I believe that "the goal" of a yoga teacher is not to offer transformation, acceptance, or a transcendent experience. The goal of YOGA TEACHERS as a collective, is to bring people back to the mat. To meet them where they are and provide a space where they can meet, acknowledge, love, slay (or whatever) their own darlings and demons. There is NOTHING WRONG with crossfit-meets-yoga. Maybe it isn't your yoga today, but to someone else, it is letting in a sliver of light - it is providing a space on a mat for someone who needs that kind of yoga right now, today. If the teacher is popular, great. She is meeting students where they are. And if they later choose a different class because her class no longer serves them, than better for all of us to have open arms and say YES. WELCOME to my class. Here is what I have to offer you today. I'm glad you have returned to the mat.
Right now, a particular quote - a particular teaching - resonates with you. Perhaps in the crossfit class, someone else had a transcendent realization.
Who is to say which yoga is right?
It is an important lesson for us as teachers to embrace ALL teachers, styles, formats so that we as a collective can support one another and shine and share our light (and our shadow and darkness, as needed).
I often joke that I received two invitations on the same day - one to a beautiful prenatal yoga teacher training, with hands on bellies and peaceful music, and one for Booty Yoga - which was basically strip dancing on yoga mats in some poses that I could almost recognize as yoga poses. I don't think that's safe - at all! I'm personally concerned about their poor bodies the same way I'm personally concerned about other peoples' questionable moles - but neither has anything to do with me. I used to make fun of this style of yoga, until I met a few students who told me that was how they found yoga - someone told them it would make their butts look better. Maybe it did? But they also got injured, learned lessons, wrangled demons, and found a different style of yoga.
I'm trying - gently - to offer you something that I have seen in myself - a judgement of someone else calling themselves a yoga teacher doing something I'm categorically opposed to. Someone whose ego is showing, who is maybe a bit rajasic. Someone who highlights in me my own questions of worth - am I a worthy yoga teacher?
What I am saying is yes - I am a worthy yoga teacher. And so are you. And so is she. Even if you don't like it. Even if I don't like it.
When someone says to me, "That's not yoga!" I think of my dad shouting, "That's not music!"
Because it isn't, to you.
But it is to someone.
If you teach Yin Yoga, you've probably had more than a few pregnant women come to your class in search of some stretching, support, or salvation from the hotter than Hades classes offered in most yoga studios.
“Why me?” you may have asked yourself. You may have felt some self-pity, some anxiety, or started to frantically google what to do and not to do.
Pregnancy is a normal condition of the adult human female. It's not an illness or an injury – it is a phase of life. Believe it or not, everyone walking around was born.
Most. Normal. Thing. Ever.
WHY ARE YOU HERE?
- Pregnancy can be uncomfortable.
Sure, pregnant women glow and radiate, their hair shines, but their hips and knees might need some TLC, particularly if they sit in chairs or wear high heels as their bodies adapt to the rapid changes required to accommodate a growing baby. Both of these things can affect the way they bear the added weight on the front of the body, and yoga can help with this. People have told them this. The internet – the very same internet you're reading from right now – has told them this.
- Some kinds of yoga are the wrong yoga.
Heated yoga really isn't ideal for a pregnant woman. Her blood volume increases through pregnancy, and the baby has no way of cooling itself off (come see me for a refresher on elementary physics, if you have any question). Most pregnant women aren't thrilled with the idea of added heat, and ACOG, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says no to both saunas and hot yoga. So other teachers send pregnant women to your Yin class because (hopefully) it is not heated.
- There is a monkey in my mind
You may know and embrace the idea that pregnancy is normal, but American culture sure would rather everyone think that pregnancy is a CRISIS. Not surprisingly, not all women feel 100% ready to be mothers, and this can bring up some reasonable concerns about readiness for the biggest life change ever. And if a woman was prone to anxiety or depression before pregnancy, sometimes the hormonal changes that accompany pregnancy can amplify these experiences, and she – like all of us – is simply looking for peace.
WHAT DO I DO WITH YOU?
- Pregnant women should not practice Yin yoga, in the classical sense. Bernie Clark describes the edge of sensation in his indispensable book The Complete Guide of Yin Yoga, and this edge of sensation is the place where connective tissue receives good stress. Even though pregnancy is a normal condition, part of this normalcy includes an increase in the production of the hormone relaxin, which softens this connective tissue in a way that makes it more vulnerable. I describe the edge like the edge of the Grand Canyon – you can curl your toes over the edge, or dangle in by your fingertips. Most of us are seeking the toe curling edge. Pregnant women should stay back in the van, many feet away from the edge of sensation.
- Avoid pressure on the belly, twists, and lying flat on the back. Offer alternative poses with bolsters and blankets, like a supported reclined butterfly pose, side-lying options, or creative uses of stable chairs to permit some gentle, supported muscle stretching and relaxation. You have ample time, so help her get cozy.
- Tell her to practice being nurtured – like Restorative Yoga. Rather than seeking an edge, a pregnant woman might benefit from feeling nurtured. Mothering involves nurturing, and not all of us know or remember what that feels like. Rest fully. Fall asleep. Practice mindful breathing techniques.
HOW ELSE CAN I HELP?
- I'm glad you asked. Everyone gives pregnant woman advice, especially old ladies in the grocery store. Unsolicited advice is also known as “being an asshole,” so start any inclination of unsolicited advice by saying, “Are you asking for my opinion?” If not, then stop there. Or say, “I know a few things about pregnancy and Yin, please let me know if you would like to hear any of them.” Then stop.
- Touch her. Seriously. Just not her belly. Like in any class, if you offer hands-on support, give her the opportunity to opt out. If she doesn't opt out, rub her neck, shoulders, hands, or feet. This will not break her. If it were that easy to start her labor, the induction rate in our country would be zero.
- Make no comments about her appearance (feel free to apply this to everyone). She does not look tired, big, small, or whatever. She looks amazing, and you're glad to see her. That's it. Ever.