Archives for May 2019

Angry Yogini: does rage really become her?

Anger is like water. No matter how hard a person tries to dam, divert, or deny it, it will find a way, usually along the path of least resistance.  As I will discuss in this book, women often “feel” their anger in their bodies.  Unprocessed, anger threads itself through our appearances, bodies, eating habits, and relationships, fueling low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, self-harm, and actual physical illness.

From the book,  Rage Becomes Her,  by Soraya Chemaly

 

Did you know that studies show men and women have about the same amount of anger?  Yet why, in the 21st Century is it still so risky for women to show anger?  Why  are we so likely to hide it, putting other people’s feelings of comfort and ease ahead of our own?  Because we know if we express it, there will be consequences. While anger is the weapon of choice for alpha males everywhere, when displayed  by females, it’s perceived not as strength but as irrational, emotional and weak.

Continuing from Rage Becomes Her:

“Anger has a bad rap, but it’s actually one of the most forward thinking of all our emotions.  It begets transformation   manifesting our passion and keeping us invested in the world.  It is a rational and emotional response to trespass, violation and moral disorder. It bridges the divide between what “is” and what “ought” to be, between a difficult past and an improved possibility.  Anger warns us viscerally of violation, threat and insult.”

Author Soraya Chemaly goes on to point out that people who express anger are even more optimistic –perhaps because they feel an empowering energy to change things for the better.

You don’t have to know much about yoga to know that “authenticity” is a buzz word. “Live authentically” implore numerous ads in Yoga Journal, as if you could be “authentic” by using a bamboo water bottle or taking a “Yoga Journey” to Nepal. Most of these ads are targeted at women.  I contend, however, that regardless of what kind of water bottle you wield, if authenticity is what you’re shooting for, then sister, learn how to express yourself in a way that leverages your anger, propels your forward and keeps you from succumbing to the depression/ anxiety quagmire.

Not so sure, are you?  Gee, but people might get offended; you might lose friendships, or even a job.  What’s the downside of not expressing anger adeptly?  As mentioned above: anxiety, depression, low self-esteem and a host of physical diseases. Those are high prices to pay.  I wonder how many women seeking treatment for these conditions are able to connect the dots back to the likely origin: unexpressed anger.  My guess is very few.

In the yoga world, we often view emotions in energetic terms. Anger is energy, energy that can be harnessed and directed toward “unstructured,” creative thinking and problem solving.  Heck, this very post came to me moments after hanging up the phone from my battle-royale with Alamo Car Rental. The trick is in leveraging the energy boost into something productive, not kicking the dog or driving 50 in a 30.

In reflection, I think I have typically expressed anger in a more masculine way.  I pity the fools who poached my brand new pink tennis balls I received for my birthday, around age 10.  I chased the pair of boys down and beat the crap out of them w/ my shiny metal tennis racket.  I remember my Dad beaming when one of the Father’s phoned and my own father replied, “My recommendation to your child is not to steal tennis balls.”  They never bothered me again!

Later, when working in a male dominated field in a male-dominated culture, I deliberately took note of how men expressed anger.  I realized that to be taken seriously, I was going to have to raise my voice, throw around some coarse language and, ideally, beat them at sports –at the risk of making them mad, as opposed to the typical feminine role of putting men “at ease.”   I quickly  realized that expressing anger wasn’t that big a deal in the wolf pack; what was probably more harmful was holding a grudge, an area in which many of my female colleagues exceled.  I deliberately avoided that age-old, passive-aggressive play.  Amends are fairly easy to make in Man World –usually a beer does the trick in keeping future collaborations on the table/bar.

But what does this have to do with yoga? It has dawned on me that perhaps what drew me to the practice in the late 90’s was the way it helped me manage the anger that was “trapped inside my body” as mentioned above. Years of working in sexist countries in IT, plus a health condition dismissed by male doctors took its toll.

Anger is energy that needs to be processed productively, and ideally, in “real time.”  That can take many forms, from taking a long walk to chatting with a sympathetic friend. However, sometimes those things aren’t available.  But, there’s always a floor. There’s always 10 minutes.  There’s always the breath.

