Why I don’t care if my yoga teacher is nice

Why I don’t care if my yoga teacher is nice

Two days ago I took a yoga class at a nearby studio.  The teacher, petite with long dark curly hair, and tattoos on her arms and legs walked into the packed room and stated. “Let’s get going.  Start breathing.”

That was it. No hello or charming smile. No instruction on how to sit and make your body comfortable.  No yogic story to share with the mostly Lulu clad group. She kept us wordless in the awkward company of our own breath. The heat blew from a vent in the ceiling. I felt exposed and naked. Even a little excited.

What’s gonna happen next? This is kind of unpredictable.  Its unusual for an experienced yoga teacher to not fill pauses with much earned yoga blah blah. At one point, I opened my eyes, a centering no-no, to check if she was still there. Yep. She looked right back at me. My mind continued to flicker.

The silence continued. My inner yoga teacher started to evaluate. How can she get away with this?  She’s doing nothing to put us at ease.  How come all these people don’t seem to mind?

Then it hit me. This is what I’m searching for. Right now I need a direct teacher who doesn’t give a shit whether I’m comfortable or not. I don’t need a teacher who is pleasant, accommodating, and possibly on auto-pilot. (I’m referring to myself as teacher here.) I need a yoga teacher who gets that yoga isn’t about being nice. The teacher needs to get this in their own yoga as well. After all, it was us teachers who brought the niceness to yoga so we could sell it to the masses. What I needed right now was a wise, present, and bad ass yoga teacher. Someone who lives what she teaches. And here she was and she seemed way taller than just a little over five feet.

Our first pose was classical suns. The kind with the knee down. Over and over again. Maybe even for twenty five minutes.  She wasn’t concerned whether we could pay attention for that long.  She didn’t care if we got tired or bored. She impeccably instructed endless suns and walked around to observe the class of sixty students.  Each one of us got her full attention. We got corrections if we needed it. Her cuing with our breath was right on. She delivered no extra words.

My chronic tight psoas and quads began to trust and loosen. With each lunge, my knee was able to sink deeper towards my front foot. My breath became powerful. Each time my foot stepped forward, I was an open wave crashing down. Sweat emerged like tidal pools on my bare skin.  The rise and fall of my breath were my undertow and for a while I forgot that anyone else was in the room.

At one point she gave us the option of going into child. She twisted her long hair up into a loose knot and said, “I’m not a big fan of child but, if you must, you must. ” No one took child.

As I hung in downward dog, I thought about all the times I put my own students into child during a potent yoga moment when things were getting stirred up in order to bring them back to their own comfort. Its not that I can’t handle their struggle and discomfort. I can.  But if I am honest, the reason I offer my students child’s pose is to make sure they continue to like themselves, yoga, my studio, and me.  Not sure of the order but something like that.

We don’t need to be coddled in yoga.  Especially when we are on a path to make changes and breakthroughs in things that matter. There are so many slippery ways in which we numb, victimize, or shut ourselves down.  Our bodies and hearts become dimmed by our habitual ways of being and we don’t even know it. A rabbit will keep taking the same path to the same water hole even if there is a better way to sweeter water.

The bad ass yoga teacher knows that her student has no idea of what he or she is really capable of. This is exciting.  The process of finding out what we are capable of is a big fucking deal. Its the discovery of new tools to take care of yourself and turning on new parts of yourself that you never even knew existed.

Ana Forrest is a bad ass teacher. The petite, tattooed, curly haired teacher I had the privilege of taking yoga from is also bad ass.  They are similar and yet totally different.  In teacher training, we were told that the world doesn’t need more carbon copies of Ana but the world does need more of each one of us. We were  instructed to go out and teach and be our authentic selves. Teach from our own bodies and our own life experiences.

When I left class, I went up to the teacher and thanked her.  “You’re amazing.” These were the only words I could find as I was still stoned on the class. I wanted to say more, like how I admired the strong boundaries she created, the challenge, and how she didn’t get caught up in trying to make us comfortable. I wanted to tell her I felt empowered. I wanted to thank her for being a yoga bitch.

She gave me a slow smile.  Real and kind.  “Aww, I’m just a mirror reflecting your own image.”

As I left the studio, I could finally take a deep breath. The warm summer air filled my lungs.

I get it. It was time for me to trust my own power. I never would have realized this, in this particular yoga class, if the teacher had dwelled in good manners and niceness.

Time for me to be bad ass too. Not because Ana is, or because the awesome curly haired teacher is, but because this is part of who I am and I have been shutting her down for a long time.  This is whats been missing.

Who knows? Maybe I’ll even get a tattoo.

I am a yoga teacher with body image issues. (Shhh! Don’t tell anyone.)

I am a yoga teacher with body image issues. (Shhh! Don’t tell anyone.)

Today,  I am reposting an essay I wrote in 2012. It’s still applicable to me now. I went to teach yesterday and was feeling inadequate. And yes, my body was getting the majority of my self mutilation. Thoughts like I hate you body. You are so gross!! I taught anyways. I taught to amazing humans who are all in the room going through there own personal brand of invisible suffering. At the end of practice, we are not CURED but we do get some distance, some freedom, some insight into its deception and lies.

Namaste Fat Girl

I am a yoga teacher with body image issues. (Shhh! Don’t tell anyone.)

An unwritten rule for a yoga teacher is that before we sit down all lotus-like in front of our students, waving incense like magic wands, we should have at least worked out our own issues. The authentic and effective yoga teacher, whose job is to guide her students intelligently and respectfully through challenging poses should, at the very least, treat her own body with the same level of care.

Since the first day I tried a yoga class and landed on my back in a long holding of bridge pose, where my thighs burned like in giving birth, I realized I had a serious problem. I hated myself. Every other thought I had was about my body. No matter what else was going on around me. The sun could be rising over the ocean, a child kissing my nose, or a friend offering me a warm cup of tea, and all I could think of was how my body was not measuring up.

My belly is so big and gross. I wish I could afford a tummy tuck. Maybe I shouldn’t have had butter on my popcorn last night. I should put my sneakers on and go for a five mile run and burn off the butter. Can I get away with inhaling the whole pint of left-over pork fried rice in the refrigerator even though it is only ten in the morning and I already had breakfast?

Inside I felt worthless, greedy, hungry, empty, disgusting, obsessed and miserable. On the outside, I was just an ordinary woman in a bridge pose. But somehow in that first yoga class and somewhere between an inhale and an exhale, I made the decision to wake up and face whatever the fuck it was that had gotten a hold of me so strongly that I was now suffocating.

For the next fifteen years, I worked on my body image issues like a dog with a bone. Each will never completely wear the other down. I did the work of self-acceptance and ridding myself of shame in a therapist’s office. I call that the work of my head. The rest of my work was done on a yoga mat.

Every day when I began my own practice, I set my intention to be open to healing and love. This meant loving myself and practicing self-observation without judging. Sun Salutations were my mala beads. I longed to hold each pose sacred between my fingers and feel their bumpy surface. Each back bend was an opportunity to open up and trust that things are exactly as they should be, each downward dog a doorway into what lies beneath the surface.

Sometimes the poses in Sun Salutation felt lousy. A plank was too hard. I felt wooden and wanted to collapse onto the floor. Walk away from the practice. What’s the point? When shame, repulsion and apathy revealed themselves while I moved from one pose to the next, I let them rage and fight inside of me. I didn’t try to deny or change these feelings but instead let them burn like fire, fade away or move on. Let them get buried in the ground. This is the work of my heart.

One thing about a body image or disordered eating is that it can disappear only to resurface during times of stress or uncertainty. It’s a good friend that way.

One evening at my yoga studio, during a period where I was trying to become more assertive with my studio staff but not quite succeeding, I sat on my mat and faced the doorway as students arrived. I was about to teach a vigorous yoga class.

The heat was blowing out of five standing heaters placed strategically around the room. The temperature was already up to 90 degrees. My plan was to work the 20 or so students who regularly attended my class hard with vinyasa flow coupled with long holdings of postures that required stamina, sensitivity, and focus. They would be expected to stay in the poses until every muscle in their body shook with aliveness.

When the body fatigues, the ego lets down its hair. The body and mind falls apart on the yoga mat and comes back together in a new and different way. As class came to an end, the hard would be followed by soft. I would guide supported poses such as reclining bound angle and happy baby. Surrender is essential for wholeness.

 

That night, every one that walked in the door was fit and beautiful and it occurred to me that I was the fattest girl in the class and I was the one teaching it.

What was wrong with these people?

Didn’t they see the fat girl at the front of the room?

My cheeks burned. I felt naked and wanted to disappear. Once everyone finally settled in onto their yoga mats, I began the class. I closed my eyes and silently asked no one in particular that I lead this practice from a place of openness and let my story of the fat girl go.

Within ten deep breaths, I forgot my self-hate and all was right in the world. The imaginary mala beads were back in my fingers. My whole being was immersed in the art of teaching and the fat girl story book closed itself shut.

Namaste fat girl. The light in me honors the light in you. The fact that I can release my negative thoughts while I teach lets me know I have done a lot of healing.

This is the work of my heart. I continue to do the work because once an obsession, compulsion or addiction gets a hold of us, it can make a groove across our entire being.

Before yoga I was unable to see my groove. Now I see it and feel it. It is no longer as deep. It is not completely gone but when the groove of self-hatred does show up, like when I am teaching yoga, I choose to walk around it, jump over it, or go another way.

I am no longer afraid of it and it cannot claim me.