These are not the droids you are looking for

Published on January 9, 2012 by      Print
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By Ira Israel

I moved to Rishikesh West a few weeks ago and decided to check out what the yoga scene had become in the five years since I left L.A. I refer to Santa Monica as “Rishikesh West” because on any given morning you can throw a stone and hit a bendy woman swathed in Lululemon carrying a yoga mat, just like in the other Rishikesh.

After a few classes with some of the burnt-out yoga stalwarts who shall remain nameless, I decided to try some of the young buck teachers.

A disclaimer: I’m 45, male (the last time I checked, at least), not terribly athletic (but have been practicing yoga regularly for 17 years), and have a Master of Arts in Hinduism and Buddhism. Oh yeah, probably should mention that I have a supremely low tolerance for bullshit, also.*

Here’s what happened in the young teacher’s class that I attended: after a few minutes of fast-paced calisthenics, our fearless leader noticed that two college-age men wearing basketball outfits were lagging behind, and casually asked them if this was their first yoga class. It was, they responded, at which point the demure blond with butterfly-stroke shoulders, mild scoliosis, and a ballerina’s waddle instantly transformed into Darth Vader and began berating the young men for attending her level 2/3 class: “You wouldn’t just jump into a level 5 French class, would you?!?!?!”

Now correct me if I’m wrong, but there is no level 2/3 mentioned in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika.

Nor in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. And certainly not in the Brahma Sutras, the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, or the Vedas. The fact that they’re calling it a 2/3 class should have been an instant tip-off that it wasn’t a yoga class; it was an exercise class.

But these were, in fact, the droids that Darth Vader had been looking for. Even though they had probably spent most of the last few years chugging beers and quietly masturbating to Internet pornography, Vader didn’t think yoga would benefit them in any way, so she made them feel uncomfortable enough that after another twenty minutes they rolled up their mats and slinked off.

The next evening Seane Corn put us in downward dog and asked anyone new to yoga to raise a leg. A few legs went up, and Seane welcomed them by saying, “Just follow along and do what you can do.” Nobody left the class before the ninety minutes were up.

Here’s a little reminder for some of the young bucks in the yoga world: we are the good guys.

A young man who has the guts to walk into any yoga class should not be received as if he were John Boehner calling Henry Louis Gates Jr. for an NRA donation. Bullying these men into leaving their first and possibly last yoga class is analogous to throwing someone out of an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting because they didn’t have the right “level” of sobriety. Shame on you, young buck. Shame on you.

I taught yoga at urban gyms for three years, and every week there were 50-70 people who ranged in age from 16 to 70, in size from petite to extra-extra-extra large, and in experience from none to twenty years. It was a privilege to give football and basketball players their first experience with yoga. We are a community, and everyone should be made to feel welcome. The whole point of yoga is to get us to release our egos. And yet, it appears that some of the young teachers have such inflated egos that I’m uncertain even yoga will remedy their afflictions in just one lifetime.

All of this begs the question, “What is yoga?”

Or rather, “What has yoga become under the highly competitive American cultural paradigm known as ‘late capitalism’?” When yoga consisted of five naked men standing around a fire screaming primordial sounds in an effort to unite with the divine, women were not made to feel welcome. 5000 years later it is bendy, athletic women who are making the men feel unwelcome. Fortunately for the two young men, it was just a mediocre exercise class they stumbled into. We can only pray that they and the rest of their generation find their way to real yoga classes sometime in the near future, learn how to release their egos, and cultivate the kind of equanimity and inner peace that others will want to emulate.

* Yes, thank you, I realize my own hypocrisy and self-contradiction when I say that yoga is designed to help us release our egos… AND I have a supremely low tolerance for bullshit.  Obviously enlightenment still eludes me in this lifetime.  Om….  

