July 6, 2012

Power & Strength Given to Yoga Teachers. ~ Cathy Geier

Photo credit: Luke Hayfield

We all respect power.

We use it.

We respect strength.

We practice yoga, exercise and lift weights to maintain and develop strength.

We respect our yoga teachers. In attending their yoga classes we give them some power over us for a class period, one class at a time.

We develop our power and strength in the class through physical exercises.

When we pay for a class or sign a contract with a yoga studio we engage in an agreement which implies that in entering the yoga classes we will be good class citizens; ergo give respect and thus, power to the teacher.

And that the teacher will be respectful in his/her actions.

I have some question about this.

I am all for teacher respect, having been a public school teacher for over 20 years.

As a yoga student I become confused, frustrated and hurt when I feel a teacher has used his/her power unfairly or hurtfully.

Think about it please.

We enter class generally subdued, preparing for a journey—partly physical, partly spiritual, sometimes just a good workout.

In class only the teacher speaks. We follow. We copy movement or respond to directions for movement. We may join in a chant if requested, but the teacher is the accepted, unchallenged speaker and leader.

I am fine with this generally. I have attended thousands of yoga classes—this is routine, nothing to question or out of the ordinary.

I am not fine when a teacher is hurtful with comments to a student or to the entire class.

I am not fine with comments which exhort students to go beyond their level of flexibility or to push until they are almost passing out.

I am not fine with this relationship when a teacher’s words and theme choice become didactic, dictatorial or so filled with spiritual growth lessons that alignment, cues to breathe, rest, modify and flow with intention become lost or are simply not given.

I am not fine when a yoga teacher uses his/her power and or strength to adjust my or another’s body with potentially hurtful force.

I and most students enter a yoga class with respect and the expectation that physical safety as well as emotional safety will be honored and maintained.

If and when this is broken—a teacher calls someone out—I am shocked, startled. Trust is broken.

I do not know what my best reaction/response is or should be.

If a teacher yells at an entire class in a derogatory or unfair way, I am unsure what to do. If the teacher has singled me out I do not wish to remain in a room where I feel humiliated.

I know that it is considered discourteous to leave a yoga class without an instructor’s permission and/or knowledge. However, if it is the instructor who has “called me out” I am posed with a dilemma.

To me, tenants of courtesy since broken do not now apply.

Certainly I am not going to cause a scene, but I wish to simply leave; to assert my own power—that of responding to the need for distance from an emotionally unsafe situation.

Who has what power?

I allow power of another to affect my feelings. I usually am in charge of my feelings.

I choose to be open, surrendering in a yoga class.

I choose to be “soft”, but I choose to not be broken. I have to choose to not give my power away. I choose to be open, soft, vulnerable, willing to listen and learn—every day.

I choose to not retort openly in a conflictive manner in a yoga class. I get to choose to develop my personal strength to hold “at bay” so-to-speak, comments made by yoga teachers or anyone which feel hurtful or unfair.

The yoga teacher has the power and respect from the class on entrance but we have our unique personal power to share and give respect to the teacher, our classmates and ultimately and deeply to ourselves.

I still ponder this due to a confusing and hurtful experience which stands out a bit in my yoga dive-in the last three years which evoked this article.

I had time to process as well as talk it over with a few teachers and students. All have had different points of view ranging from, “never go back” to “breathe, be thankful that you have enough money to pay to go to a yoga class” or “ that may be a lesson to you about how to be a teacher” to ideas for action.

To really grow and to gain from experiences one may reflect on his/her own actions and needs.

I feel a basic human need for safety.

I prefer that I will not be startled with cross or insulting words in a yoga class. To me, a yoga class is like church; I feel and seek a divine, non-judgmental, loving presence as well as my physical development.

Although this article could end here, I feel it is important to continue with a reach to my own power.

While these are my thoughts and plans, if others are spurred to different courses of action I hope that we all move in peaceful ways to hold and support emotional and physical safety in classes whether we are students or teachers.

Steps to Increase One’s Power to Speak up with Effectiveness

1.) Know who you are and what your concerns are which you wish to voice or to bring up. Know what lens your observation, judgment or concern comes from.

Are you an advanced practitioner, a new student, an avid anatomy student or an avid reviewer for Yelp, NY Times or another publisher, with a possible agenda?

2.) Decide to whom you wish to bring up your concern. Don’t do so in the heat of the moment. Write about it. Ponder other perspectives or points of view.

Who is the person you truly wish to hear this?

3.) Think about what your end need is.

Do you simply want to be heard? Are you reporting a serious issue whether inappropriate touch or seriously unsafe sequences or postures? Do you want the studio owner or manager to do something about it?

Remember they may not do what you think they should do.

4.) Consider your own impact on and in the studio—are you a frequent complainer? Do you regularly have some comment or idea about what a teacher or front desk person should have done?

5.) After sorting things with good sense, with good wishes to be heard and understood, you have to decide whom to speak to and how to do so.

It’s easy to write an article or blog and publish it on the internet. I believe it’s a bit backhanded and may not result in change for that studio or teacher.

Emails are less personal and may open a door for conversation, but at the same time the lack of personal connection is grounds for understanding or lack of understanding.

6.) If you choose conversation, you will pick a time when you can succinctly speak your observation and concern privately, rather than when staff is rushed, for example, during a large class sign-in.

7.) Choose your words, voice tone and body language. Remember, it may in the moment for you be all about that one bad adjustment, but in a larger picture the relationship you have with the studio and teachers is valuable. Come from that place of value and respect.

The above are some ideas and suggestions. They are not complete or perfect. Of course, learning to talk to one another when a difficulty has happened is an ongoing lesson for many; at least it is for me.

People publish books on this topic.

When I worked as a reading specialist in public schools, interacting daily with 20 or more teachers and professionals whose schedules were impacted by my work and responsibilities, I had many opportunities to practice, falter and succeed dealing with and resolving different perspectives and needs.

I kept a stack of communication-skills-books by my bedside which provided many topics for learning about and understanding myself as well as others.

In the past three years I’ve dived into yoga again, taking nearly 600 classes, most from three studios and a handful of others. I have spoken about poor adjustments, a late teacher and yelling at students about six times in all those classes.

Each time I prepared by gathering courage, timing and careful attention to my words, medium and voice tone.

I felt heard, honored and respected in all situations except one. I missed in that situation because I spoke too angrily about a hurtful adjustment.

In another we sent a flurry of emails back and forth after some time; again respect and appreciation came with honoring of perceptions.

We come together to practice yoga. While to some it is mostly physical exercise, to many others yoga includes practice in living with an open heart, examining our lives and actions with the intention to live our best fulfilling our missions and gently touching others’ lives.

I humbly hope my words help another student or teacher to claim their power and strength in this lovely world of sharing yoga together.

Cathy Geier is an educator, dancer, yoga practitioner and one-bag-international-traveler. Based in the beautiful Seattle, she continues her dream of teaching, traveling, studying yoga and health and sharing experiences. Cathy has a B.S. in Physical Education, Health and Spanish and is a WA State Certificated Teacher with extensive graduate studies in education, remediation and curriculum design. She supervised student teachers. After 25 years in public education, she is getting her yoga teacher certification to teach yoga in schools and to support seniors in maintaining flexibility and strength with a yoga practice. Cathy writes about yoga, aging gracefully and motivation on MindBodyGreen and on YogaBlaze where she is a Community Manager. She is also a National Yogamonth Ambassador and serves on public education committees.

Editor: Jamie Morgan

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