Spoiled Urban Yogis in Need of No-Nonsense Teaching. ~ April Martucci

Via April Martucci
on Jul 31, 2013
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There is a fine line between having your preferences, sometimes being a real spoiled yogi(ni) and where the teacher steps in.

On a given day, has a yoga class ever not been exactly what you were expecting and you actually rolled up your sticky mat and left the room in disgust, angry at the teacher? But just yesterday you were nodding your head about the importance of being present and the Buddhist teachings of emptying your cup? Chances are you are the same person who gets angry when the teacher does not tell the annoying woman in the row in front of you to stop checking her iPhone? You are the one thinking, “Where is the teacher, why is she not teaching this woman about yoga etiquette?” balking inwardly, often outwardly with a look of disdain.

Yet, just yesterday, you left mid-way when the instructor started teaching in a style you didn’t like. “I’m outta here, this is not what I want.”

We all have our preferences even though yoga says we should not be attached to those likes and dislikes. That is okay; it is a difficult practice in itself, a practice in detachment. But let’s call a kettle black here—there is a fine line between having your preferences and to sometimes being a real spoiled yoga brat.

Yogi(ni)s everywhere are seeking salvation from their egoic selves.

As much as we hear it is an inside job from Pantajali’s ancient teachings, some days we still believe a yoga instructor and the perfect class will save us from all our problems. Yet when things don’t go according to plan—the class is not how we imagined it would be for usthe teachings go out the window. Without realizing it we become just as selfish as the woman who came in late or the grunting man. The day we had hoped for—the day of Salvation—was not perfect.

So you storm out. I can’t take this anymore. You blame the teacher, and maybe you even let management know because you know yoga.

You know yoga because you studied with Rodney Yee at Kripalu one weekend, because you have visited Tulum and you have a Manduka mat. Ask Rodney if he would agree with you storming out?

As yoga has matured so rapidly in the West, the role of the teacher has greatly diminished; it really isn’t surprising as it has also become a part of the fitness and therapy industry—in a sense. People take, take, take.

Yoga was initially a respected practice, one that was honored, revered and not a fitness routine or a therapy. The teacher was there to guide you, but s/he also held up the mirror to you. In a Zen tradition, the teacher would sneak up behind his meditating disciples and whack them with a stick. He did so to make sure they were being present, teaching them to wake up. His intention was that of tough love, not masochism.

Any great teacher will push you out of your comfort zone, challenge you. How will you grow otherwise? They are the ones who provide some narcissistic injury, a boo boo, to your ego. Let’s be reminded of what the guru mantra reminds us: teachers come in all shapes and forms. The teacher is everywhere; it is up to us to see it.

The teacher will arrive when the student is ready.

It’s not that the man in the orange robe from India will appear at your doorstep, but you will keep doing the same things over and over—until one day when you are ready, the teacher will appear—in the form of another relationship gone wrong, or some creative block you hadn’t seen or some fear stopping you from going for what you want. The teacher has always been there, you just weren’t ready to see it. Until that point, you will probably find something outside of yourself to blame. How quickly we forget yoga is an inside job.

Which leads me to…

A not-so-uncommon story of a NYC yogi(ni):

One day, a woman who I had never seen before took the Wednesday 9am class. She carried an energy that communicated distrust right off the bat. There was an air of arrogance which comes from being an ‘intermediate’ type student—intermediate having absolutely nothing to do with her ability to execute asanas.

The beginner and advanced student know they know nothing, it’s the intermediate student who thinks they know something.

Ponder that.

At the end of class, I played a segment from Carolyn Myss’ audio book, Sacred Contracts. We all have certain ‘contracts’ on a soul level with people; contracts wherein we all come in to one another’s lives for a ‘reason, season or a lifetime.’ It is what yoga has been teaching for centuries. The woman who was a hater from the beginning, my hunch being accurate, got up in the middle of Savasana releasing a loud sigh while stomping across the room to put her blocks away and shaking her head in absolute disgust. “How dare she play an audio book!”

She completely disrupted the other students in the room.

The sign which gave away her disapproval was her placing her hands over her ears during the short time she was actually in Savasana. I am also aware listening to a recording during Savasana is not everyone’s cup of tea. However, I was only playing a short two minute segment and did not come out that day to please this particular woman. Rather than sticking it out and maybe then deciding not to take my class in the future, she decided to disturb the entire class’ rest time because of her preferences and her idea of how the class should go.

On her way out, we exchanged a few words.

I called her selfish and rude.

Yep, I did.

She complained saying I was rude and hurtful.

My regular students from over a decade would never do that even if they thought so. Some could argue the point that perhaps she was having a bad day. I get that. Maybe I could have looked at her and said, “She must be suffering inside, has too much ego, and I will just let her go on her way,” taking a Path of Least Resistance. Maybe to someone else or on a different day it would have been the right approach, but on this day, I could not allow the brat to get away with it so easily.

Where is my role in this as a teacher if I don’t say something?

Note: She is probably the same student who would get angry with me for not ‘teaching’ the cell phone user or the latecomer. However, I would most definitely teach to those people as well. In my lifetime of practicing under some of the greatest teachers from various disciplines (ballet teachers having been the most demanding), teachers have called me out on my stuff: selfish, rude, lazy, not-listening, you name it. They were the best. My ego has been hurt many times, and it made me stronger and wiser.

After I got over the initial bruise to my ego, I could realize truth in what was being pointed out to me.

We use our yoga as therapy and expect our teachers to only say inspiring and nice things, but then when they are a little more vocal in certain moments, a little brazen, they become rude and hurtful. This woman and I, funny as it may seem, had a Sacred Contract. She probably is still hating, but on my end, she taught me with her behavior to remember to be an empty cup when there is something that is against my personal preferences.