About Ira Israel

Ira Israel has a  Master of Arts degree in Religious Studies, a  Master of  Arts  degree in Philosophy, and a  Master of Arts  degree in Psychology.  He is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist and the author of “Yoga for Depression and Anxiety DVD”, “Mindfulness for Urban Depression DVD”, and

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  1. linda says:

    love it. it’s why I don’t label my classes with levels. and also why I no longer teach in studios. ’nuff said.

  2. Flying Yogini says:

    Fantastic! Can’t think of any parts I disagree with as you have nailed so many of my pet peeves and gripes. I teach yogis that can rock the hardest asanas and those that struggle in Child’s pose, both equally with the same care and attention. That Darth Vader should be forced to teach only beginners and all levels to reconnect with what it means to teach a yogi.

    Terrific post!

  3. Katie says:

    So funny and so true! Paying attention to what you are doing is all that matters.

  4. Libby says:

    Yes, Yes, YES! I am so thankful that the first class I walked into was taught by the opposite of your little Vader! Otherwise, I’d still be stuck in a chair most of the time! I am now privileged to bring yoga to housewives and seniors and chunky 3rd grade teachers. I love the piece~Great Job!

  5. cheryl says:

    Well said Ira! While I don’t have deep knowledge in yoga philosopy and history, I do recall somewhere in the Sutras something about finding “comfort and ease in the pose.” 6 words worthy of contemplation and simple to remember. This is what I strive to find in my own practice and share with every class I teach.

  6. Heidi Rayden says:

    Fantastic post & love that you refer to SM as Rishikesh true, so true!

    Oh my, Darth Vader’s name should be revealed so perhaps she can learn from her horrific approach to teaching yoga. I teach Bhakti Yoga & work with clients as a Yoga Therapist – the thought of treating ANY student that way is ignorant and a disservice to the ancient practice. A group class is always going to be a GROUP class. As teachers we need to accommodate the group to the best of our ability……with kindness and compassion.

    Thanks for your humor and sharing!

  7. Vision_Quest2 says:

    Please don’t remind me of my gentle inquiry in the fall of 2008 … I thought I had been in a yoga studio, and I guess I’d been mistaken.

    That same teacher gave out signals to me I’d refused to read … She’d told me, and I quote, “Stick with what you know …”

    I realized that I knew a lot. I had primarily a home practice, wherein she never could have one, even after she became a teacher and even after she was running a studio; and even after she’d completed her first teacher training.

    But, I found out the hard way that her attitude had never changed. She’d resented that I had a home practice, and let it show ….

  8. CB says:

    I am thankful that the very first experience I had was with my AMAZING friend, Darby, who walked me through a handful of private sessions so I was comfortable. He immediately filled me with a love for yoga. I wish that everyone could be as warmly welcomed into this world. Great article that may open some eyes!!!

  9. Lia says:

    So good, so good! It is so so so good to be reminded of what yoga is…and is not. I have heard downright horrifying stories about people being treated in all kinds of ridiculous ways by teachers who have either forgotten or never knew to begin with that no student is there to witness their (the teacher’s) genius. I’m a “young buck” teacher myself, and I forget this all the time. I, thankfully, have never reprimanded a student for being a beginner (yikes!)…but it’s so easy, when you take that seat, to forget that it is a privilege, and not a god-given right, to be there. Every teacher needs to be reminded, time and again, that they are there to make space for the yoga to happen. Not, in your words, for the bullshit.

    Excellent, excellent!


  10. Vision_Quest2 says:

    When she told me as much as said, ” you’re not welcome in this class … I don’t CARE about your schedule. Just go to the beginner’s class”

    Stick with what I know. I made a list, and it took more than one page.

    So, I continued to go to the beginner’s class … I couldn’t even pick their brains THERE, for my home practice. The place and their practice wasn’t very long on teaching alignment.

    You don’t have to guess what happens next. They did something even worse to piss me off, and I don’t go there any more. Even ashtanga teachers (who, by tradition, dole out knowledge piecemeal) have more finesse …maybe they don’t label their classes Level II-III, either …

  11. kk says:

    will u marry me?

  12. Svasti says:

    I’d never turn anyone away from any class, even though I’m still something of a “young buck(ess)” teacher.

