New Teacher on the Block: Proving Myself, Again. ~ Maya Georg

Via on Feb 13, 2013

Smiley Maya

It’s never easy to start again as a yoga teacher in a new town. But does it need to be that way?

I just moved to Portland, Oregon from Albuquerque, New Mexico. I came to Portland to live in an ashram and study with a meditation master. This is not my first move as a full-time yoga teacher and I realize that every move means starting over again, regardless of experience.

The part I can’t get used to is that too often, a stranger in a yoga community is not welcomed.

I began teaching in Washington, D.C. in 2003. I was fresh faced and eager to prove myself as capable and intelligent, but I was still a new teacher. Many classes were inspired. Just as many were train wrecks. I kept trying to hone my skills and be a better teacher.

I took every teaching gig I could get, and ended up teaching 27 yoga classes per week. Prenatal, chair yoga, corporate classes, yoga for cyclists and runners; I taught to learn more. The teacher training I had graduated from asked me to stay on, and conduct the training. I was honored, but not ready. I remember long nights of preparing for lecture classes, and returning intelligent questions from students with blank stares, but I kept going. I studied the Hatha Yoga texts, took workshops from teachers, and traveled to meet gurus and masters.

After two years of teaching in DC, I yearned for my hometown of New York City so I moved back. I was still new to teaching yoga, so I had no problem paying my dues. I studied with Swami Bua and Dharma Mittra.

So, I began spending more time at Dharma Mittra’s center. Seva (service) that began as sweeping the floors after class, quickly became 12 hour days of working the front desk, teaching classes, cleaning bathrooms, running errands, and performing all night inventories of the shop. I was never paid for my work. But, I earned the ability to substitute classes for Dharma Mittra himself. And more work came my way, but not enough.

Another two years passed. Working 12 hour days without pay left me homeless. I couch surfed, spent a few nights on the subway. I went from having a house full of possessions to nothing but what I could fit into a suitcase. To this day, I still don’t like having too many things since I worry about having to carry them around.

I’d like to state that my time at Dharma’s center was my choice. I was not forced to continue working without pay. I learned very much through Dharma Mittra. And I was lucky enough to meet Swami Jnanande, who continues to tutor me in a variety of subjects, and was responsible for bringing me to Yogi Gupta, my first Guru (yes, I said Guru!).

But I was still homeless. And being homeless sucks. I had family in New Mexico. So I retreated to Albuquerque to finish my undergraduate degree and mostly, to lick my wounds.

AlbuquerqueCE_-_LogoPic1.33100411_stdAlbuquerque is a harsh town. The sun is ever shining, but cruel. The spring winds howl through the city, carrying dust and debris. The winters are cold and it is always dry. I had never had a man randomly grab or fondle me on the street before I lived in Albuquerque. It is a town of extremes. And as ugly as it could be, it could be just as beautiful; as uncivilized as some of the inhabitants behaved; others were shining examples of kindness and generosity.

Looking for work as a teacher was challenging. I sent out emails of introduction with my resume attached to all the studios in town (there weren’t that many in 2006). I received no responses. I took classes at studios, trying to get to know the teachers.

I took a class at one studio where the senior teacher chastised me for doing all the poses wrong and never told me how to do them right. I took classes at another studio where the teacher nearly dislocated my shoulder in a botched down dog adjustment. After class she told me my practice was distracting the other students. I was one of two students in that class.

So, I withdrew. I took a class at the University of New Mexico taught by Maggie Siebert. (She’s amazing, and if you’re in Albuquerque—take her class!) We talked. We began practicing together. We started inviting more people to join us. And when she heard of a teaching position opening at the university, she recommended me for it (and I got it).

At around the same time an old hippie, looking like Mr. Natural from Zappo’s Comics, approached me. Did I teach yoga? He had a space. And so, Sani Yoga was born from nothing more than a dream. We had no initial capital, no budget for props and no money for advertising. It struggled for the first two years and six years later, we’d graduated three groups of teacher trainees, taught thousands of students, and were still charging only $5 per class.

