Bruised, Battered & Scarred. ~ Tiffany Cruikshank

Via on May 21, 2012
Photo: Tiffany Cruikshank

There’s nothing worse than being shamed in a yoga class…

It’s the end of a good class and the end of a long week, and after a lot of traveling, I found myself skipping shoulderstand only to be called out by the teacher.

Now this is a large class in the heart of LA, where people regularly branch off and modify the poses to suit their needs. However, in my case the teacher quickly approached, and with a tinge of disapproval asked why I was skipping shoulderstand.

Truth be told, I’d been traveling a lot and had a somewhat emotional day and I wanted to finish my practice with a simple pose to ease off my stiff post-plane back, but like a kid caught with their hand in the cookie jar, I was startled and found myself grasping for words.

So when the teacher said, “why aren’t you doing shoulderstand?” there I was reclining in supta virasana on a block with something like, “I just wanted a chest opener” coming out of my mouth in a scared, defensive whisper. It was the strangest thing. This did not please the teacher and well, she continued to reprimand me by stating to the entire class that shoulderstand is the best chest opener there is. And there I was like a scorned child, wishing I could crawl away so no one would see me.

As unpleasant as this experience was I have to say it was a reminder that as teachers, we hold a lot of power. With this power we have the potential to use it in a myriad of ways. I’m not even saying that what this teacher did was wrong because it drives me nuts when students show up and just do their own thing. It’s a fine line to draw between just doing whatever you please and taking care of yourself though.

As a teacher, it can be difficult to distinguish between the two, and a class setting isn’t always appropriate for a full discussion to find out which it is. It’s a tricky thing as a teacher—knowing when to motivate our students to progress and when to encourage them to back off, this is a common question I get at my 500-hour teacher trainings and there’s not always a simple answer.

However, I think the most important thing to remember is that each person in your yoga class is like a little walking story book. Within this class it’s impossible to know every story unless you have a very intimate relationship with your students and you spend the first hour as a therapy session checking in with everyone, which obviously wouldn’t be appropriate.

Photo: TIffany Cruikshank

My point here is that as a teacher, you can never know whether that person you’re trying to help into an advanced pose just had a miscarriage, whether the person you’re reprimanding just got diagnosed with cancer, or whether the person you’re continually correcting was just abandoned by their wife.

Some days we come to our mat eager to go and others days we show up an emotional wreck. That’s what I love about this practice, we show up day in and day out, bruised, battered and scarred by life to do the work, to look at our sh*t and as a teacher, our job is simply to make suggestions and support our students in finding what works for them. Without letting our own agenda get in the way, without getting attached to what we think they need and knowing that they bring a lot more than meets the eye to their mat. Often times our need to push or not push our students come from our own agenda and as a teacher, it’s important to clear that out of the picture before teaching.

If you’re a teacher, the next time you teach, consider this. At any given time you may have several people in your class who have or have had cancer, at any given time you may have several people in your class with loved ones on the verge of death, at any given time you may have several people in your class who have been raped, abused, divorced, beaten, abandoned and mistreated —and yet, they still show up because they believe there’s something better. With sickness and disaster all around us, it’s important to keep in mind and remember that every time we show up to our mat we’re showing up for not only ourselves but each other.

To me, that’s the power of yoga, it’s the strength in numbers that a community creates.

So the next time you show up to teach or take a class consider who might be sitting next to you. You might say hello and connect to them as a result, or you may just breathe a little deeper in an effort to support each other with that formless connection to the breath. Either way, your purpose for being there has changed and what you’ll notice is that the effect at the end will be completely different as well.

Dedicated to the international, borderless yoga community of the world—unite!