    In fact, I lament those students who feel the need to do more strenuous yoga because they don’t think easy yoga is enough of a “workout”. Of course, it’s not a workout. It’s yoga. And yes, there’s a difference. :)

    Also, the only yoga class I’ve ever walked out of is one where the teacher thought it appropriate to berate me in front of the class. That ain’t yoga, or teaching – it’s abuse.

  13. Warriorsaint says:

    I stopped teaching yoga when I got my Pilates certification. With the economy the way it is I teach group mat classes at two local gyms. The first question (before injuries) is to identify the beginners, welcome then to the class, and advise them to do their best and modify when needed. All the exercises are given in modified version first, with the beginners advised to stick with the first version so I can then challenge the advanced students with one or two add ons.
    I am astonished that yoga has become so dogmatic, competitive, and rigid. That was the reputation of Pilates in the past!

    • Tori says:

      All the exercises are given in modified version first…

      This is how my current yoga teacher teaches us and how I provide instruction to my students too. For me, it’s physically frustrating and emotionally embarrassing (I know, I know, getting out of my ego) to first try a pose that doesn’t work for me and have to reconfigure or back out of it. It’s much more approachable to try the less strenuous version first and — if appropriate — add on incrementally.

  14. bendybyatch says:

    You may have heard of a senior LA teacher named Steve Walther, who is not only a fantastic teacher, but who regularly asked beginners in his advanced class to leave on a regular basis.
    Why? Because his class was called “level 3″ not “open”. If you want to attend mixed level classes, or non-athletic classes, there are plenty of those all over Los Angeles. Why knowingly walk into a Yogaworks (or some such place) and then complain that it’s corporate (or some such complaint)? you knew that going in, no?

    Steve Walther knew that beginners in his class would injure themselves precisely because their egos would cause them to push into poses their bodies weren’t ready for.
    Longtime practitioners attended Steve’s class, and we learned much from the “bendy, athletic” 60 year old male teacher– because thankfully he wasn’t distracted by a new student contorting him or herself beyond their body’s capacity.

    you barely mask your hatred for young, pretty, bendy female teachers, but Seane Corn was once one of those too. If you walked into my class exhibiting such judgement and opinion about me personally, I doubt you would get much out of the asanas I was teaching.

    Luckily, you practice on the west side.

    • Vision_Quest2 says:

      That attitude is not good for business … or were you texting the day they taught Hospitality 101 for Yoginis …

      Also, ever hear of vinyasa krama?

      Or even, horror of horrors, telling someone tacitly to go into child’s pose.
      It worked in the early ’90s, by my ancient yoga teacher who was teaching me, so why not in a yoga class … or is it Eastern-flavored aerobics that is being taught, even by the experienced superannuated teacher-to-the-future-yoga-rock stars?

      • bendybyatch says:

        Passing judgment and expressing snide hatred toward young female yoga teachers is not very yogic. This too is bad for business, if you are a Master’s degree family therapist overqualified blog writer expressing your petty bitterness towards young yoginis (so many you could throw a stone and hit one? nice) rather than actually utilizing your intelligence.

        Heaven forbid a pretty, blonde, flexible female teacher doesn’t give a MALE student the attention his 45 year old ego so desperately craves….. lest she be the target of your ever so high “no bullshit” standards.

        • Chrissy says:

          Wow…I am usually one to swoop in with the support and rescue , however I must say, well played on both sides…..

          • Vision_Quest2 says:

            This should not have to be a quarrel. Young people have to be reformed, schooled in the real traditions, and learn that classes should not be level-labeled …

            Somebody that advanced could just as well go to acro … I mean, REALLY!!

    • Jess says:

      I agree. I teach astanga. Some of my classes are simply not appropriate for those without a grounding in the practice. If I do have a beginner wander into one by mistake, most of my time is spent making sure they stay safe, which means that the people to whom the class is geared don’t get much attention. If the class is labelled 2/3, it’s for a reason.

