are you faking it ’til you make it?

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ONLY IN INDIA

Below is a question that was asked in a Facebook yoga group I belong to.  As a teacher who is persona non grata in my local “yoga community”, it was an important question.  My answer to the teacher’s question is below it.

“I’m wondering how people experience and process professional jealousy. It seems to be a part of our normal human experience, but it feels particularly horrible – sticky, viscous and taboo. Sometimes it’s ridiculous – resenting that a new teacher, who I’ve mentored and supported – has ten people in their first class, even though most of them are friends there to offer support. Other times it’s more peer-related: why has that person received that opportunity (even if it’s one I didn’t want) or that recognition or that amount of money? For me, it seems to be rooted partly in anxiety about my capacity to make a living (which is compromised because of my disabilities), and partly in a voracious need to be seen – which I can laugh about, but there it is.”

MY ANSWER:
“I think it’s all about finding your niche and to stop trying to be all things for every yoga student. I’m not a “love and light” type of teacher so for those people looking for that, I’m not their teacher. There are plenty of others out there who will be. I always remember what I heard Seanne Corn say in a workshop, that she’d rather teach to the two who get it (i.e., what she teaches) than the 10 who don’t.  I’ve reconciled myself with that.  That might not mean a lot of money in my yoga bank account, but it’s all about choices. I’d rather be me than try to be something I’m not.  I’m not going to fake it to make it.”

What say you, yoga peeps?  Are you faking it by pushing down your emotions as if they are something dirty?

From my Buddhist perspective, less than beneficial emotions are not to be transcended, they are merely to be recognized and let go.  Yes, I know, SIMPLE BUT NOT EASY.

In this Facebook yoga group some said negative emotions should be transcended so we can evolve into an enlightened state.  Good luck with that Humans!

It fascinates me to see how many yoga people believe we are supposed to be immune to jealousy, hate, anger, bitterness, etc. merely because we practice yoga.  A 200 hour training, 1000 hours, or even 10,000 hours of training does not mean we become enlightened.  I mean seriously?!  Ramana Maharshi spent days in such deep samadhi that he was unaware of ant bites.  THAT’S trancendance, people!

After about six weeks, “he was carried out and cleaned up. For the next two months he stayed in the Subramanya Shrine, so unaware of his body and surroundings that food had to be placed in his mouth or he would have starved.”  And we expect to become enlightened or transcend painful emotions just because we do a little yoga?  WHAT?!  One woman commented in the Facebook group that she felt “immature” and so “unevolved” for having an emotion like jealousy.  I’ve heard the Dalai Lama say that sometimes he still gets annoyed at reporters’ dumb questions.  Hey, if HHDL can get miffed about dumb questions, so can I.

I have found these things to be extremely helpful to me over the years.

The first thing is the wonderful book Shadows on the Path by Abdi Assadi.  It is not a recent book but I think it’s the best I’ve read about our shadows on the spiritual path.  It will definitely be required reading if I ever get around to creating a teacher training.  My copy is heavily underlined and dog-eared.

The second thing is Jack Kornfield’s technique of RAIN:  “RAIN stands for Recognition, Acceptance, Investigation, and Non-Indentification. This acronym echoes the Zen poets who tell us “the rain falls equally on all things.” Like the nourishment of outer rain, the inner principles of RAIN can transform our difficulties.”

I also recommend Phillip Moffitt’s book, Emotional Chaos to Clarity: How to Live More Skillfully, Make Better Decisions, and Find Purpose in Life.   The Amazon blurb: “Despite our best-laid plans, life is difficult, and we sometimes experience anger, anxiety, frustration, and doubt. This emotional chaos can negatively affect the way we live our lives. Yet, Phillip Moffitt shows us that by cultivating a responsive mind rather than a reactive one, we can achieve a state of emotional clarity that allows us to act with a calm mind and a loving heart.”

Stop beating yourself up for being human.  You’re only a yoga teacher. 😉

who says yoga classes should be 90 minutes?

New York yoga teacher J. Brown raised an interesting question today in his blog post regarding the “Incredible Shrinking Yoga Class.”

