the *not* yoga class


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A few months ago I went to a yoga studio in San Francisco for a workshop on the hips.

I had a dollop of hesitation signing up because the last time I went to this studio I came home with a rash and a headache. Too hot and too fast.

But this was with a different, well-known teacher and the workshop description led me to believe we would be doing very specific and thoughtful work in the hips.

the workshop begins

We started on our backs.

Yessssss. This is going to be awesome.

Some nicey-nice settling instruction, lots of quiet.

When we did start to move, it was with very slow, curious, swizzle-stick movements of the femur in the socket.

Ahh, just my speed.

The teacher talked about the potency of hip work, the importance of mindfulness, caring for the body, not pushing it, and working in a way and at a pace that spoke to us individually.

Wow, she is really speaking my language.

and then…

BAM!

After two hours of non-stop salutations, all I could think was, I’m getting too old for this.

My personal preference for certain types of practice aside, here’s what bothered me about the class:

I felt like I was asked to take care of myself and asked to push it at the same time.

Even after the invitations to take care, I was singled out when I came into a low lunge instead of a high lunge. Verbal pose corrections came across with an arrogant tone (you should know this, why do I have to tell you again?). And the teacher seemed very aloof and distant.

I recognized this approach because I see pieces of it in myself sometimes: encouragement that borders on pushing; the belief that harder is better; self-importance as Teacher that creates separation from the group.

(in)congruence

In his Teach Now interview, Parker Palmer speaks beautifully about congruence in teaching.

As a learner, he says, it’s all about our perception of the teacher. When we perceive that what we see on the outside does not match what is going on inside, obviously, it is incongruous. This is important because we are trying to gauge safety — will I be safe if I invest myself here? And learning from a teacher requires investing ourselves.

He goes on to talk about how if we sense that the teaching is a performance or act, or that the teacher is wearing a mask, red flags go up. We don’t know what we’re going to get, it’s unpredictable, it doesn’t feel safe. In response we withdraw and disengage.

Additionally, trust, respect, and likability plummet. This is starting to sound like a pretty unlikely environment for learning, huh?

My class experience in San Francisco lacked congruence. In my perception, the teacher sent conflicting messages.

Take care of yourself; you’re perfect as you are.

Push yourself; you can do better.

what I did learn

Creating an inclusive, welcoming space for all bodies to practice is my most essential purpose.

And admittedly, I have pretty strong opinions about what makes a good yoga teacher.

This workshop was a great reminder that how we show up, what we offer, and who we are need to mesh. We can call it being authentic, real, or honest. I really like the container of congruence.

the congruent teacher

I’ll be spying on myself in class and paying close attention to language. (I’ve been recording my classes so I can share some free full-length audio on my new website—coming soooon!)

Listening to yourself teach is humbling and so useful.

As is getting feedback from a colleague.

And being open to feedback from students (they are so not subtle sometimes!). You really went easy on us today; You killed us today; or Wow, that was just the right amount of nudge I needed to get past my fear (all feedback I have received).

+++++

How about you? Ever had an experience like this? How do you monitor your own congruence? Is there an area of your life that is lacking congruence?

Oh, aaaand, I was so disappointed with the hip workshop that I decided to do my own. I’ll be hosting a six-class series on the six ranges of motion of the hip. Check it out. Can’t come? We’ll have the audio only portion available for sale. Shhh, it’s a total secret — don’t tell! Or just tell me so I can get it you. :)

Feel your breath right here, friends. A moment of congruence!

xo

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14 Responses to “the *not* yoga class”


  1. 1 Emma May 15, 2011 at 10:47 pm

    there are never workshops i am interested in here in ithaca. not quite close enough to anything, i guess. how much for audio portion? available on itunes?

    • 2 blogasana May 16, 2011 at 8:12 pm

      emma, i bet it is tough to be “out” and away from yoga hubs. yes, the audio will download into itunes. through the blog it will be $29. i’ll post more info/detail soon! xo

  2. 3 MJ May 16, 2011 at 3:26 am

    I was in a class where upon telling the teacher what I needed, she told me what my body liked. Of course, not knowing my body, she was wrong. In anger (not very yoga-like) I ended up disclosing part of my medical history to prove she was wrong. I hope I was able to help her learn/re-learn that she doesn’t know what other people’s bodies like.

    • 4 blogasana May 16, 2011 at 8:14 pm

      mmm, that’s so hard. good for you for speaking up (even if didn’t feel as kind as possible)… it sounds like it touched on something sensitive for you. best to share/release those!

  3. 5 Leili Learning Life May 16, 2011 at 4:54 am

    Michelle, I find this so courageous. To say that you’re REALLY going to examine your use of language around teaching and then hold yourself accountable to making changes. I recorded my Intro to Yoga class today, and as I’ve expressed to you, just the thought of playing it back and watching my flubs makes me uncomfortable (I think I used the word “oogy”). But do I want to become a better teacher? Yes. And I know that reviewing my own teaching will be invaluable. (So maybe I’ll complain about this recording thing a little less, eh?)

    I like this idea of congruence in tangent with Madeleine’s post on living a double life. If I as a teacher know that my studio owner values mindfulness, self-care, etc., I can mimic her words in my classes to echo her. But if I place my true value in pushing beyond edges, and that’s the way I live my life, it will show up in my teaching. Someone made the comment that “who you are personally IS who you are professionally” — and I think in the same way, who you are off the mat is who you are on the mat. Perhaps more challenging, who you are ON the mat IS who you are off the mat, and we take our practice with us into everyday life.

