My YTT (yoga teacher training) spanned most of 2014, and it's soon coming to an end. I have one more week in Nashville with my cohort, and then the Yoga Alliance blesses my forehead. This is so bittersweet.
Coming to the end of this journey has made me think about why I chose to do this training.
I never intended to teach yoga for a living, and I suspect I never will. I am a professor, and I love my job. No career change is in the cards. I decided to do YTT for other reasons.
I wanted to learn to become my own yoga teacher. Yoga has done a lot for me over the last few years, and it's helped me learn a new way to engage with my body and mind. I think many people can experience this with external teachers in a classroom settings. I have had momentary glimpses of what this could feel like for me. There have been a few teachers here and there -- out of the HUNDREDS I have taken classes with -- who I connected with, and it was a transcendent experience.
But this is hard to come by for students with bodies like mine. Yoga teachers typically teach from visual clues as to the student's alignment. And how could they do otherwise? They can't be in the student's head, feeling what the student is feeling! But if a teacher isn't DEEPLY familiar with what a variety of bodies look like in different positions, they miscue us, sometimes in painful or unsafe ways.
My partner E is an avid yoga practitioner, and he had a (typically) silly encounter with his yoga teacher recently. He is a big, muscular person who spent many years lifting weights very seriously. The teacher had the class lay on the ground with their feet against the wall, asking them to push against the wall to strengthen their hamstrings. She came over to E, who was looking around with confusion because he felt no stretch.
She said, ah, I can help! And then she sat on his thigh to add more "pressure" in straightening his leg and extending his hamstring.
Let's leave aside the appropriateness of a yoga teacher making an adjustment by SITTING on someone's thigh/pelvis. Actually, let's not. Having someone's backside pushed against his thigh without his explicit consent shocked the hell out of E. And then she started BOUNCING up and down on him to add more pressure. All that was missing was the 70's porn music.
I had my own one of these recently, when someone made the "classic" down dog adjustment on me. The teacher stood behind my backside and pulled my hips back, bracing himself by pulling my ass against his pelvis. Excuse me, what?!?!
I have witnessed so many teachers make adjustments in ways that are psychologically gross, and the only conclusion I can draw is that these teachers are either horrifically ignorant or willfully malicious. Neither are qualities I look for in teachers. Or humans. Not only are these boundary-pushing, they can be hugely triggering for anyone who has a history of trauma.
But I digress. Back to E's hamstrings! So the teacher is sitting there bouncing up and down on his thigh/pelvis (seriously), and asking E if he feels anything as she applies pressure. He says nope. She replies, wow! You must have the most open hamstrings ever!
Okay, no. E has the tightest hamstrings ever, actually. But what E has (that the teacher failed to understand) is super-muscular calves and thighs. His legs are so muscular that when he lays on the ground, his leg is still pretty bent, because all that muscle is lifting him off the floor. Muscle doesn't really compress, so when this teacher bounced on him, all that happened is his calf and thigh muscle pushed against the floor a little harder. His hamstrings never got involved.
The same teacher came up to him throughout the class whenever he modified a pose, asking him, "Why are you doing that?" He'd answer, teaching her about the modifications he's learned over the years, but it didn't help him stay mentally in his practice. And it didn't exactly inspire trust.
This is pretty typical of what life looks like for any yoga student with an "atypical" body. Nope, my knee isn't locked. I just have really serious quads. Fine, I'll prove it to you by showing you what it looks like when it IS locked, sigh. Yep, this is me with a normal lumbar curve. My ass just sticks out that far. Nope, I'm never going to get into that pose in the way you expect. My boobs/tummy/thighs/backside/whatever are not compressible in that way.
Sitting through class after class of this is frustrating, both because it makes me feel unseen/unsafe in the hands of the teacher (how can you keep me safe in a pose if you have no idea what my body is actually doing?), but also because I want to learn how to DEEPEN my experience in poses. Don't keep repeating tips on how to get my arms into the traditional position in Eagle. I have broad shoulders and DDD cups. This is never going to happen. So teach me something to do with my arms that gives me the same benefit! (Answer: give yourself a hug in Eagle, with each hand reaching towards or behind the opposite shoulder. Exact same shoulder-opening benefits.)
So I took YTT firstly to learn to be my own teacher. By learning more about anatomy and the goals of particular poses, I can take myself further in my own practice. And it has been wonderful.
But let's be clear. This journey has taken months of effort, and thousands of dollars. It is not an accessible option for many people, nor one that everyone desires. So here's the second reason I did it.
Maybe from time to time I can be that yoga teacher for others. I want to give other people the feeling of standing in a room with a teacher who is not afraid of their body.