February 6, 2012

Yoga Scandals: What To Do If Your Teacher Is Human?

Just when you think you found your “Guru,” your Guru is “allegedly” the star of “Yogis Behaving Badly,” the latest video or rumor to go viral on the internet. It’s hard to know who to trust around here.

In case you’ve been busy, there is another yoga scandal brewing and my lawyer tells me that I need to use a lot of words like allegedly and purportedly while I don’t name any names to talk about something you may not even know about. That ought to keep me safe and you informed.

I suppose we can all lose it from time to time.

Choosing your yoga teacher has always been one part faith and two parts intuition. Of the thousands of teachers in the world today, how do you ever know when you have found the one, or even one of the ones? And more importantly, what do you do if your teacher turns out to be human?

 A few signs that you and your teacher may need to part ways

  •  If a teacher tells you, “I am the ‘Guru,’ my way is the only way,” run as fast as you can.  All paths lead to awareness.  The best yoga is always the one you do.
  • If your teacher ignores you.  If you fall and are knocked unconscious, and the teacher asks if you could please move outside because your unconsciousness is creating a distraction, you have a problem (this really happened to me).
  • If you feel put down. I had a teacher who told me that I held my hands wrong (fingers not spread apart enough), I bent over wrong (arms not straight enough), and I breathed wrong (WTF, bitch, I KNOW how to breathe,  I’m 50 years old and I’m still here.).
  • If your teacher touches you in any way you feel is weird.  If you think it’s weird, it probably is weird.
  • If your values do not align. I had a teacher who once told me that I could not be a yogi because I had children.  She suggested that I wait until they go to college. Right? Show me a mom who does not need yoga!
  • Then of course, there may be some rumors about things lawyers would advise me not to get too specific about. Personally, I can let sexual deviance go as I abide strictly by the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell rule.’

 What to do if your teacher goes off the rails?

I learned these lessons about choosing your teacher the hard way: on my mat. My very first yoga teacher passed out in class.  One minute she was telling us to inhale and exhale, and the next she was slumped over on the wall.  Apparently, she was drunk at 10:00 a.m. The realization that I may need a new Guru led me to become a yoga teacher (one who hopefully, will be drunk only at night and not during class).

Then there is always the chance that your yoga teacher is simply human and made a mistake. I have seen several make a few mistakes in public mostly on YouTube. I have a personal motto which is never post a picture on the internet until you see it the next day, especially if you are doing a naked handstand. It is really hard to be perfect all the time, and things don’t look the same upside down.

We tend to put our teachers on a pedestal, and when we discover they are humans who become preoccupied with sex or money or fame, it can be pretty awful. It happened to Dahn Yoga, Rodney Yee, Bikram Choudhury and now allegedly another yogi who will remain unnamed and innocent unless someday proven not so innocent and possibly a wiccan.

Whenever I am utterly dismayed by someone’s behavior, especially someone I love or who I trust, I try to remember:

 Everyone does the best they can at the time. Everyone. Always.

So when someone is acting temporarily insane, I hold the space for the possibility that they may have a brain tumor, or be in menopause, or drank too much Kombucha, or have some other weird chemical imbalance causing their actions. This creates compassion, and helps me to forgive what might otherwise seem like a betrayal. By the way, this also helps with all those relationships that didn’t work out for us.

Whatever you decide about your teacher in the future, always know this:

Remember the teachings, if not the teacher.

No matter where I go on my yoga path, I honor and value the wisdom I gained from every single teacher I have studied with, even those I may no longer follow. Yoga has been a miracle for me in my life, and I value all of my teachers.

That is, except for the one who told me I shouldn’t practice yoga because I have children. She can put her head where the sun doesn’t shine, and I know she has the flexibility to do it.

Photo credit: Anna Sheinman

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