January 4, 2015

Why I Didn’t Shut up & Listen When You Taught Me Yoga. {Response}

yoga, meditation, community

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I’m writing my first-ever response post to an article that I took great offence to: Shut Up & Listen to Me when I Teach you Yoga.

Here goes. I, too, am a certified yoga teacher.

One thing that my own teacher training taught extensively was how to have empathy for my students without crossing my own personal boundaries.

I was taught how to listen and to hold space for others.

I was taught anatomy and how our bones are constructed differently and that our ranges of motion vary greatly as human beings because of this.

More, I was taught to both respect the student who decided to try crow pose for the first time—even though she was afraid, even though she didn’t fly on her first attempt—and the student who dropped into child’s pose for five minutes to reconnect with her breath—these students are both practicing yoga and I’m fortunate to witness it, as their teacher.

And there’s a gigantic reason that it’s only the experienced yoga instructors and students who aren’t listening to what you’re saying when you teach them Bikram yoga.

And, no, I won’t be going into why some of your Bikram poses are inappropriate for many bodies (although I could).

Rather, I’d like to share the glaringly obvious that, frankly, I cannot believe for even one second that you’ve missed: it’s these students who truly know their bodies, have possibly had their own anatomy training and who, in short, are advanced enough to know that it doesn’t matter what you suggest their bodies do when they are the ones inside of their bodies actually performing these postures.

They stood with feet “six inches apart” because it felt better for their hips and balance.

They “stare at themselves in the mirror,” instead of looking up as you commanded, because they have cervical spine issues.

And, unlike what you seem to want to convey within your article, they weren’t doing it to offend you. (The only one hell bent on offending is apparently you.)

And I’ve taught hot yoga. I understand the postures. I know the series. (I even had a pleasant interaction with Mrs. Choudhury about her prenatal series—yes, there is one—for pregnant Bikram students.)

And that’s another funny thing that I’ve learned as a teacher—you cannot assume who your students are.

For example, when I was actually teaching hot yoga, I had a more senior teacher at the studio (I was new to the area) inform me that a few of my students came to my classes because they liked my knowledge of anatomy and my demonstration of this during class time.

They liked this because one was an orthopedic surgeon, one a chiropractor and the other a nurse practitioner.

We cannot assume that we know more than our students simply because we stand in front of them as the leader with a certificate behind our name. Most importantly, however, we cannot assume we know more about anyone else’s body than they do themselves.

We can guide them.

We can ask them to connect with their bodies and we can show them what we know; what we’ve learned; what’s helped our own bodies grow and heal and become healthy—but we cannot stand superior to others only because we are “the teacher.”

And while I hope to never attend a class with a teacher at the head who holds this sort of pompous, uncaring attitude, I will still offer this: that when I come into your classroom, shut the hell up and don’t listen to what you say, that you consider a lot is being said about my body and its needs and, just maybe, as the teacher you should begin to listen.

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Author: Jennifer White 

Editor: Renee Picard 

Photo: Lyntally at Flickr 

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