When I began thinking about starting this blog, one of the things that really worried me was betraying my students. I would imagine them (and still do) coming across one of my posts and thinking that my disenchantment with yoga meant that I was disenchanted with them. The mental image of that scenario literally makes me want to weep.
I love my students. That may sound sappy or cliched, but it is true. I am moved by their willingness to show up over and over again, try new things, and trust me with their instruction. My students teach me so much, and honestly, if it weren’t for them, it is likely I would have given up yoga long ago.
Part of why I am trying to do this whole Yoga for the Disenchanted thing is to access my truest, deepest feelings about the yoga practice. And right now, the feeling that is sitting on top of it all is disenchantment. I can’t ignore that if I want to teach and practice authentically.
So students, if you are reading this, I hope you know that my disenchantment with yoga is not disenchantment with you. In fact, more and more, it is starting to feel like a gift; one that has the potential to lead me somewhere in my yoga, and consequently my teaching, that is better, truer, richer than ever before. Thank you so so so much for your trust and patience as I work on getting there.
Yoga people are so bad at boundaries. Is this a generalization? Obviously. But is it true? YES.
Lest I come across as a jerk, I’ll just remind you that I too am a yoga person, albeit a disenchanted one, and I find setting boundaries so freaking hard. To be fair, boundaries are hard for most people, so my saying that “yoga people” aren’t great with them is a bit of a cheap shot. But I do think the stakes are higher, especially for yoga teachers, because whether we want to or not, we hold a lot of sway in the eyes of our students.
One complicating factor in yoga is that transcending and ultimately dissolving boundaries is a central value in the yoga tradition (Yoga Sutra 2.51). Now, clearly the type of boundary that Patanjali is talking about does not fall under the same category as, say, agreeing not to talk politics at the Thanksgiving table or check work e-mail after 6 PM. He is talking some serious ego meeting id, individual merging with universe, soul expanding, mind bending stuff! And I can assure you that I (like 99 % of every other yoga teacher you will encounter) am totally unqualified to preach….I mean teach…about such things.
But what I can tell you (because I have witnessed it many times) is that the boundary dissolving sentiments of the sutras can VERY easily be distorted to suit the whims of self-serving individuals. This isn’t exactly news to anyone, I’m sure. All you have to do is google “yoga sex scandal,” and you will get plenty of examples.
Now, these are extreme instances and ones that get a lot of press. The more common ones, however, don’t get talked about so much but in some ways are even more destructive because of the sheer numbers of people they affect (this Yoga Journal study showed that roughly 20 million Americans practice yoga). I’m talking about when yoga teachers do things like: give medical advice that they are in no way qualified to provide; teach to a group as though every individual in the class holds the same political, religious, and social beliefs that they do; act like a therapists when they are not.
I’ll be frank; as a teacher, I have done all of these to some extent. I have “suggested” possible causes of pain for students when really what they needed was a medical opinion. I have made assumptions when I shouldn’t have. I have repeated things my own therapist said to me as though I knew what the hell I was talking about. And as a student, I have overtly or unconsciously asked my teachers to do these things for me. I have wanted them to cure me, to validate me, to praise me, to nurse me. And that ain’t right.
I think most of the time, we don’t even realize when we are crossing boundaries in the actual moment we are doing so. At least I don’t. Then once I do realize it, it is very hard to not let the shame spiral kick in. And there is no feeling more likely to ignite my own boundary obliteration quite like shame, and so the cycle continues. So for the foreseeable future, I think I will try starting every class I teach with a quiet prayer for good clear boundaries. May I respect them for my students, my family, my friends, and most importantly, for myself.
In my last post, I talked a little about losing my own voice as a yoga teacher and feeling like a big ole fraud. If you missed it, feel free to check it out below. But what I didn’t mention in that last post was the growing suspicion that everyone around me was a fraud as well.
