in their peaceful studio space.  In fact, I had tried to comply to the studio owner’s wishes without compromising my own unique qualities as a teacher.   In the end, it was for the best that my relationship with this studio ended as my service was not best suited for the space.” **

Yes, we’re all human, we each have our foibles and shadow selves and crazy ass shit we deal with, but somehow, at least in my opinion, the yoga studio should be a little bit different from the usual shit in the corporate world or wherever a yoga teacher comes from.  Dare I say it, a “sacred” space?  A little kinder?  A calming respite from the usual shit we deal with on a daily basis?   Yamas, anyone?  If I wanted to be screamed at and treated like a peon, I’d still work for lawyers.  OK, my 20 years in the legal biz wasn’t THAT bad, but you get the idea.  Probably one of the reasons why the sadhus go live in caves in India.

In the first example, on another occasion the owner told the teacher that some people in her class did not like the 20 minutes of yin yoga she tried in her class.   What is the purpose of telling a teacher that students don’t like what you’re teaching?  Because the owner thinks the teacher should change her teaching style?  Or shouldn’t be teaching what she teaches at the studio?  Or maybe because the owner is fearful that students would like the teacher’s class more than hers so it’s a little passive-aggressive put down?  Is it a control thing?  I mean, unless the teacher is incompetent or injures people, but….seems just damn hurtful (spiteful?) to me and isn’t yoga supposed to be empowering for both students and teachers?  But, hell…what do I know?

As the teacher said, the comment was not constructive criticism, only that “someone doesn’t like what you teach.”  OK, fine, so those that don’t like won’t go to the teacher’s class.  But whatever happened to accepting what is offered to you and being grateful?  I have been in many classes and workshops over 15+ years of yoga-ing that I did not particularly care for but always took away a little something.  Teachings are like a bowl of rice — pick out the dirt and eat the rest.

In the second example, if the studio is switching their focus, that’s fine, a business owner is entitled to run their business as they see fit, but why the drama, the non-payment?  Too much drama is one of the reasons I no longer teach public group classes, too much Dramasana in the studios where I’ve taught.  It’s too exhausting and too much of an energy drain.   Soul sucking, in fact.

“The case of acro yoga: is it yoga or not?  What say you?”

The above question was asked by a Facebook friend (yoga teacher) on her Facebook page.

I asked the same question here and was blacklisted from teaching workshops at the brand new yoga studio in my town.

I know.  Hard to believe in this land of First Amendment rights.  I felt a little McCarthyized.   I’m waiting for the House Committee on Un-Yogic Activities to investigate me.

The thing was, I was scheduled to teach two weekend workshops last December about two weeks after the studio opened.  The owner never advertised my workshops and they were never listed on her website, which was new and which she said she had no control over.   So without adequate advertising, no one signed up (I had students who wanted to attend but the dates did not work for them and they kept asking me when it would be rescheduled.)  I was fine with no one signing up, we had talked about a new date, but I was a bit irked about the lack of advertising (I advertised on my own via my website, Facebook, word of mouth, and emails.)

The owner said she was going to reschedule me but I waited….and waited….and waited…and waited.  Sent her an email asking to set a new date.  No response and then I left for India.  When I was in India in February I emailed the owner once again about rescheduling.

Here’s what she said:  that “the day we had our phone discussion [about canceling my workshops] you took to your blog attacking studios offering acro yoga.”  That’s why she has not asked me back to the studio.

Uh, what?

I re-read the post (where I write about acro yoga in ONE paragraph) and nowhere do I “attack” any studio so much as question acro yoga in general — as any other yoga blogger commenting on the modern yoga scene might do.  I even asked friends to read it and asked for their opinions.  I received comments such as “beautifully stated”, “thought provoking”, and “grounding.”  As someone said, perception is everything in life.  Deepak Chopra says:  “There is no fixed physical reality, no single perception of the world, just numerous ways of interpreting world views as dictated by one’s nervous system and the specific environment of our planetary existence.”  I get it.  Yeah, me too.

