Sunday, 12 August 2012

Teacher Preacher Healer: the Yoga Evangelist Karaoke Singer

My renewed life insurance policy now requires me to have a disclaimer in my blog. So here it goes: the beast of sarcasm is currently on vacation, so this entry is safe for the faint of heart and sensitive people. The beast worked really hard in the last blog promoting the new yoga products from the 3A Not-a-cult Yoga Inc. Some time off is well deserved.

I wrote about the role of teacher a while back and you can find it here. Recently a well respected yoga teacher Spicy Hello Kitty also wrote about the subject, and we had a short but meaningful discussion about it. Then lo and behold, the very topic came up again when The Divine Miss N and I were having coffee a couple of weeks ago. Obviously it's a topic that deserves more attention.


Back in my yoga teaching days, all of my classes were required to "have a heart-oriented theme, which has a meaningful connection to the grand spiritual purposes of the asana practice", and I was supposed to "display a dedication to serving each student and helping him or her unveil his or her innate goodness, worthiness, and Supreme nature, while inspiring..."

That's quite a load, especially from a yoga school that is supposed to be all about freedom. We're told to follow this template with a mandatory heart theme, where each class starts with a 5-7 minutes of nattering that followed by om shanti shanti shanti, sequenced poses with some alignment focus that leads to the climatic apex pose and then cool off to a power nap... granted, this is a great template for an asana class. But it's just a bit ironic when this system is supposedly non-dogmatic. Looking back now, it has a shit load of hair-splitting, not-all-forgiving, often-changing-to-conform-to-GM's flavour of the month... you get the picture. A good tool to plan a class? Yes. The only way to teach a class? No.

Most importantly, because of the self-help, therapy, re-hab type of atmosphere it creates, many are drawn to it. This self-help, re-hab type of nattering is some powerful shit and it sells. It even has its own section at Chapters. Anyone who has been asked to demo a handstand or dropback in a yoga workshop can attest to it. I mean, Oh! My! God! I went to a yoga class and I became superman! I was healed! And I didn't even need the yoga urethra massage therapy!

Fast forward...

We LOVE to tell people what to do. Bitch please. We all do, so don't even pretend that you are holy and above the rest of us. Whether we actually tell people what to do is a different story, but deep down we all have this intrinsic urge to tell people what they need to do, to show them the way, to "help them".... This is what I am having trouble with a lot of yoga teachers these days.

You see, many of them consider themselves a therapist or a life coach because they took a workshop with a philosophy scholar. All of a sudden their opinions become the answers to everything and can fix everyone's problems. But the reality is having an opinion is just that: having an opinion. It does not make us an expert. Who am I to tell these people how to live their lives? Who am I to dispense unsolicited therapy when many of them only come to do some poses and work off a sweat? Who am I to voluntarily offer advice on life and shit to people who may be well versed in life and shit themselves? Better yet, by voluntarily offering unsolicited happy beautiful advice on life, this bunch of yoga teachers

1) diminish, dismiss and invalidate others feelings and experiences
2) are covertly and judgmentally saying "you are broken but I can fix you because I am better than you".

As I discussed in my previous blog, the role of teacher is a complicated one. It comes with this imposed authority status and many yoga teachers just love seating on the pedestal, yammering to a bunch of listeners. There's nothing wrong with that. In fact I welcome any yoga teacher who shares what he or she has experienced in life, or learned in a workshop, or events that inspire them. Good teachers are skillful, humble and not afraid of talking about their own shit (without hijacking the class). Humility fosters growth, and a teacher who claims to know everything is one that has stopped learning and growing. No thanks.

There's a fundamental difference between "suggesting" and "imposing". And there's an even bigger difference between "imposing" and "judging". Also, in my opinion, there is a huge difference between a yoga teacher and a spiritual therapist. At least I don't think a 90-minute yoga class is the best place for preachy therapy while many simply want to have a good sweat, unless the class is called "spiritual healing in 90 minutes". Is it the yoga teacher's job to tell people how to live their lives and provide them with spiritual guidance? Does the E-RYT 500 registration with Yoga Alliance automatically qualify anyone to teach, preach and heal? I'm leaning towards NO.

Now that I think about it, there are quite a bit of similarities between a yoga teacher and a karaoke singer. Both stand in front of an audience and show off some kinds of skills. Both spew out stuff that some in the audience may or may not care for. Both may have amazing skills and deserve many rounds of applause, or they simply suck and really need to go away. Both have no official governing bodies except the booing from the audience, and there's nothing that can stop either of them from spewing out stuff. Frankly, both may have zero professional training and are just full of shit.

Hmm... may be I'll teach a yoga karaoke teacher training immersion workshop.

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