  15. Shaktidiva says:

    Thanks for this great post Ira. You have hit the nail on the head. Too bad how to treat people with compassion and kindness wasn’t covered in Darth Vader’s teacher training. But when we are are training teachers to teach goal oriented yoga classes where they try to emulate a teacher that is a former dancer or gymnast that’s what happens. Rishikesh West influences the rest of the country with its celebrity yoga teachers and teaching styles. People come from all over the world to study here. We need to be more conscious about what and how we are teaching. And in my opinion that starts with whats being offered in TT and what is actually required to allow someone to get up in front of 500 people a week and teach a” yoga” class. Otherwise we should just start calling it them Asana classes because clearly the other 7 limbs are missing.

    • Vision_Quest2 says:

      Actually, at the place I am referring to, The Master Teacher (all of 25 years old) cannily called them Yoga Asana Classes … no, they didn’t miss a trick …

  16. Tracie Jansen says:

    Brilliant piece! As a teacher, the easiest thing in the world to teach is an advanced, “Level 2/3″ class. The most challenging class to teach is an all-levels class. When I was a brand new teacher, I loathed those classes full with advanced practitioners and wet-behind-the-ears beginners because it meant I had to give something to everyone in which they felt successful and challenged. I had to step up my skills big time. My inexperience and discomfort with the situation often took shape as disdain for those whom I felt didn’t “belong.” I shudder at that memory. Today, ALL my classes are mixed-levels with the exception of one very basic Yoga 101 class…which I encourage my experienced students to take as well.

  17. Tori says:

    I have to admit, I’m partially impressed that the teacher noticed that the students were lagging behind before she berated them for it. I’ve been asked to leave a couple of non-beginner classes just as I walked in the door. (My personal theory is that the teacher confused my “fat” — an adjective used to describe my appearance — with “reading comprehension” — a noun phrase naming my ability to read and understand course descriptions.)

    • Vision_Quest2 says:

      New York City size 12 in the house … (but I really do have a large frame) … however, they could tell when I was asking about the class, that I happened to be a size 12 while asking about it …

      I left that out, because, now in my late fifties, I’d much rather play the age card that I do so well … I once had them fearful upon my approach .. because they’d tried to rook me into paying top dollar for an unlimited series that did not exist …

      I guess they’d conflated the knowledge of yoga I’d had before I’d even gotten to take a third beginner class, with having a fat wallet … AND lack of reading comprehension …

      I finally told them “Good bye, good luck, have a nice life,” while being a late-middle-aged size 12 …

  18. Casey Lott says:

    The million dollar question is….did you say anything to the young buck teacher to maybe enlighten your point of view? Sound like that would be one step forward toward the yogian movement…..

  19. lc says:

    Great read, Ira.

    Here’s my take: Everybody…just be nice to everybody else. It’s that simple.


    Love, leeann

  20. Dana Damara says:

    Ira…as always…you nail it. Thank you … thank you… thank you for reminding and educating. Miss you dearly …. nice job! (I am wondering…was the yoga teacher certified??) LOL..smooches

  21. Teri McGann says:

    I feel bad for anyone who is made to feel unwelcome in any class they attend. I’m not sure that teacher’s behavior would be accepted in any school of yoga, mainstream or otherwise. Kindness and politeness are not exclusive to any one brand. This being said, you had my angst at ‘burned out’ and looking for a ‘young buck.’ Revealing that you were 45 made this okay when I concluded by old you surely meant 110!

  22. Betsy C says:

    Some of these comments are pretty harsh to the teacher in the blog posting or even to a certain kind of yoga class that people don’t like. I would argue that those yoga teachers/classes aren’t wrong they are different. Remember that if you are being judgmental about an exercise yoga class, that’s just as snarky as the Darth Vader teacher. Every teacher was inexperienced once, and we all make poor judgments sometimes.

    It would have been a great opportunity to speak up and make those two newcomers feel welcome from another student in the class. Darth Vader sounds insecure and might have been positively influenced by someone modeling kindness.

