How imperfect can a yoga teacher be?

Original Caption: Sergeant Kenneth Morgan, sen...

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I recently heard a well-known yoga instructor say something very nearly exactly like, “You have no business teaching if you’re thirty pounds overweight.” This got me thinking about degrees of imperfections and what qualifies a person as a teacher, beyond the requisite teacher training. For instance, if you’re looking for a personal trainer or a fitness instructor, you probably do want the one with an optimal physique as proof of their pudding. Or a drill instructor: for a drill instructor, you want someone who clearly punishes themselves, too, because it’s one less thing your brain can run away with as they’re shouting in your face.

Yoga is at least in part a physical endeavor. Is it primarily a physical endeavor? Do we practice yoga to purify and cleanse the imperfection so completely from our bodies that we really believe ourselves impervious? I guess if that’s the point of yoga, we really do want only the youthful appearing, halest and fittest among us instructing it. I, for one, am disturbed by a pervasive sense that if you have the “right” personal practice, and are performing it correctly, you won’t be subject to the maladies of the flesh.

We have certain stories about progenitors of yoga-dom overcoming and healing their own maladies. These stories form part of the justification for practice, our collective mythology. Is this the corollary of that self-healing myth: If your practice does not heal you and grant you a life of perpetual wealth, peace and robust good health, it is not yoga. If you practice dutifully and correctly you will not suffer. And to go one further: If you suffer, either you did not practice or you did not practice correctly.

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Yoga: The Prophylactic for Your Inner Weiner (Part 3)

Feeling You Up

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continued from yesterday…  If yoga isn’t going to change our pasts or our needs, well, what’s the point? What can yoga do? Well, if you have an inner Weiner (and we all do, c’mon now….) you might get to know that guy a little better by spending time on the mat. And he might tell you, “I think I’m gonna start sending disappointing pictures of my underpants to the public and completely change my image in the public eye. Yep, I think I’m definitely feelin’ it today. I know it sounds crazy, but I just feel it! It feels so sexy!”
Okay so it might not be that blatant, maybe it will only be a feeling, and a feeling you’d rather not have. But really, that’s what we’re saying when we say “I wasn’t honest with myself.” We’re saying, “I kept having that feeling, but it was icky, so I decided to ignore it until I did something really grand with it.” Well, guess what? You did. The fact that you ignored truths about yourself leading up to your grand, career defining gesture doesn’t make you more pathetic or more broken or more excusable than the next lout.
And you might just stop right in the middle of your pigeon pose, feeling a little like taking a shower. Well, don’t. Stay there, talk to that guy, write about it, cry about it, wonder about it, laugh about it. This is what practice is for. Whether you touch your toes (and eventually you will), showing up on the mat is about clarifying and becoming more and more transparent to ourselves. It’s not going to end, ever, this need to meet ourselves, and yes, it’s daily. Will you ever do anything really embarrassing or idiotic again? Yeah, probably. I do. It’s a prophylactic, and they all have a failure rate. But you’ll gain a sense of humor and understanding, an ability to own the action and your person, and never, ever to put your lack of self-knowledge above your relationships to other people, the hurt you feel above the hurt you cause.
And those yoga teachers in those sex scandal stories? Yeah, ask them how their practice was the morning they decided to become that guy or that gal. I’ll bet you an unlimited pass to home practice they didn’t show up for themselves on the mat, and that’s why “it” happened.

Yoga: The Prophylactic for Your Inner Weiner (Part 2)

Sigmund Freud in a Slip

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continued from yesterday’s Part 1…. Why is it that when we fail our commitments and the very relationships that give our lives shape and substance, we lead with this seeming revelation: I’ve not been honest with myself”? In an attempt to turn a relational failure into a personal tragedy, we seem to take full and total responsibility. After all, he did say he’d made mistakes, hurt lots of people, he even named classes of them. All the while he abdicated his ownership of those very consequences and his own intentions.  The lead phrase might as well say: “But the real tragedy is my lack of self-knowledge, some deep inner turmoil which allowed me to be non-transparent to even myself!” (cue collective hand to mouth gasp and cluck.)
Welcome to the human race. Seriously, this isn’t any personal tragedy or deep, intimate secret; this is what The Bible called original sin, Freud called the unconscious and the Sutras call the vacillations of the mind. Get real. This is no more revelatory than saying “I screwed up.” So what’s all this got to do with yoga as a prophylactic? I mean, if yoga teachers fall prey to the grand scandals and transient peccadilloes of  the oh so maligned politicians, then isn’t this evidence that yoga doesn’t work to make us purer, better, nicer and truer?
No. See comment regarding The Bible, Freud and Sutras. If you’re going to yoga class expecting to be relieved of the maladies of being human, you’re in for a serious disillusionment: whether it happens when your teacher propositions you, underpays you or simply unloads on you, or maybe you find yourself propositioning your teacher, underpaying and unloading on your staff, you’ll come to a crisis of confidence in yoga, in your practice, in your teacher, in your ability to be purified, cleansed or saved.

