I’m always amazed when someone says, “Well, I thought since you’re a yoga teacher you wouldn’t dislike anyone.”
“Since I’m a yoga teacher, what?” Do I sneeze pixie dust and make unicorn poops?”
Yoga teachers are people who have learned to guide yoga classes. We don’t trade in our convictions, we don’t swap out our temper, and we get to have opinions.
I had a student once reach out to me privately because of a political post I shared on social media. She said she thought it was not appropriate since I was a yoga teacher and I should think about pulling it down. I thanked her for reaching out because she was genuinely coming from a place of goodness, and then I explained to her that it would be staying up.
This is a manifesto. I am here to say that I get angry, I crave things that my body doesn’t appreciate, I judge people sometimes, and I can be my own worst critic. However, I have learned skills to make those very human conditions easier on myself and my hope is that I teach them to others when they take my class.
My class is intended to stretch the mind and the body. The practice of yoga is about creating a mind-body connection. Wringing out the toxins of life is what we do when we twist our bodies. Learning to stand for what we believe in is why we come to tadasana, mountain pose. Standing tall in tree pose with our arms outstretched to the heavens reminds us to dance with the wind. If we aren’t able to be flexible when we meet resistance, our branches may break, because we are too rigid to move and breathe. Trees that have solid roots, laugh at storms. In yoga, we learn to root our feet into the ground and rise up to the sky.
I recently hopped into the middle of a conversation online, which felt a bit like verbal gang violence. A woman expressed her opinion and several haters pounced on her, spewing nastiness at her character. Mind you, they had never met her. I had to step in and shield her from unnecessary venom that tends to be directed when someone is hiding behind the comfort of their computer screen. I often wonder how bold they would be in person.
Why would someone be offended if I stepped into a conversation and advocated for another human being who is being bullied? The haters brought me into the hate circle. I wasn’t having it. Isn’t calling them out the absolute definition of speaking my truth? I have zero tolerance for bullying in any shape or form.
Isn’t it our job to reach out our hands to those who are drowning? Shouldn’t we speak for those who haven’t found their voice?
By shining a light on those dark souls, I helped her see her way to the other side, in the same way I hope someone would do for me.
I think standing beside someone who’s feeling shaky is the living, breathing example of what it means to love.
I demonstrated what it looks like for others whose voice might be shaking or who may not have had the courage to speak up, even if they had the conviction. I find in my yoga class that some students just need someone to stand right next to them and do absolutely nothing but be there. Others find courage and strength when I lay the palm of my hand on their back in down dog, a posture that looks like an upside down capital letter V. It’s a quiet way to say, “I see you. I see that you showed up. I see you when you struggle. I see your energy. You are enough.”
So if a political figure who shall go nameless is bullying people who work for him, why is it wrong for me to speak up about how this feels to me? I would never allow it to happen in a class or in any situation I may find myself in.
I was that kid who stood up for others who didn’t have the courage or recognize their own value. We all need to lift each other up. That is why people come to a yoga studio and practice with one another. They are craving connection—one that Zoom doesn’t offer. It’s called a sangha in Sanskrit and it means community. It might be your yoga class, your neighborhood, your recovery family, or whoever feels like your community.
I think we place unrealistic expectations on people who didn’t ask for them. We continue to be shocked when a celebrity or a politician does something unethical or illegal. Why are we surprised? Their professional success doesn’t preclude them from falling short and demonstrating that they are mere mortals rather than deities.
Yoga teachers get in bad moods, they have slumps, they eat too much, curse, and can abuse their bodies with substances. The distinction is that most have an awareness that their self-destruction has a lesson behind it. That doesn’t mean they know exactly how to get out of their own way, but they know they’re in the way.
I am hoping my words remind yoga students that their teacher is neither superhuman nor superhero. Students often put teachers on a pedestal. Next, they’ll be erecting statues. Some teachers like it up there and this is when things can turn in on them.
I have always considered myself a student first and I believe that keeps one with feet firmly planted on the ground. I believe everyone in a yoga studio holds the same rank—yogi. We are all students of life and we have an equal opportunity to teach others and learn from them. We show up to learn about ourselves on the mat and carry that with us as we live our yoga off the mat. Somewhere along the way, the roles reverse, and the student becomes the teacher. It’s a moment.
I am so thrilled when a student is moved by something I share. If I am sharing it, that means I learned it somewhere and it stirred something in me. I am happy when a student says they loved my class. And when they do, I always say, “Good for you!” After all, it was their class.
We all practice our own yoga in the studio and then we roll up our mat and take it out into the world. The world needs a big hug and a lot more yogis rolling out their mats.
Remember that when your teacher gets ready to teach, she puts her leggings on one leg at a time, just like you do. Some days, I fall out of tree pose, and other days, I don’t. It doesn’t change who I am or what I hope to do in the world.
I tell my students regularly that I don’t give out prizes for “best pose” or “most flexible,” but I reward the willingness to show up with my desire to let the practice be exactly what it needs to be so that students leave better than they came.
If a teacher believes the buzz about how great she is, she must believe it when they say she’s lost her shine. I know when I’m showing up and when I’m not. Getting caught up in people liking you is like getting choked out by your ego.
I invite my students to “check their ego at the door.” There’s no room for it in a yoga studio, or anywhere else for that matter.
We are not human beings; we are beings having a human experience. We shine our light on people who appear to be in darkness and we show up on our mat when that darkness starts to dim our own light.
I have learned as much from my students as I have taught them. So know that you are teaching your instructor every time you step onto your mat.
Just keep showing up.