He writes, “In the last twenty years, yoga in the west has gone from a guru-driven model to a market-driven model. Decisions still often come from atop a pyramid. But now, the directives are based more on aggregated data than on the presumed authority of an ancient wisdom. One small manifestation of this turn can be found in the way that yoga classes have gotten progressively shorter. As yoga teachers are newly questioning old models for what and how they teach, industry mores also deserve examination.”

When I got back into yoga in the mid-1990s the class I attended at my local park district was 60 minutes.  I practiced at the park district for about 7 years (never moving into an “advanced” class whatever that meant back then) before I did my first teacher training and started attending yoga classes in Chicago studios where the classes were 90 minutes.

Those 7 years of 60 minute classes were never “just asana” classes.  Not that we talked much about philosophy or even did formal pranayama, but the teacher was a mindful yoga type before being”mindful” was a thing in Modern Yoga.

J. Brown writes, “Perhaps there needs to be a better way to distinguish between classes that are more directly concerned with the broader aspects of yoga, and those more geared towards an exercise regimen which potentially hints at something found elsewhere.” [emphasis supplied]

I have a simple answer for that: don’t call the asana only/exercise regimen classes “yoga.”  Truth in Advertising, what a concept.

I wrote about that in 2010 (sigh) when I said it was a question of semantics.

Or if it’s an asana-only class, why call it yoga at all? Physical therapists use movements derived from yoga all the time but they don’t call it “yoga.” It’s physical therapy and everybody knows that is what it is. Nothing else.

Getting back to the length of time of a typical modern yoga class, at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram where I trained the morning asana classes are 60 minutes.  The asana classes also include pranayama and meditation (which is how I teach) and the classes do not feel rushed, in fact, they are perfectly sequenced.  Long savasana is not needed (like a 10 minute one at the end of typical American classes) because we do one or two minute savasanas after certain sequences.

So who decreed that a yoga class needs to be 90 minutes?   But I guess that depends on what calls “yoga” (getting back to semantics.)

At the KYM pranayama classes contain some asana and the meditation class — a whole hour of meditative focus, how shocking! – contains some asana and of course, pranayama.  In other words, the yoga is not compartmentalized like it is here, the yoga is a seamless process.

A shorter, powerful practice is absolutely possible, it depends on the skill and training of the teacher.  But who can teach that way coming out of a modern 200 hour teacher training?

If what is referred to as “yoga” nowadays is shrunk to 60 minutes of posing and a 5 minute nap at the end, how then is that Yoga?  A 60 minute class of 20 minutes each of functional asana, pranayama, and meditation, skillfully taught, can be more potent than 90 minutes of something where “the teacher kicked my ass” that I used to hear all the time in studios.  How many 90 minute classes are nothing more than rushing through as many sun salutations as possible with no attention paid to the breath and doing a typical vinyasa flow once on each side and moving on?

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my “freedom style” yoga class in India

Thank the Goddess I no longer teach in yoga studios.  J. Brown writes, “The days of regular attendance in group classes allowing for a comprehensive yoga education have perhaps passed. People are not generally looking for a yoga education when they are coming to a yoga class anymore.”

Maybe so, I haven’t taught in studios for years.  I teach out of my house and I’ve been told my classes ARE like going to Yoga School.  Maybe that’s why some of my students (few that they are nowadays) have been with me since Day One of my teaching in 2002.  They keep telling me every class has been different in all those years.  I still can’t figure that out.

As a wise and pithy friend commented in my semantics post linked above:

“It’s [Yoga] a path of liberation we are talking about here – and not from “bra fat!” Patanjali’s first Yoga Sutra (Hartranft translaton) says it all:

Now, the teachings of yoga.
Yoga is to still the patterning of consciousness.
Then pure awareness can abide in its very nature.
Otherwise awareness takes itself to be
the patterns of consciousness.”

That can still be done in a 60 minute class.  You just have to know how.

