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Scary Yoga Teachers: A Halloween Rant

Scary Yoga Teachers

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.

Anyway.

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.

Duly noted.

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!

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.)

GUTS!

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.

SPIRITS!

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!

HAUNTED HANDS!

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.

COSTUMES!

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?

14 Responses to Scary Yoga Teachers: A Halloween Rant

  1. Chas Tiernan November 2, 2018 at 10:49 am #

    Some years ago I engaged in yoga teacher training and taught a few classes , it was stimulating and rewarding and I was trained well . So I know yoga right and wrong . I went away from teaching when the demands of my business called for it, but I’ve still kept my own practice . I’ve had some great teachers since then but I’ve had a few really scary teachers . My favorite was a substitute who started the class by saying “I’m not trained in yoga, I’m trained in life” I probably did myself a disservice by remaining in that class . I slipped a comment card in the box when I left the studio , haven’t seen this person Substitutimg since that time.

  2. Nanci Traynor-Bozhilova November 2, 2018 at 5:58 am #

    Thank you James…again for holding that torch and standing up. You are an amazing human!!!!

  3. bradd graves January 14, 2016 at 7:37 pm #

    SCARY YOGA TEACHER is a meme we should all spread far and wide! Particularly when the “Yoga is all about setting intentions” canard rears its silly little head with all due seriousness. Thanks for the read. It’s a hopeful sign that all is not yet lost.

  4. EdH December 20, 2015 at 6:47 am #

    I agree. Yet, at the other end of the spectrum are systems like Iyengar Yoga that has an open-ended training period that takes 4 or more years before a person is even considered for assessment, and you can’t teach until you get that Iyengar certification. You can’t get 200 hour certification from another school or system of Yoga while in Iyengar teacher training. (Get a 200 hour cert first so you can get teaching experience. ) The training has a bare minimum of anatomy but a lot of Yoga sutras memorization and Iyengar family worship. Not much we can do without a national Yoga certification standard, which scares everybody.

  5. Gayle Fleming November 5, 2015 at 8:46 am #

    All I can say is amen. It’s all true. A receptionist at my office recently quit her okay paying full-time job to take a two-week yoga teacher training course to be come a “full-time yoga teacher.” She was needless to say not overly pleased when I informed her that someone who had been doing yoga for 1 year could not take a two-week course and come out on the other end as a qualified teacher. She will be a Scary Yoga Teacher.

  6. Alison November 4, 2015 at 12:41 pm #

    While I appreciate your intention, I think the result paints a rather negative picture. I always come back to a Mother Theresa saying I once heard, “I’ll never go to an anti-war protest, but give me a pro peace rally and I’ll be there.” In other words, instead of talking about what you don’t like and fighting the low standards required to be a yoga teacher that way, why not offer something cause of creating great yoga teachers?
    I’ll also mention that the upper traps are also incredibly overused in poses with shoulder flexion often doing the job of the shoulder stabilizers. More specifically, there lives a relationship between the serratus anterior and upper traps (and TA) of which the latter operates at a higher tone, where the former (often operating at a lower tone) doesn’t have the opportunity to activate since its role has already been taken (so to speak). This lends itself to a conversation of sthira and sukha, where in order to discover more stability in one part we might need to find more ease in another. (Ultimately, I don’t disagree with a teacher’s cue to soften the traps.) Its hard to identify which practice or exercise will help our students connect the dots and, I believe, this gifts teachers the opportunity to explore language, cueing and technique. Additionally, while you might label new, inexperienced or teachers that you just don’t like “scary yoga teachers,” some students might find them to be the exact teacher they’d been waiting for.

    • James Brown November 4, 2015 at 12:45 pm #

      “why not offer something cause of creating great yoga teachers?”
      Please look at what AYS is. We are a teacher training company. Then look at what we offer. It’s everything anybody needs to know, as a beginning teacher, to not only understand what your comment says, but to intelligently disagree with it based on fluency in the philosophy, practice, and pedagogy of asana.

