reader warning: yoga rant #2

Time for another yoga rant. Here’s my first one on yoga and ageism.

Hmmmmm, let’s see…what’s been bugging me lately about the state of yoga?

Gum chewing.
Can someone tell me why anyone would chew gum in a yoga class? Maybe I should make people take it out and put it on their nose like my teachers did in elementary school. Not me, of course, because I never got into gum chewing, I was a Three Musketeers girl.

Why someone would sit in a yoga class and chew gum is totally beyond me. I have had to make it a rule in my college yoga class that gum chewing is strictly verboten, and if I see anyone’s jaws moving up and down they either have to swallow it or throw it out. Really. I’m that tough.

But those are college kids. What about older adults who chew gum in class? I do a lot of pranayama and meditation in my classes — how can someone be mindful when their jaws are flapping? Can someone explain this to me because I don’t get it.

No yoga mats.
I obviously don’t expect someone who has never done yoga to be an expert, but if someone signs up for a class, shouldn’t they do a little research on what “equipment” a yoga class requires? Why do people look so shocked when I tell them that a yoga mat is required for a yoga class? Why is it such a big surprise? Not a beach towel, not a blanket, a yoga mat. Is it because maybe they think a yoga class is like an aerobics class? Or is it because despite all the hype and trendiness of yoga in 2007, it’s not really as mainstream as we yoga peeps think it is?

Once I had someone ask me “why?” I said for the same reason you don’t play football without a football and you don’t play baseball without a bat. BECAUSE THAT’S WHAT THE GAME REQUIRES. I’m going to start renting mats. Really.

Over-adjusting aka micro-managing a human body.
For the four year anniversary of the yoga studio where I teach, we had a free round-robin class where the teachers took 10 or 15 minute segments and each taught a portion of the class. The teachers participated in the class while waiting their turn to teach. Only one of the teachers chose to go around the room adjusting.

I’m not a big adjuster. It’s just the way I was trained. I’ve never seen my trainer do a lot of adjustments and he studied with Pattabhi Jois and is also Iyengar trained. He’s barely ever adjusted me in the six years I’ve known him. If one of my students needs to be adjusted, I try to do so first verbally because I want my students to try to feel and intuit for themselves (especially beginners) and if that does not work, I use a light touch, two fingers. I don’t crank on people with both hands or lie on top of them like I’ve seen some teachers do.

I’m doing the practice and I’m noticing how much the teacher is adjusting people. I won’t say what style this teacher teaches but I believe that the people who are attracted to this particular brand of yoga are Type A personalities at best and control freaks at worst. Hey, just my two rupees. We all go to the yoga that resonates with us.

So I’m watching her move a heel over two centimeters, or pulling a shoulder back about three centimeters and I’m thinking, “why don’t you leave people alone? why don’t you just let people flow and feel and enjoy their practice?” The thing was, the students she was adjusting weren’t practicing in a way that would have compromised their bodies or injured them, so what did moving a toe a quarter inch accomplish? And why is she fiddling with the wrinkles on the back of a student’s neck? I would have yelled, “get off me!”

What she was doing bugged me so much I stopped and started walking around, just watching to see that people were safe, looking for major “unalignments.”

I know it was all me, I should not have let her actions bug me, but they did. But why do some yoga teachers feel the need to micro-manage their students’ bodies? Every body is different. I have gotten so far away from the mindset that everyone “should” look a certain way in a pose that one of my students says he loves my classes because it’s “yoga without rules.” Well, not quite, but I want my students to try to fully connect mind/body/breath without the imposition of my ego on their practice or their bodies.

ahhhhhh….rant over. now I feel better….

24 thoughts on “reader warning: yoga rant #2

  1. My teacher is always taking away people’s yoga mats! Not permanently, but she feels some mats are so thick and spongy that it impedes your “groundedness” (or something). Downward dog without a mat is HARD. I heartily agree about microadjustments. I went to an Iyengar class for a while, years ago, and I absolutely HATED all of the fiddling they did. Rotate your arm 10 degrees, or whatever. I do like a strong adjustment in certain poses but generally a light touch is enough.

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  2. The micromanagement thing annoys me, too. I think the part that bothers is the assumption that the teacher knows the student’s body better than the student.I’m a bit of an oddity, in that I am decidedly NOT flexible, but I have very high awareness of my body and prana flow. Mostly, this was achieved through vast amounts of meditation, and I am relatively new to (hatha) yoga.One pet peeve I have about the classes I’ve been to is the very short period of time we spend in each asana. I find that just as the real benefits are beginning (prana flowing), we move on to the next. Maybe this is just marketing, being in a beginners’ class, people will get bored otherwise. I’m not the typical American, for sure, and I suppose that comes with a cost.Mike

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  3. yes, as for mats, sometimes I tell my students to get off the mat for balance poses, exactly for the same reason — sometimes mats are too spongy to “ground.” of course, I’m also known for “making” people do tree pose standing on a block…:) does wonders for your concentration!