I emailed her back and told her that I have been writing about yoga since 2005 and I don’t “attack” anyone (OK, maybe the Tara Stiles thing three years ago got heated.)  I said I was sorry if she felt attacked but it was her perception.  I said there are other yoga bloggers out there who are much more scathing about the modern yoga scene than I am.  I told her that I comment on the modern yoga scene as I see fit and have been doing so for a long time, much longer than she has been teaching.  I said I am infamous known for having a fierce voice in the yoga blogosphere and for “keeping it real.”  I said that if my blog is not everyone’s cup of chai, so be it, but if someone puts something out there about yoga and I have an opinion about it, I will write about it.

But apparently questioning something means that I “don’t think very highly of practices that aren’t in sync” with mine (her words.)  Today I read the excellent article “The Seduction of Spiritual Celebrity” where Derek Beres writes: that “the dismissal of critique in American spiritual communities is reminiscent of the anti-intellectual crusade that Richard Hofstadter warned about a half-century ago.”  It’s not so much anti-intellectualism, but certainly there is a political correctness in the modern American yoga scene that any criticism is seen as bad, negative, hateful, or that ubiquitous word, “un-yogic.”

C’mon now!  I have a friend who does Bikram yoga and I make fun of her all the time!  And I hate Iyengar yogis!  Those crazy astangis?  Fuhgeddaboudem!

Snark alert!  I’m kidding!

Oh well.  I’d rather take the chance on pissing somebody off than not questioning the status quo.  A good friend told me I was put on this Earth to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.  ;)

Ouch.

A wise writer wrote, “I have lost my polestar if I only spout platitudes.”

You can be the juiciest, ripest apple in the world and there’s gonna be someone who just doesn’t dig apples.

[**the teachers gave their permission to write about their stories here.]

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16 thoughts on “life in these Yoga States (apologies to the Reader’s Digest)

  1. Not so much anti-intellectual as you state, but economist Ravi Batra had predicted the rise of intellectual-acquisitors at around the turn of this century, and these celebriyogis and yoga studio owner-despots are but two of the manifestations of that …

    • Any way you look at it, a studio that functions monolithically (I.e. not a Co-op) rises out of the model of The Corporation; self-motivated and born out of the need for a profit margin that is not balanced in its nature. I am all for Co-Op studios these days, where teachers/students have the opportunity to be share-holders.

  2. Hey! F’ing F’ngGr8[post], lol.

    On the one hand. On the other hand, well, Linda. Guess what. We have all had some kind of these experiences. It is basically teaching in someones other-than yours- venue. It’s called venues without benefits, hahaha.

    Fugedabout-it. AND MOVE ON.
    I don’t mean not to feel keenly what you are saying. I’m just saying.
    WE HAVE ALL BEEN THERE, and the news is: When it’s yours to say, then you get to be the ONE.
    Otherwise, you’re the two. Two’s too many, lol

    Unless you are dealing with the real deal, you will be abused.

    • Just because I write about something doesn’t mean I haven’t “moved on.”

      Frankly, I debated for MONTHS about writing this post. So I sent it to a good friend, another yoga teacher, and asked his opinion before posting it.

      HE TOLD ME I WAS BEING WAY TOO EASY.

      “You may not be able to change the world, but at least you can embarrass the guilty.” — Jessica Mitford

  3. I’ve been waiting for that one ;)
    But wow, I didn’t know the whole story behind the blacklisting thing, ouch. It reminds me of my days as an employee, when questioning something in the company was regarded as resistance and ultimately dismissed.

    And the more I go, the more I know what I want, and it’s having my own space, free to teach the way I want and evolve with my students the way I want.

    • thank you, my friend. and those who feel a bit tweaked or uncomfortable about this post maybe should examine how they treat teachers.

  4. I’m really glad that I’ve decided not to make teaching yoga a full time job. Not just because of the fact that it can be hard to make enough money to live on that way… but because I don’t want the way I teach to be compromised by the demands of students or studios.