As a teacher I have numerous female students confide in me that they’re on anti-depressants or anti-anxiety medications.  But maybe they’re not sad, maybe their Sad + Mad =SMAD.  They’re bottling up years of ill-processed anger and it’s fermenting into sadness and “unexplained” anxiety.  Yoga meditation trains us to feel feelings with subtlety and skill; so much so, I often compare it to wine tasting.  We move well beyond defining things as red or white,  noticing layers, complexity and even “notes” of emotions—It’s how I came up w/ “SMAD.”  I could hold anger and sadness together, but crying seemed more socially acceptable than punching someone in the nose or shouting them down in a crowd.

Meditation, yin, self-study (avidya), breathing exercises for controlling energy—Yoga offers us a wide array of time-tested techniques. The issues are in the tissues. If you’re a woman living in a #metoo world, get real, get angry and get to your yoga mat!

Finally, have you ever noticed, a lot of old ladies aren’t exactly “sweet”? I’m thinking of the ones who outlive their husbands by decades, continue to live independently, managing their own affairs.  In my experience, the longevity bet is on fit and feisty, stubborn and assertive!

PS.  Some of you reading this, male and female, will be tempted to dismiss me as a ball buster, feminazi, or worse. You are living in the past, and maybe that works for you. Yoga, however, challenges us relentlessly to be here, in the present.  And, for me to care what you think would mean putting your feelings (a complete stranger)  ahead of my own, which is another way women end up miserable.  Please don’t feel like you need to share your thoughts with me on the subject. This post is meant only to encourage and validate those who are wanting to break out of typically “feminine” ways for expressing anger that aren’t working for them.   If this isn’t you, then kindly run along! Namaste.

 

Yoga Teacher Trainings: buyer beware (and do the math)

CorePower Teacher Training Pyramid Scheme

UPDATE MAY 2019:  I wrote this post several years ago as I was noticing an influx of newly minted teachers from “big yoga” flooding the market.  I had heard stories of teachers at CorePower and elsewhere encouraging young, (mostly) women to become yoga teachers who had little to no experience and had only done yoga in one studio in one style.  I knew it was a money grab:  RENT!

Rent is such a huge issue for yoga studios trying to stay afloat.  They pump money into high traffic locations with decor and more:  hardwood floors, fountains, mirrors, sound systems, online booking etc., but guess what?  There’s nothing left over to pay qualified teachers.  So what do you do? You start your own teacher training program, priced HIGHER(!?) than training in India or a stateside residential training program (including room and board for a month!). This creates loads of revenue during the down-hours of the studio; plus, it encourages a steady supply of cheap (and we know now) exploitable labor. To make matters worse, many young people were being encouraged to TAKE ON DEBT for the trainings, often to the tune of $3-5K.  Nevermind they were already unemployed or under-employed.  While always a CorePower skeptic, never did I imagine the level of sinister greed rampant there.  The New York Times article even features a Minnesota CorePower location!  COREPOWER ARTICLE HERE. 

In retrospect, I  should’ve known the teachers were being “coached” on how to sell the trainings as I kept hearing the same refrain, “I wasn’t sure I wanted to teach. I just wanted to ‘deepen my own practice.'”  Please! I can give you lots of ideas on how to deepen your practice on $3-5K! Buy an around-the-world airfare and call me!

Finally, as my classes tend to range in age from about 40-80, I consider the young people who show up and stick with us exceptional.  They’re out looking for something deeper and they know they won’t find it in a mirror. To us, they are treasures and we feel an inclination to help them, take care of them and embrace them.  I offer a reduced rate for my millenials/Gen Z’s living at home/unemployed and “college kids” (some are pushing 40, working on PhDs).  They add so much to our community. The fact that CorePower and even local studios with aggressive training programs based on the CorePower model  exploit young people is deeply disgusting and makes my heart hurt.

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About once a week, I get an inquiry from someone looking for a yoga teacher training program or, a recent grad looking for a job or mentoring opportunities. It’s easy to see why people want to teach yoga and do what they love.  However, from where I stand, there seem to be some troubling  (maybe slightly sinister)  market forces at work out there concocting a glut of young, under-prepared, overly in-debt teachers.

