This is one of those posts where a few different things, which are really part of the same thing, come together. First of all, in this post on unsung yoga teachers, I asked you to find me the teachers who are doing risky things, or who have unique perspectives, or who’ve been quietly teaching for decades. Increasingly, it’s the idea of these teachers that most informs my thesis, and doing justice to the often unsung but vital lives they lead. So here’s a few for you, with the words of the people that sent them.
Unsung Yoga Teachers
Padma has the ability to reach out and touch whatever is vulnerable and painful in your heart and have you sit with it.
At a time when many yogis are reaching to the science books to explain yoga I love that Lisa, with her psychology background, seeks and teaches yoga’s answers.
A “common sense” every day yogi who inspires people who would never dream of going to a fancy yoga studio to get on the mat, to meditate, to chant and to help others.
Unique, sweet, learned and very versatile, much more so than you discover in his normal classes. He has taught me a tolerance and spaciousness by his example that is with me everyday.
Her classes are for me, a perfect combination of nerdy science, light-hearted spirituality and playful and exploratory asana. I always leave feeling subtly transformed.
Secondly, I’ve been asked to give feedback on Yoga Alliance’s review of teaching standards. I’m not a member of Yoga Alliance, and I’m obviously aware of the many arguments against them, and an often difficult history with their own members. Here in the UK, we have a very different set up for yoga teaching: we have at least three main directory bodies, each of which have their detractors, and none of which, despite numerous attempts, has any more legitimacy than any other. The entry of Yoga Alliance to the UK scene would split that uneasy rivalry from three to four, and that might even be an interesting development. But in any case, we don’t have that single wealthy monopoly, with all the issues it entails, that dominates the US.
So my investment in the process is different as a result. I’m interested in showing SkillsActive and the British Wheel in the UK what counts as a proper scope for inclusion. I’m interested in showing Yoga Alliance Professionals (no relation) if serving the market can be combined with serving a community. And I’m interested in giving the rebels of the IYN another place to be heard.
This is an unusual consultation process, given the scope of their intent, and the range of people they are trying to draw in, and because of that, I’m cautiously optimistic that something interesting will come out at the end. But I can’t speak to whether the new management at Yoga Alliance will be able or willing to make enough changes to satisfy a critical mass of yoga teachers. To be fully transparent, I am also being paid for a few hours of my time to read and respond to the final document once a draft is prepared. If you think that sum of money is enough to buy my approval, you’re not only insulting my integrity, you’re accusing me of being cheap at the price.
In the end Yoga Alliance might decide what people ask of them is impossible, or undemocratic factions might win out, or the mass membership might be persuaded to vote for steps that more experienced teachers might not approve of. I am concerned that fears about training standards and ethical abuses might translate into far more legislation and standardisation of actual teaching than I think is good for any of us. Personally, I prefer more complicated but sustainable solutions: peer support structures, mentoring and effective CPD.
But for what it’s worth I would ask you, whether you’re a member or not, teacher or not, to consider taking this survey. Even if you don’t like the questions, and you’re not sure of the answers, even if you have really good arguments as to why YA should be boycotted. Because this survey could canvass the opinions of more yoga teachers than ever before. And I want more unsung teachers to be part of that, even if all you tell them is that they’re more wrong than they know. In other words, use the vote you have, even if you spoil your ballot.
Whatever we want contemporary yoga to stand for, to hold within its walls, to be responsive to and responsible for, that starts with being asked by people who say they represent us, and hoping we’ll be listened to. So if you think yoga should be safer, should have more significant input from people of colour, should honour its roots, should be more scientifically robust, should be more community-focused, should be trauma-informed, or should be accessible to all, please, consider using the form to tell them.
And that brings me to the last thing, for which I have few words. This week, perfectly balanced between Shivaratri and St Valentine’s Day, a woman died who most of you will never have heard of, but here, a community mourns. I mourn. She led a life of courage and adventure, and travelled her last illness with uncompromising and tender honesty. She leaves behind a husband and a young son, a family, and more friends than you can count.
The first time I met her was on a Womb Yoga training. She had a box of fake fur and velvet, lace and satin, sequins and sparkles, and we sat in a circle, laughing and reminiscing, for two hours, crafting vulvas together. It was earthy, and magical, touching, and more than slightly hysterical. It was one of the best examples of teaching about bodies I’ve ever seen.
So may we remember in all our fears about standards and training that guidance and community matter far more than accreditation and documentation. What I’m asking myself today is: can a yoga teaching standard exist that doesn’t legislate away magic like that? What would it look like?
Call it the Lady CuntLove standard. For Colette. For all of us.