Why did I leave New Mexico? I’m wondering that now… I had corporate clients, government contracts, my own studio, and a position as an adjunct lecturer at the biggest university in town. I taught between 15-25 yoga classes per week. Sometimes seven days a week. I loved welcoming new people and expanding our community. My practice had become the improvement and growth of students and our community. But I also realized this left no more room in my life for a personal practice.

A friend had a guru who sounded like magic. I was skeptical. I had my own teachers and gurus, but they all died shortly after I moved to New Mexico. Not having any teachers of my own left me directionless. Working constantly left me with no time for a practice so I asked my friend if her teacher would come visit and he did. And my life exploded the way it only can only when you meet a guru—he invited me to his ashram to study.  I could not pass up the opportunity so I visited and decided to move there.

Courtesy Portland Convention and Visitors Bureau
Courtesy Portland Convention and Visitors Bureau

Portland is lush, moist, fertile and green. Even the tree trunks are inviting, covered in velvet moss. I spent one whole day running around a public park petting and fondling trees. The sun, when present, is joyful. When the sun is absent, the greens and yellows of the ever-present foliage are brighter. The environment is the antithesis of Albuquerque.

Now in Portland all of my previous yoga experience is irrelevant. No one cares if your resume includes public schools, universities, Cirque du Soleil and the Department of Defense. It doesn’t matter if you’ve run yoga studios for yourself or others. Yoga teachers I’ve met casually have told me, “Go to classes and get yourself noticed!” Pardon my sarcasm, but…no shit!

I’m also aware that the ashram I’m living in will first hire its own teacher trainees before considering me. It is difficult to be in a field where experience is often trumped by youth. Students will try teachers that are young and thin first, thinking “if I do her practice I’ll look that, too!” The only way you can look like a 22-year-old (again) is with a time machine or a very skilled plastic surgeon. I’ve seen teachers with eating disorders, drinking vinegar to combat hunger pangs, who still have packed classes. It didn’t matter that the teacher in question stayed on her own mat throughout the entire class, and didn’t give a single clear direction—she looked the part and that was enough

Unfortunately, the business of yoga has become one of competition, not collaboration and glamor over substance. The studio owners want to be the most senior teacher, the most skilled and knowledgeable. A student with an advanced practice is a threat. A teacher with an advanced practice is seen as “ego driven.” I see teachers obsessing over alignment principles and I wonder if it’s an attempt to stall students’ progress…keep the student in their head and focused on perfection, rather than on growth and advancement.

The reality is that studios and teachers need to be more welcoming and receptive to other teachers. Yoga studios were never meant to be cliques of aging sorority girls.

It also not in the best interest of a yoga studio to hire their trainees when there are more experienced teachers looking to teach full-time. A newly graduated teacher trainee, regardless of how well trained, rarely has the necessary wisdom to teach an interesting or safe class. The result of this is that newcomers to yoga end up thinking mediocrity is the norm, and seasoned practitioners find another business to support. Of course, I’m all for allowing new teachers to lead ‘community classes’ that are donation based. This gives them experience, lets students know the teacher is new, gives people a chance to support new teachers, and provides affordable classes back to the community.

It is our responsibility as teachers to raise the bar and improve ourselves by never ceasing to be students.

We should support one another by taking each other’s classes, and offering feedback that is positive and nurturing. If we attended more classes, showed up for workshops, put our egos aside and became receptive to growth, all our classes would be full since abundance is contagious. There would be enough work and revenue to support us all and even more people would be benefiting from the practice. And we would also welcome strangers and their perspectives, without the need to know the pain of being a stranger.

If you want open hearts, you first have to open your doors.

Welcoming new teachers (and students) into a studio is common sense. It’s a form of networking, learning, and growing. Imagine a world where cross-promoting across studios and cities was the norm. Imagine how many new students we could bring to the practice! Workshops would be accessible and allow us to travel freely to new places and share. Our student base would be more diverse as we recommend one another’s classes more often. By helping other teachers, we help ourselves be better teachers and yogis. So, how about it?