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Assist Ed: Dana Pauzauskie/Ed: Sara Crolick

{photo: via Pinterest}


About April Martucci

With over a decade of experience in the yoga community, April was named ‘most in demand’ for vinyasa yoga classes by New York Magazine’s, Best of New York. She has taught a wide range of students from A-list celebrities to toddlers, artists and high-profile professionals. A seasoned instructor and bodyworker, April has a global presence teaching retreats all over the world and guest teaching at yoga conferences and international events. April draws from her movement and life experience creating classes that are fun, dynamic and both physically and mentally challenging. She has a strong media presence, is a former Lululemon ambassador and has been featured on Regis and Kelly. She is the former Director of Yoga at the prestigious Reebok Sports Club/NY, MindBody studios. Some of April’s favorite students include: Harvey Keitel, Jessica Seinfeld, Mariel Hemingway, Lourdes Leon, Elizabeth Vargas and Bethenny Frankel. She is the founder of the FireDragonYoga method and Teacher Training program.



6 Responses to “Spoiled Urban Yogis in Need of No-Nonsense Teaching. ~ April Martucci”

  1. @wahwahnyc says:

    "No-nonsense teaching" – brilliant! This is an important article. Kudos to April Martucci for opening this discussion. I appreciate how Martucci compares yoga to other demanding practices, like ballet. I've often wondered how yoga, of all disciplines, got so undisciplined that so many "practitioners" (or should I say consumers?) can't accept a modicum of guidance, even when offered by the most qualified, experienced, and personable of teachers. It would be good for studios to have their teachers' backs when they defend the integrity/sanctity of the group practice space, especially when an unruly student is creating a disturbance.

  2. Kevin says:

    So your student did something you didn't approve of — poor little baby teacher.

  3. Jenifer says:

    What I read in this story is a student who comes in likely stressed and/or triggered, and then the teacher gets triggered by the student, and lets the feelings that flood through due to that trigger affect their teaching.

    What I find most helpful in this situation is acceptance. First, acceptance that the student is having a difficult time — usually for reasons unknown; then, acceptance that I am also triggered, so that I can set that aside and move forward with teaching the whole of the class — all of the students — rather than letting that trigger affect my teaching.

    This acceptance is a great tool. Instead of feeling flustered or stressed while teaching (how I have felt in the past when triggered), I feel much calmer and at ease. This, in turn, allows all of the students around the upset student feel more at ease. They don't have to stress about it, or be upset by the student's behavior, because I am not upset with it. From there, the whole class can turn from a challenging experience to a truly inspired experience of practicing deep acceptance.

    To meet the specific upset student's needs, I usually behave as follows. First, I engage respectfully, asking questions when I approach for one-on-one time (and/or hands on assists): how are you? is this ok? Then, if I see something specific to which I can speak, such as covering ears over a recording, I might gently go to the student and say "it's only another X seconds, then silence." This might encourage the person to just ride it out and have a more peaceful experience in those moments — and it also acknowledges that you see their discomfort and are seeking to meet their needs.

    If the student would huff out anyway, what I generally do is gently (and in a friendly way), just gesture to leave noisy props, and I usually open the door, smile, and whisper: thanks for coming, see you again soon! Again, this is just about total acceptance.

    What is really fascinating about this approach is how well it works. On several occasions, I've had students email and apologize for their behavior — to which I get to say "No worries, we all get stressed sometimes. It's just part of life. I'm glad that you came to class, and I hope to see you soon. 🙂 " These students usually return quickly and become regular students, with a deep change in attitude over time. Yes, they still may leave early or come late — but they do so respectfully, and I smile and welcome/thank them. It's good for them to give themselves the gift of yoga in a very stressful life.

    And some students never apologize, but they still return — because they are accepted. They have received kindness even if they were being very myopic in their own behaviors. And over time, they become so dedicated and open. They come early, they leave quietly and respectfully. They are friendly and open with new students, and even accepting of students who might trigger them. It's really a powerful process.

    For me, this practice is an incredible process of living yoga. Seeing what arises and just being with it, accepting it, and working with it — it's a powerful process for me. Life-changing even.

    And it is still "no-nonsense." Particularly none of my own triggered nonsense. 🙂

  4. April says:

    Thank you Jennifer – I totally agree – but it's hard to know unless you were there – there cannot be a cookie-cutter approach when teaching. In this case, I was not triggered. I have been triggered in the past – I know what that feels like – but the reminder of acceptance is always good- thanks and good luck with your teaching!

  5. Imelda says:

    It's not that her behavior was disapproved more disrespectful and non yogi etiquette.

  6. Kevin says:

    I see your point, and yes her-the student's- behavior was disrespectful. I can only go by the writing that I have before me. And this writing, to me, shows a teacher who is projecting all over the student. First we have some examples in the writing that references the guru/student relationship. The woman attending class has not called this teacher "guru", in the sense of someone that you have entrusted as a teacher, and to behave towards her as a "guru" is in itself disrespectful. This woman was trying out a class, testing the teacher, which is a perfectly valid spiritual act. My point is that this teacher seems to have been badly disposed towards this student from the beginning. Instead of "I saw an air of arrogance…" we get "There was an air of arrogance…" The teacher in this instance is not taking responsibility for her own emotions and perceptions. "The woman who was a hater from the beginning…" wow. "She is probably… ". "How dare she play an audio book" I'm not sure if the student said this or if the teacher is projecting it-it is unclear in the writing. Speaking as a teacher of 37 years, this teacher-the one presented in the writing- needs to examine their own emotions and thought projections, and be less arrogant.