Several years into teaching, I started having a really hard time taking class from any but a small handful of teachers. I was so critical of other teachers that I could barely focus on myself. Of course I never voiced this criticism aloud, but I can assure you that it was a riotous symphony in my brain. I may have looked all calm and namaste, but inside I was screaming:
How could you give THAT person THAT adjustment?! Do you not see her knee turning in, butt sticking out, shoulders at her ears, crunched lumbar spine?? Are you trying to send her to the operating table? And are you kidding me with that terrible Sanskrit pronunciation?? It is SAVasana, ok! Not SHIVasana!!We are talking corpses here not deities!!!
To say I was judgy is….an understatement. And to say I was angry…yes, just a little.
It was like some debilitating form of yogic paranoia. But beyond anything, it was very isolating and gave me a great excuse to not go to class.
The fact of the matter is that we are all frauds to some extent. I mean, I was once asked to teach a class called “Rock your Ass-ana” for God’s sake. Now if that’s not “authentic” yoga, then I don’t know what is! It’s ok. We can laugh at ourselves when we are stupid. And that class title was STUPID. Bless my sweet, sanctimonious, twenty-something year old heart for recognizing it even then and refusing to teach it.
But seriously, at some point or another, we are all frauds. The dangerous frauds are the ones who never recognize their own fraudulence or seek to do anything about it. And there are certainly plenty of those in yoga, as there are in every other sphere of life.
I am trying to face my fraud head on so I can get back to the yoga I love. And if I can be patient enough with myself to try and do this, it is incumbent upon me to show that same respect to other teachers as well. We all need the room to be a bit of a fraud. And we all need time to figure it out.
Is there anyone in the world who hasn’t said (shouted, blared, trumpeted) this to themselves at some point? I’m not asking this rhetorically but am genuinely curious about whatever lucky species of human is out there that hasn’t at some point in their life felt like a fraud. Does such a one exist?
As I sit to write this first official blog post, the fraud feeling sits on my shoulders. I have never done this before, and already the pit-of-the-stomach questions lurk: Is this even relevant? Do people still read blogs? Am I a phoney-baloney? But as my dear friend B reminded me on an excellent FB post this week, I should:
So here goes.
When I first started teaching yoga in 2003, I was so in love with it that it never dawned on me to feel like a fraud. I was sharing something beautiful! It was profound and affirming, and so freaking hard and still somehow relaxing. I taught those early classes in a sweaty, smelly, padded wrestling room in the basement of NYU’s Coles Gymnasium, now demolished in the name of development. Full disclosure here, I wasn’t even certified when I started! But things like that didn’t matter quite as much back then. I loved yoga and knew enough, so by God I taught it! And honestly, those were some of the most joy-filled classes of my whole teaching career.
Ironically, the fraud-y feelings didn’t come until many years and many yoga certifications later. It started slowly but then picked up momentum. As I taught, words that once felt illuminating as they came out of my mouth started to feel like play-acting, like I was just repeating the same phrases, the same cues, the same cheesy jokes and cliches that a thousand other teachers had before me: In yoga, practice doesn’t “make” perfect; practice is perfect! I mean, it’s true and all, but really? That ain’t me.
There are few things worse than losing your voice. And I don’t mean laryngitis, although that certainly sucks too, but I am mean your voice. I am from Tennessee, but have virtually no southern accent at all. People remark on this often, as though it is some sort of compliment. Little do they know that it makes me so very sad. Like I have lost something sweet that I didn’t even know I had. As a writer, too, I struggle to “find my voice.” One that feels real and authentic and not a re-hashed version of someone else.
I think I will try to use the fraud feeling as a driver, steering me towards a voice that feels more like who I really am. And I will also try not to beat up on whatever voice comes out in the mean time, even if it doesn’t feel so much like me. Maybe it is just a shell. Or a chrysalis. Or snake skin I need to shed. Snakes don’t resent their former skin, do they? Nor do they try to hang onto it.
Lauren Hale Biniaris has been teaching yoga since 2003 in gyms, studios, and privately to students of all ages, levels, and physical needs. She holds yoga certifications at both the 200 and 500 hour levels as well as in prenatal yoga and mommy and me. Lauren is also a dancer, choreographer, and writer and holds degrees from Brown University and NYU.