I decided to finally become a yoga teacher last year after years of personal practice. I am not sure what I was expecting. Maybe enlightenment. Maybe friendship. Maybe the community I have been so sorely lacking since moving hundreds of miles from home three years ago. I have found those good things in spades. From the two owners of my favorite studio to the director of the program that trained me and an old friend of a friend who has now become my friend, there have been countless women who have held my hand, offered me support, and encouraged me when I was feeling less than confident.
But there have also been some really bad experiences, too.
I’ve been rejected and treated unkindly. I’ve seen the cliquish side of yoga. I’ve been rebuffed by yoga teachers I thought were demi-gods. I’ve seen teachers use their “spirituality” to make others feel less then and to discourage, rather than encourage.
The web series Namaste, Bitches was created by Summer Chastant, a yoga teacher in LA who aims to expose the underbelly and hypocrisy rampant throughout the western yoga community. It’s hilarious and, as I understand it, also true. There are chain smoking yoga teachers who live and die by their Instagram following and do all kinds of things to undermine and conquer their competition. It’s not so yogic, as it turns out.
Last month, I went to a yoga conference where I attended workshops with some of the “rock star” yoga teachers — Baron Baptiste, Sadie Nardini, Seane Corn, Rodney Yee, Colleen Saidman, Kathryn Budig, and more. In my classes, I learned what makes a great yoga teacher. I was pushed to my limits and encouraged to go beyond them. My muscles shook as I held poses for three minutes, listening to the Corn remind us that these are the moments where we find out who we are. I lowered my knee. But I brought it back up again. I failed and I came back and tried again.
Corn is the real deal, a yoga teacher with charisma and love for all. I left her classes feeling inspired and loved. Next week I am taking a weekend workshop with her as the teacher just because I want to be in her presence again. She’s that inspiring.
But not all the famous teachers are so wonderful. Seeing the ego was disheartening and I learned it is possible to be a kick ass yoga teacher during class and a less-than kind human outside the studio. In the yoga marketplace at the conference I attended, I saw sales people end conversations mid sentence with customers when one of the “big” yoga teachers came by to say hello. The teacher seemed to caught in their own mystique, they failed to notice they’d just interrupted a sale. It’s as bad as walking into a restaurant and being re-seated because someone “bigger” than you walked in. Not cool.
Meanwhile, I was asked not to take photos of one teacher because if I took one, then everyone would want one. I saw yoga teachers surrounded by an entourage shielding them from any student interaction before or after class. As a student watching these teachers in your living room or reading their books, you become enamored of their style and fall in love a little bit. Meeting them in real life and seeing the truth is painful. That was my first introduction to the the uglier side of yoga.
Of course, it’s not just among the “big names.” Yoga can be cliquey and hard to break into. Each studio has its own vibe and if you don’t fit, they can let you know. In one studio, I inquired about teaching and was told I’d need to practice there every day before I could even be considered. Another has students every morning who roll their eyes when asked to move their mats and huff and puff at the new students who don’t know the “drill.”
After a lifetime of practice and growing up with a mother who was a teacher, I thought I knew a lot about the practice. And I did. I know the poses. I can plank all day. But I was a student then. Teaching is another thing entirely. It has its perks. What could be better than sharing this healing practice with people on a daily basis? Unfortunately, that goodness comes with a side of ego, cruelty, and disappointing hypocrisy.
Is it possible to become a yoga teacher without a heaping side of ego? Or does “chasing the money” end up causing a person to surrender the reason they came into the craft to begin with? If yoga is about being humble and sharing this life-changing practice, why are so many of the big name teachers more about self promotion and a cult of personality. It’s anterior to everything yoga is supposed to be. And it’s disheartening.
Maybe the answer is to keep things small. At least for now. It’s hard to find the places — and people — who feel like home. I am still finding my voice as a teacher. I definitely can’t command a room the way some of the big names do. Yet. But it’s not about that for me. I started the process with curiosity and passion. That’s it. I know am not going to be the prom queen teen dream cheerleader yoga teacher. I am not sure I want to. My only hope is that some day the students I get to teach walk out of my class feeling a little better than they did when they walked in the door. That’s the contribution I hope to make. I choose to believe my vibe will truly attract my tribe.