    Without a doubt, I teach a very gentle style of yoga. I know that many people who come to yoga are looking for a “work out”, and depending on your level of fitness, you may not get that in my class.

    Of course, I don’t think its necessary to feel like I’ve had a work out to know my practice is benefiting me, but I know others do. Recently I was told my style doesn’t fit the “target audience” of a yoga biz for this very reason. Which was okay… a bit off-putting at first but then I realised how glad I was.

    I don’t want to change how I teach to fit a target audience. I want people to come to the yoga, and not change the yoga to match what they think they need – which often times is actually the last thing they do need (most super-hyped people don’t need more of workout, but less!)

    Yoga as a business pandering to the wants of stressed out westerners is getting away from from the essence of yoga… which is about accepting the teachings as they are taught, and not trying to turn the teachings or the teacher into just another gym class/gym teacher…

    • “I was told my style doesn’t fit the “target audience” of a yoga biz for this very reason. Which was okay… a bit off-putting at first but then I realised how glad I was.”

      And I don’t mind comments like that if someone says that from the get-go. But the two examples above are about owners not comfortable with long-time teachers cutting their own cloth, so to speak, in their studios. lots of passive-aggressive BS.

  5. “I have lost my –polestar–, if I only spout platitudes…”

    –Try teaching yoga in a studio set up for — pole-dancing —

    Yes, I know a yoga teacher who has a pole dancing venue… eXXXtreme fitness, or some such Does this make her a mynx? Or a serious yoga teacher?
    Talk about a different vibe !!

    There are so many places to teach yoga in one’s community. The local gym, of course, and all that nonsense. Petty back-stabbing amongst the various ‘teachers’.
    But thankfully, after you’ve been sickened in the Roman gym arena, there are the
    hospitals, schools, drug rehab clinics, prisons, eating disorder rehab ‘homes’, your own home, homes of others, and dozens of other options.
    (did I mention rehab clinics/locales?) Nothing like a bunch of anorexic teen girls to get your kilter helter skelter . Talk about gossip and vile diabolical environments! You’ll know you’ve been to hell when the snark girls-like-this-can-dish bites your yogic butt!!

    Ah, But the specialty Yoga Studio. With all the classes and all the multi-various teachers.
    –After the abuse begins?
    Some just fling themselves from that second story window
    –to land atop of the Whole Foods store beneath!

    • You are not telling me anything I don’t already know, Allise. And I used to teach at a domestic violence shelter (almost 10 years as a volunteer) and two community colleges where I DID teach to young women with eating disorders.

      If someone wants to teach at a gym for minimum wage, have at it, but I know few teachers, if any, with 10+ years of teaching experience and with my training who will. There are plenty of new teachers coming out of the multitude of TT programs who can teach at gyms. Places such as clinics and shelters are dependent on grants and donations and I can tell you from experience that paying a yoga teacher is the last thing the money will go for. teach for your seva.

      Believe it or not, I honestly don’t care what teachers do to each other or how owners treat teachers — ALL my posts on the subject in 8 years have been about how I have been treated. I tell MY stories and if that helps others, so be it. If my stories help others vent their frustrations because they have no one else to talk to about it in their area, cool. But I have heard many stories over the years from around the country and frankly, they’re all pretty fucking sad.

  6. I haven’t been in the yoga world for 10 years or more.
    These comments reflect my experience from way back when.

    And at the gym, at that time, 10 years ago, I was paid 30.00 to teach a one hour class 2 blocks from my home.
    It still sucked in many ways.
    But is wasn’t so much the way ‘management’ treated me. It was the snot-nosed student who wanted somethin’ that wasn’t on offer! Like hamster wheel vinyasa w/’tunes’, lol !!

    Every city has it’s issues.
    And certainly there was a LOT of posturing about who was a ‘good’ teacher,
    –and a LOT of ignorance about what made a yoga teacher –worth the slog–

    Today at least, the public is some educated??

