A week before my yoga teacher training finished, I had to take down all my blog posts about it and abstain from publishing more until I graduated.
Why would I do such a thing, you may ask?
Because I was in the middle of writing a brutally honest rant in which I was venting my mounting frustration towards our “master” (I use this term loosely) teacher, and about him being a yoga dictator on a major powertrip.
I am a strong advocate of freedom of expression, and I would not have suspended my right to voice my opinions (following a very disturbing situation) if I did not feel that it was necessary for me to do so.
I’ll relay that incident in more detail near the end of this post, so by that time you will have a clearer picture of the context, and the straw that broke my back, figuratively speaking. What follows is a post that I was JUST about to publish about said teacher.
For the sake of decorum, I will henceforth refer to HIM as Lolita.
This is (obviously) not his real name, but I couldn’t resist. Here’s what I had to say about Lolita three weeks into the training (ten days ago):
When I pictured my Indian yoga teacher training journey, I envisioned forming a life-long bond with my yoga guru. Or, at least SOME sort of connection. I would, at the very least, leave here filled with respect, knowledge and wisdom transmitted lovingly from him to us, his eager students. I guess what I was hoping to take away from this experience was inspiration.
Never did it ever cross my mind, not even for a second, that I would find my yoga teacher to be an egotistical, hypocritical, condescending, angry little man on a total powertrip, whose classes either bored me to death or pissed me off, and whose teaching style belongs in a “How Not To Teach (Anything, Ever!!!)” textbook.
We start off each of his classes with rote repetition of Sanskrit asana names, but are so busy trying to get the pronunciation right, that it’s difficult to actually put postures and names together.
Then he asks: “How are yoooooooou?” as he makes us put our hands to our hearts and start chanting before we can even begin to formulate facial expressions in response to his question.
Then he begins spewing out the same the same script (with the same asanas, in the same monotone drill-sargent tone, class after class), while stepping around us gingerly on his spindly little legs gazing outside, at the pictures of his gurus hanging on the walls, or at his cell phone. In short, at everything BUT his students.
His teaching cues make zero sense, especially when students whose native language is not English are trying to scribble down things like: “feet distance apart”, (how MUCH distance? Distance apart!!), “eyes simply closed” (as opposed to complicated closed???), “all the way come up”, and “feet to chest”, when in fact the demo is knees to forhead.
His is not an issue of language, but of attitude.
When we (perpetually confused), point out that his words don’t correspond to his demonstrations, he just repeats his original mumbo jumbo and says we ask too many questions, reminding us (over and over) that when HE was a student, his yoga masters would not tolerate questions like the ones us Westerners seem so fond of asking all the time. Or, in fact, any questions at all.
He seems to have a lot of opinions about Westerners as a whole, and makes sweeping generalizations (distain and condescension oozing from his voice and his words), as he tells us all that’s wrong with the West.
His favorite way of answering questions he doesn’t want to answer is: “What are yooooou, Ameeeeerican?” This answer /question is directed indiscriminately at anyone (regardless of their accent, name or nationality), who asks something that might give him/her tools to advance their own practice, or questions whose answers we might need in order to be better teachers.
He doesn’ t offer answers which might empower us, and prefers to help students get in poses by twisting and forcing their bodies there himself, causing pain.
Like the time he almost broke my shoulder, and didn’t stop yanking it where it didn’t want to go, despite my very loud OWs, and me telling him straight up that it REALLY hurt. His reply, as he kept tearing my shoulder out if its socket was:”I’ll get it there. You no worry. That’s MY job!”
FYI, yoga teacher rules of conduct 101: Don’t make your teaching have anything to do with YOU, respect each student’s body and its limitations, don’t force, and don’t adjust students if they are in modified asanas (which I WAS)!!!!!
He’s utterly unwilling (or incapable) of explaining or providing preparatory exercises we can do ourselves in order to work towards asanas our bodies may not yet ready for. When we insist, or beg for some shred of slowed-down demonstrations or anatomical insights, he goes on a tangent about how us “westerners are so this…or so that”…
This is usually followed by some anecdote related to how HE spent his life being disciplined, not asking questions, and was so different from us and our constantly unhappy ways. Then he throws in a cow story or two for comic relief…
I find his patriarchal attitude of dismissal and borderline contempt for “Westerners” ironic, since he is making a lot of money off of us, and he is married to an Irish woman.
I suspect that many would turn right back around and demand a refund, if the only teaching we got was from him.
Luckily, the school is pretty much run by his senior teacher Anna, who is incredible at what she does. It’s actually her who structures our classes, explains things to us, answers all our questions, demonstrates what we don’t understand from him (so, pretty much everything), leads amazing classes, and she actually even KNOWS OUR NAMES, unlike Lolita. Shocking, I know.
He’s called me “Adam” on more than one occasion. I’ve given up on trying to correct him.
