The rudeness of yoga teachers

I take a weekly practice class with my main Iyengar teacher, a highly regarded “teacher’s teacher.” Today she was out of town; thus a sub (Iyengar-certified, Intermediate Junior I) taught her class. In general, students are disappointed when there’s a sub. Experienced students, especially, are picky and want to spend time and money only on their chosen teachers.

As we prepped on our own before class, a fellow student (who’s a teacher herself) entered the studio, noticed that something was different, and asked whether our teacher was teaching today. The sub overhead and explained the situation. The inquiring student proceeded to leave.

I found this behavior closed minded. And presumptuous. And astoundingly rude.

First, one can learn from all decent teachers (and my teacher carefully chooses her subs). Sure, we have our favorites. Sure, we might not choose ongoing study with a sub but, for a single class, there is real benefit in working with another teacher.

I admit that I’ve skipped subbed classes (announced in advance) or been dissatisfied by subs many times over the years. When I began teaching, however, I grew more open to different faces and voices, ideas and experiences.

Second, it doesn’t matter if one is also a teacher. (In fact, this class is rife with teachers, many who chose to attend today’s class.) If one considers a sub a mere peer with nothing worthy to teach, one is forgetting that it’s informative to observe a variety of teachers.

Also, shouldn’t teachers show support for their peers? I can be as critical as they come, but as a teacher I’ve also become more empathetic toward other teachers.

Third (and most egregious), to leave after being noticed is just plain rude. One might have strong personal reasons for wanting to study only with a particular teacher. But that doesn’t trump common courtesy. Even a child would know this. I was flabbergasted that someone would actually walk out like that! The gall. This goes beyond yoga or classes or likes and dislikes. This is simply “bad form.”

Humans never cease to amaze me.

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16 thoughts on “The rudeness of yoga teachers

  1. I totally get what you are saying and agree that you never know what you can gain from the unexpected sub. That said, I can perhaps understand this person from the perspective of a very busy mom with a career and a young child. For me, getting to class for two hours once a week is a BIG commitment. Huge. Very very different than what it was like for me to get to class pre-motherhood. Not to make a big deal of my particular “busyness” – for we’re all busy, but just when every hour away means paying for childcare, or not working, it’s a big deal. So if I came to class and saw a sub, I could imagine feeling like I might wish I’d known in advance….. Not that I would walk out. But I might need to take a moment in my head to recalibrate, you know? Funny, I was in that class today and kind of bummed to be asked to do the menstrual sequence instead of join in. Of course, in the end, it was a wonderful two hours for me! Which goes to show: Stay! Enjoy!

    1. I, too, can fully empathize with the teacher who left. But once she was noticed by the sub, it was too late to leave.

      In my opinion, teachers should always announce subbed classes in advance. Surprising students with subs is disconcerting to all involved. It is akin to “bait and switch.” Students indeed should be able to opt out gracefully, while subs are spared some awkwardness.

      I knew that there would be a sub today, and I chose to come. I dislike surprises, and I like being in control of my choices.

      Thus I am not advocating blithe acceptance of changed circumstances. But, case by case, one must act with integrity.

      Were you asked to do the menstrual sequence because you told the teacher you were menstruating? Wasn’t that predictable? Or were you asked to do it for another reason?

  2. have seen that time and again.

    my teacher has said that Yogananda said that when we become TOO finiky, TOO selective, TOO judgmental when things don’t go our way, it’s a step backward on the spiritual path. to be open, less judgmental, able to go with the flow, THAT’S spiritual progress.

    1. I agree it is a step in the wrong direction spiritually, reacting from ego. There are many ways this scenario could be handled with integrity and grace; too bad the opportunity was missed.

      We are all teachers, we are all students; it is important to stay open to this reality. Life is always changing; surrender to what you cannot control.

      1. ultimately, we control nothing. and it is the thinking that we do that causes our suffering.

  3. I chose to stay with an unannounced (to me, the non-regular) sub once (please note my choice of words–the price point of that studio was good for the upscale nabe it was in, but very bad for ME), who taught the repetitive, creative but unsophisticated class “too easy” for me. Now, it does not take all that much to teach even their harsh Level I’s, in a vinyasa style, to get to “too easy”, but I’ve had a strong primarily home practice.

    I had told the one who runs the studio that I tweaked much of the class “up” … and by that I mean frequent cobra to chaturanga, not plank to pincha (the latter being their mind-set, always … snobby upstart idiots!)

