Yoga itself is perfect, but the people who teach yoga are not.
As a former yoga instructor and passionate yoga practitioner, I will happily engage you in a discussion on the benefits: mental, health and spiritual of all things yoga.
Mainly what comes to mind when I think about teaching yoga are the studio owners trying to prove their spiritual superiority by setting themselves up as judge and keeper; the charismatic male yoga instructors trying to “connect” with as many female students as are willing; the ass kissing; the fake people; the lack of individualism; the emotionally immature teachers settings themselves up as counselors…the list goes on.
Still, I refuse to be disappointed with the practice of yoga itself.
I personally experienced: love, intimacy, freedom and immense beauty in my personal practice of both the asanas and through meditation. There are fabulous, genuine teachers who are shining lights for the industry and live their lives like they teach.
It’s just that, I would rather be practicing yoga in a room full of journalists or writers than with a group of hemp-wearing beaded yogis.
Yes I like red lipstick and deodorant, beautiful things and clean clothes that aren’t necessarily fair trade. I wear leather boots in winter cause it rains a lot where I live and I hate wet socks. I wear perfume and I blow dry my hair. I am vegetarian because I was brought up that way by my formerly hippie mother, and I don’t like the taste of meat but my eyes instantly glaze over if anyone tries to engage me in a conversation about active vegetarianism. I would happily pay a gardener to build me a veggie patch and to maintain it but I don’t want to do it myself. I love painting, red wine and pasta—lots of pasta.
Yoga itself is perfect but the people who teach yoga are not.
Yoga teachers can even be the worst kind of people: unkind, selfish, dishonest and even ego driven.
Yoga is a competitive industry and the competition is fierce. To continue to work successfully in the yoga field, you need to: not only have the knowledge of your profession, asanas, instruction and contraindications (in medicine, a factor that serves as a reason to withhold certain medical treatment); but also have the charisma of an actor: be seen to be in charge of not only your life but of your emotions, spiritual progression and be constantly manifesting good experiences.
Teachers gain followings in the yoga community, giving these teachers a misplaced sense of self importance. Yoga teachers are selling a lifestyle choice, and the most charismatic teachers offer no room for self doubt, especially not of their teachings.
Charisma often comes hand in hand with a mild dose of megalomania as studio owners set themselves up, not only as business people in the field of self-enlightenment and inner peace, but also as role models of their teachers in all areas of their lives, whether the working teacher sees the studio owner in that light or not.
There is no room to have any experiences that don’t appear to elicit admiration from students or of course, studio owners. Yoga is, after all, a multimillion dollar business and clients have expectations.
Teaching a yoga class is a relaxing stress free experience bringing peace not only to the students, but also to the teacher: while working a five-hour day is also a major bonus and teachers compete daily for the opportunity to continue this lifestyle choice.
I have seen teachers fight over classes and time slots. Studio owners publicly denigrating teachers for not filling water jugs or completing service required of that particular studio. Studio owners not paying teachers who offered their time to build classes (and then having to leave due to family concerns) or simply not paying teachers on time.
Other studio owners have set up businesses with no idea of what they were doing, using the ideas of teachers working for them (and then live off of the benefits with no acknowledgement offered for help given). I’ve seen studio owners use the social status of unproven teachers coming in from various professions that carry more weight with wealthier clients, and not reward the hard work of teachers who don’t have the same contacts, finances or lifestyle evident.
“I have experienced the least support, the worst rejection, the most judgement, the least love, the most misunderstanding and met the most followers and the least unique individuals imaginable in the yoga community.”
Yoga is a business run by imperfect people.
However, the practice of yoga is perfect. By perfect, I mean it can offer all the loving support, generosity, understanding and kindness that a broken heart needs to find peace.
As you go deeper with your practice, the journey can also be profoundly uncomfortable; while bringing with its experience the most exquisite ecstasy. It can reveal what is hidden, what is beautiful and what is ugly. It can give truth and dissolve illusions. As you are split open and revealed there is no hiding from who you really are or your most hidden desires.
Riding the wave of shakti (divine female energy) is the beauty and terror of the open sea. Face it with the courage of an adventurer and you will see a vast expanse with unimaginable and beautiful depths.
“Yoga offers the opportunity to become comfortable with the sacred and the profane and if you accept both with an open vulnerability, you are emptied out and filled up with the sweetest subtlety; a gentle vibration of joy”
Non-attachment is a difficult concept to put in place, but it should start the moment you step on the mat and begin with maintaining healthy boundaries toward your teacher. The instruction they give you is the truest teacher, your breath and asana is your guide. Not the imperfect human being whose words carry the weight of their own expectations, judgements, disappointments and the burden of their own misguided illusions.
I have seen many a sensitive souls project all their experiences of new found joy, inner freedom and even a discovered sensuality and comfortableness with their own bodies onto the teachings of womanizing, selfish, yoga teachers and be ultimately, bitterly disappointed.
A good teacher is simply offering up a thousand years of accumulated learning, an art passed down through many masters. Dedicated teachers who also journeyed down the path of vulnerability, pain and ultimately, joy. Separate the teacher from the experience.
I believe that by opening your senses and your mind to the practice of yoga, you can ultimately open a gateway to your own heart and to your deepest self. Expect perfection in the experience of practicing yoga, not in the yoga community, and you will not be disappointed.
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Assistant Ed: Meagan Edmondson / Ed: Cat Beekmans