 

Tiffany Cruikshank is an internationally known yoga teacher, author and health and wellness expert.  Tiffany travels the globe inspiring people to live their lives to the fullest. Tiffany is known for her lighthearted attention to detail and passionate dedication to the practice. With her training in acupuncture and sports medicine, her yoga classes are guided by a strong anatomic focus intermingled with her characteristic playfulness using movement as medicine. Tiffany is the acupuncturist and yoga teacher at the Nike World Headquarters in Portland, Oregon, and has been featured in various video and print ads including ads for Nike, Lululemon, Kira Grace and Yogi Tea. You can take class with her on www.YogaGlo.com or read her articles on MindBodyGreen.com, Origin Magazine and Elephant Journal. Her book, Optimal Health For A Vibrant Life, is a 30 day detox for yogis. For her traveling, teacher training and retreat schedule go to www.TiffanyYoga.com or stay in touch on her Facebook fan page — Tiffany Cruikshank Yoga.

 

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Editor: Carrie Stiles

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Comments

61 Responses to “Bruised, Battered & Scarred. ~ Tiffany Cruikshank”

  1. Tiffany, this is beautiful! I am sharing with my teacher trainees and all teachers in my community. Such a good reminder and so eloquently written.

  2. erica says:

    that's why I enjoy your teaching so much –I fell all of this when you teach!

  3. @petrastella says:

    Wow, sorry to sound so nasty, but what an ass of a 'teacher' – I'd say that person was more of an instructor, rather than a teacher, because they believed they were there to tell you what to do, rather than to learn about you, with you and for you.

    I might suggest that one could respond to a question such as this by simply asking "why with this many students in the room and this particular pose's opportunity for injury would you engage with the person NOT doing the pose, than any one of those who are attempting and could use supervision/guidance/care?"

    Then, I would certainly stay after the class, and wait for the opportunity to respectfully ask what their intention was in hoping to humiliate you into a pose, as well as destroy the concentration of the group.

    Unfortunately, I once attended Ashtanga in a city not where I had learned. I was taught in the 'old' fashion where the step back to the front of the mat ended with hand at heart center… really minor. I did not get instruction to do it otherwise in the cueing, until the teacher called me out in front of the class. I let it go, her insecurity, surely.

    However, in the course of the class, habit took over and I believe I did it twice more; upon seeing this, she literally shouted from the opposite side of the room "You are doing that wrong!! If you were in Mysore, Pattabhi Jois would scream 'bad man' at you!"

    To which, I admittedly, inappropriately replied – 'Hmm, I'm not in Mysore, and you're not PJ, but you are a "Bad Teacher!". Much to her dismay, I finished the practice, waited respectfully, apologized and asked her her intention. She told me I should never do yoga again – I asked her to repeat and clarify, since that sounded so absurd I thought I really misheard.

    She did, and I promised her, in her world, I would never do yoga again. She had no reason to worry about me ever coming back to her class.

    So sad, no self-awareness and a pathetic need to be in control of something as personal as the asana practice. I can only imagine how pathetic and insecure her life had been that she would use the sacred space to denigrate, dominate and humiliate.

    I thank her, deeply, for modeling to me how never to act as a teacher! Lesson learned!

  4. Peaceyoga& dogs says:

    I once took class from Tiffany in Portland where I used to live. I had been teaching vinyasa style yoga for several years before I attended "an advanced level " vinyasa. Not only I do remember being very uncomfortable modifying postures that either helped me relax more or allowed me to find my edge, I also remember bring called out during a floating crow sequence that I stopped doing because my wrist hurt and it felt much better to take a shoulder stand.
    I think it's awesome that Tiffany had a similar experience and I hope that she can bring this into those advanced vinyasa back at yoga pearl. That was my one and only experience there.

  5. whitney says:

    Love this article.
    re: peaceyoga&dogs – As a teacher we are always evolving (as humans)..some days things come out of our mouths that we didn't mean, a tone is reflected that was not intended, hell sometimes we say touch your head when we mean your feet. Other days are just right, other days are beautiful and others suck. Bottom line, we teach because we love yoga and want to share that experience with students. And we constantly evolve.

  6. Samantha says:

    Tiffany-As someone who fears opening up in any way (on and off the mat), I appreciate your opening up and sharing this. Teachers can really make or break someone's desire to come back to the mat. I personally am utterly grateful to my teacher and mentor on Guam for igniting the fire in my practice that kept me coming back and led me to get my children's teacher cert and next year, my 200 hour Kunga.

