Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The deadly trifecta: yoga blogging, yoga teaching, and "real" life

Deborah from The Beauty of Everyday Things recently wrote an interesting post on her blog, in which she ponders and examines the relationship between yoga blogging, yoga teaching (for those of us who teach yoga), and "real" life.

It's a very intriguing topic, especially for those of us who have to manage and balance the tensions between our roles as yoga teachers, yoga bloggers, and "real" people. I was going to leave a comment on her blog, but then I decided I have too much to say about this topic to justify hogging her comment thread, so I decided to write about it here on my own blog. Deborah writes:

"Another interesting thing about writing a yoga blog, as a yoga teacher, is that you start wondering at a certain point if things are too personal to share.  If you should present yourself in a more professional way.  I have friends who have gone on to open up studios and they have to think about their image.  So far I’ve always kept it down to earth here, sort of.  I mean, I do get a bit flighty once in a while, but overall I’m not trying to impress anybody.  

Oh the ways in which we fool ourselves.  In many ways it’s all about attention, isn’t it?

But once you set yourself up as a purveyor of yogic wisdom, it could get a bit harder to admit that you yelled at your kids in the supermarket or ate a hostess twinkie or something..."

Very interesting. Let me start by stating the obvious. In the above passage, Deborah identifies two sources of tension: 

(1) The tension between the yoga teacher role and the yoga blogger role; and 

(2) The tension between the yoga blogger/purveyor-of-yoga-wisdom role and our roles as "real" people with "real" lives. 

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I'll talk about each of these two tensions in turn. Let's start with (1). Why might we feel that there is a tension between our roles as yoga bloggers and as yoga teachers? Perhaps in an ideal world, such a tension wouldn't (or shouldn't) exist: Whatever yoga stuff you talk about on your blog is also the yoga stuff that you teach and practice off-line. You know, talk the yoga talk and walk the yoga walk. 

But things are often a bit more complicated in the actual world. I know quite a few yoga bloggers who are also teachers, and who keep their teaching and blogging lives separate: They do not tell their students and, in many cases, their fellow yoga teachers as well, about the existence of their blogs. They are, in effect, having a sort of double yoga identity: the identity of yoga teacher, and the identity of yoga blogger. 

I don't mean to talk about this double identity in a negative or judgmental kind of way. In fact, during my brief stint as a yoga teacher last year, I also did not tell any of my students or fellow teachers about this blog. My reason for not doing so is this: I feel that this blog is a sort of experimental space in which I am free to think, speculate and express my opinions on anything I happen to think of in yoga. Some of these thoughts and opinions may be motivated by things that actually happened during my classes. They can range from fairly innocuous things (such as how best to teach mula bandha to beginners) to things that might be very sensitive in nature (such as teachers trashing other teachers or students, and what I should do about it). And many of these things may be too sensitive for the directly affected parties to read about, even if these parties are not named. For instance, here's a real-life incident which happened some time ago at a workshop I attended at this particular studio. Just before the workshop began, I overheard two teachers at the studio trashing Kino; I was basically sitting next to them as they did their trashing, so I couldn't not hear it even if I had wanted to. 

A few days after the incident, I wrote a post on this blog, in which I expressed my feelings about this trash-talking of somebody whom I highly regard. Besides Kino, I did not name any other names in my post. And I thought that was that. A couple of weeks later, to my, uh, surprise, one of the trash-talking teachers left an anonymous comment on my post, in which she called me out on my trashing her trashing of Kino (there should be a term for this... meta-trashing? Hahaha...) Which was really bizarre and weird... I mean, I didn't even tell either of these teachers about the existence of this blog. Yet she somehow found it, and was sufficiently offended by the anonymous reference to her to actually comment anonymously on my post!

