February 10, 2012

You Call that an Article? ~ David Regelin

When I read the headline of the New York Magazine article about me: “You Call That a Tree Pose?!”, my heart sank.

I immediately sensed that I had been used to promote the growing popular and reactionary trend of yoga skepticism. From start to finish, the tone of the article is sensationalist and off-putting. Practically every quotation had been skewed and taken out of context to fit the “tell all” theme of that week’s issue. The journalist and her editor decided to portray me as a “once rising star” who then became a bitter teacher who now admonishes students as a teaching tool. By the end of it, I was devastated. The article had taken a fragment of our two interview sessions, wherein I spoke of the transformational potential of a yoga practice, and turned it into a four page rant and complain session. I honestly found the writing to be thoughtless, lazy, and a provocatively tasteless ploy to sell magazines.

Dear reader, please, if you took the time to read the article, please do the same with this response and allow me to clarify and defend myself before you allow this false characterization of me to harden in your mind. I would like to address some of what was printed and described in what I feel was a skewed and unfair manner, as well as elaborate and give a positive context to what I actually offer as a Yoga teacher.

The article begins: “David Regelin draws his dark eyebrows together into an expression of concentrated disdain.” 

Oh Lord! While I do have thick dark eyebrows, and I certainly concentrate while I am teaching, I am not disdainful of my students, especially with the eight faithful students who showed up to my class on that rainy night over the recent holiday vacation period. “The eight students before him are obediently bent over in ankle to thigh (…I think she meant ankle to knee) …like a flock of Lululemon clad flamingos (?!), but the instructor does not like what he sees.” Altering the position of someone’s yoga posture does not mean that I do not “like” what I see. It is a formal adjustment and is not accompanied by a “like” or “dislike”—a correction is not a value judgment, it is purely objective. That I would say “A lot of you think you are good at yoga…but you should not be coming to class to perform” during an “ankle-to-knee” moment is an inaccurate and misleading quotation, as this particular seated pose is very difficult to show off with. In reality, I make my way around the room to help and adjust as many people as I can while describing the geometry, natural form, and function of the given pose. The “red-faced middle-aged man” that I am supposedly telling not to perform is a dear student whom I know well, and that guy is definitely not coming to class to perform for anyone, he gets red often because he works too hard, and he is in class because I give him personal attention whenever he shows up.

I do not admonish anyone who shows up to my class. I do, however, speak in a very direct and matter-of-fact way, and I do not think many people are used to that. Now and again I will crack a joke with a dry tone and say something like: “you should not be coming to class to get muscles like mine” which is usually followed up with the zinger “because that would be impossible”. I tell that joke every other class, and it is funny because it is too arrogant to be taken seriously. It is an attempt to offset the intrinsic confrontational moments in the practice. The “confrontation” I speak of, by the way, is between the student and themselves, not them and I. If I say something to the effect of “If you want to show off all your best moves, then this class is not for you”, it is followed by “because in this class you have the opportunity to inform yourself, and find the missing pieces of your practice that have you puzzled”.

These days I place the emphasis of my teaching on technique and form because my goal, as a teacher, is to give people the tools to develop their own skillful personal practice. This has everything to do with the influence of a teacher named Nevine Michaan that I discovered five years ago. Students do not know what they do not know. I want my students to become skillful: skill defined not only as physical ability, but the mental capacity to make distinctions. I do think that it is all too commonplace and easy for Vinyasa teachers to offer a fleeting sweaty workout experience with a fun music playlist, and it often seems as though some of the fullest classes have the least substance. “Come to my Yoga party” attracts more party people than “learn the skills to develop a Yoga discipline” attracts students. Yoga is in its disco era, and it is a little frustrating when you are trying to teach to people who actually showed up to boogie down.

I am, to anyone who knows me personally, an introspective person with a deep yearning for spiritual insight, and this was so long before I discovered Yoga. The student base I was attracting with the Multi-Intenso Yoga brand was primarily fitness-oriented, and while it is not necessarily non-spiritual to strive to be fit, I was disappointed because my message was buried under the intensity of the class format. I was also consistently injured from my own overzealous and uninformed practice habits, and I did not want to pass that on to my students.  When I found Nevine, I was like a wounded soldier of Yoga. I pushed myself and injured myself so consistently that I had begun to wonder if yoga was actually beneficial and transformational, or if it was just an awesome sport. When I began to apply Nevine’s method of centering to my own practice, all of that changed. I could not keep it to myself, I could not go on teaching as I had before, I am so much more capable now than I ever was and I used to work so much harder at it. Good form functions. Teachers who get injured from their practice and do not reevaluate how and what they teach lacks integrity—plain and simple. Teachers who toss around cliches like “if you practice with the right intention, you will not get hurt” are being foolish. Do not get in a car with them at the wheel. Nobody intends to crash, you have to watch where you are headed, adjust your mirrors, and maintain your vehicle.