 

MMaya Georgaya Georg is much loved for inviting and challenging students to learn more advanced asanas in a safe and playful way, breaking them down to make them more accessible to a wider group of students.   As someone who could not even touch her toes when she started into yoga in 1999, she is living proof in the transformative power of the practice. She studied with Dharma Mittra, Swami Bua, Yogia Gupta and Swami Chetanananda. Having founded Sani Yoga in Albuquerque, New Mexico in 2009, (where she also served as an adjunct professor at the University of New Mexico) she taught hundreds of students in yoga as well as conducting her own yoga teacher trainings which left a lasting legacy of highly skilled and authentic teachers. She has taught in New York City, sometimes substituting Shri Dharma Mittra’s classes. She’s worked with students as young as 4 years old to 95 years old, performers of Cirque du Soleil and expectant mothers. The settings in which she has taught is just as varied as her student base, teaching in NYC public schools, yoga studios, universities, gyms and the conference rooms in office buildings. Now in Portland, OR, she continues to teach private lessons and workshops all over the United States and Europe.

 

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Ed: Brianna Bemel

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31 Responses to “New Teacher on the Block: Proving Myself, Again. ~ Maya Georg”

  1. Dave says:

    Thank you so much for this article Georg! The message is so needed in the yoga world right now. If we want yoga to flourish, we need to reward knowledge and experience.

    It was almost two years ago that I nervously introduced myself at her studio and asked if I could teach there. She didn't say yes, but we kept in touch. She somehow manages to be one of the deepest yogis I know without a hint of pretension. After some time, she told me there was an opening to teach. She has always managed to simultaneously nuture as well as challenge. Sad that she has left us, but I'm so excited about the new possibilities in her life. It's not always easy, but I know she's up for it.

  2. Candice Garrett Candice says:

    I really liked this article, your experiences and how you share them. I especially loved your insight into the cracked mindset of some yogis as far as the studio owner, the eating disorders, and AGING SORORITY GIRLS! Though I really think you misunderstand alignment and its usage. Each yoga "method" has a different tool for conquering the monkey mind. Some use the breath, others use mudras, or mantras, or alignment. Gives the mind something to focus on.

    • fran weller says:

      you do not understand what she is talking about!

    • gastrophase says:

      I agree. It's an excellent article with many pertinent points, but the diss of alignment was completely unnecessary and made me go huh about the author's integrity. Some people's practice is about earning advanced poses, others progress by finding best expressions or embodiments of poses they know through alignment.

      • Tony in Berkely says:

        I think what she was getting at were those who seem obseesed with alignment to the exlusion of everything else.

        • gastrophase says:

          Yeah but you can just as easily find the ones obsessed with asana collection to the exclusion of everything else. It's not like you can blame just one approach so strongly. A false note in an otherwise very thoughtful article.

    • Maya Georg says:

      Hi Folks! I'm so excited to see such dialogue! When I 'dissed' alignment I was 'dissing' the discouraging environment created by some teachers. I've seen classes where teachers spent 20 minutes in a 60 minute class talking about the alignment of the center toe in relation to the ankle in tadasana. I felt like my time, and money, was wasted.
      I've also seen teachers tell students they had to perform an asana perfectly or not at all. How discouraging to a student that is eager to learn and work! What harm could come from doing your best, even if it is not perfect? I'm still working on poses, and i may never do them 'right' by certain alignment standards, but I'll never stop trying to improve myself!

      • Candice Garrett Candice says:

        20 minutes on the big toe alone? I probably would have loved that! It's all a matter of perspective and interest. Some students like one thing, others another. Unfortunately the "perfect" pose is an allusion that is so distorted. There is no such thing. As one of my teachers says, Iyengar yoga is also the yoga that invented props, because it's pretty much expected that no one can do it perfectly.

  3. Noé says:

    This positive message is especially potent in my mind as I am finishing a teacher training and heavily considering how to engage in and support a yoga society motivated by abundance rather than scarcity

  4. Cristy says:

    Amen sista!

  5. just WOW!!! I admire your courage and your pluck…I for one am just taking a step back from all of it…go on with your rockstar self :)

  6. FRAN WELLER says:

    OMG! THIS ARTICLE SPEAKS THE TRUTH! I HAVE EXPERIENCED SO MANY OF THE THINGS IN THIS ARTICLE IN MY OVER 10 YEARS OF DOING BIKRAM YOGA!