But here’s the deal: yoga doesn’t save us from us from our bodies, our desires, our pasts or our possibilities. It makes them all that and more so. It makes the body more of what it was born to be, our desires grow and morph and take different forms, but they still grow from the same needs and truths and until those are acknowledged, those desires aren’t going away with your copious sweat. Our pasts and possibilities will always be inextricably linked and bound by the truths we bury or reveal in them, and no amount of twisting, dandelion cleanses, inverting or sweating is going to change their content. continued tomorrow… in part 3.

Yoga: The Prophylactic for Your Inner Weiner (Part 1)

Yogi's Ark Lark

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A week and a half later, the Weinergate jokes run their course and our fascination wanes (if we ever sustained one) … until of course the next installment or revelation. Or the next Weiner. And let’s own up, the next Weiner could be a yogi.

Go ahead and search on “yoga teacher sex scandal,” I’ll wait til you get back. If you didn’t think those words went together, you’ll probably gasp before you giggle at the titles: “Chakra full of scandal,” “Yogis behaving badly” and the titles go on. What allows someone who willingly takes a mantle of leadership to abuse the trust of those they purport to serve?

Politicians may seem a breed apart from famous (or not-so-famous) yoga teachers: so much more glad-handy, duplicitous and mendacious. So much more malleable and less principled, right? But this quote could have come from any of the yoga teachers I’ve ever taken, talked to or practiced alongside (okay, maybe minus “the media” and sub “students” for “constituents”):

“I have not been honest with myself, my family, my constituents, my friends and supporters, and the media.”

Just prior to this he admits to “terrible mistakes” and “hurting” significant people in his life. Just after, he details that what was meant as a “private” direct message was accidentally posted publicly. I want to focus on the lead-in, the part you could almost act as if you hadn’t heard, the part that almost might seem to make the others excusable: “I have not been honest with myself…” 

(continued…. tomorrow….)

Online Yoga to Support Your Practice

Ushtrasana yoga pose

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“you. YOU are the yoga.

simple fact.”

I love Bindi Fry’s latest post about practice, grasping and surrender (my take, not her words) from which this quote hails. Short story: home practice is where the magic happens. Home practice is where the yoga happens. Want to know what “yoga” is besides “just the asana“? Engage your own home practice. Your habits, your loves, your obsessions, your truth, your hiding , your obstacles and games, your beauty: all there. Seriously, go get it, cause it’s there on the mat when you roll it out every day on your own.

Now, the best of this occurs when you’re in a self-guided practice, meaning you either have a practice that’s been given to you or you follow your body on the mat.

But among the many “dirty little secrets” of yoga teachers that we learn after teacher training aren’t so dirty and aren’t so secret is that sometimes we’re tight on time, and sometimes it’s just luscious to have someone else give the cues, and sometimes we could use some motivational oomph.

When I’m crunched on time, want a “class” and am seeking inspiration, a reminder of Beauty, an invitation to Love and a beckoning of the Truth, I have a couple of websites that are my rock solid go-to’s. One is Harmony’s Well and another for private lessons is Now Lesson. For quick classes from yogalebrities, I go to myyogaonline.com. And today they have this great giveaway! A Camel Cushion from Halfmoon Yoga Props. All you have to do is leave a comment about how you increase chest and back flexibility. Here’s mine:

My shoulders are my limiting factor, and I use this preparatory move I’ve heard called the ‘Windmill’: Prone, extend hands directly out from shoulders, palm down. Bend right elbow, tenting fingers in near right shoulder, using this only to stabilize your roll. Start rolling your right side up by engaging the core, feeling the stretch across the front of your left chest and shoulder. As you are comfortable and not before, you can reach the right hand back towards the left, bring the right leg behind the left, all to deepen the stretch.

Head over and leave yours and maybe you’ll have a new yoga prop to beckon you to the mat!