I speak for many of my fellow classmates when I say that 95% of what we’ve learned has been from Anna, and if it hadn’t been for her we’d have left. She’s amazing, and I will be forever grateful for her incredibly inspiring and thorough teaching. And for that of our other teachers in various other subjects.
As for Lolita, he just comes in, does the his daily drill-sargent routine, and practically runs out of class before we’ve finished savasana. He’s completely unaware of our other courses, schedule, assignments, or anything else other than the fact we’re “western”. Have I mentioned that he’s supposed to be the “director” of the school??? Riiiiiight. Let’s get back to his teaching, shall we?
Magic sale means “as you exhale”, he tells us to hold a pose for three breaths (but leaves us there for 25), or tells us to hold for 10 breaths, but cues us out of it after one. He then preaches the importance of giving accurate breath counts, followed by demonstrations of how HIS breathing is correct (compared to ours), but tries to temper this by adding that we’ll never get there, since we’re not as advanced as he is.
And we’re Western, don’t forget, so we’re not REALLY expected to fully understand yoga.
Every chance he gets, he shows off what HE can do, but tells us we CAN’T do what he’s just demonstrated since they’re advanced positions (mind you, they’re postures that are incorporated into the sequencing of any power yoga class you might attend in the big, bad West). When people try (and succeed) anyways, he gets mad because HE hasn’t taught us that position yet. Followed by yet another sweeping statement about “the West”, and our impatience, naturally.
He doesn’t make eye contact, and couldn’t seem less interested in us if he tried. In fact, he wants nothing to do with us, in class or after (with the exception of his two or three favorites, who he hovers around constantly when he’s not checking his cell phone).
He’s warned us on many occasions not to ask yoga-related questions if we see him around the compound when he’s not teaching (if this happens he usually avoids eye contact), but he can’t seem to get OUT of class fast enough. It seems like he goes out of his way to avoid doing his job.
In fact, it seems like he actually hates what he does, which (correct me if I’m wrong) is counter-intuitive to the entire philosophy of what he is supposed to be teaching, which is yoga.
Instead of taking our questions, he prefers instead to use at least ten minutes per class lecturing us on various topics, ranging from the importance of strict discipline, to his indifference if we are angry, frustrated or tired, since we’re going through mood-swings (ya think???), and personal anecdotes involving more cows.
He also seems to think that we are all raging alcoholics, and loves to tell us that we should stay in the compound studying instead of out drinking. (None of us have the time or energy to drink here, by the way; we usually leave the compound whenever we can to use the internet, buy cheaper water, eat protein that our mangled bodies desperately need, and escape the opressiveness of his rules and regulations).
At the end of these monologues, he re-asserts his “authority” by announcing spontaneous curfews he’s invented, and warns us that if we leave the compound (and fail to return by 9:30), the gate will be locked and we won’t be allowed back in.
Other times he gets really creative and announces that we are to dine in silence and return to our rooms immediately afterwards to study (in more silence), without having the slightest clue of WHAT we are actually supposed to be stuying.
The next night, he’ll bump down the curfew to 9:00, because he thinks he can.
When we call his bluff, leave the compound, talk!!! (how DARE we???) and subsequently break curfew and return at 10:00 p.m. (delinquents!!!!), we’re met with displeased security guard who grudgingly unlocks gate, says something about “patron” and points up at fearless leader’s window. Big brother is watching.
On our limited hours of freedom, he’ll spontaneously impose unscheduled mind-cleansing sessions, such as staring at candles until our eyes water (a concentration method preceeding meditation), because yogis need to learn how to FOCUS. Especially us from the West, who are constantly distracted by mindless tasks.
I don’t dispute this last statement, but I WOULD say that if he wanted to appear slightly credible, he should at least try to close his curtains while he’s slumped on his sofa watching TV, night after night, in his villa.
One evening, he forgot to inform the kitchen that he was spontaneously changing our dinner schedule in order to make us look at candles.
The kitchen was unprepared to feed us on time, causing both cooks and starving students unnecessary stress, since we were not allowed to be late for this candle-gazing date. On this occasion, two people didn’t receive their dinner until 5 minutes preceeding the start time; they tried their best to inhale their carbs and then took a shortcut down to the shala, (sprinting down a path often taken by the teachers ) to avoid being late.
Lolita suddenly appeared out of nowhere and intercepted their path in the dark, only to start an inquisition as to how they DARED not walk the long way. When they tried explaining their predicament, he became verbally agressive, yelling about lawsuits and other irrational blabla, saying how he didn’t CARE about their dinner, and so forth.
The women (adult, fully grown, assertive WOMEN) in question were shocked (and a little scared) about his tone and agressive demeanour, and tried to calm down the crazed lunatic, who was practically foaming at the mouth. This would be hard enough to take from anyone, but coming from the man whose favorite mantra is “no stress, no stress, you Westerners always stress”, it was epecially unbearable for them, and henceforth he was referred to as “the crazy little monk”.
