yoga teacher adjusting a student

Over to you – part one

A little while ago, my friend and co-conspirator Harriet and I asked yoga teachers on social media to answer a couple of questions:

What’s the silliest thing you’ve heard a yoga teacher say?

And:

What’s the worst thing you’ve heard a trainer say in a workshop?

We were actually asking these as part of a major writing project that we’ve been working on for over a year. It involves some of your favourite yoga teachers and thinkers, as well as some you will be delighted to meet for the first time. But I can’t tell you more about that just yet – we’re currently negotiating with publishers.

On the other hand, current affairs at the moment is a bit of a bin fire, my academic union is going on strike, our political system is a bit of a joke and there’s still a global pandemic and a few wars going on here and there, so looking at the rather delightful answers to these questions seemed like more fun.

I’m still a researcher though, so let’s treat this like actual research and do a little categorisation and analysis. For the first question then, here are your answers to: ‘What’s the silliest thing you’ve heard a yoga teacher say?’

The anatomically impossible metaphor

  • “Blossom your anus”
  • “Fan your anus up to the sky”
  • “Relax your uterus”
  • “Breathe into your kidneys”
  • “Breathe into your legs”
  • Moving from a squat to a standing position we were encouraged to ‘birth our dragon egg and bring it forth’

I think we can cut ourselves some slack as teachers who are trying to find some way of translating somatic experiences into a metaphor that makes sense to students. I think that’s why we end up talking about breathing into parts of the body that have no business containing oxygen. On the other hand, the command-based, imperative language that is still the norm in too many yoga classes these days makes me mutinous*. Who says I can relax my uterus on command, or even if I want to? I’ll draw a veil over our need to talk about private parts of the body with people who just want a bit of a hamstring stretch, and I’m frankly alarmed by the idea of birthing a dragon egg in class. Aren’t dragon eggs kind of…big??

The oppressive platitude

  • “No pain no gain”
  • “And here you want to make yourself really, really thin” – do I? Or is that what diet culture wants?
  • “It would be better if you could do the pose properly”

When we fall into using platitudes in teaching, it’s a sign we might be allowing some very oppressive attitudes to creep in. I think these days people who say ‘no pain no gain’ are mostly posturing, but you could try punching them in the arm and seeing if that brings them closer to enlightenment, I guess? Diet culture is like an invasive weed in most yoga and fitness spaces, and about as toxic, even if, like here, it’s being used as some sort of metaphor, I think. (I’m guessing, because I don’t think even the most out-of-touch yoga teacher believes you can will yourself thin, do they?).

And finally, ‘It would be better if you could do the pose properly’ needs a short explanation. This was said to a dear friend of mine by a cover yoga teacher in response to him as a student managing their own accessibility needs in the form of two foam blocks and a descent from plank pose via the knees. I include it here because I know it will make regular readers righteously angry on his behalf.

The repeated misinformation

  • “Don’t twist your neck and your pelvis at the same time you might damage your spine”
  • “Don’t do inversions on your period because it reverses the flow”
  • “Now that you\’ve found yoga, you won\’t have to worry about all that power lifting stuff”
  • “If you keep practising you will be able to do…..”

The first two are almost charming. They’re the kind of statement that’s repeated without thinking, having heard it in some training somewhere. A moment’s rational thought and you would hopefully realise that people twist their necks and pelvises all the time in daily life, and people having their period regularly have to bend over too. But they are a useful reminder of what we might call the ‘real life’ principle of avoiding alarmism when teaching. Pay attention to how people move in real life and you soon realise that most bodies are quite capable of all sorts of weird and wonderful movements.

In fact, one meta-study of lower back injuries found only one common factor: almost everyone who injured themselves was over-tired, over-stressed, over-worked or just not paying attention. Bodies that have time and energy to think about what they’re doing are much less likely to get injured. And there are other bodies that can dislocate a joint getting out of a chair, but your basic yoga anatomy advice won’t work for them either.

Which brings me to the next two comments, which we can helpfully file under ‘well outside your scope of practice’. It is not your job as a yoga teacher to decide on a student’s whole self-care regime, you’re not in any way qualified to do that. You also have no idea what any individual is capable of. Not everyone can do everything. Also, can we just let people enjoy things without striving all the time for perfect and impossible physical, mental and emotional equilibrium? It’s exhausting.

And finally

  • “We don’t wear glasses in Savasana in Iyengar!” SHOUTED angrily at a person trying to relax in savasana

You know, if your yoga teaching style involves treating students like you’re wrangling a dozen mutinous toddlers high on sugar and you’re losing control, I think you have no business teaching pretty much anything to anyone.

See you soon for part two…

1 thought on “Over to you – part one”

  1. Pingback: Over to you – part two – Wild Yoga

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