March 8, 2017

A Letter to my Yogi Allies about Competitive Yoga.

Dear fellow yoga teachers,

(I say fellow because that’s who you are, my allies—all of you.)

I write this letter to address a concern I’ve witnessed lately in the yoga world. An issue that is real and non-remedial for us all.

I want to talk about competitive yoga.

“Inhale love, kindness, and gratitude; exhale judgment, comparison, and hate.”

Or something along those lines—sound familiar?

The little spiel that we give before, during, after, and outside of the classes we teach. The message we wholeheartedly wish for our students to absorb: let go of competition, accept who you are, embrace life.

It’s a picturesque dream of both students and teachers. A life of adventure, passion, love, and no regrets. A life where we are comfortable and humbly confident being who we are, and where others are content and self-assured in who they are. And living harmoniously together on our abundantly gracious planet is what makes it all possible.

Sounds nice, eh?

It is the aspiration. And it is possible.

It’s possible when we support each other, when we stop trying to show one another up, when we collaborate, and when we extend a helping hand to those who are down—in yoga and in all walks of life.

But as a yoga teacher, a baby, really, in the world of yogic experience, I can’t help but feel that sometimes, it’s the opposite.

Yoga became a true love when I threw the rule book out the window and started moving solely by feeling. For the first time in my life, I felt I had found something that didn’t have a right or wrong. It was uniquely mine and was as it ought to be.

I did what felt good for my body, and then it started feeling good for my mind, and finally, the spiritual piece came into place. I took my first teacher training with no intention of actually teaching, but instead to learn more about the practice and to take my relationship with myself to the next level. I started teaching when I realized this practice could benefit so many others just as it was aiding me.

When I practice, I’m able to stop competing with myself and with others. I rather enjoy the process. And with it, I have developed a new sense of patience and acceptance. I feel joy.

I made the decision to commit energy and time to sharing a practice that brings me joy and release. I did so with the intention of bringing happiness to others. And I was supported by other teachers throughout this exploratory stage of my teaching.

The more I taught however, and the more experience I gained, the harder it became to remain a teacher, emotionally.

I went to a yoga festival in the city earlier this year, and I left after approximately two hours. Why? Because everywhere I turned, I felt this unhealthy, competitive fire igniting inside of me. A fire I had sought to extinguish through the practice. I felt amazing while moving, but when I stopped and began chatting with eCertified teachers, I heard more rights and wrongs than I had at any point since I began practicing.

I started working toward my 500-hour teacher certification and found myself sitting in a circle with other teachers, comparing how many hours a week we were teaching and whether we had “secured” any private students—as if this assured our degree of proficiency.

I’ve also been questioned for co-opening a yoga studio at the age of 26, with the insinuation that I couldn’t possibly know enough to run a studio.

Recently, yoga has taken me to a place where I feel I need to validate how effective I am at something that was supposed to be solely about joy.

And to be honest, it scares the f*ck out of me.

I can’t help but feel like the more we know, the more competitive we become. We start believing there is a right and a wrong way to practice. And intentionally or not, that mindset does come through in our conversations.

It’s Ashtanga versus Yin versus Vinyasa yoga. And studio teaching versus retreat teaching. It’s background music versus no music, private teaching versus group teaching, and chanting versus not chanting. It’s room temperature yoga versus hot yoga.

I can feel this sense of rivalry in the yoga world. I’m a newbie teacher and I know I’m guilty of it. I’ve found myself taking part in this competitive dialogue, defending my style of teaching, and unintentionally insisting it’s the way.

But my way is not the f*cking way. Your way isn’t the way. And yes, I’ll say it, Iyengar’s way isn’t the way.

There is no way because every single person’s way is their way, and it’s right.

I believe that forgery of our feelings, senses, and passions ought to be available to us as students and teachers of yoga. We are the masters of our own practice because we all experience it differently.

We ought to teach what we know and what we love. Because this is our way. And I feel it’s our job to ensure students know it isn’t the only way to practice yoga. There is abso-f*cking-lutely nothing wrong with practicing another way—their way.

Why can’t we adopt a fond, yet unguarded relationship with our own style, and therefore accept that there are a multitude of other ways to practice and teach yoga? Why can’t we accept that it’s okay to run a hot Vinyasa group class to piano music and it’s just as cool to teach foundational postures in a room temperature, private class, with no music at all?

One is not better than the other. They’re equally as meaningful to those involved, and who the hell are we to say otherwise?

You don’t need to defend your practice or your teaching to me. I shouldn’t need to defend mine. My hope is that when we talk about our practice, training, and teaching, we can respect each other. I hope we can ask questions and learn from one another.

I know there’s the business argument. And to that, all I have to say is: remember when you first started teaching. Remember when you believed success would come from being nothing but authentic. A time when the most important thing to “sell” was the notion that this practice can honestly change your life for the better.

I am making a vow to not react thoughtlessly when presented with yoga competition. I want to be able to identify the contention, and to instead meet it with understanding and openness. I vow to be mindful of what I’m saying—as a guide of yoga—to both my students and to other teachers. This never was and never will be about competition for me.

Some like it hot, some like it cold. Some like Yin, some like power. Some are okay being mat to mat, some prefer the whole studio to themselves. Some like adjustments, some don’t feel comfortable being touched.

All are right. None are wrong. There is no competition.

The best teachers I’ve ever had are those who articulate why they do what they do, never forgetting to reiterate that it might not be what I do, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Something for all us allies to keep in mind.

Health and happiness,


Author: Robyn Phillips

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Editor: Catherine Monkman

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