“Cranking” and “correcting”

In August, HuffPost blogger Lauren Cahn wrote a revealing post about the perils of Pattabhi Jois’s Ashtanga yoga. She caught a lot of hell for that one, with dozens of defensive Ashtanga yogis complaining that Cahn was generalizing and maligning the whole system. This week, Yoga Dork posted a … ahem … revealing photo of Jois manually correcting two female students.

Is all of that true about Jois? I don’t know, and I don’t really care. But one question nagged at me:

Why do students tolerate a teacher’s inappropriate behavior? (Any teacher, not Jois in particular.)

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Why do they let their bodies be “cranked” into pretzel poses beyond their capacity? Why do they allow questionable “corrections” with no outcry. Even if Jois’s fingers (in the photo) were innocent, the students probably felt awkward; if so, they should’ve had the wherewithal to tell him.

But they probably didn’t. Teachers wield much power over awestruck students. With more fame comes more power.

Much has been written about the power imbalance in certain relationships: teacher-student, doctor-patient, therapist-patient, coach-athlete, clergy-disciple. So it’s no surprise that yoga teachers, too, influence their students’ lives (more than even they might realize). See Donna Farhi’s book Teaching Yoga: Exploring the Teacher-Student Relationship and this article in the late ascent magazine for more on yoga-teacher ethics.

Examples need not be extreme cases of injury or abuse. Think about your own class participation. If your teacher directs you to ground your heels or to drop deeper into uttanasana, do you immediately comply? Or do you do a body check first?

Ultimately it behooves us to be measured in our regard. We can value brilliance without being blinded. Listen to your chosen teachers, but also to that “teacher within.”

Photo: Talkingsun

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10 thoughts on ““Cranking” and “correcting”

  1. I saw that picture, it left an uncomfortable sense of being in me for the last day. What the?????
    I think a huge part of yoga is learning the subtle art of adjustment, one oneself.Learning to listen to one’s own body, and know innately what it needs. A teacher can see what is going on, but only the student can truly feel it. from the inside.

  2. Great post! One thing I’ve learned over the years is how to take responsibility for myself in yoga class. I think it’s up to me to know my body, my limitations, and to be able to articulate this to my teachers. I’m not afraid to tell my teachers not to touch me, especially if I’m in pain.

    Sometimes, though, I welcome adjustments, simply because I might just be craving human touch. Sometimes a well-placed, permitted, conscientious adjustment can dissolve tension and bring me back into my body.

    Lately, something I’ve been finding more bothersome than adjustments is when teachers tell me what I should be feeling. It’s not up my teacher to direct my experience.

    1. I, too, appreciate (and savor) good adjustments. They can be quite firm and still feel terrific. So I’m with you there.

      When a teacher verbally corrects me, I tend to react immediately when I should think about whether that’s right for me. Once, I moved so promptly and emphatically that the teacher said, “Whoa, take it easy!” It takes real maturity not to jump to attention for a teacher you respect.

  3. I seem to be fortunate that my teachers tend to be a lot easier on me than I am toward myself. They tend to emphasize NOT pushing myself further than I should go…which is what I have a tendency to do (though I’m aware of that and working on it) when left to my own devices.

    Certainly, with all the emphasis on guru worship in so many yoga texts , it’s not surprising that so many people end up letting themselves be abused. Then, perhaps a larger issue is that so many people are like me–out of touch with their bodies and stuck in a competitive, goal-oriented paradigm. No doubt, if I had started out doing yoga with teachers of the “no pain no gain” school, I would have seriously hurt myself and probably quit practicing yoga by now…

    1. I can relate to your tendency; for some of us, it is more of a challenge to rein in than to go all out. On days when I’m nursing an injury, I might force myself to forgo a class; it is too frustrating to go to the sidelines and do modified poses!

  4. Hi Yoga Spy. I saw your blog entry thanks to a friend of mine, and I wanted to say BRAVO for you bringing up the elephant in the room regarding that photo. I, of course, was struck by the inappropriateness of the touching. But I was even MORE struck by the comments on the original blog entry (Yoga Dork, was it?). People were laughing and critical and mocking, and almost NO ONE was reverential, because no one knew SKPJ in the context of “the cult of Ashtanga”. I bet if I put up that photo, I would catch SERIOUS HELL!!! I am toying with the idea, as a sort of experiment, studying the contrast of how people who are NOT pressured into conformity of view by the “cult” will react one way, but people who are IN the cult are incapable of seeing the photo for what it is: an example of teaching gone terribly wrong. Intentional or not, this is wrong teaching, wrong assisting, wrong in every way. And I am no longer in the Ashtanga cult, so I am not afraid to say it…

    Lauren

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