    I’m encouraged by all the positive suggestions and understanding expressed in some of the comments posted here.

  23. george bishop says:

    Yes I agree wholeheartedly with this article. I have been on the teacher trainer track and teaching yoga to men in corrections facilities. I have found an extreme disconnect between that, which heals and transforms and what I find in the community. I find in the bigger community a huge desire to be “seen” and show off extreme postures and very little concern to what yoga is. Yoga is a path to enlightenment not a venue for showing off cute outfits and spectacular postures. It was a sacred relationship between a teacher and student to discover the inner self to better reflect in the world. Not a money making proposition!!!I am currently very discouraged with the direction and nature of what is being passed off as “yoga”. I will continue to do my practice, perhaps alone and unfortunately for many men pushed out of the cute studios in favour of finding what the real deal is

    • Ira Israel says:

      Thank you very much, George! You stated it very eloquently. It’s sufficiently difficult to get men into a yoga class – once they’re there you don’t want to scare them away. It is a shame that some of the younger teachers don’t understand this.

    • Jess says:

      I basically agree with you, George. However, just because a practice is physically challenging, doesn’t mean it isn’t yoga. It’s how asana is approached, embodied and understood rather than how ‘difficult’ or not it is that makes it yoga (or not). There’s nothing inherently ‘yogic’ about doing only basic postures.

  24. Truth says:

    “All of this begs the question, “What is yoga?””

    Yoga = Stretching + Drama

    • Vision_Quest2 says:

      Many of today’s trendy-wannabe yoga teachers are actually grown-up Drama Club Wonks (who love to play Jock roles), who would rather teach the girls on the cheerleading squad, the Class Prexy; and even the Debate Team Captain, than the rest of us …

  25. Stephanie Zito says:

    This is also why I don’t label certain variations for ‘beginners’ or for ‘advanced’… there are incredible teachers out there who do not practice ‘advanced’ asana. The whole point why we are so asana focused in the west is because for *many* of us, our minds are off the charts with monkey chatter and ego. The whole point, of asana practice, is to quiet the mind (to yoke, right?). For some, Savasana might be the hardest pose of all. Teaching yoga, to me, is to be of service. If anything, I hope that THAT becomes a stronger point of focus in TTs.

  26. max says:

    “obviously enlightenment eludes me” blah blah Enlightenment is not being christ like, just tapped in. you can be a complete asshole and still be enlightened

  27. Kanani Fong says:

    Hello, my friend, Paul Zipes of Yoga For Vets sent me this post. Thank you for writing it.
    First, berating anyone, at anytime is unbecoming and unwarranted behavior. It’s speaks of conceit, ego, and a lack of self discipline. The only goal of berating anyone is to humiliate, and subjugate, and put yourself into a dominant role. Quite frankly, more people than just the two should have walked out.
    Anyway, you gave me a good cry.
    Why? Because what if those two men had been active duty service members, veterans, contractors, families –the very people we (at WarRetreat and Yoga for Vets) encourage to try yoga just to find their breath?

    By the way, you might owe Darth Vader an apology: he had far more discipline and strategy than the Berating Bitch. She could have sent any of our readers who have come to a studio despite having great fear (perhaps even having driven by the studio several times) they would not fit in. And then what happens? A whack job of a teacher confirms their very worst fears: they don’t and won’t ever fit in –and somehow they are to blame for their failure.

    I hope you went and gave her a piece of your mind, or at the very least, I hope she (and the studio owner) reads this piece.
    For me, my heart is a little bit broken today.
    Kanani Fong
    A military, active duty, and war community-centric yoga blog

  28. Diana Chewning says:

    Thanks for sharing that story LOL
    Its awful to make a new yoga person (new to ur class, u have never seen them) feel like that
    I feel awful just reading how she treated them..