    I take your classes several times a week on yogaglo and feel that you connect not only with those in the studio but you do an excellent job of reaching us on the other side of the screen. You seem to teach with a genuine desire to better yogis and the yoga community…and you laugh. Oh how important that is on the mat!

    Thank you for being a positive influence on the worldwide yoga community of all practices. We appreciate you! Shanti!

  7. Caroline says:

    I didn’t see anyone stating anyone is “perfect”…. One of the best lessons is to recognize the thing or action you may have done but to then experience it ourselves should first bring humility and ownership…it is a true way to recognize and grow from experiences…these experiences can show us the missteps in our past actions and provide a clearer vision of how to proceed…With that said, if a teacher called me out due to my need for modification….well, I’m a born and bred Jersey Girl….nuff said…. ;). It’s just yoga people!!! Enjoy your practice and anyone who makes it humiliating needs to step off the mat!!!

  8. Nicole says:

    Thanks Tiffany! I am an instructor and this article gave me the opportunity to ponder my teaching style. Most of my students enjoy my banter, but I will try to be more aware that everyone comes into class from a different place. I am also a student of yours, via the wonderful yogaglo, and would like to thank you for your clear verbal instructions (I don't have to look at the screen from my practice to see where we are going) and also for your light hearted "happy" approach.
    Namaste!

  9. @ktrain09 says:

    Tiffany this a great post and it speaks to the teacher/leaner challenge in any activity. I think that it's very easy to lose your patience with a teacher/coach when they try to say or do something to inspire you to improve but fail. Students need cultivate a mindset where they assume the teacher/coach was trying to do something helpful and sometimes the outcome is that they fail. As students/athletes we fail all the time, but our teachers/coaches don't assume we were trying to fail or hurt ourselves.

    The student has one puzzle every practice to solve, themselves, whereas the teacher has many many puzzles to deal with. I have one of those puzzles that I would never expect a Yoga teacher to understand unless i was practicing with them constantly. Occasionally I have less than pleasant interactions with teachers who have never met a female contact athlete and don't understand what my body needs. No biggy, I talk to them after class and give them feedback.

    Feedback…oh yeah just like what students need to get better :)

  10. yogajanet says:

    I really liked the message. It is important to let people be in their own space, especially with a posture like sarvangasana, which is not always accessible to people and could pose issues to those with neck, or shoulder issues. Calling someone out in a class setting does not jibe with my own personal teaching philosophy…a quiet, gentle adjustment, making yourself accesible before or after class for questions or concerns go a long way.
    While I enjoyed this piece, I found the photos chosen to be somewhat distracting; they didn't really go with what was written. They seem a little self-promoting, but suppose if I had the same musculature, and the opportunity, the urge to post professional photos of myself in yoga postures might be very tempting. We are only human. :)

  11. zeb says:

    right on tiffany!

  12. __MikeG__ says:

    Another perspective is that it is disrespectful to the teacher to ignore the sequence without having the common courtesy to inform the teacher as to why the pose is not appropriate at that time. A good teacher has a well planned sequence with a clear goal in mind. A good teacher also encourages modifications and can suggest alternatives. This post was not about modifications because shoulder stand and supta viransana are two completely different poses. So, you were not appropriately modifying sarvangasana, you were ignoring the sequence without communicating to the teacher why you were doing so. How is a teacher going to know a students limitations unless the student communicates those limitations?

  13. @robbeilfus says:

    I loved this article – I have only been teaching a little over a year. Last Friday I had a regular student of mine, who has a solid intermediate practice, really taking it easy in my class. As I see her twice a week and know her practice, I was confused and concerned. But her modifications were not disrupting the class so I let her be on her mat. Afterwards I asked if everything was OK (when it was just her and I), it turned out she had hurt her wrist (outside of her yoga practice) and plank or chaturanga were not accessible to her. As Tiffany so beautifully said, "it’s important to keep in mind and remember that every time we show up to our mat we’re showing up for not only ourselves but each other.." This student is always a part of my class and her absence would affect the class. I am glad she came and did what she could.

