July 26, 2010

Yoga Bitch Wants You in Class!

Teachers have to keep it real to connect with sophisticated yogis who have heard it all before.

This yoga community is special. We’re a big, global family of beings who get together to work on ourselves, sweat, purify, challenge our bodies and minds. It’s high work.

But good people are breaking up with yoga. They cite permissive teachers who spout inanities and ignore rambunctious behavior from undisciplined students. Teachers are writing “Survival Guides” for students to better handle the crazy. It’s a yoga class, not a reality show, family!

It saddens me to see students frustrated by the superficial silliness, leaving the work on their mats because yoga teachers lack the awareness and/or are afraid to step up and take control, to speak from an authentic place.

The inanities…well, we’ve all said them. Guilty! I’m thrilled we’re evolving to a place where the phrases that were once satisfying are no longer enough, and now seem trite.

Teachers have to keep it real to connect with sophisticated yogis who have heard it all before. When in doubt, alignment and breath are consistent crowd pleasers. Bad behavior often gets a free pass because teachers are under pressure to get bodies in the room, competition for jobs is fierce and no one wants to offend.

In the name of samadhi, that elusive eighth limb of yoga, we teachers must occasionally use tough love tactics to control unruly students. Yes, peace–striving vegetarian yoga teachers can also be strict Yoga Bitches. It’s not my favorite method of taming wild yoga beasts, but it is effective.

In places where yoga is in demand and students have few options, the Yoga Bitch approach works. People may hate you for a little while, but they’ll come back if the yoga is good.  However, Yoga Bitch won’t be able to afford her Lululemon’s in a city like San Francisco where there are three yoga teachers for every 10 students. In places bursting at the seams with hungry yoga teachers ready to poach your peeps, a more subtle approach is called for. You must drop your bombs with aplomb!

The best job for Yoga Bitch is with ringing cell-phones: Have Yoga Bitch put up a sign that says “$5 fine if your cell phone rings during class. Double fine when it rings in savasana (final relaxation)”. It works.

Sometimes a bomb isn’t needed, like with The Student Who Does Their Own Thing, and completely ignores the teachers instructions. After all, maybe they are working out their issues with authority while on their yoga mat. Or sometimes this is how an angry student reacts when their favorite teacher is a sub. Occasionally they notice that participating in class is more fun than what they’re doing, and they join in. If not, I let them continue. When they’re disturbing other peoples practice, I quietly let them know, but I don’t force people to comply. Yoga Bitch does not help these stoic students. She’d only fuel their fire.

Another situation where Yoga Bitch is not needed is with new students. They are already intimidated by flexible, beautiful bodies. Have patience and kindness for newbies.

Sometimes the choice between subtlety and Yoga Bitch is less obvious, like with students who frequently arrive to class late and unfurl their yoga mat ‘s with a slap. They are really craving attention crying out, “Over here! Look at me!

In 10 years of teaching, I’ve dealt with this in a number of ways. Nothing works every time, but a little peer pressure goes a long way:

  1. Take the student aside after class and chat privately with them. This is the least effective method.
  2. Point them out to the class, and make an example of them. Some students who don’t know you well may give you the stink eye, or look terrified you will walk over and eat them. This is the Yoga Bitch method. It’s effective and a little scary.
  3. Once class is in full flow, and everyone is in their groove, talk to the offender quietly and ask them to be as quiet and unobtrusive as possible when entering the room late. This is the most effective method.
  4. Post Yoga Etiquette signs in the studio or bathroom. This is my favorite method, it amplifies the efficacy of all other methods.

It takes effort and discipline to contain our energies and experience the profound, therapeutic, soul-healing work that has the potential to take place on the yoga mat.  Teachers may have to occasionally let Yoga Bitch out. Don’t worry, she doesn’t bite (much).

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Michelle Myhre  |  Contribution: 400