  7. Now that I’m reflecting back on the story of yoga in my town, I did organize a meeting of about 10 of us who were just starting to get going.
    –Finding our teachers, and going off to TT with Sarah Powers, Rodney Yee, Gary Kraftsow, Erich Schiffmann… Judith Lasater.

    Oh, there was an absentee
    –an Iyengar-type
    (she didn’t come, didn’t want to be involved at all, didn’t want –anyone else– –anywhere near– her yoga sphere; where she taught ‘stretch and tone’ type classes, along with yoga). She was very nice about it, though. HaHa.

    Then we had the –first yoga teacher ever– in our town.
    She was there.
    She was the elderly stateswoman. And a true yogi!
    – She and I had begun our interest in yoga via the same woman, one Lilias Folan, Her in person, me with a BOOK (trying to feel better, as I was suffering)
    — It’s what brings us to yoga, our suffering…

    -One of the ‘group’ was a middle aged plus rolfer,
    -One was about graduated from the university in dance and physical fitness type thing (and all the ‘coaching’ type of training).
    -Another was a housewife who had joints that were so mobile it hurt to watch her repetitively do the poses she loved to do, ’cause she could do them so easily…
    -Then there was the elderly woman, who wanted to teach out in the more rural settings, but wanted community with the ‘in-town’ yogini’s. She and I took in a retreat with, oh what’s his name, on the tip of my tongue…. Richard Miller.
    -Then there was our ‘rock star’ yogini, who was a long time student of the grand crone of yoga and her consort ‘hubby’ Angela Farmer.

    At any rate, we met with a keen interest in having a yoga community, and being peers as we moved forward in our community. I was the impetus behind getting us together. We met in peace and love, we did have a great time… that evening.

    From there began the decent into jealousy, competition, backstabbing, gossip, –and well, one opened a Yoga Studio.
    –and I’ve heard she want’s to escape the whole nightmare, but is locked-in herself, financially. But the business is –exhausting– and filled with petty crap (she trains teachers…). I’ll have to ground truth all this, but this is what I’ve heard from a trusted source.

    Oh, and then there was the middle-aged man who was married to a woman with “multiple personality disorder”. He aspired to teach to people who had been “tortured” and otherwise horribly abused. He took up with a 17 year old student… I heard…

    I guess then the next generation began to come up, and now, every gym has 3 yoga teachers. I recently attended a class at the GIANT public –hospital– gym and swim (yep), and took the ‘gentle’ yoga class. It was ‘horrible’ (this is how it starts…)

    HaHa. I just found out early that alliances are fraught. It’s like high school!. People and their ‘stuff’. And then you hear what’s going on in the lives of the yoga stars, and it all just plays out the same. Unless your Angela Farmer !! She sets herself outside the mainstream and just stays out of all that nonsense. Good for her !!

  8. Hmmm. Maybe One More Post??

    You have to wonder ‘who’ is ultimately to bring –Yoga– thru the Kali Yug.

    – Probably the close students of the few Rishi-types we have going?
    Or will new Rishi’s appear?
    Anyone read the novel Ka?

    What this post brings to me: Understanding the importance of a teacher — and the connection to an authentic yoga tradition through that teacher. A tradition that isn’t allowed to ossify –and one that encourages gifted students to move forward with adaptations. ‘Adapting’ that is open to time/ and place. But rooted in clear understanding.

    – The study of yoga ‘scripture’ with a teacher (or even several), connected to a living yoga tradition, a tradition with chops. A tradition that shares the traditional tools of Yoga, and sees traditional tools some malleable. A vibrant living tradition.

    Like TKV Desikachar explains: when he goes to a new place: He does his research. Learning about the culture, the issues that are current, the weather (which way the wind generally blows – lol. )
    Be Prepared. Don’t get blind-sided?

    – Begin moving closer to the object(tive) — Long before you arrive.
    Which begs the ‘why’ question.

    All this hand-wringing over what happens to yoga teachers in the matrix of un-moored yoga studios.
    The suffering that could have been avoided!
    Unless it’s your dharma to go in there a slay some dragons !!

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