  7. Becca says:

    Georg, I think I took classes with you in 2010 at UNM, and I have been practicing ever since. I just have never had the type of class that made me so much better and helped me to do what you did for me. I am so grateful to you for inspiring me to be who I am today. I always mention you when I speak of my past yoga experiences. You give every other teacher so much to live up to. You are beautiful.

  8. Lucas says:

    Maya. Your writing is very enlightening. I had no idea that these things existed in the yoga community. It seems like it is a universal fact that every type of community will have those people which seem to try and push the interested away. After reading this, I am grateful that my first experience was at Sani Yoga. More than that, I am grateful that you were my first instructor. I believe it has provided me with a fertile beginning.

    I wish you all the best in Portland. Remember why you started yoga and I think everything will be clear.

  9. Colin says:

    Studios rarely cross promote. Too often do I see this http://yogayork.com/index.html where someone has bought the domain for their town, and then use it to promote themselves. It's so (in my mind) egotistical that they think they are the yoga of that town. I know why they do it – Google Search – but they mess it up for everyone. There should be core sites for each town that promote each and every single teacher in that town, all helping each other out. Maybe one day :D

  10. Michael says:

    Sad, but true. For me, the words business and Yoga should not be in the same sentence, but they are and that's that. I teach at a donation studio. All classes are donation; operating on Karma. In my school we heavily studied the Bhagavad Gita and the Sutras. In learning and practicing the Limbs, it breaks my heart, even while teaching asana, that America has so much focus on physicality. You can get your legs over your head and pull off a one-handed-hand stand and still be an asshole. I too am familiar with long periods of devotion and seva and must say, as a teacher, those experiences have been what has changed me the most; especially what Yoga and the practice of it is for me. As far as differences in methods and style goes, yoga manifests itself in different ways for each individual. For me, understanding and compassionately practicing that understanding IS Yoga. Thank you for your input on the business world of Yoga.

  11. Sati Rose says:

    Brilliant. Thanks for sharing all of what we are all always thinking, but can never put into words. For me, stability as a teacher came ONLY when I stopped traveling, then I was able to root into it without the ups and downs. Stay wherever you are and keep going and you will be supported by the Universe. Yogi Bhajan had no students for 10 years in LA and refused to leave! Now look what he's created. Bless

  12. MizzyB says:

    I love to see teachers taking other teacher's classes. Even if it is not part of their normal sustained practice. It is really lovely just to see them out there supporting the yoga community.

  13. erica says:

    I LOVED what you had to say about the hyper like super duper focus on alignemntt!!! That is one true statement-constantly creates an environment of "seeking" bravo!

  14. Jenna says:

    It's the exact same story in Toronto. I decided to step out of teaching – starting in '03 – as I could no longer stomach the studio koolade. Each time i left to learn, id find my position lost regardless of my excellent track record. I maintain a home practice and miss the days when I could take a class with a teacher that nourished my experience. It's gotten super obnoxious overall.

    Thanks for sharing this – I hear you Maya!

  15. jjj says:

    Thanks for the article. This commentary has made me see that it is not just my local yoga scene that has this trend – new yoga teacher stranger anxiety. The young ones are being plucked as the new and progressive teachers. These young ones so don't need to understand the householder mentality – just do any pose in any order because I can! LOOK AT ME. I am doing a one arm handstand and basically will beat your yoga ass! I have come across this new wave far too much and am coming into acceptance of the way it is – those who don't think about yoga all the time and teach, just take a class after work or after a run don't care about mediocrity or frankly don't know what that means. They want to sweat and be as challenged as possible or they will go away. Studios need loyalty, membership in order to stay afloat and won't stay if they are not given something different when they pay for a class. I teach at a studio that may or may not like my style. It's different – lots of students come back but it is different than all of the other teachers. It leaves me feeling lesser than or too old or something that places a negative connection to teaching yoga. A constant "WHY AM I DOING THIS?' pops into my head a lot and I constantly answer because I want to share what I embody with others and maybe they can embody it too. This is evolution. This is your town and mine and it is worth talking about because the experienced yoga teacher is soon a dying breed, one who only wants to be on retreats and on podcasts and the general public is just not good enough. The more experience a teacher has, the more there is to offer – period. My hope is that studio owners stop making this about about young, cute and socially media minded you are because that means community and more people in their studio. It doesn't – it is the quality of the teaching, the slow burn, the progression that is taught through years of living life and practicing over and over again. I want to help this change – my community is so far gone that I have to hide the fact that I have kids and gray hair (well some gray hair). Studio owners, stop being so yogi racist, OK. We come in all shapes, ages, colors and sizes. Trust that diversity and experience wins – or close your damn studio because you are doing this for the wrong reasons. thanks for that.

