Dear Yoga Teachers

Quick Note: This post is a vent involving some yoga studio issues I’ve experienced relatively recently. In no way am I suggesting that it’s representative of what I experience when I enter a local yoga studio. If you’re a yoga teacher and this does not apply to you, then it was probably never meant for you in the first place. ;)

Additionally, for the studios in question, I have already left specific feedback, albeit in a more private, less venty form.

To those yoga teachers who it may concern:

I’m not sure how much this matters, but I try to be a good student. Yes, in the sense of being honest with myself and reflecting on my own practice, but also in the more tangible sense of observing good studio etiquette. I read the information on your websites. I choose a class that will be appropriate for me. I wear clothing suitable for movement and bring the suggested items — mat, towel, water in non-glass container — I predict I will need. I respect each studio’s policies with respect to scents and sounds (talking, cell phones, etc.). I arrive as many minutes prior to class as stated guidelines suggest, and I’m upfront in telling instructors about my physical issues. In short, I’m doing the best I can to help your classes and your studios function safely and smoothly.

However, some of y’all are not reciprocating.

As this is my imaginary letter on my real blog, I am going to offer some suggestions. I would love it if you’d consider them.
First, please practice what you preach. For example, it’s not really fair to be strict about punctuality when it comes to student arrivals while not starting class on time yourself. Your time is important. But my time is important too, and if I’d known you weren’t really going to start your 9:00am class until 9:15, I would not have hauled ass to get there at 8:45 — fifteen minutes early — as your website requests. It’s fine to emphasize punctuality or not, or to ask us to arrive early or not; it’s your call. But if you’re going to expect punctuality from us, then we should be able to expect it from you.

The same goes for scents. I get it. People have allergies; people have sensitivities. People have other breathing problems that can be exacerbated by particulates in the air. And breathing problems in a situation where the breath is emphasized is double plus ungood. It makes sense to have a policy asking students to avoid wearing scented cosmetic or personal care items; it’s for the safety of your students. That said, it needs to apply to scents you bring into the studio as well. I’m not talking about whatever deodorant you may or may not be wearing this class. I’m talking about warming scented oils or burning incense while class is in session. Those scents (and smokes!) have the same potential to trigger breathing issues or other sensitivities. It’s for the safety of your students.

Next, it would be awesome if you’d adjust your pre-planned sequence to the students present. I don’t mean that you should make our personal modifications for us; that’s our responsibility, after all. However, in a class where we are packed like sardines in a can, it might not be such a great idea to call out poses that require a good degree of lateral room. For instance, wild thing. Doing this in a crowded room seems like an excellent way to nail someone in the root chakra. I mean, it’s one thing to offer up such a pose if there’s generally space available — and if a single pair of folk are spaced unfortunately, this is their own problem and fixable by the students themselves. But when the no space issue is true for the class as a whole, is this not maybe tempting fate?

Same goes for the phrase “if you fall, you fall” during any inverted balance posture. It’s fine to laugh off falling: for lots of people, this is an acceptable risk. It’s decidedly less cool to laugh off the possibility of falling on someone else, someone who may be recovering from an injury, who may be dealing with a chronic condition, or who may just not like a foot thwacking them in the face. While it’s certainly not your responsibility to account for every single movement of every single student, I don’t think it’s unreasonably to want a teacher who sets safe parameters for the group as a whole.

Finally, it would be super awesome if some of you would step it up when it comes to respecting your students’ bodies and boundaries. Though I appreciate the fact that physical adjustments are often a part of class, I would love if more teachers communicated about the adjustments in advance. I realize this is not the most popular of opinions, but I’m not a fan of the “adjustment status quo” as I’ve experienced it in classes. That is, I wish more teachers would ask before touching instead of assuming that touching is okay unless they hear otherwise.

I get it. We live in a culture that does not, in practice, value bodily autonomy or consent. There are problems with that. In a perfect world, y’all would become part of the solution. To ask, “May I…?” takes approximately a second or two. To receive a response would take a second or two longer. True, you may not get to as great a quantity of adjustments in any given class, but at least you could be sure that each adjustment was wanted.

However, I also understand the harsh reality that the world does not actually operate according to my ideals. While I don’t necessarily like it, I’m pretty sure that the adjustment status quo will remain that students should be open to physical adjustments and touching unless they specifically state otherwise.

That said — and this one is a deal breaker — I do specifically state otherwise, either orally to the teacher or via my intake card. Often — not the majority of times, but a reasonable estimate is one in every three new classes — this “please ask before you touch me” boundary is ignored.

This.

Is.

Bad.

Like, bad enough that I am reduced to monosyllables. I cannot explain it terribly more, only — As a person with nerve damage, it is bad because it has the potential to make me fall, which can injure me. As a person with chronic pain, it is bad because it has the potential to hurt me in and of itself. As a person with PTSD, it is bad because it has the potential to destroy my trust in you.

You are not obligated to care about any of these things, of course, but it is what it is. And it does seem like if you’re going to ask me to abide by what is a reasonable social contract, I might ask you to do the same.

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I'm here. I like stuff. Some other stuff, I like less.

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2 comments on “Dear Yoga Teachers
  1. Bharat says:

    I’m a yoga teacher and I don’t do any of the things you have remarked on here. But I do think that your post applies to me, or any yoga teacher. We need to be reminded of these basics. We need to be reminded that we have individual, feeling human beings in front of us who each have their own life weight to carry. We need to be reminded that when we take the teacher’s seat we must model the awareness that we mean to develop in our students. Yoga is vast and in my view the only way to approach the teaching of it is with humility.

    And if I may say, this post is rather gentle and considerate. The points you raise are common sense and even so need to be raised from time to time. You are a good yoga student. Thank you. Namaste.

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