    I alway’s said that when I teach Yoga : I would never do that, I want them to come back u know? It’s already intimidating walking into a Yoga studio::

    most people in a class r women

    most of the women are skinnny (not hating skinny at all) I love the way I am and want others to love the way they are

    everyone’s wearing lululemon (jeez lou eez)

    isn’t that already intimidating enough? Heck I make jokes about myself in class to put people at ease::I am imperfect and some days my yoga is super and other days I have 2 left feet lol
    have an OM AUM day :) Diana

  29. Ron B. says:

    I don’t see any hypocrisy about losing your ego and having a low tolerance for BS. Once you lose your ego, you enter into the world of ideas. And ideas are allergic to BS.

  30. manny says:

    Did you speak up for the student or was it eaiser to sit back and get all disgusted. You missed an opportunity to act responsible.

  31. Nadine Fawell says:

    Nice one, Ira!

    I nearly split something laughing about the internet porn. You know those poor boys were probably visiting that ‘girls in yoga pants’ site. Wonder if they’ve been scared off?

  32. YogaPolice says:

    Darth Vader like Yoga Teacher was located and sent for a rehabilitation. She will be just all rigth. In 20 years :-)

  33. Michelle says:

    Love this article…..Have the perfect instructor to forward this to! 2 weeks ago I modified knees-chest-chin w/ chaturanga because of a neck injury (not to mention I did the first 5 and didn’t want the continue the pressure on my neck) Not only did she call me out in class ~ and give my shoulder a flick ~ and said stick w/ her program….but the following day I inquired if she was upset…in summary after a berating 20 minute lecture of my lack of discipline, lack of control, super ego, and pointing out that I am not as good as I think….she asked me I am not welcome in her class ~ ever. She has been teaching for 14 years and doesn’t need students in her class like that, she is the teacher I am the student and I should do everything that she says. I tried to throw in about my injury, she told me that it was my responsibility to inform her and that again it just goes to show how “unprepared I am for a yoga class”!! Wow!!!

    • Vision_Quest2 says:

      “in summary after a berating 20 minute lecture of my lack of discipline, lack of control, super ego, and pointing out that I am not as good as I think….she asked me I am not welcome in her class ~ ever. ”

      Reminds me, again, of that studio back from 2008 through the end of 2009 … I’d sent them a scathing e-mail …

      “[...] after the 2nd class when I told you about S having us hold Navasana for 25 breaths, and you muttered under your breath ‘and you need it’ – bet you thought I could not hear. Look, I was not some soft thing who’d gained 20 pounds of middle aged spread from a mythical premenopausal size, I am a FORMERLY OBESE person: I used to wear a size 24 dress when I had been your age. I am keeping off 75 or 80 pounds from those years, even if I couldn’t keep off weight for any amount of time before, save for the past 6 years. So, YES, I’ve got a major chip on my shoulder!

      “Particularly, the fact of you and K urging me to stay out of the Level 2-3 classes, which could have reintroduced me to the CARDIO benefits (so good for the FORMERLY OBESE) of the kind of home practice I used to have, because you would rather train budding acrobats in crow, headstand, upward facing bow (with no hands on blocks against the wall–there is no
      room for that), wide legged tripod headstand, pincha mayurasana, [etc. ] You figured I did not pass your ‘halo effect’ test of looking like I nearly minored in modern dance in college. You have recommended Open classes to women in their 40′s without seeing first how they move, even in the open-type dance classes–I saw it with my own eyes. And they routinely walked out of class in the middle of it. So, you were afraid—[knowing how I am about money, natch]—I’d ask for my money back or something. [Which I never did.]

      “Learn not to judge a book by its cover. I expect the judgment to stop the moment I or anyone else asks to take a class. (Believe it or don’t believe it: when my diet shakes worked well, though briefly, and I had been age 29, I had been recommended to take break dance classes at a dance studio [in Florida where I used to live.])”

      Which, of course, they forgot about (of course they looked at me really fearfully at times—as if something I’d said may have offended them, then got over it), which later they’d tried to get more money out of me for nearly nothing … [you DON'T WANNA KNOW]

      That’s why I don’t go back, after having given them more chances than I’d give ANYBODY since!