Ah... the dangers of yoga blogging; definitely not something for the faint of heart :-) I hope I'm not boring  you with this long-drawn-out story. I guess what I'm trying to say is that, given my personal experiences, I can totally understand why bloggers who are also teachers might want to keep their blogging and teaching lives separate. Yoga blogging--at least, yoga blogging that is "real" and "authentic"--is by its very nature intimate and gritty in a way that yoga teaching will never be; at least not in this country, where students usually expect teachers to project a veneer of authority, and most teachers must project some such veneer in order to maintain healthy boundaries between their students and themselves. "Real" yoga blogging, almost by definition, involves shedding and removing these boundaries; indeed, what good is yoga blogging if your blog cannot serve as a "safe" space for your to freely express yourself and bounce ideas off your readers? 

So perhaps such a separation of yoga blogging and yoga teaching is inevitable for most blogger-teachers, because, at least for most of us, the yoga of blogging is not the same yoga as the yoga of teaching. But there is a part of me that can't help feeling that such a separation is artificial, contrived, and ultimately unsustainable in the long run. Even if nobody ever finds out about your other identity, the psychic toll from maintaining this double identity must take its toll on you at some point. 

I don't really have this problem right now, since I only practice on my own and blog about my practice, and about anything that happens to strike my fancy on any given day. But I can see how this can be a persistent issue for many of you out there. Any thoughts on this?           


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I guess I'll also say a few things about (2), even though this post is already becoming way longer than I intended it  to be. Ideally, there should not be any tension between my role as a yoga blogger and my role as a real person living a real life (whatever that means)... I mean, I actually don't see myself as a purveyor of yogic wisdom. I'm just me, doing whatever practice I am doing now, and living whatever life I am living. And my blog is here simply for me to record whatever aspects of my practice and real life that I feel like recording. If you read it and like it, great. If you read it and don't like it and decide you don't ever want to read my blog anywhere... well, it is what it is. Simple, right?

But as with (1), things are also often more complicated in the actual world. How to explain this? Well, let me start by observing that in many people (including yours truly), the act of writing words in a public medium like the internet brings about a certain subtle, almost magical transformation in them. There is this almost subconscious desire on the part of the writer to want his words to present a certain part of himself, a part of himself that is more rational, more polished, and therefore, by default, more... enlightened, if you will. For many people, it is almost impossible to publicly express their own views in writing without at the same time making an almost subconscious effort to make their views more presentable and coherent and nice-sounding to any listener, potential or actual. In other words, writing and blogging is, for many people, an expression of what Nietzsche would call the will to power; in writing and publishing stuff, one expresses a will to present a better and more polished version of the everyday chaos of his nitty-gritty reality. And in so doing, one also represents oneself as being better or more "enlightened" than he might be in "real" life... Actually, I'm probably doing this right now, with my name-dropping of Nietzsche and shit...

Anyway, to cut a long story short, it is in this way that what started out for many people as a more or less innocent attempt to simply record the "real" aspects of one's practice and life on a blog subtly transforms itself over time into an attempt at appearing more polished and enlightened, and thus into an attempt at being a purveyor of yogic wisdom. Wow, that was a very long sentence. Do I make sense? I hope I do... 

But maybe not everybody goes down this slippery slope of going from a "real" blogger to being a purveyor of yogic wisdom. Maybe there is a way to prevent this slippage? I try my best to prevent myself from thus slipping, but I'm not sure if I'm always successful. Any thoughts about any of this?

11 comments:

  1. I don't blog often. But, when I do, I make sure to sound enlightened.

    Seriously, I know I am guilty of the "need" to sound sensible and compassionate and wise when I blog! But, then, usually, I am blogging in answer to questions that arise from students. Since I tell them to look to my blog for answers and information, I try my best to write well, with clarity and honesty.

    Plus, it's made my life easier in some ways to write down my thoughts and advice about practice on the blog, vs. spending sometimes precious time before and after classes, telling several folks individually the same thing. But, I do admit to agonizing over it a bit more than I do when I write other things that are less important to me professionally and personally.

    Still, I've found that I feel best teaching - and it seems to resonate most with my students - when I am completely and authentically myself, warts and all. It took me some time to find the confidence to be that way as a teacher, and perhaps I need to do it as a blogger, too. (Haters and naysayers and anonymous commenters be damned!)

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    1. Yes, I think it is great to be able to use your blog to talk about questions or issues that your student have brought up or will potentially bring up.