“Stripping the Sacred” – Brenda Feuerstein

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Patanjali

“Teach people, not poses.” — Gary Kraftsow (paraphrased)

“Yoga contains asana, pranayama, meditation.
Anything else is acrobatics.”
(TKV Desikachar, from a long ago intensive in India)

Many of you know Brenda Feuerstein.  She was married to eminent Yoga scholar, Georg Feuerstein (1947-2012) and they collaborated on a wealth of books and trainings in traditional Yoga.   Brenda carries on their work in Traditional Yoga Studies where she does distance learning courses and has a Philosophy/History Training Manual for teaching that segment of 200- to 500-hour Yoga teacher training programs.  It can be purchased here.

Recently on her Facebook page she posted this note that generated many comments.  I believe her words should reach a larger audience beyond Facebook so Brenda gave me permission to post it here.

Of course I agree wholeheartedly.  One of my students who has studied with me for 7+ years is moving out of state and she said:  “This is a great post, I love it and it is so true. I am sure this is exactly what I will be facing once I move and attempt to find a studio/teacher that provide real yoga as it was intended.”

Talk amongst yourselves.

Stripping the Sacred
*Warning – you might not want to hear this*

I started learning Yoga when I was very small from a book my Mom had purchased. Richard Hittleman was the author and I suspect there was no other book on Yoga at the pharmacy where my Mom would have been shopping at the time. She was probably intrigued having read something in Reader’s Digest or possibly heard the word on one of the two TV channels that were available to us.

A little later a TV show started featuring German born Yoga teacher Kareen H. Zebroff. My Mom and I would “do” Yoga with her once a week. We had no sticky Yoga mat, no meditation cushion, no clothing that set us apart from anyone else, and no studio to support our practice after the show. We sat on the cold farmhouse floor and didn’t wonder if we should look into stickier mats and travel mats. My Mom and I just practiced and I felt a “specialness” that I wouldn’t fully understand until years later.

In my teens, I ended up in a small town where I saw a hand written poster of a Yoga class being held at the school gym. Nothing was said about getting my cakras cleared, my core muscles being strengthened, and no mention of the Yoga Alliance. It was straightforward just like her class. There was no music, no props, nothing to sit on but the floor, and most people didn’t even have an exercise mat. People wore sweat pants and t-shirts and a sweatshirt if it was a cold evening. She introduced herself as having studied at the Sivananada ashram and most people had no idea what that meant but most recognized the feeling of “specialness” in her heart. It was quiet and no one was showing how they could do a headstand before class. The class was straight forward. When she spoke it wasn’t in hard-to-understand anatomical terms, but she did use Sanskrit throughout the class. I suspect that is the way she was taught. She spoke gently and sweetly about her teacher and I’d often see her in tears which I knew meant something very “special”. Her class was challenging but not necessarily in a physical way. She taught us Yoga philosophy saying we needed to learn it well otherwise we were just doing calisthenics and we should go elsewhere if that’s what we wanted. She was strong and courageous and filled with love for her teacher and the path of Yoga.

Jump forward to 2015. I was invited to live in a city after living in a rural area for several years and I decided that experience would be helpful in better understanding the current state of Yoga (generally speaking). I was taken to studios daily until I suffered a severe injury. The injury was the result of two Yoga teachers believing they could fix my life-long physical condition from a C3,4,5 fracture that had healed well enough for me to lead a strong and very active life. Even though I told both teachers prior to the class that it was best to not adjust me under any circumstance because I’d worked one-on-one with therapists for years and knew my body very well, my adho mukha śvānāsana, utthita trikonasana, and śavāsana didn’t look “right” to them so I got surprise adjustments and was unable to function normally for months and even today I’m still suffering from the well-meaning teachers who thought they could cure me with their 200-500 hour YA training. Now I understand that modern postural Yoga has helped many people with physical injuries, but the fact remains these teachers felt they could “heal” me with Yoga when in fact I ended up being severally injured. I don’t know of a Yoga anatomy module in any teacher training that would address “fixing” or “healing” neck fractures.

What I learned through all of it was that the “specialness” – the sacred – appears to have been stripped away from Yoga. How is it that we went from a class or two a week offering to a gym/studio setting with 20-30 or more classes a week? How can anything feel sacred when there is so much of it and students become numbers on ledger for the accountant? True, for a tantric it could be, but really? I suspect that many people who say they’re tantrics have no idea what they mean and when asked come up with something they’ve memorized from the internet or some book written by someone who heard tantra sells.