  16. Trix says:

    I stepped out and away from teaching at yoga studios and now teach primarily at my local Y. I have wonderfully diverse classes that challenge me as a teacher and continuously remind me of why I chose to teach yoga. Much of what you write about is, sadly, the truth. Sometimes I feel like an outsider (by my own doing) but I'd rather be that and stay true to what I believe than stay entrenched in the drama and egos of many of the local studios.

  17. Leia says:

    There are so many hearts filled with love for you in New Mexico. They are lucky to have you in Portland. You will be an amazing influence for so many others wherever you go. We all miss you very much Georg. You will be a part of my practice always. Thank you.

  18. CLay says:

    Enjoyed your article, although it's a little disheartening to think I won't be able to find jobs if I move. I'm confused why you think a focus on alignment is equated with hindering student progress, though- isn't it important to help students understand proper alignment in order to help them move with more empowerment & experience increased energetic flow in the body? I feel like it really will help students feel better, access more meditation within the asanas.

  19. Bill says:

    George
    i heard you left. And yes George, i use Novas computer sometimes.
    i only took a few of the classes, i have physical problems that hinder me. i think i know that old hippie you talk about. But you did not say much about him. He is around the studio, in the background. He taught me tai chi. Taught me how to help people.
    He confided in me, lectured me, as he worked tirelessly day and night to give us all a space to grow. i learned how to stop drinking through him and you. That old hippie in the background was the real teacher, a genuine Master. I had not noticed till I left. I'm doing grate. I think he misses you. I do. We all do. Bill

    • Maya Georg says:

      Bill- I love that 'old hippy' and I miss him and the studio more than anyone can know! He taught us both a lot. And gave us both a lot. I'm glad you are doing well.

      There was, and still is, a lot of love in that space. And it came from all the good people there. You were definitely one of them.

  20. Joe Sparks says:

    Excellent article! In my perspective what you are experiencing is the chronic patterns of Classism creep into the yoga world. The culture we all grew up in is oppressive, and we carry those patterns into every thing we do, unless we get a chance to heal from them. We are so throughly conditioned and brain washed by the oppressive society. It is not surprizing we act out these patterns at each other in yoga and nothing changes no matter how long you have been practicing. Lot of patterns are a fearful need for approval and pats-on-the-head from the "powers that be," my yoga studio is better than your yoga studio, strong feelings that one must fit into, be approved by, and support this as the only way to practice. Most of us are trying to function on top of this stuff, it will shift when we can examine and sort out the components of classism and become skilled at eliminating the patterns involved, we will be left with only our strengths. You have great ideas and figured out alot. Keep thinking!

  21. Laurie Jordan Laurie says:

    Thank you. You said everything I have been feeling for years. Thank you. I am so glad I am not alone!

  22. Jen says:

    Great article! Thank you for speaking the truth so well. I recently moved from another state and this is how it is in the mountain land where I live. I have been practicing yoga since the mid-nineties and teaching over 13. I have been trained by a master and have a good understanding of the science of yoga and proper sequencing. I owned a studio for 8 years prior to moving. The studios in my new area are only welcoming as a student. When I mention that I am a teacher and who I have studied with, they become threatened by me. I keep going to a lot of classes and spending money I don't have to connect with the new yoga community. There are many teachers that are not offering a sequence that scientifically heal and strengthen my body and bring bliss to my mind. There was one studio, after sending my resume by their request, told me they "only hire within their community." I was disappointed, because I just moved here and I had been going to their classes. I find many yoga teachers have paranoia issues with the business of yoga. And that is completely the opposite a practitioner of yoga should have. These type of studios should promote their "business" as "we accept students of all levels into our community, unless you are an experienced yoga teacher that is new in town."

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