Tag Archives: yoga rant

response to "getting back to yoga"

(Please read Getting Back to Yoga, Part 1 and Part 2 in their entirety before reading this post.)

This post is excerpts from an email I received from a regular reader who is also a yoga teacher. She gave me permission to use it, with edits. she asked me to disguise her words because she is worried that she might lose her job if someone recognized her.

is that what the state of yoga in this culture has come to? think about that. that might be the bigger issue here. are we as teachers so afraid to call a spade a spade, so afraid to speak our truth about teaching and the state of yoga as some of us experience it that we are afraid to lose our jobs? a job that we do because we love it and not because we can make any type of money to support ourselves.

call it a yoga rant if you want to but it’s food for thought and I believe these things need to be said because the mainstream yoga media doesn’t talk about it. the mainstream yoga media is more concerned with marketing to the perfect yoga demographic. as my yoga cyberpal YogaDawg says, no yoga BS here.

I thought her comments important enough for a post of their own instead of in the comments section where they might be ignored.

“…this whole “Americanized” yoga thing is the same thing that is going on with our whole culture…skinny, tight, no wrinkles on a 65 year old woman, tummy tucks after babies, puffy collagen lips…I won’t even get started.

I had 30 in a class last night, way too many. After class a woman asked if I always do postures that you have to support your weight…she has a severe arm injury…no upper body strength at all. this is a public class, for the general population…this is not private instruction, which she needs.

I am working with a young man with rheumatoid arthritis. he was going to take a community class with a student teacher. When I heard that I told him absolutely not. I am working with him for free to keep him from injuring himself.

Yoga is advertised as a cure-all, body opener, strength builder, look beautiful like the pictures in Yoga Journal, your wrinkles will disappear as soon as you feel your breath….And everybody can do it, just modify a pose in a group class, no matter what the asana is.

A woman came when she was very pregnant and said, “I know you will modify every posture for me.” And what am I supposed to do with the 20 other people (half of which are new) in class while I am attending to her? And she was new to yoga. Not a good time to start when pregnant with your first child. I told her to start a prenatal program.

At one of the first classes I taught I was asked, “Oh wow, are you going to teach us those really hard arm balances and all that cool stuff?” I said, “no, that would not be me”, and the student hasn’t been back. they have no idea that you go to an advanced class or one-on-one to learn those asanas.

Wow, I really took off on this one…sorry, but I do feel better….”

hey, even yoga teachers need to let off steam, none of us are enlightened yet.

and I totally get what she is venting about. because for as much as yoga is portrayed in western culture, for as much as we hear or read about it in the media (it had its 15 minutes of fame on Oprah), for as much as we yoga teachers like to think that yoga is “mainstream”…it’s not. yet yoga IS advertised as a cure-all (“GET THAT YOGA BUTT IN 20 MINUTES PER DAY AND OPEN YOUR THROAT CHAKRA, TOO!”), and as much as I believe in the healing power of yoga, this is a huge disservice. people who could benefit from private yoga go to group classes because they don’t know any better and end up getting frustrated or worse, injured, sometimes seriously.

as I wrote in my last post, I was taught that personal transformation can begin in a group class, but is accomplished by working one on one with a trusted teacher and having faith in that teacher. there have been many times when I have suggested to certain students in a group class that their needs would be much better served by private yoga sessions. yet, for some reason, the idea of private yoga classes in this culture is met with skepticism. it boggles my mind that people will pay someone $75 or more to clean their house or to pick up their dog’s poop (not to mention the money one can spend at Starbucks in one month), but the thought of paying a highly trained yoga teacher $75 or less for a private yoga session is anathema to them. people pay more than $50 for a pizza party for their kids.

it’s all about priorities….

getting back to yoga

(Dr. NC @ KYM, The Power of Yoga, March 2006)

I guess maybe it’s about time that I start writing about yoga again. but then again, maybe not, as I’m beginning to think that my yoga thoughts are too radical to be accepted calmly by some people. I told my students this morning that I’ve always felt like an outsider and now, returning a third time from my yoga life in India, I feel even more radical.

Every time I go to KYM to study, it always brings home to me how much I dislike about the state of yoga in the west. Maybe “dislike” is too strong a word — I will rephrase: how certain things about the state of yoga in the west bug me. Now before anyone jumps down my throat, I am not saying that one is better than the other, i.e., east v. west. I’m saying that to me there are marked differences between the two and I know which one resonates with me in a much more profound way.

KYM is known for yoga therapy or what was formerly called viniyoga. Desikachar no longer refers to his father’s style as viniyoga. We each met with a yoga therapist and received a consultation for whatever ailed us, physically, mentally, or emotionally, then an appropriate yoga therapy practice was prescribed for us. That practice became our private asana class with a therapist, and we took the daily classes in pranayama, meditation, and the Yoga Sutra-s together.

I came to India with a painful back problem that I’ve had for about three months. My ego was telling me I’m a loser because of course as a teacher I’m not supposed to have any physical problems because I do so much yoga…right? One day in October I woke with severe muscular pain on the right side of my lower spine and I had done nothing to my back like pick something up the wrong way or get up from a chair the wrong way, and it certainly did not happen doing yoga. I just woke up one day in severe pain. The pain would go away during the day as I moved around and I was still able to teach, but it served as a reminder of one of Buddha’s Four Foundations of Mindfulness, Mindfulness of the Body, and that no one escapes sickness, old age, and death.

My consultant at KYM was Dr. NC (we call him Dr. NC because he has a last name with about 26 letters) who taught the yoga therapy classes in the intensives I took in 2005 and 2006. I explained my problem and my pain and he had me do some asanas and examined my spine. He asked me to squat and asked if I noticed anything. At first I said no, then he told me to repeat the squats and to pay attention. I noticed that my left side felt like it weighed a ton and my right side was very light. I told him this and he said yes, that I favor my left side to the detriment of my right. He said my spine had curved to the right and that the right side of my pelvis is higher than my left.

I was horrified. How could this happen, I asked, I’M A YOGA TEACHER! (as if we are supposed to be invincible.) Dr. NC said that walking a certain way, sitting a certain way, standing a certain way with a hip hiked up and out, constantly carrying a bag on my left shoulder, all of this contributed to a spine curvature after 50 years. It just happens, he said, it’s just the way it is.

So after he said that it’s wonderful I am so flexible and in such great shape for an old broad — OK, he did not say “old broad” but he was amazed at my uttanasana — he wrote a yoga therapy program for my back that is simply amazing and wondrous. He said if I did the practice every day for 3 months my spine should be back into alignment.

I did the practice for 5 days with Usha, one of the KYM yoga therapists. She was also wonderful, adding a little something every day to the asana mix, so I came home with five different yoga therapy sessions. I did the practice every day in India until I got food poisoning and I have not done it for two weeks now, but I started again from square one yesterday and I will build it up again.

It is an amazing practice because I can literally feel the change in my spine and pelvis when I sit in sukhasana. At the beginning of the practice my right sit bone is off the floor. At the end of the practice both sit bones are firmly grounded and I have no pain for the rest of the day. Before I started doing this practice, I would wake up at night in excrutiating pain when I turned from my right side to my left side and now that no longer happens.

So what does this have to do with yoga east v. west?


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….