yoga teacher adjusting a student

Over to you – part two

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?

In the first part of this post, I did a little categorisation and analysis on the first question, ‘What’s the silliest thing you’ve heard a yoga teacher say?’ I talked about anatomically impossible metaphors, oppressive platitudes, repeated misinformation, and teachers who shout at students to relax. Let’s turn the tables this time by looking at some of the things trainers say. After all, they have to be responsible for at least some of the silly things yoga teachers say, right?

More anatomical silliness

  • “Lock your knees, lock your knees and push!!!”
  • “Tuck your tail in”

Again, the issue here is less about whether the anatomical guidance given is ‘correct’, and more about whether the trainee is being encouraged to explore what works for them, or are they being taught by rote? It is highly unlikely that any instruction, no matter how simple, will work for all people universally. But more than that, what are we modelling here as trainers? Is this teaching or indoctrination? Are we raising yoga teachers up to be independent, responsive, thinking individuals, or cutting them out with a guru-shaped cookie cutter to be endless, increasingly pale replicas of people now dead and gone?

Misinformation by rote

  • “Tell your students, don\’t listen to your own body, listen to me. As the teacher we\’re the experts!”
  • “I don’t care what your other teacher says [about where to place your feet in down dog]. Have they been to Mysore? Have they been authorised to teach by Guruji? I DON’T THINK SO.”
  • “I know shoulders back and down in downward dog isn’t anatomically right, but it’s what the dialogue says so that’s how you have to teach it”
  • “Iyengar taught it this way, that must be true”
  • “Do you think you know better than Jois?”

I’m leaving out of this list the multiple comments made by trainers that excused actual sexual violence by their own teachers – not for their sake, but because it’s triggering and depressing that this still goes on. Yoga teacher trainees deserve so much better than that. But yoga teaching really has to move beyond this fetish for submission to authority. It doesn’t make you more authentic as a teacher. It won’t solve your lingering disquiet about appropriation as a non-South Asian yoga teacher.

If a cultural practice cannot evolve, it dies. It’s not difficult to understand that. Also, yes, I am unsure about my authority in many aspects of teaching yoga, but I’m pretty sure that at least 95% of yoga teachers I’ve met have more of an idea about how to teach yoga than Jois, given what we know about him now. You can only disagree if you think being able to twist yourself into a pretzel standing on one leg is somehow more ‘yogic’ than basic human decency. As ever, your yoga may vary.

Profundity in absurdity

  • “How you do anything is how you do everything”
  • “You are not a man, you are not a woman, you are The Teacher”
  • “This course is not about you, it’s about yoga”

I think some teacher trainers think that their own authority and power is somehow enhanced by their own mystical and mysterious pronouncements. Often, sadly, in the middle of a training it can feel impossible to challenge this kind of statement. But if you write them down and look at them in the cold light of day, it’s much easier to see that they are, in fact, nonsense pretending to be wisdom.

I don’t know what goes on in some people’s heads

  • “If you can’t draw it you are not practicing the asana right”
  • “When it comes to Sutras, you don’t need them at all”

There’s a lot of groupthink in yoga training, and a lot of refusal to think outside the box of tradition and habit. On the other hand, there are trainers that come out with statements so very far outside the box, you wonder if they’ve ever met another yoga teacher. Insisting on a trainee’s graphical skills over actual performance of the asana, and a wholesale dismissal of Patanjali is right out beyond the boundaries of contemporary yoga culture, but I kind of want to meet these trainers to find out how they got there!

Public Service Announcement

  • “Why would I ask can I touch? If you signed up it means you agreed.”

If anyone ever says this in any class or workshop, ever, please leave, immediately.

Harriet sometimes says that what keeps her up at night is bad yoga teachers. I think what worries both of us more these days is bad yoga trainers. Stay safe out there, please and practice walking out if you have to.

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