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  4. hey, mike! dude, you need to come to one of my classes because you so totally get it!yes, I hang out in my yoga poses for a “long time”. so when I go to a class where the teacher does not know me, they’re looking at me all weird because I’m still in up dog when the rest of the class has moved on to the next sun salutation.that’s why when I teach, we may do side angle moving dynamically, 5 or 6 times on one side, then moving on to the next pose EXACTLY for the reason you describe — prana flow.

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  5. It has been awhile since I have been in any yoga classes and I am longing for it. However, reading this brought many things to mind. For starters, I was in my practice for about 3 years. It was really good for me, physically and emotionally.There was one teacher I had that was brilliant. I’ve had the good fortune to be in so many really good classes, but Charlene’s were always the best.She was not a micromanager, but she would do adjustments. Not too much, but she would touch, always asking and always respectfully.I can recall at least two occasions where she did the most minor adjustment on me and I wept. Why? Because of the tremendous tenderness to her touch; it was as if a channel of healing light opened in me.That said, I was once in another class with some other teacher, while I was in another city. I thought I was going to lose all yoga peace and push her as that is how her touch felt to me.Just my two yoga cents! I wish I could come to one of your classes!Namaste.

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  6. Sure I would love to come to one of your classes … it’s a long way to IL for me, though. Better yet, why don’t you come to Dallas and teach some classes here. We have all the concrete you could ever want to see in one city! Seriously, though, I really like your blog — the energy moves me.Namaste,MikeP.S. When I moved here 2 years ago for a new job, some friends asked me why I would come to Dallas from San Diego. My answer (tongue in cheek) … somebody needs to work from behind enemy lines.

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  7. “the energy moves me”wow. I am overwhelmed. thank you, that means alot…:)hmmmm…Dallas…no thanks…been there, done that! lived three years in Flower Mound! smart a** Yankee women weren’t very popular down there…:)

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  8. Re: adjustments–I think it’s a matter of style and it may or may not fit the student. Also, oftentimes I just want to do my practice and I’m in a very meditative space and don’t want to be disrupted. A good teacher would ideally be attuned to that and not come marching over, adjusting this and that. What I don’t like is when teachers don’t have the gentle touch that FranIam mentioned. It feels like they can’t stand to touch you, so why are they doing it?Gum? Don’t get it. They must have it in their mouths 24 hours a day so it doesn’t even enter their minds to not chew it during yoga class.Bless you for being committed to teaching yoga. Seems like such a utopian job–obviously not!

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  9. Namaste my teacher,I was reading your rants and they are funny. Gum, that’ll go away when someone is doing upward dog and chokes on it.Now for the adjustments thing. You know I am possibly the shakiest student you have, and that one day your help with half moon was wonderful. I think I am one of the few people who actually likes to have minute adjustments. Of course I am probably a minority, but I have three reasons for this: first sometimes when I am so shaky a small adjustment makes a whole lot of difference on how the pose feels in my body. Second, having been a dance student for many years, I find that precision and constancy in a pose makes it easier to concentrate on my breath if I know where my body is supposed to be. Third, I find the touch of the teacher reassuring and nurturing especially when I am struggling. But then again I am that kind of touchy-feely-huggy person.Well I just wanted to put in my two cents.Your the best!!

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  10. “I find the touch of the teacher reassuring and nurturing especially when I am struggling.”you said it all, carolina! REASSURING AND NURTURING are the operative words….repeat these words over and over again…REASSURING AND NURTURING, REASSURING AND NURTURING, REASSURING AND NURTURING….that also implies ensuring that people are safe in a pose, that someone is not going beyond their edge, that someone is honoring their body. a light touch can also allow the student to feel the pose as you did when I adjusted you in half moon.that does NOT mean that that every body has to look the same way in every pose based on somebody’s “SHOULD”.a “good” adjustment takes into account anatomy because yoga is all in the bones. I have extreme internal rotation of my femurs into my pelvis, so much so that I’ve been told, jokingly, that I have no hip bones, I’m that freaky aka Gumby.so get a clue teachers — no amount of adjusting is going to change the BONE STRUCTURE OF MY FEMUR HEAD OR HIP SOCKET to allow me to turn my leg all the way out to the side when I am in Utthita Hasta Padangustasana. AIN’T GONNA HAPPEN SO DON’T EVEN THINK OF PULLING MY LEG OUT TO THE SIDE.on the other hand, my lovely hip sockets and femurs allow me to fall right back into supta virasana and fall asleep for a few hours. I invite people to look at old photos of Krishnamacharya and see where his knees are, etc. I can only imagine some of the teachers nowadays running over to him to adjust him or telling him that’s not the way the pose is SUPPOSED to be done!