For the record:  I don’t have a downward-facing dog in this fight.  I don’ t do teacher trainings and don’t aspire to in the near future.  I have been teaching yoga for just 17 years–not long enough.    The people I trained with had decades (not combined, but individually) of intensive teaching experience, often in residence, in ashrams.    To be clear, the notion that you can somehow teach an all-encompassing practice like yoga shy of middle age is a Western one.  Back when I trained in 2001, there were a limited number of established schools  ( lineage back to India) in the Yoga Alliance.  They were supposed to “protect” the legitimacy of the certification by careful vetting of training programs. Somewhere along the way, a “growth” strategy took over and qualifications like residential training went away.  With that, so did my annual dues, as I couldn’t figure out what they were providing for me as a teacher. That little badge you see up above, in my view has lost its meaning. It doesn’t distinguish whether you did your training online, with a famous Swami, a yoga thought-leader or “Jenny from the Block. ”

So why the boom in Teacher Training programs? I see three main market forces at work:

1) They’re lucrative and provide the lion’s share of revenue for bricks and mortar yoga studios to pay the rent.  Starting at $2000-2500 for a 200 hour basic program, you multiply that by 15-20 students participating and you can make a good chunk of change.  Moreover, you can wedge in the teacher trainings at off-hours on weekends when the studio isn’t being optimized, say on Saturday evenings or Sunday afternoons.  Better yet, offer an on-line component so you don’t even need to provide space.  Really? On-line teacher training?  Would you like a  massage therapist or a doctor trained on-line?   But, all the schools are doing it!    Why?  (see number 3).

2) They create a perpetual pool of low-cost employees for the studio. Each session graduates newly-minted teachers eager to work for peanuts to gain experience.  Of course, the studio can’t possibly hire all of their graduates now, can they?   Those who don’t get jobs will have to hit the pavement and look for jobs at other studios, but of course, those other studios have their own graduates to hire. Smaller  indie studios with a discriminating clientele want teachers with loads of experience who’ve mentored under big names.  Then the options narrow to places like LifeTime, Snap Fitness and the like, who are always hiring, due to a huge turnover rate.  Why the turnover? Because teaching yoga for $25 / hour is only gratifying for so long, especially when you’re trying to recoup your $2000+ investment.  Think about it, at that rate, you have to teach 80- 100 classes just to break even on your investment!!!  If they hire you for 2 classes a week, that’s almost a year of your life teaching for FREE! Besides, you have student loans to pay….which leads to my Grand Finale Point:

3) Student Loans, including PELL Grants can be used for Yoga Teacher Training.  Ah haaa!  Now we see the real reason for the boom in yoga teacher training programs, and the accompanying college-like  tuition inflation.    It used to be you could go live in residence at an ashram or a yoga center with a full campus , room and board included for what these strip mall studios are charging for their teacher trainings. Moreover, the demand is such that they can pluck their “lead trainers” from their own in-house schools after they’ve only been teaching themselves for a few years and no one questions it. So, instead of “going to the mountain,” and training in an immersion environment with a cast of experienced teachers from a reputable school of lineage (back to India) as well as teaching assistants, chefs, anatomy professors, etc., you go down the street and train w/ people w/ names like “Nina B.” or ‘Tommy Y.”  who themselves have only taught yoga for maybe a few years.  Oh, and you don’t actually immerse yourself and live like a yogi  because you can’t really afford to quit your day job given the exorbitant cost of the program!  Kids ~ this is NOT a good deal!

So what is a sincere, aspiring yoga teacher to do?  Stop. Breathe. Discern.  I don’t want to say that you must put your life on-hold and take an immersion program, but it is the gold standard.  That said, what I do feel strongly about is this: don’t pay Ivy League Prices for a Community College program because you couldn’t spot the difference!  If you have to study piecemeal or even online, then just don’t pay what you’d pay to go live somewhere; and, keep your expectations in line.  If you need to teach yoga to pay your bills, then choose carefully and consider programs where you have not one,  but several teachers with decades of experience at your disposal.  Frankly, I can’t imagine the egotistical leap necessary for a sole individual of a tender age to claim to be able to teach you everything you need to know about being a teacher.

I’ve included some links to some reputable programs which have withstood the test of time; they also have a lineage to somewhere other than the mall or Los Angeles!  Some of them even offer SCHOLARSHIPS (i.e. Kripalu).  In the meantime, keep up your own practice, study w/ as many teachers of as many styles as you can to narrow it down, save your money and please, don’t go into debt and end up paying even more (with interest) for a sub-standard “canned” program. They will only turn you into a cue-reciting parrot, not a yoga teacher! 

 

Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health — Scholarships available!

Integral Yoga San Francisco 

Minneapolis Yoga Workshop