    Obviously, this studio did not appreciate my tweaking up. A main reason they are history!

    You make a sub’s class work for you. If the studio doesn’t like it … well, that’s the acid test of the studio ….

  4. Thanks for your thoughts yogaspy and everyone! I appreciate your honesty. What a great topic of conversation 😉

    I have gone to classes which were being subbed and enjoyed them and not enjoyed them. I have also left classes that were being subbed. It was nothing personal against the substitute teacher. I know that I have left classes in the past because I was working with an injury and when I am injured I tend to feel more vulnerable and therefore choose to take classes with teachers who are familiar with my body and its limitations. That is my choice to make.

    There is nothing more or less spiritual about choosing to stay or go; there is however our interpretation and judgement of reality.

    That being said I wasn’t there to witness this incident, or this persons demeanor and attitude. If it was in fact “rude” is it not our responsibility as yogis to cultivate compassion in our responses, to seek to understand?

    It’s never too late to leave a class if you don’t feel comfortable with what is happening. We are so attached to our ideas of politeness and propriety that when we see someone act outside of those boundaries we are shocked and surprised. We have no way of knowing why this person left class. They could have just been diagnosed with a terminal illness or found out that their best friend died. Is it really more spiritual to stay and suffer through something? Or is it more spiritual to leave and honour your feelings? What is more spiritual about either choice and who are we to judge?

    Those are my thoughts and questions for now!

    Happy spring everyone,
    Siobhan

  5. It is my understanding of yoga, in part, that it is meant to cultivate change and acceptance of change. How is walking out on an opportunity to learn from an alternate teacher – for just *one* night – acceptance or cultivating acceptance to change?

    Granted, we don’t know the extenuating circumstances, but for myself, if I made the time and effort to get to class, I would at least give the sub the simple courtesy of staying, because they have taken time out of *their* day to lead class. And if I needed to accommodate an injury, I would do so without prompting, working within ahimsa.

    Terri’s comment resonated with me: There are many ways this scenario could be handled with integrity and grace; too bad the opportunity was missed.

    We are all teachers, we are all students; it is important to stay open to this reality.

  6. I’ve had someone leave my class when I was subbing and worse experiences than that! Sometimes there’s learning though mostly it’s learning not to be hard myself knowing when I’ve done my best or not to take other people’s actions personally. Sigh. Life is never short of presenting us with challenges. Double sigh. Honestly though, it really pisses me off when people aren’t willing to give “peeps” a chance and even a second chance.

  7. I’m an Iyengar teacher and have subbed numerous times for other people in all sorts of places, sometimes even for non-Iyengar teachers at an eclectic studio. I’ve been witness to the competing emotions on people’s faces when they find out their favorite teacher is not going to be there. The first couple of times this happened, and people left, I felt really bad. I felt slighted and all of that. But I quickly realized that it had absolutely nothing to do with me as a teacher or person and I let it go. I know what it’s like to have expectations and to be disappointed. I’ve taken classes with subs that have been wonderful and some that haven’t. I know what it’s like to have to shift gears from an expectation to being open to a new experience, and sometimes that gear shift requires more than people are able to give in that moment. If someone comes to a class that I’m subbing and I can see that disappointment in them I say something like “I’m subbing for so and so today, but they’ll be back next week if you want to come back then.” My feeling is, them wanting to leave is as valid a choice as if they want to stay and I’m in a position to support them either way. It makes for a much more pleasant interaction that leaves us both free of negative karma.

  8. It depends on how it’s done. I taught a class today as a sub and had a class of 3. One student asked what level do I teach and I explained that I normally teach General as it’s in a gym and that I am open to changing the class plan according to the levels I see in the class. I explained that because I don’t know their bodies I will have to start slow. She then said “ok just don’t waste time.” I guess I should have asked what is her definition of wasting time because when the class started she began chatting with her friend. Then started packing her things to leave. It was done in such a disrespectful manner that it totaly put me off. She didn’t even give any eye contact saying that she is leaving. I am open to discussion here but that is just plain rudeness. If it was a class of about 20 then I can justify someone sneaking out to not disturb others but her attitude was like Yoga is below her.

    1. That person has never truly done yoga, but only exercise. Yoga is not only about asana and what the body can do; it’s about the yamas and niyamas, and about common courtesy, and about being a human being and, we hope, about being better human beings. Thanks for sharing your story.

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