Once upon a time when my son was a babe and I was freshly divorced and at the most vulnerable place that I have been as an adult, I decided to get out of the house as a grown up. I decided to join two of my other ‘yoga teacher/mom’ friends for a Friday night acro-yoga workshop at a local yoga studio. Now this was when acro-yoga was just getting it’s legs, during the days in the ‘00s when yoga festivals were popping up everywhere offering ever new mashup experiences like yoga and…(fill in slack lining, laughing, piyo, hip-hop flow, emotional release <an especially cringe worthy one>, whatever). I was excited to try something new, to get out of the house without my very young toddler and do something “yoga” that was planning on ending in Thai massage. What’s not to like??
But as it was my turn to fly and a brand-new friend I had just made, and liked for her silly irreverent behavior, and I partnered up we both locked eyes and giggled. We both took deep breaths (I imagine, anyways) and she hoisted me up safely. As I was trying to stay up and one of the three teachers was coaching us I heard the other two teachers muttering to each other. Their eyes were focused in our direction and one said quietly and rather disdainfully, “god, those legs. She can’t control them at all, geez.” I knew that she was referring to me, my lack of control in my legs, my inability to keep them perfectly aligned behind me, to have the muscle capacity required to do anything but just hang out up there.
Now a couple things I should tell you all:
1. I am not athletic. I never have been. I read books now and read books as a child. A whole lot of books. I could not touch my toes during those presidential fitness tests all us Gen Xers/ some Millennials were given in gym class. I never even came close. I can now, as a 40-year-old woman, easily palm the bottoms of my feet in a forward fold (thanks yoga, I guess?) and even though I never teach “goal oriented” asana anymore I always still tap my toes to check and make sure I can still do it. Just to check.
2. She was right. I think now as a woman flirting hard with middle age I have the most muscle control of my legs that I have ever had. It was an issue, one I worked one and continue to work on. I never had the background of gymnastics, dance, competitive movement of any kind to guide me into innate knowledge of muscle control. The only muscle encouraged to work out in my house was my brain. This is in no way a slight on my upbringing (we don’t have time for that sort of analysis), just a statement of being.
Now the amount of times I have heard this smug teacher say “god, those legs” in my head over the last 8 years I cannot even begin to count. She was also smug in many other ways—
Teacher lady: “what do you do for you?”
Me, hot mess version: “Oh, I am a new mom so I don’t do much for me. Does breastfeeding my child count? Does yoga count?”
TL: “I guess. I like to travel. I am going to Bali soon. Just for some me time.”
Me, HMV: <The silence of regret, poorness, and unrelateableness.>
I didn’t have the language then to understand why this hurt, even the capacity for that kind of thought really. I was still crying myself to sleep most nights. But she was no teacher. Someone who values teaching (the teaching of anything, not just yoga) doesn’t say that to people who sit as their students. I still to this day have never gone back to visit that studio to take another class or workshop. I do still talk to the friend I made, and she and I will laugh about those teachers while we exchange recipes for fermented anything and the best places for milled flour. I am completely certain she is the gem in the rough of that experience.
Then there was the time I did more advanced yoga training and was marched up in front of my peers no less than four separate times over a month of days just so I could be used as a body example of “I know she looks like she needs to tuck her tailbone under—and maybe she should, but remember she also lines up like someone who has a curved extra vertebrae in her tailbone. Here, let’s take a closer look. But not too close, we don’t have time to address all of her problems”.
Yes, someone said that to me. In front of 17 other people. Same time in life (hot mess time).
I had given up so much to be at that training and was totally unprepared for the onslaught of simultaneous loving connection and being made fun of for living below the poverty line while teaching yoga and raising a child by myself. One lady (whom I liked then and continue to like now) took an especially long time to explain to me how terrible my personal hairbrush was. It was of course missing several tines and came free with my expensive (to me) conditioner. I didn’t have $6 to buy another, let alone the $55 dollars that it cost for the fair trade organically sourced from trees misted with the dew drops of rose petals hairbrush she told me I needed.
(By the way, if anyone was interested in some insight as to why I am so adamant about advocating that we change our industry to offer an actual professional path for people the “living below the poverty line while teaching yoga and raising a child by myself” sentance would give you some really good clues. And I know I am not alone in that experience. I see you out there.)
Or the weight. This one always gob smacked me. I honestly do not know today how I ever stayed in yoga with the amount of yoga practitioners, definitely including people whom I would have at that time called “teacher” talking to me about my weight loss. How I had lost 30 lbs “soooooooo fast”, and “doesn’t it feel good to lose all that extra baggage?” meaning both the 30 lbs and my former husband. But here is the rub, we who teach this weird modern version of yoga are supposed to be good at “seeing” people. Not one of those yoga people saw me, saw my struggle. Saw the bags under my eyes, the fact I lost 30 lbs due to a super fun combination of stress and not being able to afford food for myself. Nobody saw, or commented anyways, on how I was crying myself to sleep Every. Single. Night. If they did see me, they were too uncomfortable with themselves and me to offer any sort of real discussion, comfort, or even acknowledgement of how I was existing. The chasm that is created between people who choose “I better not say anything because I don’t know what to say” is vast.
Now here is why I am telling you all the crappy stories: because I am asking we, the yoga professionals, to start acting more like real teachers of a thing. If you teach adults or quasi adults there is an inherent code of conduct that applies to you. You will not bring beer or drugs to class. You will not publicly shame your students. You will not encourage your students to forgo modern medicine when their health is in question. You will not attempt to teach things that you are not qualified to teach. You will not comment on your student’s personal lives in a way that would be something other then supportive, kind, and encouraging.
Let’s do a couple things my yoga friends. Let’s embrace the idea of what it is to be a teacher. I realize guru is a heated word in the yoga world currently, so let’s set guru aside for now (I don’t have the time or energy to tackle this topic today) and ask ourselves what it is to teach something, anything, well. Look at the people in your life who you have learned the most from, and please don’t limit yourselves to yoga, you’ll find a lot of crap teachers there. What about your schooling? What about your adulthood, those teachers outside a classroom setting, in real life? Those who taught you lessons you didn’t know you needed to learn? On that subject, stop calling every shitty experience you have a teacher. You are doing a disservice to the people out there who are really working to become skilled in the art of teaching. Sure, you can learn from all kinds of experiences and decisions—be they good or bad, but they are not a Teacher. Show the real teachers of the world some respect, and then go emulate what they are doing. We all will be better for it.