    Also as someone who has a herniated disc and bad sciatica (from my pre-yoga days), I can totally relate to avoiding shoulderstand. There are days that shoulderstand feels great, and there are other days that it causes my sciatica to become excruciating, I would be really discouraged if a teacher called me out on this as I believe I may know better than her or him what my body and soul need at that particular moment in time.

    Yoga has changed my life and I know it can change other peoples' lives also…but we as teachers must also be willing to learn from our students and allow the students to learn from their own practice as well.

    Thank you Tiffany for writing this great article!

  14. hamcnamara says:

    Tiffany-I enjoyed getting a teachers perspective as a student, nice to know someone I admire has similar feelings, experiences in her own yoga journey as I do in mine! You are a great role model, on and off the mat. Thank you so much!

  15. sherry says:

    Great article, Tiffany! I recently took one of your workshops where I chose not to do one of the poses — you quietly asked if I would like some assistance, to which I replied no thank you — you were completely respectful of that and continued assisting the others that wanted to do the very advanced pose. So thank you, Tiffany, for respecting my practice.

  16. Jason says:

    Tiff,

    Nice article — and thanks for sharing a bit of yourself.

    best,
    jason s.

  17. Robert Piper Robert_Piper says:

    After the tenth time, I've built up an immunity to this, my yoga teacher doesn’t even bother coming over to ask me to do a shoulder stand. Last time I tried, I barrel rolled into a wall and almost knocked myself out.

    Thanks for whoever hit the thumps up button and gave me a +2 thumbs up in the upper right hand corner. I would hug you, if I knew you. (If no one hit the thumps up button and I accidentally did it myself, please disregard this message)

  18. Jim McMahon says:

    You certainly hit this spot on. I go to yoga feeling differently each time and need to be able to take the space to do what suits me. Most yoga teachers know accommodate this and even encourage it so I'm surprised to hear of your experience. It's our practice and the teacher is there to guide us. I've had the experience when the teacher is not fully present and I've been disappointed as a result. But we're all human and we all have our good days and our less good days. I'm looking forward to your class at Hanuman.

  19. Paulina Buck says:

    Thanks for posting this. Last year I had a very similar situation with a teacher who I've known for years. he basically bullied me in front of the whole class because i didn't wear the strap doing shoulderstand as it makes my shoulder hurt (had surgery 12 months before for a SLAP tear), so was doing it without and he basically picked on me "as a rotweiller will pick on a bone", with the final words "don't come to yoga if you cannot do the pose", at which point I left the room. he knew of my surgery, he knew I still had some difficulties with certain props and poses and he still wanted to assert his power. Why do we, as teachers, use that "knowledge" or lack of it, to belittle people, and why we as students use our practise to do the same?

  20. ivanteach says:

    Just as a supporting example I have a private client who attended a class this past week where she was told she had to do headstand because it was the next step and everyone was doing it. This person has been attacked these past months by rheumatoid arthritis, she's undergoing chemo and her fingers are swollen up. She refused and it got ugly. One can only shake one's head in amazement.

  21. @petrastella says:

    Excellent dialog – I've been really encouraged that we are all talking about this!

    Yoga is self-care. Not pleasing the teacher, not forcing or nailing the pose. And, honestly, our world is no different, there are jackasses and control freaks everywhere! And, to paraphrase one of my great teachers, "I know a lot of folks who can put their foot behind their head, but most of the time it's in their mouth – the posture is not yoga".

    I recently took a workshop with a National teacher. Vinyasa, my style. I'm – hate to use these terms – and advanced practitioner. I had a tough week, emotionally and lots of physicality outside the studio. Like any great workshop, we practiced – a lot!!

