The silent observer…
Act I: Unrequited and un-required abuse
Say you’ve been going to the same yoga classes and the same studio for around eighteen months. It’s a place you love, feel comfortable at and enjoy frequenting. It’s become your “yoga home” and you feel invigorated by what you’re learning.
This feeling of a home away from home is comprised of a few things: the yoga you’re learning, the vibe of the studio and the teachers you’re learning from.
So what happens if one day for no reason you can be certain of, everything changes?
The smack down
What happens if you’re in class and you ask a question (the first one you’ve asked that session), only for that question to be radically misinterpreted by your yoga teacher? You ask, but your phrasing is off. Instead of, “So how do you do this pose properly…?” you say, “So you do it like this, right?”.
Perhaps the end of the question wasn’t heard. Perhaps it was, and she just didn’t like your tone. Bit hard to say really. But suddenly you’re on the end of a rather nasty and public (class of 20+ people) dressing down.
It’s different for everyone. Until you can do it, you shouldn’t try to tell others what to do.
Okay, but that wasn’t my intention…
You’ve done it before you know.
You have?!? You bite your tongue and keep going, but combined with this little diatribe and your general sense of left-right confusion you end up doing the next pose on the wrong leg. Your yoga teacher reprimands you sharply for doing so. You laugh it off and go to swap legs but are still having a little moment of “which leg forward”, when she continues her previous (and loud) rebuke:
You really shouldn’t say anything at all until you can get it right.
At which point, feeling entirely misunderstood, unfairly rebuked, mightily pissed off, and somewhat humiliated at being verbally abused in a freakin’ yoga class – you choose to walk out.
Why? Well why the hell not? Why should you stay and continue to take instructions from someone who’s just (verbally) taken a big stick and thwacked you over the head with it?
As you go to leave, more attempted humiliation: (loudly) No [insert name], don’t do that…
But you do leave because, excuse me? This is meant to be a yoga class. You’re not ten years old and you haven’t just painted the cat purple. In fact, the yoga teacher has unfairly jumped to conclusions and punished you in front of the rest of the class.
Yep! This is what happened to me last week at the Shadow Yoga school I’ve been a faithful patron of since October 2009.
My first thought as I left: “Well, that’s a shame”.
I was trying to work out if I would/could/should consider returning to the classes at all. Or if not to that teacher’s classes (who is also the studio owner), then to other classes there.
I sat outside the class for a bit, focusing on my breathing and probably looking something this (but less furry):
I went for a walk to calm down. I ordered some food. And I tried to make sense of my Wednesday night.
Perhaps she was having a bad night? Maybe I was? I mean, on the way to class that night I couldn’t shake the nagging bundle of nervous anxiety in my belly.
And maybe she didn’t hear the end of my question? Who knows? But WHY on earth would you talk to someone like that, no matter what the circumstances? It seemed highly reactive and downright mean.
Heck, if I was having problems with a student (or anyone) I’d talk to them privately, and I don’t think I’d ever publicly rebuke anyone like that unless someone’s health or life was in danger.
And despite her assertion that I’d “done it before”, this was the first time I’d been made aware that she thought that. Not once in all the time I practiced there was it pointed out that I was supposedly doing something “wrong”.
But the reality is that I wasn’t doing what she thought I was doing. When I attempted to say so I was cut short, and then I was rebuked again, and one final verbal kick in the ass when I chose to leave.
Incidentally: this is the very first time I’ve ever walked out of a yoga class in over ten years of doing all kinds of yoga!
A little background
Just a couple of weeks beforehand; this same yoga teacher told me that I “had to choose”. When I asked her what she meant, she told me that I shouldn’t do Shadow Yoga and any style of yoga because “it will be confusing for my body”.
Not that she’s ever said so explicitly, but these are impressions (possibly incorrect but it’s a feeling) I’ve gathered from her:
- She doesn’t think much of my previous training
- She’s convinced that Shadow Yoga is THE only yoga people should be doing
- She doesn’t think I should be teaching because I really don’t have Shadow Yoga down at all
I could be wrong about any/all of the above, but her attitude and general snippiness towards me in certain situations have created this impression.
She asked what I was teaching, and I explained that I teach foundation yoga for beginners – which is all about the basics of body movement etc. I suggested there’s a place for other forms of Hatha yoga that aren’t Shadow Yoga and that not everyone wants a strong practice like Shadow Yoga.
She also asked about my teacher, so I explained my background with my guru as well as my teacher training. I said I’d send her links to information about him and she said she’d like that. When I sent her the URLs, I didn’t get a “thank you” email or any kind of acknowledgement at all.
The very next week was last week, when I walked out of her class. Were these incidents related? Hard to say but I have to wonder, right?
Perhaps she decided to “choose” for me, and manufactured the whole thing? I won’t jump to conclusions and assume that’s the truth, but I’m just sayin’…
Implied intimacy and trust
For me, being in a yoga class is very personal. I’ve found this both as a student as well as a fledgling teacher. There’s a whole bunch of intimacy going on.
As a yoga teacher, you’re instructing people how to move their body and when to breath. You’re working with your student’s fears as well as their monkey mind. In my limited teaching experience to date, I feel very much that teaching is a service. I’m not there to be a schoolmarm and demand obedience – instead I’m trying to get people to explore, feel, experience, sense.
As a student, I am trusting my yoga teacher to be a good person. A helpful person. Someone who is kind and considerate – at least while the class is in session. In a yoga class I open myself up and I am vulnerable physically, mentally, emotionally and energetically. I am shrugging off my baggage as best as I can and leaving it at the door. I am trusting you to be careful with me while I follow your lead.
In my books, it’s absolutely unconscionable to use your position as a yoga teacher to smack down one of your students.
You don’t have to take anybody else’s shit, no matter who they are
These days, I have a zero tolerance approach towards bullying and abuse.
I was both surprised and pleased to observe my very healthy boundaries when it came to dealing with her crap. It hasn’t always been like that, y’see.
Something my Guru has always said to his students is this: You don’t have to accept anyone else’s trip.
Look Guruji, I totally DIDN’T!
Assume makes an ASS out of U and ME
I don’t know for sure what was in her mind any more than she knows what was in mine. Based on her reaction and what she said, I’ve got a pretty good idea of what she meant.
But she assumed my motives were different than they were. She didn’t check in with me to find out what I was saying, she just jumped right in.
Dear ex-yoga teacher of mine: you behaved like an ass.
[Read part 2]