Monday, January 30, 2012

In Praise of the Local Yoga Teacher

I've learned a huge amount from reading about yoga online. I've connected with amazing people. I've had the opportunity to say some stuff I care about and have some people listen to me. And all of that's been wonderful and gratifying.

But there's also been times when reading about yoga, and learning about other practitioners' views on all sorts of yoga-related issues has been a terrible downer.

And so far, on the whole, 2012 has been more of the latter than the former.

You know, there's been that New York Times article about yoga wrecking your body. Yes, it was good to raise the issue. But then it got depressing, learning about all the yoga injuries, thinking about all the unqualified teachers, hearing about why there's so many unjustified teacher training programs, and on and on . . .

And don't even get me started about the whirlwind of debate that formed around that stupid Equinox video. When Kathryn Budig posted yet another huffy shallow piece in the HuffPo, I couldn't help it - it dragged me down all day.

Sometimes I feel like I've learned too much about yoga - or, that is, about American yoga today. And it's just like - ick. Get me out of here. I hate this shit.

Thank you, thank you

And then.

And then I get back on my mat to practice at home because I'm feeling so cranky and stiff and I know that I just need some asana. And it makes me feel so much better. And it's great. And I think - OK, forget all that crap. Yoga really is great. At least here at home alone in my own little room.

Which is wonderful. But it still feels lonely. Until . . .

I make it back to my local yoga class. I drive to a nearby studio with some friends. We've all managed to arrange our work schedules to attend this class together. It's small. Twelve students would be a big day. Usually it's more like 6 - 8.
But it's magic.

We've got 6, 7, 8, 9 women in a room, including the teacher. And we work our way through some really serious stuff. And it's fun, and it's hard, and it's deep, and it's wonderful.

And I realize - all those headlines are important, but they're not the backbone of what's happening. No, it's the stories that are too "small" to be written up in the New York Times.

It's all those teachers who've invested thousands of their own dollars in training programs that will take years, if ever, to pay off. It's the teachers who trek to their local studios, or gyms, or church basements, week after week to teach a small group of students, who may or may not be able to make it regularly, who may or may not be able to use what's being offered to lift off. But who go back and keep teaching anyway. And keep studying, keep practicing.

Who will never be on the cover of Yoga Journal. Who will never be a headliner at Wanderlust. Who can't help but wonder sometimes why they're investing so many resources in something that seems so impractical. Who can't help but feel bad sometimes because they know that they'll never be featured in a video that's gotten two million hits; that they'll never be beautiful enough to command those big advertising dollars.

Who've studied the Sutras not because it sounds impressive, but because they're interested in learning more about yoga. Who've wondered about enlightenment not because they're on some byzantine ego trip, but because they want to plumb the depths of what life really offers.

Who will always try their best for their students - even if there's only three of them in the room, when they were hoping for 20. Who'll be careful to note what each one needs for the next class, and try to devote some of their scant time to learning more about it before they get back in front of that student again.

Who really want to share the best of what they've experienced through their own asana practice with others. Who know that they don't understand what this gift means, but know that they care about sharing it.

Thank you.


  1. Awesome post. Captures a lot of how I feel. Too much is made of "celebrity" teachers, but it's hard to beat a small class, led by a teacher who really cares about TEACHING!

  2. So true! Thank you for the reminder.

  3. Carol!!! Thank you. Really. Thank you, so much! I feel like you've written all of these words directly to me (though I know that's not at all the case... ;))
    This has resonated with me, this morning, in ways that I have yet to realize. I just feel it, you know? Yes, you do know.

    Much much love to you and yours. I miss you fiercely.

  4. Keeping it real once again and bringing us back to what's really important

  5. Thanks so much, Carol. I love this. There are many committed teachers in this world whose focus is on deepening their practice and sharing it with a small group of committed students, rather than focusing on self-promotion and creating a brand. I'm fortunate to have spent 25 years with two teachers who put practice first, and invited small groups into their retreat space several times a year for periods as long as 30 days. It was truly an amazing gift that I'm grateful for every day.