    I was wiped. There were a lot of folks I knew in there, fellow teachers and lots of 'my students'… and, I've been blessed to have great teachers! So, often, and I mean often, I took Balasana (we are there first and foremost to breathe, not achieve. No yoga without pranayama. I really don't' care what others think, and I can handle a teacher who needs to try to assert authority where none is needed.

    To my repeated delight, while I wasn't 'singled out', the Teacher on more than one occasion commented how happy and proud she was that she saw 'teachers and advanced practitioners' taking Balasana rather than struggling through. She validated honoring the breath, she didn't get freaky because we blew her roll. She got it, shared it and validated it.

    Look, there are phases in life and they correspond to how we relate to our practice. Unless you are in your teens and twenties, most of the practice shouldn't be focused on achievement, but rather presence, engagement and SELF-CARE.

    If the teacher doesn't get that, no need to be disrespectful, but no reason to do what they say if it isn't what you do. Who can tell who is ready for shoulder stand?? Do I know you have physical issues or concerns? Not from looking and not if you choose not to share. Do I grill or berate you?? Why, that's what I'm there to get away from!!

    So, do your practice – don't freestyle handstands, but if someone has an issue with you taking your care over their instruction, be polite but RUN THE HELL AWAY as soon as the class is over – they can go back to the gym or whatever. You can take care of yourself.

    I got riled on this – if you'd like more of my ranting, I video-blogged it here: check it out on my FB page; RockStarYoga or on my blog, http://www.rockstaryoga.us – let's keep it real, about ourselves and for ourselves. Like the Buddha is supposed to have said about 'teachers'… "If you meet me on the path, kill me". Be your own guru – no one else knows what is in you and what is needed!

    Give thanks and praise!

  22. alex says:

    Sometimes, the instructor is the student and the student is the instructor.

  23. Rajni Tripathi says:

    great article! My training instructors always say to meet people where they are.

  24. integralhack says:

    Thanks for your article and your graceful responses to criticism, Tiffany!

  25. NoYouCantHide says:

    I'm a bit ambivalent over this indulgent diatribe….I think the article rings strongly of an overly youthful and egocentric (and I also hear whining!) viewpoint. RE: the youthfulness – not a bad thing, mind you, because life has a way of remedying this mindset! I wonder if Tiffany is normally popping into advanced poses during her practice classes, the teacher being used to this youthful zeal….then BAM, Tiffany decides to dial it way down and do a chest opening pose, confusing the teacher. Is it possible Tiffany embarrassed and shamed her teacher? I appreciate everyone's comments and find them interesting and I can agree with most of them but do feel most are disparaging the teacher. The teacher couldn't read Tiffany's mind and Tiffany couldn't read the teacher's mind. Perhaps a bit more respect (by practicing a modified shoulder stand), for the teacher who is teaching another teacher would fare well for both; and since we don't really know what was happening in the teacher's head, I hesitate to judge. Sounds like Tiffany could have been a bit more sensitive here, too, folks. Just sayin'. Really, salamba supta virasana and salamba sarvangasana are hardly similar poses and I'm sure Tiffany stood out in a classroom full of shoulder standers. And credit to the teacher, please….teaching another teacher can be intimidating at best. When I practice, I stay in the pose being taught – not that I haven't wanted to bust a move into something else. Unless it could cause me harm, I go with the flow. It's called…wait for it…respect, Tiffany.

  26. Fantastic article Tiffany!!

  27. Julie says:

    Thank you for the writing of the article. We all seem to be a bit lively on this subject :-) I think we should definitely tone down the judgement though… as a teacher I can feel when I’m not not doing what the students need and if need be I will change course. We try hard to do this, but last time I checked none of The Avengers are yoga teachers, we make mistakes, and sometimes we don’t think before we speak :-) I stress in my classes that your Yoga is yours…only you know what your body needs, and i will try to direct you as best as I can but sometimes what we need hasn’t been planned. In one class I taught last week a woman tried shoulderstand and came out of it, she then came into a beautifully perfect sirsasana, I checked in with her, and her neck was feeling way too tight for shoulderstand, I told her she.could wait in balasana if she wanted, but she needed sirsasana. After all of the students came out of shoulderstand this woman was still in sirsasana. The students were looking and admiring…and I told them, there are some similarities, relaxed legs, relaxed hips, and i told the class, she has a very beautiful headstand…she came down, not expecting the whole class to be staring at her in awe, she looked at everyone and said you can do.shoulderstand, I can’t…so.i did what I could do. :-) I’m hoping she wasn’t embarrassed, and i should have checked I’m with her again after class. I always hope.that students build the awareness that they need to keep themselves injury/pain free as well feeling peace <3

