by James Brown
You know that thing in a scary movie where someone runs from something because that thing is scaring the shit out of them? Well, I recently did just that and the thing from which I finally escaped was the yoga studio culture and community that I’d been practicing and teaching in for about 20 years.
A (very) little background: I’ve not been shy voicing my opinion about the embarrassingly low standard of training that most yoga teachers get, thanks to Yoga Alliance. Using Yoga Alliance standards as the benchmark for yoga teacher training is like using blueprints for a log cabin to build an electric car. And the result- that thing that most people think of when they think of the typical modern yoga class- has me metaphorically jumping out of my seat with terror.
Comments like that last one may be why one of the suggestions I often hear when I share my opinions about teacher training standards is that I may need to relax a bit and stop being so serious.
To that end, I thought I would take advantage of the let-it-all-hang-out, show-us-what-you’re-hiding vibe that surrounds Halloween to take a lighthearted stab at explaining what got me running for the hills, as many of them align with the holiday’s spooky theme.
I’m scared of Scary Yoga Teacher, who seems to be teaching a whole lot of classes lately. Scary Yoga Teacher googled “yoga teacher training,” saw that Yoga Alliance is a big thing, then chose a training with that in mind.
It isn’t Scary Yoga Teacher’s fault, but here is why Scary Yoga Teacher scares me.
Bones are rigid structures that allow and prevent certain movements. Muscles can initiate, allow, or prevent certain movements. Scary Yoga Teacher treats the body as if it will continue to become more flexible with no endpoint. They teach that flexibility is preferable to stability, when the opposite is indeed much more frequently true. Scary Yoga Teacher reinforces our problematic desire to move and change when it is clearly articulated in The Yoga Sutras that tenacious adherence to change and movement is the pathology of suffering.
Scary Yoga Teacher didn’t learn anatomy, so they constantly tell us to soften our trapezius when the arms are overhead even though the arms can’t go overhead without contracting the trapezius.
Poorly trained Scary Yoga Teacher teaches as if bones are something to be negotiated with and that most muscles are there only to be softened and stretched, unless they are core muscles, which Scary Yoga Teacher keeps engaged at all times because they get their information about core from magazine covers and TV shows (which Scary Yoga Teacher denies watching because Scary Yoga Teacher thinks they aren’t supposed to have a TV.)
Scary Yoga Teacher makes medical claims about which they know nothing. They tell us that inversions reverse time, that backbends ward off depression, and that opening the hips will help you process the deeply hidden and purge-worthy residue of past emotional trauma. By doing this, Scary Yoga Teacher teaches wrong information that can do lasting physical and emotional damage. And that’s made even worse by the fact that Scary Yoga Teacher is doing this in the context of a yoga class … something that can actually heal when practiced. But Scary Yoga Teacher can’t teach it because they didn’t learn how to teach it.
Scary Yoga Teacher also gives nutritional advice even though it is not their job and they are not trained in it. Scary Yoga Teacher can not tell the difference between people who want to learn to practice yoga and people who don’t know what to eat between yoga classes. Here’s a hint: the people who want to learn to practice yoga are in yoga classes. The people who want to learn more about what to eat are somewhere else.
Scary Yoga Teacher doesn’t know how to show people how to use the body to find the soul. And while Scary Yoga Teacher isn’t a witch, they do seem to believe in magic. You can tell by the way they teach people how to go into handstand.
If you are following the path laid out in the Yoga Sutras, the journey to the soul is fueled by a specific technique of mental focus. Scary Yoga Teacher didn’t learn that in their teacher training. In Scary Yoga Teacher’s teacher training, the “philosophy” lessons were heavy on group sharing and intention-setting but light on usable information based on any yoga text.
As a result, Scary Yoga Teacher thinks that talking like yoga practice is happening makes yoga practice happen. Prayer hands and a bowed head and Scary Yoga Teacher is good to go. Indian fetishism fills in where the wisdom of ancient Indian texts is not present. Scary Yoga Teacher reduces the tremendously valuable lessons in the stories about the Hindu deity, Ganesha, to telling their students to be careful not to buy a statue with his trunk turned the wrong way or bad things will happen. That is scary!
Scary Yoga Teacher touches students with hands possessed by something other than skill. Because they were not trained well, Scary Yoga Teacher’s touch is tentative, unclear, unnecessary, confusing, and often injurious. While rambling on about the importance of an honest lifestyle free from unnecessary harm, Scary Yoga Teacher uses their most potent tool, their own physical touch, to misinform, misguide, and hurt their students.
Scary Yoga Teacher is good with costumes! They know that the literal costume- the clothing, has approximately three main options: Lululemon, Hard Tail, or organic neo-hippie.
But they think that the other costume, the one that covers up their real, probably awesome identity, the one that decided to become a yoga teacher when they thought that only meant teaching yoga, which they knew and loved then, has only one option. It’s a gluten free vegan who doesn’t think about money, doesn’t own a television and, well, you get the idea. But the most important thing that Scary Yoga Teacher’s costume hides is yoga. The most important thing that happens when Scary Yoga Teacher is teaching is that trusting yoga students are being tricked out of their treat. Who is going to teach them how to find themselves through yoga practice when a good yoga teacher is nowhere to be found?