Hey, you guys, can we gossip for a second?
I’m pretty sure my super-famous yoga teacher hates me.
Living in Chicago, I have the extraordinary opportunity to study under some of the most renowned yoga teachers alive today as they travel through the Windy City leading workshops, trainings and retreats. We’re talking Yoga Journal cover models, authors of books and stars of DVD home workouts.
I don’t take this for granted. As a student and teacher of yoga, I truly believe we never stop learning. To be able to absorb knowledge from these leaders and innovators is truly an honor, and it is my hope that my continued training will deepen my own practice and help me to better serve my students.
All that is awesome.
But…why do I keep getting the feeling that, whenever I attend one of these workshops, the master teacher totally hates me?
The first time it happened, it was easy to chalk it up to a lack of connection with the teacher. It happens. We all have different styles and personalities, and sometimes human beings simply don’t mesh. No bigs.
Applauding myself for the maturity of this realization, however, did not take the sting out when, after I had made an undoubtedly hilarious comment about bursting into tears during a hip opener, the teacher looked at me through narrowed eyes and said icily, “You’re a funny girl. I’ll give you that.”
Now might be a good time to mention that I have a second career as an improvisational comedian. I am the local director of a nonprofit troupe that performs for children in hospitals. I have performed on stages all over this country, from Portland to Philadelphia.
I have invested nearly as much time and money in my improv training as I have in my yoga training. Being funny is kind of, like, my job, or whatever. So normally, when people tell me I’m funny, it’s more than a compliment—it’s a validation of the life I have chosen.
Except when this particular teacher said this to me, I got the distinct impression it wasn’t a compliment.
Even more painful was a recent incident that took place at the end of a weeklong training with a personal hero of mine. The practices were intense; the philosophy discussions were revelatory. I came home each day excited for what the next would bring, and anxious to introduce these new teachings into my own classes.
On the last day of the training, the trainees gathered around the teacher for hugs and photos. I listened to her offer the other trainees inspiring words of advice, applause for the steps they’d already taken, encouragement to venture down new paths.
When it got to be my turn, I received what can only be described as a polite hug and a curt “Good luck with everything you’re doing.”
“Why does she hate me??” I wailed to my husband that night. A week’s worth of inspiration and enlightenment had been crushed under the weight of a simple “Good luck with…whatever.” (“It’s because she knows how awesome you are and you don’t need all that other ego-stroking!” was my sweet husband’s kind response.)
If one super-famous yoga teacher hating me is a mildly unpleasant hiccup in life, two hating me is surely more than a coincidence. Clearly, some intense swadiyaya (self-study) is in order.
First order of business: Is it true? Do they hate me? And if so, why? If I am an inherently loathsome human being, that kind of seems like it would be bad for business, and definitely something worth investigating.
As I examine my behavior over the course of those two trainings, I realize what I already know: I do have a tendency to be a bit teacher’s-pettish. I’m totally that girl who shows up early to grab a spot in the front row. (Not that this seems to matter. For every Front Row Sally like myself, there are others who seem to prefer hugging the perimeters or burying themselves in the middle.)
While I am participatory and ask questions, I like to think I do so while remaining respectful of the teacher and my fellow students. But then, it’s hard to know if other people perceive your actions and intentions the exact same way that you do, so how do I know how my behavior comes across to others?
I can’t really know for sure whether or not these teachers dislike me as much as I think they do. But that brings me to the next question: Why do I care?
Obviously, we all want to be liked. Given the choice, I’d always rather not make an enemy. I’d always rather be friendly than unfriendly. I’d always rather not burn a bridge. But realizing that not everyone is going to want to be your best friend, and learning how to treat others respectfully in spite of that…well, that’s just being a grown-up.
Am I so insecure that I really need the approval of two people I barely know? So these two particular yoga teachers will not be coming to my birthday party. So what? I’m certain nobody besides me lost any sleep over these two incidents. If I can’t just let it go, that does nobody any harm but me.
We then get to the final issue: Does it even matter?
Yes, my ego may have taken a hit. But the fact is, I still wrung every dollar’s worth of training out of those workshops. I got exactly what I had hoped to get out of them, which was to bring new information and safe, fun, integrative sequences to my students.
I also left those trainings with a sense of validation. The longer I teach, the more confident and comfortable I become with my own training and knowledge, and the better able I am to recognize which pearls of wisdom from these great master teachers serve me, and which ones don’t. And that is one of the most gratifying realizations a yoga teacher can feel.
So I may have lost the popularity contest as a workshop attendee. But I still love to learn, and I love to teach. And when I show up to my classes day after day, week after week, seeing the same devoted crew of committed students on their mats, I am reminded that I can win a few people over when it really counts.
(Most of them, by the way, think my jokes are hilarious.)
Jenny Finkel began doing yoga as a scoliotic, asthmatic 12-year-old after reading an article about it in Seventeen magazine. Now that she is kind of an adult, she teaches yoga full-time. She completed her 200-hour training with YogaWorks, and followed that with a 50-hour specialized training in Therapeutic Yoga for Cancer at Duke Integrative Medicine. She recently relocated from New Orleans to Chicago, where she is pursuing her 500-hour certification from Moksha Yoga. Jenny would very much enjoy keeping in touch with you through her website, www.ChicagOmYoga.com, and her Facebook page.
Editor: Jayleigh Lewis