My own opinion is that as long as we have large studios pumping out teachers and building their client base we will never fully regain the sacredness in Yoga. It will continue to be a marketplace where one teacher is trying to outdo the next one and where the words disrespect, lack of teacher and lineage recognition, and plagiarism means getting ahead in business.

We’ve used and abused a tradition with a sacred foundation and the outcome has been devastating on so many levels. People email me asking about book recommendations stating they’re confused with everything that’s out there. People email me and say they have to take a break from their Yoga practice because they’re injured, and I respond with, “what an incredible opportunity you have to go into the foundation of traditional Yoga by studying philosophy!” People email and say, “I feel bullied…do I have to certify with YA?” People email and say, “I don’t want to learn Sanskrit in a Yoga training.” I respond, “Please go talk to your Grade 1 teacher and ask them if learning the English language (that being their first language) was important for your Reading class.” and the list goes on and on…

There are people trying their best to keep the sacred in this beautiful tradition of Yoga, and possibly like me, they feel exhausted and frustrated at times. How many Yoga magazines do we need to buy? How many books on asanas do we really need? How many ways do we need to explain the yamas which were so clearly stated? How many ways do we need to do things before we finally see that the sacredness of Yoga is hanging on by a thread? How many times does this need to happen before we wake up?

Sri Desikachar has died – June 21, 1938 – August 8, 2016

“The light has expanded and is continuing to guide us beyond boundaries of space and time.

After an extraordinary life of service and healing, Sir TKV Desikachar reached the lotus feet of the lord on 08 August 2016 at 2.45am India Time.

The family is making arrangements for the funeral following the traditional Indian scriptures. An international memorial meeting to honor him will be conducted later in the year, where his students from around the world can participate. Details of this will be communicated in time.

At this current moment, we request you all to hold him in your prayers and celebrate his wonderful contributions to the fields of Yoga, Yoga Therapy, and Spirituality.”
— Kausthub Desikachar

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My first Vedic Chant class, KYM, September 2005

Photo ©Metta Yoga: Mind-Body Education 2016

I became a Yoga teacher in 2002.  Three years later in 2005 I did my first trip to the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram.  I have studied at KYM every year since then and also with some of Krishnamacharya’s and Desikachar’s direct students.

Looking back I know now that before I went to KYM I floundered around as a teacher from 2002-2005.  In 2005 it all synced.  It synced when I heard Sir say “we begin where we are and how we are, and whatever happens, happens.”  My life and my Yoga were changed.

When I returned home in 2005 I was so excited about what I learned that like a religious convert I wanted to spread the Good News.  So I created a workshop in “Krishnamacharya Yoga” for the studio where I was teaching in far west suburban Chicago.  I geared it toward the teachers and seasoned students.

No one signed up.

I remember being shocked that even Yoga teachers did not know who Krishnamacharya was and did not know about what was then called the Viniyoga approach of teaching to the individual.

I wonder how many newbie Yoga teachers now, in this age of 200 hour teacher trainings in every studio on every block, know about Sri Desikachar.

I can tell you from experience that few (again, in MY experience) know about the slow, deliberate breath centered style of Yoga that Sir taught.  Last year when I was at a KYM intensive a student came up to me at the end of the first week and said, “You’ve been here many times so I want to ask a question….”  I knew what he was about to ask because I had heard it before: “Do the classes get any faster?”

I smiled.  “No.  If you’ve come here looking for an American style vinyasa class you’ve come to the wrong place.”

He did not return for the second week.

When I took the Trauma Sensitive Yoga training taught by Dave Emerson at The Trauma Institute, I realized on the first day that what he was teaching was recycled “Krishnamacharya Yoga”, i.e., breath centered Yoga.  Other than the physiological information about how trauma affects the brain and the body, it was nothing new to me.  If it was not for Sri Desikachar and the idea of teaching to the individual, I believe there would not be the “trauma sensitive yoga” trainings that there are today.

Weeping.

A true Yoga Master has died.

I remember how nervous I was to chant a few lines from the Gayatri Mantra for him the first time.

I remember Sir’s free public talks on the Sutras or Sanskrit or any other Yoga topic on Saturday mornings in Chennai.