I changed the name of my class to “Vesica Practice” as an attempt to appeal to those who were searching for something mystical, revelatory, and reformative in their Yoga practice. I was showing up to teach, turning off (or down) the music, and asking people to examine the pattern and relationship between the content of their consciousness and that of their own posture, rather than simply going through the motions and competing with one another. Many of my Kula students from a certain era were primarily conditioned to work hard and sweat. I was beginning to incorporate Nevine Michaan’s method. I had to introduce a new set of terms that were unfamiliar to students as they were not derivative of the Anusara or Iyengar methods. As a result, the pace slowed a bit, there was less sweating and more thinking and observing, and some people felt deprived of their workout fix. Many of my students drifted into classes that were derivative of “Multi-Intenso”, others praised my evolution and brought students to class who had been scared off by the name or idea of M.I. The dialog with students after class went from “can I have your playlist” to “can you show me that adjustment again?”.

The transformational process of Yoga can sometimes be confrontational, and most people would rather not confront themselves. Finding one’s center is an actual process which at first reveals how off-center one actually is to begin with. It is revelatory and not everyone wants to be revealed. We are all conditioned to practicing and living with our own particular disposition and the process of centering can be unsettling. “Yoga is not about performing, it is about informing”—this classic Nevine Michaan quotation is the underpinning of what I now teach. The information from the body’s language speaks of none other than our own thoughts, feelings, and overall state of being. In that way, the physical postures have much more value than the endorphin response they elicit. I describe geometry as a blueprint for dynamic movement, and as an impersonal and objective way of revealing very personal aspects of ourselves that we might otherwise overlook if we guided ourselves by feelings alone.

I have definitely taught classes where, in hindsight, my vibe was too serious, or where I perhaps addressed one individual to the point where they might have felt picked on. I am still evolving and developing my tact. I also encourage and praise people directly or as a group when they apply themselves or have a breakthrough in their practice, but I am not in the business of handing out gold stars. I want to be clear that I do not use fear tactics or intimidation to motivate or scare anyone into doing as I say, as the article implies, nor do I have a problem with being a teacher and holding the space, or speaking directly with someone. I do not teach yoga postures for the sake of developing a flashy practice, as part of a dogmatic tradition, or stylistic allegiance. I teach form and pattern, so that people can develop a functional practice that enables good posture, perspective, insight and well-being. I am still working on it. 9 years of teaching is nothing in the grand scheme of things.

The article isn’t all bad, I have had many people tell me they loved it, but it does paint a harsh picture of me as a teacher and individual. I am a sensitive person, so I felt the need to respond. I know the author just wants to get people to read her work, and to sell the magazine she is paid to write for. I also know from speaking with her that she has a limited knowledge of yoga and she did not make any effort to speak with my long time students, describe the 2 hour private session Nevine gave her, explain in any substantial way the method which I took the time to explain to her, my honest intentions to inform people even if it means that they might not see the value of it for years to come, or the intentional silliness of my jokes.

Some teachers base their whole career on being a nice, and I am a nice guy, but when I teach, I teach. For the record, Kula is a wonderful studio and I still promote Schuyler Grant and her teachers. I have had discussions that turned into arguments with some teachers, and we are still friends after all. Yoga arguments happen all the time between people who are invested in the practice, I am critical of yoga trends because I care and teaching is not just a pastime for me. People should practice Yoga and should not underestimate its potential for good… and harm.

“The revolution will not be televised, the revolution will take place in your mind when you turn around and take a look at what you have not been shown”. ~ Gil Scott-Heron

David Regelin, a native New Yorker, has been practicing Yoga for twelve years. As a teacher, he wishes to make a contribution to the evolution of Yoga practice, and the revolution in the minds of its practitioners. Visit David’s website here. Facebook: David Regelin. 
Demonstration video here.

This article was prepared by Assistant Yoga Editor, Soumyajeet Chattaraj.

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