I just read Bindy's latest post, in which she commented on this recent article on MindBodyGreen titled "I Love Yoga... But It Didn't Help Me Love My Body." I haven't been following much news or yoga trivia online lately; I've been focusing on and blogging mainly about my own personal life and practice. But I think this article brings up a couple of issues that are worth thinking about.
As you can probably tell from the title, the author of the article, "a high-energy former collegiate athlete", relates her own story about how yoga hasn't helped her to overcome her body image issues, despite whatever other good things it may have done for her. I don't feel like I should argue with her experience. After all, when all is said and done, yoga is probably like everything else under the sun: It works for some people in some ways, it works for others in other ways, and it simply doesn't do anything at all for others. And I probably have body image issues of my own too, so I won't comment on what she has to say about body image issues either.
What I do want to comment on is this rather innocuous thing she said somewhere in the middle of the article:
'As a yoga teacher and a soccer coach – two positions in which I want to
be a positive role model – I often end up feeling like a failure if I
look in the mirror and think, “Eh.”'
What's with this need to be a "positive role model" in yoga? I mean, sure, if you are looking at being a yoga teacher on a purely professional level, then being a yoga teacher is, in this way, very much like being a high school math teacher or a gym teacher. A math teacher teaches math, a yoga teacher teaches yoga. Just as a high school math teacher would want to model certain behaviors or attitudes that her students would hopefully emulate, a yoga teacher as a professional would probably also want to model certain behaviors or attitudes that her students would emulate. On a purely technical physical level, these might include things like proper alignment in asana, proper breathing, etc. And on a slightly less physical level, these would also include things like having a love for the practice. And perhaps there are also things that the teacher should not model, such as showing favoritism to particular students, fraternalizing with particular students, or having inappropriate sexual relations with students.
And the list of things that one should role model or not role model as a professional yoga teacher goes on and on. I suspect that one can probably write an entire book on all these things, if one cares to do so.
Now is it just me, or are you starting to feel that talking about all these things to model or not to model as a professional yoga teacher is getting a bit exhausting? If, like me, you are also starting to feel a bit exhausted from thinking in this way, but don't know why you are feeling this way, please allow me to enlighten you (I know, I'm being very immodest today. Please bear with me...). Well, here's why this way of thinking is so exhausting: Being a yoga teacher is more than just being a "professional". It is true that on a purely practical everyday level, yoga teachers, like anybody else who tries to make a living teaching something, need to be held accountable for their actions and practices in the classroom. Hence there need to be standards governing yoga teaching as a profession, standards which tell teachers what they should or should not do or model, and which protect students and teachers alike.
But ultimately, being a yoga teacher is more than just a profession. It is ultimately a... I don't have a name for what I am trying to describe here. Well, let me put it this way: When was the last time you heard somebody say that she wants to be a yoga teacher so that she can be a positive role model as a yoga teacher? Doesn't this just sound... weird? I mean, in the universe in which I live, people decide to be yoga teachers because they have personally felt the power of the practice within their own lives, and they feel a strong desire or calling to share this powerful thing with others. It just so happens that the way to go about doing this is to become a yoga teacher, and to accept all the responsibilities and roles that come with being in this position. It is only when the individual decides to take this step of sharing her practice with others that all these considerations of adhering to certain professional standards and being a role model comes into play. Not the other way around: People don't want to become role models, and then decide to become yoga teachers because being a yoga teacher fits this mold of being a role model. Or at least they shouldn't: I dare say that anybody who thinks in this way--who puts becoming a role model before being somebody who simply loves the practice and wants to share it with others--is setting herself up for occupational burnout. How can she not, when she is preoccupied all the time about what she should or should not do, or what she should or should not role model? And this seems to be what is going on with the author of this article. And maybe, just maybe, it could also be aggravating her body image issues ("Am I looking as fit and healthy as I should be? Am I as slim and lithe as I should be? Do I look like I care too much about being fit and healthy and slim and lithe? Oh no! What should I do?! What should I think?!...").
To use a very cliched phrase: Where's the love? Where's the heart that burns for the practice in any of this? But maybe I simply live in a very different universe from the one everybody else seems to be inhabiting. Does this mean I'm crazy? Or maybe everybody else is...