    I’m so grateful for the discussions being opened up by you, and Madeleine, and Tami, and all of the other lovely folks within this community.

    • 6 blogasana May 16, 2011 at 8:15 pm

      you’re so sweet, leili. yes, it can be so oogy. where ever you go, there you are! thank you for sharing these insights. <3

  4. 7 Tracy May 16, 2011 at 10:57 am

    Great topic, Michelle! I admire how as a practitioner and a teacher you can bring both stories, both perspectives to the table. Where I am living there is not a lot of diversity in yoga classes offered. And from my own few negative class experiences as a practitioner, I suppose I’ve come to prefer my home practice the best. I have found teachers seem to push too much and that has turned me off a bit. I try to grown and expands in my practice, but not hurt myself in the process–in body or mind. :o)

    • 8 blogasana May 16, 2011 at 8:18 pm

      i’m so with you, tracy; home practice is the best for me right now. i suppose i go through phases… if i feel dry or unmotivated or uninspired, sometimes i’ll seek out the influence through class (or sometimes i’ll just be with those feelings). and usually what i learn is that i already knew, or i just needed to be with myself as i am for a little while. yes, the point of practice is to NOT hurt ourselves!! thanks for sharing… xoxo

  5. 9 Mel May 16, 2011 at 1:46 pm

    I loved, loved, loved that Parker Palmer interview. Listened the day before I taught my first real class, and so glad I did. I’m behind on the rest and the last actual class recording – it was both excellent timing to coincide with the end of my teacher training, and also difficult to manage! But so, so thankful for the course. So awesome.

    And this post. Congruence. I’m striving for this in all areas, and it seems to have so much to do with being honest with my own self first. And breathing, finding the place of where I’m at in my own practice, this is what I’m learning that may be of use, but *here* is the line where that becomes too much, where I am still too IN it to separate myself and look more calmly/objectively.

    I would be interested in the audio of your hips class – it might be a bit far for me ;) (on the east coast here!) – And in looking at the workshops page, I have to say how AWESOME your description of your headstand class is. “*Ability to do a headstand not required; curiosity and sense of humor are.” Congruence. Sweet.

    • 10 blogasana May 16, 2011 at 8:21 pm

      mel, so glad to hear you’re doing (did) teach now too! great program. i think that line you’re describing is so hard to negotiate, esp in the beginning. we’re just trying to remember lefts and rights and arm and leg details… and eventually those things become more ingrained and then we can be aware in a broader and more subtle way. it’s amazing that after just a few weeks of teaching you’re already exploring that!! kudos! i’ll post details on the hips workshop in the next few weeks and let you know when details are up :) thanks so much, mel. xo

  6. 11 madyoga May 16, 2011 at 4:15 pm

    Michelle, your audio recordings will head out and change the world. Beautiful conversation, thank you.

  7. 13 yoginimelie May 16, 2011 at 11:00 pm

    Michelle,

    Thank you for shining your light on this topic.

    In January 2011, I realized I been practicing yoga for 15 years. In all the styles I’ve embraced or rejected (or felt rejected by), including one in which I was trained to teach, I encountered the incongruence you describe. One dark moment that stands out was during teacher training in the style that is known for flowing with grace, where I found myself with bursitis in my hips after a two day workshop of too much pushing through the spirals (in those days it was “shins in, thighs out”, still a helpful instruction when taken in moderation). For two weeks afterward, I could barely walk. Over the years of practicing, and especially in the style that repeats the same 26 consecutive poses in every heated class, I wondered why my hips couldn’t do what my fellow yogis’ hips could do. So I sought the answer while practicing and studying this and countless other styles of yoga, and that answer was typically a version of my being “less-than”. That my yet undiagnosed, albeit mild, congenital hip dysplasia that affects my range and ability, was due to my lack of attention to alignment principles, or worse, my lack of perseverance and ability to keep pushing through it (translation: laziness). NO. No, no and no. I fundamentally knew this wasn’t so, but it was so tempting to place the “blame” on myself. It seemed there nothing more than a tentative space for me in these particular yoga communities. And countless others. And while I made a conscious effort not to focus on my limitations, to turn my attention rather to what my body could do, every time a new, eager teacher got a load of the likes of me, there it would be, that subtle rejection. And incongruence.

    And then I met Paul Grilley, with his bag full of human femur bones, brought to the workshop to illustrate the vast variation in length and size of the femur bone, along with the variation in size and placement of the head of the femur, which affects where it attaches into the acetabulum, which affects range of motion – and – as it turns out, “flexibility”. A lot. I was moved to tears. At last, a true and accidentally compassionate answer to my persistent question. How that fact freed me.

    I should add that I felt a similar relief the first time I came to your class, at the Land Park location, now all those years ago. Like I could finally live in Sacramento now because I found my yoga home. We are so grateful for the yoga you teach; thank you, thank you, thank you for your commitment to congruence.

    • 14 blogasana May 16, 2011 at 11:46 pm

      wow, melanie – this makes me want to cry. for your experience, for all of us who take on inadequacy to explain why we don’t look/feel a certain way. it’s so brutal and harmful to not just our bodies but our hearts and minds. i take “advancing” in yoga as learning that the asana (or at least doing an asana a certain way) is not the important thing. and isn’t *that* the practice — to learn from all the bs and get down to what’s essential? paul is amazing and his work is soooo important in the yoga world. thank you so much for sharing this so we can all learn to recognize it in ourselves. love…


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