Sometimes it felt like he was trying his best to piss us off. Other times it felt like he just got off on watching us suffer.
Like the time when class energy was at an all-time low and we had all seemed to have hit a physical wall (people were having trouble staying in down-dog for more than one breath), and he suddenly (for the first time) decided to give us an especially demanding arm balance workshop, swinging from headstands to handstands, to twisted inversion flows, and even peppering his one minute demo with third-series ashtanga sequences, which are brutal, even on a good day.
When we tried asking him to re-demonstrate his five minute sequence, he just smiled, refused, and told us to go ahead and DO it. Those of us who did manage to do (at least parts) of what he asked were reprimanded for everything we might have missed, and those who didn’t do it just got him to laugh and say “very advanced!!! See? Not for you.”
There were other punitive methods as well. One morning, we were all grabbing cushions for a modified asana class, and discovered a snake coiled up (asleep, thankfully) between the stacks.
Naturally, people jumped back and stifled a few screams; it’s not every day that you are greeted by amphibians during your practice. I couldn’t really get a good picture of our slithery friend but he’s there, coiled up between the cushions.
Lolita’s reaction was to command us back to our mats, (some of which were less than two feet away from said amphibian), while muttering things along the lines of “nothing to see here”, followed by another disapproving something or other about us being dramatic under his breath. His solution? Have us start the yoga drills while yelling into his cell phone at someone to come remove the snake.
I think you get the picture. There’s so much more I could add to this portrait, but I won’t. Anyways, this is where I was in my musings on Lolita’s charming ways, when I suddenly had to stop posting, and remove all my previous posts regarding the yoga compound. Why, you ask? Read on.
One morning following the snake incident, it was announced that one of our classmates “will no longer be continuing her journey with us”, and then we had to chant for her. There were confused glances exchanged between everyone, since she had been in the previous morning class, and there had been zero indications that anything was amiss.
What could have possibly happened between then and now, (in the span of 30 minutes) to make her just get up and leave? It couldn’t thave been bad news from home, since we are not allowed to access wi-fi until much later in the day. As soon as we could, we went to her room and found that it had been cleared out. She was gone without a trace.
At lunchtime I left the compound in search of wi-fi, on the off chance that she might have written to any of us. Turns out she had.
I got a message from her telling me that she had been ambushed by Lolita and the other school owner in her room, when she ran back there to get something in between classes.
She had stupidly posted a picure on Instagram of one of the teachers, accompanied by a not very nice comnent, presumably because she thought it was funny. Her insta-post was unkind and admittedly stupid, but Lolita’s reaction to it was bullying at best, and cruelly punitive at worst.
In fact, I’ve also discovered that what he did is borderline illegal, and had she known better, she could have gone to the police.
HOW they found her post also remains a mystery, and kind of a freaky one in it’s own right.
Despite her desperate apologies and pleas, Lolita continued yelling at her, telling her that what she did is a crime and not ONLY would she have to leave the course (without a refund), but she was BANISHED (yes, banishd!!!) from the town. She must leave the country, effective immediately.
He had someone hover over her (not leaving her alone for a second) while she hastily packed up her room, and then had her followed on a scooter all the way to a restaurant in town with wi-fi, which was the only place she could think of to go in her panic.
Because Lolita had decreed that she wasn’t allowed to stay in Mandrem, he had her watched by his cronies up until she figured out a way to get to the airport, bound for Mumbai. She left the country shortly after, traumatized, vulnerable and afraid.
During the unfolding of this nightmare, she had the foresight to warn me to take down my blog (using her own predicament as a cautionary tale), and advised me to be careful until I leave there. For that, I cannot thank her enough.
The whole thing was starting to get a little too Orwellian for me, and I felt angry, freaked out, shocked and extremely uneasy about being there.
Keeping in mind that my family had to flee a police state (Romania) in my childhood, and had to endure private surveillance, the secret police, censorship,and many other horrific things at the hands of authoritarian figures of power under a dictatorship and that I was old enough to at least somewhat understand what was happening, it’s no surprise that my emotional response to this whole thing was severe, to say the least.
It did, however, force me to deal with my emotions, and with their root causes in a way that I never have. This in turn lead me to finally resolve my lifelong issues with authority, by reaching a point where, instead of identifying with my anger, frustration or whatever, I was able to acknowledge that these emotions existed within me but WERE NOT me.
By no longer becoming my emotions, I got to the point where they no longer took over. Consequently, Lolita became inconsequential, and irrelevant. He was reduced to an almost comical presence, the angry little man whose presence was simply irritating, nothing more. Kind of like a pooh fly.
And so, in a strange way, I am thankful to him. For making realize and resolve some deep personal insights about myself, and for showing me what kind of teacher I never want to be.