Hey, Yoga Teachers: Quit Bullying Me

By Deborah Dunham for Blisstree.com

The other day in yoga class, we were in Lizard Pose (resting on our forearms with one foot by our hands and the other leg outstretched balancing only on our toes). But, because of a stubborn Achilles injury, this particular pose (along with several others) puts a tremendous amount of strain on my heel. So, I did what any good yogi would do: I made an excuse for a bathroom break.

Just kidding—I dropped my back knee so I was balancing on it instead of my toes. My Achilles immediately thanked me. I was feeling pretty good about my ability to modify a pose and do what was right for my body, when my teacher suddenly yelled out, “Your knee is supposed to be off the ground. Stop telling yourself stories about an injury and what you can’t do.” Without looking up from my sweaty mat, I knew she was talking to me. And for a moment, I allowed her to make me feel lesser-than, which made me mad. F*ck off, I thought. I’m doing what’s right for me -- not you. I kept my knee on the ground, as if we entered into a battle of wills.

That wasn’t the first time I’ve been bullied, as I call it. Matter of fact, it happened again in that same class.

This time, we were in Garland Pose (or Malasana) which had us wide-stance squatting position. My teacher instructed us to take a bind around our backs, but again, that action didn’t feel good to me, so I took my bind under my leg. Proud of myself for getting into this pretzel-twist, I then had to hear her say, “We’re taking a bind around our back today, not under our legs, people.” Again, me.

Another time, the teacher instructed us to take Downward Dog and lift one leg to the ceiling. Because of my Achilles once again, I didn’t lift my leg. “I’m watching you,” she came over to me and said. “There’s no slacking in here.” I reminded her about my injury (something she knew about all along), to which she replied, “OK, I’ll let it go this time.” Gee, thanks, I thought, feeling like the slacker yogi she just pointed out.

In other classes, I’ve had another instructor come over and say he was going to “start pushing me more.” I even had this same teacher talk to my husband with concern that I didn’t seem to be “finding my edge” in class. And I’ve even had to listen to a teacher call me out in front of the entire class for, once again, not doing the exact pose that everyone else was doing.

To these yoga teachers I say: While I quite like your adjustments to get my arms and legs aligned and your mini-temple rubs during Savasana, quit bullying me. After 20 years of being a competitive athlete and marathon runner, I know how to push myself and “find my edge.” I know how to listen to the poses you’re queuing. And I know when you’re talking to me, even though you make it seem like you’re addressing the entire class with your passive-aggressive comments. The thing is, it’s taken me a long time to get out of competing and comparing myself in yoga, unlike any other workout or sport I’ve done in the past. I used to push myself to go deeper than I should in certain poses and ended up paying the price the next morning with a stiff knee or strained muscle in my back. Believe me, it takes a lot for me to admit that I can’t do something, but my ego has gotten in the way of my body in the past and it always wins (and not in a good way). So, for once in my life, I am learning to listen to my body. Truly. And do what it asks for–not my ego and certainly not you. In the name of all yogi-ness, please just leave me the hell alone. Namaste.