Last Saturday, while visiting family in South Florida, I wandered into a yoga class.
Sometimes while I’m out of town, I just like to see what’s out there and try something new. So I picked a random class and went.
There were two other students in the class, a 30 something woman who looked bored and a 40 something man who looked like his doctor sent him.
The lanky 20 something instructor did not face us, instead he faced the dark green wall with a giant “Om” stenciled on it and started the class.
“Take your arms up, exhale and arch back,” he started. “Keep exhaling. Forward bend and. . .cellular memory.”
Then we did nauli or something like that for about 2 minutes.
He then reached his hands behind his legs, grabbed his elbows, and agilely slid down to his ankles saying, “Grasp your elbows, descend and. . . pranic flows.”
The guy next to me grunted.
The instructor put his palms flat on the floor and reached his right leg up vertically to the ceiling saying, “Forward bend split and . . . sacred geometry.”
The guy next to me couldn’t reach the floor so he didn’t attempt to take his leg off of it at all. The woman yawned and stretched her foot back halfheartedly. I stood up and waited. My body was not ready for a posture like that at 8:30 am after sleeping in my parents’ guest room.
He noticed me and said, “Is everything okay? Should I turn the music down?”
I smiled, remembering Princess Leia (ahem, I mean General Organa of course) in The Last Jedi, about to slap Poe Dameron’s face and say, “You’re demoted.”
“No, I’m good,” I said. “And you are quite hypermobile.”
“Hypermobile?” he mused. “Really? Okay, we’ll go a little slower.”
But we didn’t, except for a long twisted pigeon-ey thing at the end – I couldn’t help worry about the guy next to me and his lower back (his doctor definitely sent him). The class was fast, we never stayed anywhere for more than 3 seconds. I found myself wondering about the instructor’s vata and if he was a raw vegan.
I enjoyed some of the flowy movements and skipped stuff I know is bad for me, and had fun watching this lithe young guy’s contortions.
He told us to do an Ancient Egyptian ritual (although I couldn’t follow all the details and wasn’t sure if I was supposed to do it now or at home).
Śavasana – he said he would be giving us adjustments but we wouldn’t feel them because we were dead. But he didn’t move during śavanasa so maybe it was his etheric body adjusting me?
I thought I might inconspicuously depart at the end of class, but he stopped me and asked me what I did and what I thought of his class.
Well. . .since you asked…
“I’m a yoga teacher and you know, you have an extraordinarily flexible and strong body.” (Feedback sandwich – praise, critique, praise.)
He smiled and said, “Well, I teach 25 classes a week!”
“Yes, that’s a lot. But you know, many people don’t have bodies that can do what your body can do.”
Then he got a bit defensive, “But I have students who are in their seventies who practice with me like three times a week and can do everything.”
“Yes, but what about the people who come once, who never return. They could be getting injured.”
His head cocked in puzzlement.
“You may benefit from learning a bit more about sequencing. And perhaps it would help your students if you faced them to guide them rather than having them follow along with you from behind.”
He looked sideways so I told him to start with Gary Kraftsow’s book, Yoga for Wellness.
He retorted by telling me about his superlative teacher who had rebranded another lineage that was disgraced by scandals several years ago. (Ah, there it is. Now we are approaching the source of the slap urge.) But like that previous lineage, it sounded like most of the practices were available only to the select few.
Unfortunately, this kind of teaching is still a big problem in our industry.
So I thanked him, smiled, and left to get blueberry oatmeal at Starbucks.
I know so many General Organa-like yoga teachers who deserve kudos and respect. They have studied for decades, can read their student’s bodies and understand their needs, know how to help students adapt poses to their benefit, how to minimize risk, they’ve spent endless hours studying biomechanics and kinesiology, and they refrain from performing or working out when they teach.
So I’m calling to all of you – Could you please step forward and save the Yogaverse?
The big issue is helping the public understand the difference between having a Simon-says yoga training and actually having some teaching chops. Being able to perform difficult postures is an entirely different skill set than understanding how to teach a largely sedentary population. We need to educate the healthcare world about the therapeutic value of yoga and that not all yoga is created equal.
And we need to educate people looking to train in how they can find training programs that will give them the skills they need to work with lots of different people, not just the fit and flexible.