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  11. Just checked back in to see what was going on in these comments . . .You said, “I have extreme internal rotation of my femurs into my pelvis. . . .” I wonder if I do, too? My leg will not go all the way out to the side in Utthita Hasta Padangustasana. I get a cramp in my hip when I try to bring it all the way around (which I can’t do, anyway). Mine may not be extreme, but I might have some internal rotation going on.I like your point that not every pose should look the same for every person. (Seems like a duh, but I think some teachers forget this.)And I enjoyed your ageism rant. Totally agreed. So maybe the online community becomes more important, and the magazines less so?

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  12. how about mobile phones? i quit a yoga class because the instructor would not enforce a no phone rule! i would be completely relaxed and my mind would be peaceful and then i’d be totally thrown off balance by a stupid ringtone!

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  13. gartenfische, I study with Paul Grilley. check out his website paulgrilley.com. look at his pics of the pelvis and femurs. pics of REAL BONES, not plastic skeleton ones. then I want someone to tell me that everyone must look the same in a pose. then I want a yoga teacher to tell me that all the “verbal adjustments” of “breathe into it”, “release”, “let go”, “engage mula bandha” or WHATEVER BANDHA is going to CHANGE SOMEONE’S BONES! DING DING DING DING DING — LIGHT BULB GOING OFF OVER SOMEONE’S HEAD!blue eyed girl, cell phones going off are so common nowadays that I don’t even get upset about it anymore….but gum chewing? PUT IT ON YOUR NOSE, SISTER!

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  14. I’ve emailed Paul to ask his permission to use a few of those pics on this blog so I can write about yoga being “all in the bones.”this is basically what I talk/teach about when I do a yin/yang yoga workshop.

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  15. This discussion on bone structure is very interesting (especially those pictures you mentioned). When I was 7 years old, I had a degenerative condition (low blood supply) in my femur (left leg) at the hip socket. I made a full recovery, but many like me end up with serious problems such as a flattened ball joint, resulting in a severe limp, and in many cases hip replacement by age 40. At least half have the same condition in both legs. When I was in high school, I had to quit the soccer team because of chronic inflammation in my other (right) hip joint.When I was 10 years old, I could easily do the (full) lotus position and was generally flexible. However, today, while certain poses are not too difficult for me, others are not near possible, and probably never will be. I’ve often wondered how much those bone conditions affected my flexibility as I grew. I’ve had people tell me it’s short muscles and tendons, but that doesn’t explain why the pain comes in the joints (hip sockets and knees, and not the adductors) if I try too hard to sit in half-lotus or Burmese (neither of which can I do). It seems more likely that the short muscles/tendons are there to protect the bone structure. At least that’s what my intuition has always told me.Anyway, thanks for pointing out some of these factors. It’s good to know that some yoga teachers are at least aware of these issues. In any case, a review of Patanjali will point out that the purpose of yoga is not to achieve maximum flexibility, but to prepare the body for meditation. In this regard, energetic awareness and opening is much more important. And of course, most everyone will experience some increased flexibility in the process.Namaste,Mike

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  16. Paul Grilley has given me permission to copy his photographs. In the near future I’ll be writing about why “yoga is all in the bones.”thanks to all for your compliments.

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  17. I just discovered your blog and I’m loving it. this rant actually was cathartic for me too…one of the reasons I’ve read up on yoga but never set foot in a classroom is a fear of being overadjusted and giving up on it. Thanks for this! ^_^

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  18. Linda, I really appreciate your rant. Gum chewing and cell phones should never be allowed, under any condition… Three Musketeers, however, are always welcome in my yoga classes (and they feel a lot like those spongy Pilates mats!).As a massage therapist as well as a yoga teacher (mostly Iyengar-based) I have to say this: Sometimes micro-adjustments are a way of making and keeping a connection with students. I’m not talking about patting or caressing, which would be entirely inappropriate, but mindfully encouraging the rotation of a twist, the extension of an arm, etc., can be a way of letting a student know that you’re there and paying attention. It can also be a way of helping an overly-determined student soften into a pose. I know this will sound weird, but a fairly famous and old study about touch asked people to rate their experience in a store, making a retail purchase. People who were “accidentally” touched by the clerk while receiving their change consistently said they felt better about the transaction and rated their shopping experience higher than those who weren’t touched.But really, it comes down to knowing your students and watching how they respond to touch. I always ask a new student’s permission before any adjustment and stay hands off from those who don’t like it, or who indicate through body language (stiffening, facial expression, resistance) that it doesn’t work for them.

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  19. I read this post 2 years late 🙂 But glad I did. Enjoyed reading the post and the comments from all.
    regarding mats, I practiced yoga back home in india and had never even heard of mats. I used a yoga mat for the first time here in the USA.

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