  28. Alexis says:

    Excellent article! I remember when I showed up to a yoga class on the day my grandfather died. I didn't tell the instructor. I used that time to relax and release all of the different emotions inside of me. The class was at a Bikram yoga studio which is known for its drill sergeant teachers. I didn't go off and do my own thing, but I wasn't trying to do the standing splits. That experience taught me a lot and what every person brings to a yoga class.

  29. Mel says:

    Thanks! Drives me nuts when instructors keep pushing students to "Smile" sometimes I do the very best I can just to get myself to the studio and on the mat.

  30. […] time I am continuously learning that no one can judge or assume how the practice serves certain people, how to measure progress or success of others. It was a tough lesson for me to just simply accept […]

  31. cathywaveyoga says:

    Thank you for writing this article. I, also, have written a similar article, " Power to Yoga Teachers" on yogablaze.com after a couple not good experiences in a couple months. I submitted it to Yoga Journal with no response.

    I am getting my certification now. However, I have practiced yoga over 30 years and I have 30 yrs of public school teaching experience and a BS in Health/Physical Education. My experiences with teaching, students, ethics, professionality.. make me sometimes a very capably critical student. In a body of 60 plus years some poses do not look like those of my co-students- knee flexion has diminished. I got really called out a couple times by different teachers re not doing crescent pop up to single leg balance back and forth. No, it's not a pose one sees many places- it's a sequence which throws complete body weight back and forth over a moving knee joint and hurts aging knees. One time I left, bereft. The next time I fumed and talked back! If it ever happens again, I might shout! Hopefully not.

  32. Jay Fields says:

    Thank you, Tiffany for revealing your humanity and for writing on a topic that obviously needs to be talked about more in the yoga community!

    As a yoga teacher who actually enjoys encouraging students to do their own thing in class, I've learned a lot about my own triggers and insecurities over the years, as well as been fascinated by why students choose to modify (or not) and what they do when they do their own thing.

    You are so right–it's a fine line as a teacher to know when and how to best support a student's growth given all that we can't know about the complexities of our students' lives. It's a juicy issue with a lot one could say about it. In fact, I got so fired up by your article, that I wrote one inspired by it called "Are yogis more screwed up than the average person?" Check it out here: http://graceandgrityoga.com/are-yogis-more-screwe

    Again, thanks so much for starting the dialogue!

  33. […] Bruised, Battered & Scarred. ~ Tiffany Cruikshank […]

  34. […] continually practice like this takes discipline, dedication and not being attached to a ‘nice’ practice environment or even experience. When I return home in a week I’ll also have to practice in the bathroom while a new practice […]

  35. […] Yet, even our most seasoned teachers are subject to breakdowns. Explosions on our face, weight gain from stress, itchy skin, sleepless nights, lack of libido, fantasies of car accidents that would leave us unable to go in and teach one more damn class to a room full of bright eyed students… oy. […]

  36. Guest says:

    Too bad Tiffany doesn't practice what she preaches. I've practiced for two decades and have never seen a teacher of her level teach just to show off. Very disappointed and saddened by the author, not the content.

  37. Lelsie says:

    As a teacher, my greatest teachers are my students; As a student, my worstest teachers have actually been the best to learn from…… We are all on a spiritual journey, every difficult situation is an oppotunity to learn.

  38. […] our elephriend and occasional columnist Tiffany Cruikshank is on the cover. We’re waiting for our friends over at YJ to get us a bigger image, but […]

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