So, step forward, take your rightful place in the Yogaverse and be vocal.
The world really needs you!
Hard to believe this is still going on in yoga classes and how great that you shared some sandwiched feedback with the teacher. I’m enjoying your emails and newsletters. Thank you!
Although it’s not great that some yoga teachers are still teaching in this way, I have to admit it puts my mind a little at ease reading about it. I’ve been teaching for about a year now & I have a constant narrative in my mind “am I teaching the best way? am I helping these people? what if I cause injury? what if people don’t enjoy it/ feel they’re gaining anything…”
I have completed the Subtle Yoga Science if Sloe course and it was such a relief to me to hear someone else confirm that we shouldn’t necessarily be teaching in the popular Vinyasa style that most westerners have become accustomed to. It wasn’t my intention but my yoga “tribe” is forming into predominantly Over 60s, and so researching slow & subtle & relaxing yoga has become much of my work & pass-time. So I’m really glad to be connected with you at Subtleyoga!
I do often worry that I don’t have the correct teaching qualification to be working with the over 60s (I trained in traditional hatha & mostly taught Vinyasa when I started out teaching) so if you could shed any light on helping me with this I would be grateful.
Thank you so so much for your work, you are marvellous!
thanks so much for sharing about your journey! I think teaching yoga is a journey and we always have to keep learning more and more. And that’s the fun part about it too! Although it’s not yet been officially announced, I do have a longer online training coming out that may complement what you’ve already learned, I hope. So please stay in touch. I really appreciate your efforts to help those who value and perhaps need a different approach.
Love this article! I have had this same experience in yoga classes. As a teacher, I always feel I can learn something by taking a variety of classes. Like you, I leave some of these new classes feeling inspired, and I leave other classes worrying about my fellow students and whether they will ever darken the door of a yoga studio again!
May we all take a deep breath and remind ourselves that as teachers, we are there for our STUDENTS and have an obligation to provide them with a positive experience.
I think each body benefits from a slow, mindful practice. Each person then is able to integrate what shows up for them and the teacher is more of a guide than “instructor”. I am relocating to Central Florida next month so I am curious to find new studios and feel their energy. Your experience makes me cringe and chuckle at the same time… Keep doing what you are doing!! Jai!!
Hi Marybeth – what part of central FL are you moving to? Not all yoga classes are in studios – I encourage you to visit Trout Lake Nature Center Wednesday at 10am for my chair yoga class or Friday at Eustis Community Center at 10am – chair yoga – any fan of Kristine’s is a friend of mine.
Happy Holidays, Nancy LaPointe, Mount Dora, FL
sounds lovely Nancy! I wish I had wandered into your class instead but you’re a little far from my relatives.Thank you for your kind words.
Thank you. Thank you. My population and my popularity with my students is that I Do focus on their bodies. They feel safe. I appreciate how you handled this teacher. The jersey girl in me struggles with such niceties but the yogi in me tries to be positive. Schools should focus on teachers behavior. Again thanks
Thank you Dian! I’m a Jersey girl too (transplated to North Carolina) so I can totally relate! Down here we’d just say, “Bless his heart” and let it go!
Great report from the vast field of yoga classes and yoga instruction. Scary. Frustrating. I appreciate your posts, your perspective. I’m am proud to be a humble part of the solution. After many years as a yoga teacher trainer at Kripalu Center, up here in Massachusetts, I have now taken to the road and offer a post-200hr training called Dynamic Gentle Yoga Teacher Certification. I call it accessible, empowering and inclusive Gentle Yoga. Yes. Please be in eye contact with your students, teach to who’s in front of you, give them an experience they can digest, slow it down, get them breathing deeply. My latest favorite cues: “explore the beginning of the stretch first, notice if the exhalation invites you to go deeper.”
May I always be willing to be a student and hear the contribution that, at first, may make my ego become defensive.
There’s so much to learn to really master yoga teaching.
I am reminded of Mother Theresa’s counsel, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”
Thanks for extending the knowledge and inspiration that you do and shining the light of your consciousness on this wisdom tradition we call Yoga.
Thanks so much Rudy, and it’s so nice to connect with you and hear about your work. You and Kripalu have long been part of the solution and I humbly thank you for doing the work that you do in the world. Good luck on your travels and enjoy spreading this good work! I think there is something of a rolling snow ball effect happening with slow, conscious practice – a Slow Yoga Revolution if you will – exciting to watch!