From a blog post I wrote in 2006 after my second trip to KYM.  I believe the intensive was called “The Power of Yoga”:

“The teachers keep emphasizing how personal transformation is the true goal of yoga, not getting the yoga butt or abs, but personal transformation, changing our states of mind, replacing negative tendencies with positive ones, and connecting to the True Self, how ultimately this can not be done in a group yoga class, it can only be done one-on-one with a teacher, as Krishnamacharya taught.

They showed us the sequence on how to teach the bandhas, starting with jalandhara going down to mulabandha, and how people should be able to inhale and exhale at least to a count of 10 or 12, before even attempting to work with the bandhas. Also told us about contraindications. Again, once more this emphasized for me what NOT to teach in a group class because everyone is different and everyone will have a different reaction to it — uddiyana bandha aggravates vata for example.

We were told that Krishnamacharya did not believe in kriyas. He said pranayama practice — properly done — was effective enough to cleanse the body of impurities. Desikachar was with us last night and he told us stories of his father, about how Krishnamacharya stopped his own heart for 2 minutes — it was then that Desikachar took up the practice of yoga, when he saw the power of it.”

May his teachings live on in his students around the world.

May Sir have a fortunate rebirth.

Modern American Yoga (TM)

IMG_0334I no longer write as prolifically as I once did.  I started this blog in 2005 and the Yoga Blogosphere as changed tremendously in 10 years.  Modern Yoga Bloggers have forgotten whom their elders are.

What some bloggers write about now I wrote about 3, 5, even 7 years ago: ageism, diversity, “slow yoga.”  “Slow Yoga” is a thing now (Google it) and I’ve been teaching slow since 2005 when I first came back from the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram in India.  The more things change, the more they stay the same.

But sometimes things scream to be called out and discussed.

A long time, old school yoga teacher told me that where she’s from a yoga studio requires newbie teachers to “brand” themselves before finishing a one month yoga teacher training, i.e., make a website, a Facebook page, social media presence, etc., etc. etc.

Do the math.  If a large city has 1000+ YTTs, old school teachers like her and I are doomed.

BRANDING before teaching.

BRANDING before experiencing.

BRANDING before Living Your Yoga.

When I did my first website it took me 6 months to write my yoga bio.  Even after I studied in India the first time I thought that if I wrote too much about myself it would look like I was bragging.

Some people say that social media is the new normal. But I believe in what Buckminster Fuller said:

“In order to change an existing paradigm you do not struggle to try and change the problematic model. You create a new model and make the old one obsolete.”

Believe me, I try. But I’m tired.  Damn tired.  I believe in old school yoga teacher training, mentoring.  But my mentoring page is the loneliest page on my website.  I am not concerned with offering a standard 200 or 300 hour training because I believe in quality, not quantity.  Unfortunately, that’s not good for business because people chase the piece of paper that proclaims them a certified yoga teacher.  I can easily put together a 200 or 300 hour training based on 10 years of notes from the Mandiram alone.  But frankly, no one is interested.  Here.  I believe it takes 10 years of yoga teaching to learn how to teach besides having a dedicated personal yoga and meditation practice.  No one wants to hear that.

Like in real estate, it’s about location, location, location.  All I know is that in my area yoga teachers are a dime a dozen.  With yoga studios cranking out new teachers every week, there is no place for Yoga Elders.  I’m not whining, I’m just being realistic.

So I’m leaving.  Done, baby.  I’m going somewhere where what I teach is valued and appreciated.  One of my students gave me a testimonial:

 “Linda is Yoga. Living, breathing, in every aspect. Caring, supportive, knowledgeable, fun-loving, she walks the talk.”

That’s why I’m leaving.  Because I have too much passion for what I do if that makes any sense.

Goddess willing, I’ll live in Kerala, India by the end of next year and into 2017.  I’ve already started to look at houses to rent with space to teach.  I’ve been asked to do teacher trainings in India.  When I’m in India and I am asked what I do and I say “I’m a yoga teacher” people actually have respect for that.  They ask me who my guru is instead of telling me, “I do Pilates.”  No one asks  me what style of yoga do I teach.  I’m asked not to leave, to stay and teach, to help people.  No one pillories me for using the phrase “real yoga.”