      But being able to teach while being completely and authentically yourself is quite another thing altogether; I think Kino and David Garrigues have managed to do this, and their students (including me) seem to love them all the more for that. Maybe that comes with the terrain of being an Ashtanga teacher too; because an Ashtanga teacher spends a lot less time leading classes, and more time either adjusting/assisting students in Mysore class or practicing alongside students, there is less of a need to look "teacher-like."

      I'll check out the Youtube video you mention below :-)

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  2. As my name as a teacher + therapist got more known locally + especially now as i embark on opening a studio I backed away more + more on my personal blog. i know just blog once a week on my professional website and am scrupulous about commenting on other blogs.

    It's a tough one and I miss my old blog sometimes. When I'm blogging now I ask myself " would I tell a client this?" if the answer is no then I don't press publish. :)

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    1. Yes, it's definitely a tough one, and I feel it even though I am not a therapist or yoga teacher at present.

      But I think blogging has its own set of ethics too. The question in this case isn't so much "Would I tell a client/student this?", but more like something along the lines of "Would I be able to say this to somebody if I were to meet him or her face to face?" I try to use this question to guide my blogging.

      Perhaps, when all is said and done, the question is, "Who is the target audience of this blog?" If the target audience is one's client or student, to whom one owes certain professional obligations (such as privacy), then there may be certain things one should not blog about. If the target audience is some general audience who may has some interest in issues that come up in the yoga/therapy world, then perhaps the range of things one can blog about will be greater.

      But this probably doesn't help anything. After all, who can really control who gets to read one's blog? You can do that if you make your blog a private one and allow only invited people to read it, but doing that limits your audience and, in my opinion, defeats the purpose of blogging. Anyway... I don't have any answers here, just thinking aloud.

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  3. Really interesting post! And what about student blogging? When you're a home practitioner, there is no reason to censor reports of your daily practise but if you go to a shala, should you write about assists/teacher you did not like? Obviously this is highly personal. It does not mean the assist/teacher is wrong, just that it did not work for you at that particular time, but it can still be really detrimental for the teacher's online reputation. This is something that prevents me from blogging, I would like to be completely honest but I would be afraid to do harm by being so, so I shut up and keep it for myself :)
    (Sorry for my poor english, I'm not a native speaker!)

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    1. I understand your English perfectly (I'm not a native speaker either...) :-)

      I think student blogging is a little easier to handle. Some student bloggers have adopted the practice of referring to their teachers by acronyms (Teacher A or Teacher B, for example) when they are writing about them on their blogs. Maybe it also helps to ask yourself, "Is this something I would be okay with if this teacher were to stumble across my blog?" before you hit publish.

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  4. BTW, that first line of mine in my comment wasn't meant to be snarky - just a play on this guy:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eFUpHZlGxu4

    :)

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  5. Interesting topic! I guess I keep my blog pretty 'professional', although it's not something I do consciously. Partly it comes from a commitment to respect my students' privacy, although while it's no secret that I have a yoga blog, I don't think many of them read it (some do!). I have rarely blogged about my personal asana practice, mostly because I can't imagine it would be of any interest to anyone else, reading about what pose I did or didn't do that day, and I don't blog about my personal life because, well, I'm living it, I don't need to write about it too! And I especially don't blog about my professional life because yoga is my escape from that, so I am certainly not going to bring it into my yoga blog! Before I post I try to think "does this make a contribution?" I try to write things that I hope contribute, however minutely, to this wonderful two-way conversation (or thousand-way conversation) about yoga in the 21st century...

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    1. Interesting. I like that last thing you said ('Before I post I try to think "does this make a contribution?"...'). I think this is a good way to guide one's blogging. While we certainly should respect other people's privacy (especially the privacy of our students) when we blog, I still feel that one key purpose of blogging (at least for me) is to allow me to have a space to express and think about certain things that would be too sensitive or delicate to bring up in many other public settings. And very often, talking about sensitive or delicate issues (like the one I'm talking about in this post) is a great way to contribute to the ongoing conversation about yoga in the 21st century. I mean, if blogging doesn't give us the space to tell yoga like it is, what good is it?

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