Thank you for this piece and the loving, mindful way that you invited the teacher to “look” deeper – into his own practice, his own teaching style, his students.
Yoga in the west is too centered on the asana. Style and sequence. Where is the invitation to live your yoga beyond the edges of your mat? The teacher can plant these thought seeds in the way he/she teaches.
I like the way J Brown phrases his teaching style as “Gentle is the new advanced”. I have listened to his podcast interviews for over two years and appreciate his efforts to reframe the understanding of yoga. Yoga is NOT a work out. Rather it is a Work In. For all those teachers who read this, let ask whether you understand that and are teaching it to your peeps. We need to up level the conversation, with our students and between us.
Thanks so much Richard and yes J has some great ideas for sure. I like your idea of a “work in” I like to call it “innercise” too! And yes, I agree that we have to talk about these things. there is something for everyone in yoga, but not if the offerings are limited to hypermobile exhibitionism.
I recall many years ago beginning my re-entry into yoga as an overweight middle aged woman, and showing up for a class MARKETED as a beginner class. They lied. It was a tightly packed room full of 20-30-something hardbodies there as part of a Sunday afternoon social hour. The instructor had us do no less than 10 down dogs in the first 10 minutes of class. Fortunatley i had arrived late and my mat was the closest to the door making for an exit at minute 11! I am glad u spoke up. If Yoga Alliance wanted to do something worthwhile they could come up with a rubric to standardize the intensity level and perhaps the intention of a given class.
That’s the killer isn’t it Karen. This class I went to was called “Slow Flow.” But there was nothing slow or gentle about it. I hate that some many people start to hate yoga because they have the experience you had. Kudos for keeping the faith and keeping it real. Yes, that’s a good idea about YA BTW.
Ya – I usually do not do other folks yoga classes…. frickin dangerous! But…. my therapeutic, slower approach here on the front range boulder area has a hard time being seen as valuable… Ah well. Smaller, slower classes. Thats me and I love it. :))
That is the reason I’m on a mission Kerry! I think your classes are the most valuable and we just need to do some education and get the messaging right. You are not so alone, there’s a growing wave of slow, mindful teachers. I like to call it the Slow Yoga Revolution. I truly believe the tides are turning.
really good point. I dont think I am that bad but I will try to keep that in mind for my next beginner class. love the story. 🙂
I own a small yoga studio surrounded by many Gyms that are also offering some form of what they say is a “yoga class”. Unfortunately, in Australia, this is still a common practice & it’s almost promoted as they way yoga should be. I had a new male student attend a class last night & said he was also a member of one of the gyms & attended their class. He commented on how the teacher seemed to have little interest in what the students could or couldn’t do & offered no pranayama or meditation & about 2 minutes of relaxation !!!! He loved the fact that his practice with me was slow & left the class feeling relaxed & rejuvenated. Isn’t that what we’re supposed to be giving to our students? Much love to all of you, Namaste 🙂
Thanks for sharing Carmel, yes I think it is what we can offer – mindfulness, relaxation, meditation and a feeling of being connected to a deeper part of yourself. Yet we have a lot of work to do in terms of educating the public about the stand alone benefits of slow, mindful practice. Hot, fast sweaty gym workouts are great in and of themselves, but that doesn’t mean slow, conscious yoga practice is only for people who can’t do “real” yoga.
Thank you for sharing the article.
Thank you for this-it is a great reminder to always be present when we are teaching.
Great read. Has put my mind at ease Lately I’ve been doubting my slow mindful practice. Been wondering if I should speed up thinking that’s what people might be wanting, even though I’ve been receiving good feedback. Thank you!!!
This makes my heart hurt for the students, who think this is what they must do to be a “real” yogi/yogini, or who are looking for real help and never return. My intention in teaching ALWAYS is to help students find a version of any pose that works for their body, empower them to explore, and find self-acceptance with joy. Thanks for sharing this.
Thank you for being a part of the solution Eva.
At last, some one has spoken the truth about what is out there in the crazy yoga world,.
Thank you for stepping up and speaking the truth.
The art of discovering one self through body, mind and Spirit