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June 26, 2015

A Power Yoga Teacher’s Not-so-Yogic-Rant about Life’s “Quickening.”

Elephant Photo An Overzealous Power Yoga Teacher’s Bitter Rant about the Quickening

Any good school, worth its salt, sets minimum pre-requisites for consideration.

While requirements vary, specific standards exist to ensure a greater chance of success for both teacher and pupil. It’s not prejudice or unfair—it’s necessary to the growth of the institution and the development of the student. A good system is honest and meets you where you are so that you can succeed, as it should be.

Two short years ago I owned a rapidly growing power yoga studio, anchored by about 100 loving, dedicated students. I was teaching 12 classes per week and supporting myself comfortably. It was a dream—I had even been asked to film some classes for an online yoga site, which I believed would be a big boon for my teaching career.

Fast-forward to six long months ago—I sold my studio and retired altogether from teaching power yoga.

While economic factors played a large part in my decision to sell—none the least being that nearly 40 percent of my regular students left my studio to take my online classes instead (for just 9 dollars a month of which I receive 0 dollars)—something equally frustrating occurred about the same time.

A pattern of impatience and unwillingness to “do the work” of yoga began emerging in a startling percentage of new students. Attendance in my beginner classes and workshops started to dry up. Simultaneously, novices began showing up for my more advanced classes and leaving angry and embarrassed. I recognized this trend as the death-knell of my teaching career.

I had built my yoga community by walking new students slowly, step-by-step through the basics, and for years I would consistently have upwards of 30 new students in beginner’s workshops. When so many inexplicably began bypassing these steps, I’d explain in vain why participation required attendance in basic classes first. The push back was shockingly more often like a two-year-old holding up a candy store with a machine gun, than rational discourse.

I view this outcome as a direct consequence of the unearned self-esteem push of the past two decades, coupled with the demand for instant gratification driven by social media.

This underscores a trend that had been gaining momentum for a while—by the time the iPhone 5 was released in September 2013, people in general seemed more glassy-eyed and disconnected, neither here nor there or anywhere. Of course, a pre-requisite of yoga is the presentness that comes from paying attention.

I used to teach that yoga doesn’t meet you where you are, but rather that yoga is the practice of meeting yourself where you are. Now it seems as if taking things one-step at a time from the beginning is no longer necessary. Everyone has Google at his or her fingertips—free apps on nearly every subject, and therefore instant access to all things under the sun.

I get it—why learn anything from a human being, who’s been-there-done-that, when you already know most everything there is to know with a tap of your thumb?

I was attracted to power yoga because of the discipline it demanded and the profound effect it had on me mentally and emotionally. I practiced consistently, without mirrors or fanfare, for over 10 years before I even began to understand it. Now apparently all you need is a $200 Lululemon outfit, some good lighting and an Instagram account.

A sense of mindless haste now permeates nearly every facet of our society—compulsion is more prevalent than discipline. I see them everywhere, everyday—faces glued to a smart phone, utterly oblivious to themselves, others or their surrounding environment.

A distracted mind wants to be entertained more than taught—it wants what it wants and it wants it now. It’s assumed and accepted that the folks paying attention will have to get out of their way. I took a chance the other day and walked right through one. He got back up as if nothing had happened, face still glued to his phone.

A power yoga teacher I used to practice with recently proclaimed texting as a “necessary evil.” However, I say the mass reliance on texting is eroding our basic social and verbal communication skills.

Perhaps my downfall was due to my refusal to adapt my teaching style to cater to this new brand of student. Whereas for many years I felt free to be direct and honest in the studio, over time that freedom was gradually replaced with frustration and a fear of public backlash.

The forefathers of modern yoga were often the most direct and confronting mirrors for their students—how would Krishnamacharya, Yogi Bhajan, Sri K Pattabhi Jois and BKS Iyengar have faired on Yelp?

Teachers in every field today have to walk the fine line of appeasing their students’ egos while ignoring what they really see. Given this new norm, I don’t believe teachers of any subject can get away with brutal honesty anymore. Last year, a vinyasa yoga teacher from another studio approached me at Whole Foods to tell me how brightly my light was glowing. She clearly wasn’t aware that I had just heard her spew the same line to someone else in the other aisle.

If you were new to running and wanted to run a marathon, you’d start out by making sure you were comfortable walking and jogging shorter distances first. Then slowly work up to longer distances at a faster pace, right? You might even seek out expert instruction and humble yourself enough to heed that expert’s advice. If you’ve never baked but wanted to bake cookies, you’d follow the recipe step-by-step, right? There are no shortcuts!

I pray this quickening way of life does not kill the essence of the practice of yoga.

There are still a lot of people getting into yoga for the right reasons, and there are dedicated, talented teachers everywhere ready to help. If you are new to yoga practice and have an opportunity to start with the basics, with an actual teacher in an actual studio, take advantage.

It’s a science, and it won’t work any other way.

Namaste.

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Relephant Read:

The Disappearance of Common Courtesy. 

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Author: Jeff Beaudoin

Editor: Yoli Ramazzina

Photo: Author’s own.

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