I love yoga—everything from deep breathing and stretching to crow pose to headstand, I’m in. So it feels strange to say it, but here goes: I’m quitting. The decision has literally taken years, a foray into teacher training, and a gradually-and-now-royally screwed up hip, but I’ve arrived. The physical and emotional benefits (and there are many) no longer outweigh yoga’s dark side.
I should mention now that I was never almost a yoga teacher. That’s a lie. I did three weekends of a 200-hour teacher training program, never with any desire to teach yoga, and I cried through one of those entire weekends. I know that every teacher training is not alike, believe me. The style of yoga I’ve been practicing (hot, power) for years has a lot to do with my experience of teacher training and with my injuries. But I think there are a few universal truths to be gleaned from my teacher training slash power yoga experience.
First, being a yoga teacher doesn’t make you a guru. Full stop. To wit, Instagram missives and cute poses do not a guru make. Dear god, man, I don’t want to see you in a strategically curated dancer pose on your 20th-floor balcony. Naked. Nor am I impressed that you’re chanting in Sanskrit in a field of daisies atop a mountain on one of your far-flung yoga vacations. Sure, your contortionist, tattoo-laden body is eye candy. But it’s not yoga you’re practicing. It’s social media. I get it. Gotta eat. At fancy restaurants. I get it. But please, for the love of all that’s holy, please, please stop preaching at me in bulky, poorly written paragraphs of spiritual drivel via social media. Please. You are probably in your early twenties. Give me a break.
Second, the notion that teacher training is also for people who just want to deepen their practice is a lie told to feed the beast of commerce, to get bodies in the seats, or on the mats, as the case may be. Teacher training is just what it sounds like. It’s teaching you to teach a certain program of yoga. For some styles, this is highly prescriptive, for others more creative. A mixture, depending on the yoga style and personality of whoever is leading the training, of physical practice, spiritual guidance, self-help talk, forced group therapy, boot camp, and a smattering of book learning. Actually, pretty fun stuff, if we’re being honest, without the teacher training part. Unless you want to teach yoga, don’t take a teacher training course. You’ll be forced to endure all sorts of unnecessarily vulnerable moments for no purpose whatsoever, though you’ll hear a lot about being a stronger, braver person. And if you do want to teach yoga, understand that your first teacher training is not going to make you an expert -- more importantly, you’ll hardly make enough to live on unless you are a savvy studio owner or you become a celebrity yogi, in which case, please see my first point.
When I first started practicing yoga about a decade ago, I thought my teachers must understand anatomy and injury prevention. While a few did, and importantly my first teacher did, this is not generally true. As a matter of fact, I’d say that yoga teachers who understand and teach with a good knowledge of alignment and anatomy are rare birds. You might hear your teacher talk about sitz bones or sit bones or sitting bones—it’s all the same thing—or vaguely about good alignment. Still, I’ve been to so many fast-paced yoga classes where the new person next to me, dripping in sweat and wheezing, is contorting into the most dangerous position without the proper training, with no guidance, and nary a glance from the teacher. You practice that wrong pose enough (especially the ones you practice over and over in hot flow classes), and you’re going to get hurt. Or, even worse, you practice good alignment. Still, nobody ever told you to hold back a little, that you’re hyper mobile in your hips, and you could hurt yourself by pushing so deeply into warrior pose or pigeon without the proper muscle support just because you can. I call bullshit. So does my right hip.
Finally, I think we’re all starting to realize that yoga has been commodified. It is just another business and an overwhelmingly homogenous (read: white, upper/middle class) one at that. The ninety-dollar yoga pants. The eighty-dollar, ultra-sweat-wicking mats. The hundred-dollar-a-month memberships. Teacher training that costs thousands of dollars. All-inclusive yoga retreats to places most normal folk scan’t afford. It’s all part of the machine. And that’s fine. Yoga is just another exercise class with just another uniform and a group of the same people who like doing the same thing in the same room in sometimes embarrassing poses.
When I said I was quitting yoga, I was being a little hyperbolic. I’ll practice again when my hip is better, probably at home in my pajamas while my favorite teacher—a careful, quiet, unassuming guy with a Youtube channel—guides me gently into a nice, healthy forward fold where I can breathe and contemplate my next move.