Yeah, I said it.  REAL YOGA.  I’ve always said the real yoga kicks in during a health crisis or dealing with your own mortality. My yoga sadhana helped me through an ovarian cancer scare years ago.  It made me realize that “I am not this body” and it brought me peace.  When my time comes I’ll be chanting and doing pranayama, Goddess willing.  Thanks to my friend Cora Wen for making this beautiful video.

But what Cora talks about in her video, you can’t brand it.  You can’t Instagram it,  You can’t trademark it.

You can only live it.  Because Yoga is Life.

Yoga as Commodity

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Much has been written in this blog and others about the material things of Yoga. Look over the last 10 years of Yoga Journal (or any other recent yoga magazine) to see how many ads there are to get yoga dudettes and dudes (although mostly the dudettes) to buy/consume things that we are supposed to let go of.  That is, all the accoutrements of yoga such as $100 pants, detox and cleansing rituals, $200 malas to help you get deeper into meditation (as if the Rs 50 ones I get in India don’t work), and Swarovski crystal chakra necklaces to help you balance your chakras.

Since I’ve been writing this blog for the last 10 years, it amuses me to no end on how the more things change, the more they stay the same.  Same yoga shit, different day.  I wrote on the commercialization of yoga a good 7 years ago at least.

So when a new reader who has recently discovered this blog wrote me, I had to smile.  YES!  This old blog is still appreciated and that does this Krazy Old Yogini’s heart good.  The new reader nailed it: YOGA AS COMMODITY.  I remember the words of a long ago student who believed that the way yoga is taught in the West serves to reinforce negative patterns (of speed, busy-ness, mindLESSness) instead of creating new ones (slowing down, stillness, mindFULLness.)  The addictions are fed, not lessened.

“It’s funny because I came to the practice in order to alleviate hardcore issues with insomnia which I eventually learned was hardcore anxiety. Then, like so many, I became obsessed with the superficial and physical aspects of yoga and thought the mental part was only meditation.  

In the US it seems we define yoga as just the physical practice and how it can be “used” (weight loss, “enlightenment”, calming, better sex.)  Sigh. I wanted to be a yoga expert and I read all of the literature and bought all of the clothes and took all the types of classes and it wasn’t until a life event smacked me right in the face that I realized – all I need to do is practice. And through practice I have shed so much that was so unnecessary, both material things and ideas or feelings that I was attached to.  

There are many vessels through which people learn this lesson but for me it was Ashtanga that taught me. The heavy emphasis on practice made me show up consistently and didn’t let me analyze the practice.  In practice nothing matters but whether or not you showed up and did what you can do. Through that I feel the real journey has begun for me and things are starting to unravel both beautifully and painfully at times (emotionally, not physically.)

I devoured the Babarazzi’s blog because it was another smack in the face that made me realize – why do I buy Lululemon, why do I want to do cool backbends, why is my subscription to Yoga Journal so important to me? Because it’s been shoved in my face and I have been told that it’s necessary.  I’ve since realized that these things actually have nothing to do with yoga.  It’s very refreshing.

I’m sad to hear that you do not continue to create new posts, but I have subscribed anyway. I appreciate your honest take on the subject and wish there were bloggers doing what you’re doing.  There’s so much Yoga Journal and elephant journal and we don’t even realize how toxic they are!”

I stated writing this blog BYS — Before Yoga Selfies. Now there are yoga dudettes almost killing themselves on electrified rail tracks for likes on Facebook and retweets on Twitter.

“The stream of wishy washy spirituality and body-insane yoga culture streams into my world every single day. I catch myself, sometimes, and wonder how with a shred of honesty I can associate myself with this stuff; how do I teach when most teaching is such a sham? How do I ask people to connect with their own flesh when ‘flesh’ is a loaded word? I pause, often, when I’m writing and when I’m standing in front of a class; the words I most want to say are so bloody, so honest, so scary I’m not sure I should.”

Yeah, it really IS that simple that it comes down to a bare soul and a sharp truth.

I’m tired of the noise and it’s why I’m moving to a place, outside the West, where what I teach is valued.

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.]