I have been practicing yoga off and on for about a decade now. Try as I might, I haven’t managed to become an advanced yogi (ie, I can't stand on my head or my arms, STILL). I can’t be consistent with my practice for one reason or another. Nevertheless, I enjoy finding time and getting on the mat. I enjoy being in a studio and share the energy with my classmates. Each practice is unique. I first got into a regular yoga practice in New York, with Yoga to the People. These donation-based studios are wonderful and strip yoga from its yuppie image. 30-50 people would pack into a studio, sweating it out, and doing as best as one could. It’s not the best place to work on one’s alignment, but there is also zero judgement. The teachers are encouraging, and each practice feels like a visit to a religious place of worship. I feel not only physically empowered, but also spiritually lifted. My mind, body, and soul are fully connected.
Upon moving to Shanghai, I wanted to continue my practice. My first year, I joined Body and Soul that had mostly Chinese instructors. Each practice was hit or miss. I never quite know if I will walk out blissfully happy, or excruciatingly irritated. It was a gamble, and it was awful.
My second year, I joined Red Door Yoga, a studio run by Canadian Rob Lucas. It’s an Ashtanga studio, and absolutely no-nonsense. It was wonderful for someone like me who was looking to deepen his or her practice. Rob is tough, but motivating and respectful of his students. My practice improved dramatically over the year, and experienced the discipline required to become a dedicated yogi.
In my third year, despite loving Rob’s classes, I switched studio due to a new move and also to lower cost. My Soul Yoga is a studio with mix of foreign and Chinese teachers. I've been to mostly foreign teacher classes, simply because I connect with the teaching style better. The experience has been very positive. Yet, tonight's class with a Chinese teacher, coupling with my previous experiences, led me to the following observation: Chinese yoga teachers teach yoga the same way teachers in China teach pupils in general – tough love, Tiger Mom style.
Don’t get me wrong, Chinese teachers aren’t the only teachers who yell. A quick google of “yoga teachers who yell”, and you’ll find stories of rude Western teachers as well. But with my experience in Shanghai, culture plays a big role here. Can’t blame them. The Chinese are accustom to a culture where teachers are always right, and has the power to shame its students into improving. Yet, when that teaching style is brought onto the mat, irony of every sort exists.
Yoga is about honoring one’s body and improving oneself. You aren’t competing against anyone in the classroom, and it is always a learning experience. Yet, when the teacher is telling the whole class that your posture is wrong (and not in a dignified way), and using demeaning terms to “encourage” students, my zen dissipates and my blood pressure rises. It then becomes a different spiritual exercise to let go and embrace the rude teacher. But really, if I wanted to get yell at for motivation, I’d join a cross-fit gym.
If you are a yoga teacher reading this, please be mindful of what yoga practice is really about, and encourage students in a more positive tone. We all have bad days, and yoga teachers are simply human, and thus are susceptible in taking their bad days out on people. Focusing only on the posture but neglecting the mind and body connection would be doing students' yoga practice a major disservice.
I leave you with a wonderful post that discuss the notion of shame-free yoga much eloquently than I did. Namaste.