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October 20, 2022

Why I stopped teaching public yoga classes

Photo by Elina Fairytale on Pexels.

Over the past few years I introduced myself as a yoga teacher and immediately felt ashamed of myself, hoping no one will ask me about my classes. Because I stopped teaching them, so how could I call myself as a yoga teacher? I felt embarrassed whenever I had to explain that I’m a non-teaching yoga teacher.

After much soul searching and reflection I realized I stopped teaching because I became uncomfortable with my classes. To be honest, I felt like I became a bad yoga teacher. I always thought there’s not many people who should really teach yoga. At least not in the way most of the teachers do now.

I did my first teacher training in 2016. Since becoming an “accredited yoga teacher”, I’ve taught classes in several studios;  taught workshops; met and worked with some incredibly inspiring teachers; wrote articles about yoga and had my writing published on many websites – I even planned to open a healing retreat space in my home village, a secluded quiet space by the forest.

At times I teached six classes of my own a week, and took classes, and I could hardly believe how lucky was to get paid to tend to my physical and emotional well-being and help others do the same. A dream came true! Students told me how my classes have moved them and given them strength. I was so grateful to be part of that experience.

The whole time I had nagging doubts that became increasingly challenging to ignore. I became more and more unsatisfied and bothered by my own classes and students. I loved my students and my regular students started to bring their friends and they started to bring their friends.. Until one day I found myself in a incense scented room, with 30 strangers looking back at me from their yoga mats, in their fancy Lululemon and Adidas yoga clothes, $100 paisley printed shawls thrown over their shoulders, colorful malas hanging from their neck and I was frightened by them. I wasn’t teaching the yoga class I wanted to teach them but what they wanted to receive. That’s how I ended up with 30 students. The more classes I taughed they wanted to have, the more people showed up. When they asked me if we could do this or that on the next class I went with it, and I found that my classes were not led by me but the audience. I stopped teaching traditional ways and focused on what brought people in. In the end, I had to make a living…

(which totally goes against the idea of Seva or Selfless practice). My classes were focused on stretching and toning muscles, with relaing music in the background (which I always hated), with shorter breathwork and meditation sessions. I felt more like a pilates than a yoga instructor. And the worst is: the more I opened up about this to my fellow yoga teacher friends, the more they agreed with me. It turned out they all had to “westernize” their own teaching in order to make a living as a yoga teacher but they also felt that it was wrong.

Then covid hit and everyone took their classes online. That was the moment when I said no, this is too much. I can’t teach my students without actually being with them, not seeing what they do, not being able to correct and adjust them, not having this personal connection with them, which is in my opinion super important.

Just recently one of the best traditional ashtanga studios were closed in my home city and I learned from friends that in-place about 10 new, modern and westernized yoga studio were opened, teaching new yoga styles I never heard of.

Truth is yoga is a multifaceted spiritual practice, philosophical tradition, medicine system and way of life – not an exercise regimen. And when we see it this way, we miss some of yoga’s deepest teachings.

We’ve totally com-modified, materialized and westernized a practice that has roots in a culture that we are not a part of. We removed an aspect of this culture from its context and then we are changing it, claiming to own it, attempting to copyright and sell it and ultimately shaping it into something that is harmful.

We rely on our yoga practices to heal our bodies, ease our minds, give us a sense of purpose and spiritual connection. The idea of looking at ourselves with a critical lens is scary to us because most of us have no idea what we would do without our yoga practice. It’s been a scary and destabilizing thought for me too. But I really believe we can do better than this. And yes, yoga is a practice that anyone can come to, but I’d encourage you to ask yourself, is the yoga you are practicing a spiritual practice? Or is a glorified fitness regime that is more invested in outwards appearances than deep spiritual work?

This westernized yoga world became a community that I have often felt pretty alienated and isolated from. I felt like I was trying too hard to swim against the stream. When I decided to give up on this “well-selling” classes and teach what I really wanted to teach – traditional yoga classes with chanting, breathwork, meditation; people just stopped coming. I only had a few students left who were curious about traditional styles and actually learning about yoga and the spiritual teachings that come with it. They became my private students so I can fully focus on theaching them and give them the undivided attention they deserve. I even started to teach people for free, because yes I still have to make a living in. Despite of trying to live without money as much as possible, my teaching is not about how much $$ I can milk out of it but helping others and giving back to them.

We should focus less on how many likes we received on our latest post on Instagram of our fancy new pose, than we do on the impact of our actions on the world. I have seen some of the wisest  and inspiring yoga teachers I know leave the yoga world because their ideas were not well received or because they realized that this modern westernized practice is just not right for them. I want to ask you to think about these question quietly: Why are we losing so many great teachers and role models who want to challenge the system? Why do we feel like we have to make yoga “sellable”? And beyond that, take note of who isn’t here. Who doesn’t show up to class?

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