      • Alison November 10, 2015 at 1:23 pm #

        Well, I didn’t reread that part of my statement now did I? (But it seems you got my jist :))

        I have looked at what AYS is and, in fact, looked into it before I came across this article and it’s my opinion that this still doesn’t warrant an article that isn’t all that informational instead mostly just critical. Where you point at new or uninformed teachers and sort of shame them, it only seems fair to point out that no one sets out with the intention to teach and to then do it poorly. I’m not disagreeing with your overall point that there are teachers (and teacher trainers) out there that are not well-equipped to do their job(s), but rather to say that there might be a better way to address the problem than to just warn people against them. And to be honest, I take more issue with poor teacher trainings than poor yoga teachers, as it seems the former should kind of know better… but, I’m reminded of the saying “we do the best we can with what we know” and aim for compassion over criticism.
        There was another article with a similar sentiment, where the author expressed a concern for whats happening to our yoga community, in which she posited that the huge influx of students and teachers and widespread growth of yoga is indeed happening at an expense. Instead of being critical it was thoughtful and I very much enjoyed this article.

        I’d love to hear your disagreement about the traps. Although my explanation was limited to a comment, I stand by it, backed by extensive interest and study in anatomy (specifically the shoulder, in fact), especially as it relates to more current research and discovery. That said, I understand where you might be coming from (although, this is, in my opinion, a reductionist view based in isolated muscle theory of which is just one map (where there are many) of understanding the body). However I feel it limited to simply respond “incorrect” by way of insinuating that your beginning teachers could debunk a pedagogic insight brought to light after years of teaching and dedicated study. (I’ll add that your implied insult here is a turn off and disappointment. I wrote a comment of which was respectful, but simply of a different point of view.)
        I’ll close by saying thank you for writing this article and inspiring this conversation, where so much thought and insight surfaced.

    • Gayle Fleming November 5, 2015 at 8:52 am #

      It seems to me you are missing the entire point of his article, which isn’t at all about shoulder flexion, shoulder stabilizers , serratus anterior, or upper traps. The fact that you can use some anatomical terms and a couple of Yoga Sutra words doesn’t deflect from the fact that there are some VERY SCARY YOGA TEACHERS praying on ill-informed and unquestioning students. This is a danger to both the students and the discipline and profession of yoga teaching.

      • Alison November 10, 2015 at 12:39 pm #

        I didn’t miss his point, I simply pointed out that (one of) his example(s) of what makes a “scary” yoga teacher might not be valid and felt it was necessary to back up my argument with an explanation (rather than just saying “hey, I disagree with you statement about softening the traps.”) Perhaps you misread my statement?

  7. Charlotte November 4, 2015 at 8:22 am #

    Thanks. I needed this. So much truth here. I’ve also been fairly vocal about my dismay at the wild world of yoga teacher training. Yes, trainings are a great cash cow for studios, but we’re now several generations into 200-hour teachers teaching 200-hour trainings. Those teachers learned from 200-hour teachers, who trained with 200-hour teachers (or 500-hour teachers, whose training is only marginally more comprehensive). It’s not that every one of these teacher trainers and trainees don’t have good intentions. I think they do. But good intentions only go so far when there’s little to no foundation of actual knowledge, experience and wisdom to go with it.

  8. Jennifer November 4, 2015 at 7:01 am #

    Thank you for this! It is so true. One day I took a class at a studio, where I actually received my training. To my complete surprise, assisting the class was now part of the training. This trainee, was pushing people’s hips down in pigeon and tried to push me deeper into my first forward fold by running a couple fingers down my spine and then pushing my head in deeper, to which I bent my knees and said, “no thank you. I am not ready for that yet.” Needless, to say, I opted to not return to classes there and haven’t been back since.

  9. krista November 4, 2015 at 12:35 am #

    So true – my own YTT was “scary” – so true – 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. – am trying to make up what I did not learn there and try hard not to be ‘scary’

  10. Judi Hark November 3, 2015 at 6:00 pm #

    well said!

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