  6. Okay. You have made my day. I'm up here in northern New England working full time and teaching four classes a week - nights and weekends. I'm at a great studio with really good teachers and lots of the dearest students anywhere. All the trash talk and magazine expose and rock star teachers I hear about seems like some other planet. There is no doubt in my mind that most of the yoga being taught all over the country is taught by good, qualified teachers to good, sincere students. The fact that news crews don't show up to those classes isn't surprising - no flash, no controversy, no egomaniacs, just yoga. But this is to be expected in our society. Why would we treat yoga any differently than anything else? So we shouldn't get too excited by the nonsense. Nevertheless, it is really nice to read such an uplifting post as yours. Thank you. Really. Thank you.

  7. That was a wonderful post and I thank YOU. I am a yoga teacher. I love yoga and want to bring that feeling to others. I will never be a 'Rock Star' yoga instructor because I don't care about the money, I don't care about where I can find space to teach, I don't care who is in my class, and I don't care about name dropping. All I care about is that one person who, after a class, comes to me and says thank you. Who says I was able to relax for the first time in months. Who says to me I can't wait until next time. I was questioning if I really wanted to keep doing this, this thing that I love so much...this thing that has gotten very little respect and has been beaten up so badly in the press. Your post helped me understand that it really IS so important to stay true to what has helped me through my life...and a gift I love giving to anyone who is open to it. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

    1. From a dedicated teacher...may blessings shower you. Because you write as if you are in the hearts of those most devoted. That the true teacher sees. They are studying constantly, practicing endlessly, and they pour their hearts out unto others. And the whole to touch others, to spread love, to show people that the practice is mighty, but most of all...because they are giving back what they are given. It is truly the pulsation of the shakti :) I am blessed to be a teacher, and I am so thankful for all of my students. They touch my heart every day.

  8. Amen for the grassroots. Thanks for a great post. Cheers.

  9. Thank you for the great post!

  10. Gratitude to you for articulating this so beautifully and Gratitude to the local teachers.

  11. Love this - thank you for expressing your truth!

  12. Very well put. Though I've enjoyed a workshop or two with the various celebrity yogis that pass through my town, the real exploration goes on in my regular sessions with my semi-anonymous local teachers. Kudos to them!

  13. I see I'm late in the game but I'll put down my vote for posterity.

    This is not unlike a hand for the common man, the working class, the uncelebrated backbone of society. It's a post that reminds readers that not all is sensationalism and shine.

    Most of the yoga is sweet and sincere, taught and practiced by people who simply enjoy yoga.

  14. Postmenopausalposer888February 8, 2012 at 1:50 PM

    Calling things you don't enjoy "stupid" is kind of a second grade lack of analysis(a third grader would at least avoid insulting the object she's dismissing without explanation as "boring."
    The teacher in the "stupid Equinox video" is a local yoga teacher who puts incredible love & care into helping every student, just like yours. I've been one of only two, both new to her, to show up for a neighborhood(not mine) class because there was a coupon(and I now know teachers get paid by the student & often nothing if it's a coupon!) That class & every class I took from her at other studios was safe, kind, creative, and constantly adapted to each student's disabilities/abilities!

    1. Sorry to have insulted your teacher. The "stupid" was an expression of my own feelings of discouragement and frustration about the symbolism of that video and their obvious importance in our culture. It wasn't meant to be an attack on an individual.

      People need to be aware, however, that when they put themselves into high-feature products that are meant to operate symbolically, their unique individuality will not come through in that context. It's not meant to - the whole point is to strike a resonant chord that hits a lot of strongly held feelings about control, beauty, accomplishment, happiness, and so on.

  15. I found myself nodding to this from beginning to end. Amen.
    Beautifully written and thank you!

  16. Thank you for writing this, Carol. This is a beautiful post.

  17. Thank you so much, I really needed to read this this morning.

  18. this made me cry, it's so lovely. thank you x

    i'm one of those teachers...i stopped teaching 3 years ago as it had become a financial drain. where i live in the uk is saturated with yoga and i am poor at publicity, self-promotion etc. but, i am dedicated to my practice and will always be involved in teaching somehow. i've just been reading about the anusara stuff and it's made me feel a little, um, smalltime... which i can't say i mind, but it's funny to think of this big, hollywood-style yoga world in the us...and somewhat galling to think of tje £/$ to be made, when my young family could really do with me able to earn some!

    blessings to you x