      They cannot hurt me now … they cannot hurt me now …. they cannot hurt me now … they cannot hurt me now …

  34. Simone Kussatz says:

    Hi Ira,

    thank you for your well written article.

    I have come across two Yoga teachers who were doing the opposite of what was supposed to be creating an environment where one should leave judgements and competition behind and to just focus on oneself and be accepting of how our bodies are made differently.

    The one was a substitute teacher touching me too much for my personal comfort level, telling me I should go to a beginner’s class. The teacher he was substituting for, has never told me this and never kept me out of his class room. I made a point to never take a class with him again.

    The other is a teacher who adjusts the most flexible girls in the classroom who truly don’t need any help, while ignoring the ones who could use a little help. It’s not as if I’m constantly trying to look what’s going on off my mat, but sometimes it happens that my eyes catch the most bizarre moments, for instance the moment of a married Yoga teacher always walking up to the pretty girls, helping them to spread their legs while having a closer look what’s between it.

    So yes, the Yoga world and its people are as imperfect as any other world and its people.

    • Vision_Quest2 says:

      Were those flexy ladies wearing expensive yoga gear?

      I would not put it past them trying to vet for future yoga teacher trainees – both a cash cow to the studio and a scam to the consumer – since, at least where I live there are about three teacher trainees to every prospective student …

  35. ella marie says:

    Hi Ira,

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Hope the article enlightens the yogi and yogini.

    Must be painful and unnerving to see this situation in a yoga class where one expects the teacher to impart yogic wisdom as well as asana technique. It appears the “young buck” needs more experience to feel confident, focused and to let go of her EGO. We all make mistakes and eventually learn from them. Hopefully, she’d realize her mistake soon enough and evolve to be an inspiring and authentic teacher.

  36. These are not the droids you are looking for. ~ Ira Israel | elephant journal says:

    [...] droids you are looking for. ~ Ira Israel  Originally published by our elephriends over at Recovering Yogi on January 9, 2012.  [...]

  37. Darth Vader says:

    Yes, this is the actual person who Ira has taken the time to write about. This is the first time in my ten years of teaching that anyone has ever publicly ripped me to shreds. Ira, thank you for your honesty and making me cry and shake with such disbelief that ANYONE could be so mean and hateful and judge mental towards someone they don’t know anything about beyond spending 1.5 hours with in a public setting.

    This is my side of the story in case anyone is interested. I saw the two boys BEFORE class and spoke with them each, which Ira did NOT hear. I went up to the boys after 5 minutes b/c I knew they were struggling. In a large class of over 40 people I had them do some sun salutes on their own so the boys wouldn’t think anyone was listening to us speak and get embarrassed. While I was talking Ira got up off his mat and STOOD OVER US listening. The rest of the class was doing their sun salutes. Like Ira said, I explained to the boys that yoga is like learning a language. It takes time and practice. I have used this analogy for years b/c someone once used it with me when I was brand new an in over my head. I knew they were college aged and so I offered the analogy of stepping into a high level language class. It’s not that they aren’t capable of doing this level of yoga. It’s that it will sound foreign! Ira finally decided to go back to his mat. It was very awkward and uncomfortable having him loom over us in the middle of a class. What he missed me saying was, “Just have fun. Do whatever you can.” The boys were smiling and I said “try to be smiling all the way to the end.”

    I had never met Ira until that day. The fact that he oddly got up and listened to me speak with a looming gaze made me feel very uneasy. So I did not adjust him or pay much attention to him. The boys did leave eventually. It was just too hard. What Ira DOESN’T know is that after class I went up to the front desk and asked if the boys were ok or if they were upset. It is always a concern of mine when people take classes that are too hard or they are newer to yoga that they will get a bad taste in their mouths or think this is the only choice they have. The desk said the boys were giggling and said they had fun but were exhausted and were going to come back and take a lower level class like I suggested before welcoming them to stay.

    Why does Ira not know this? