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.

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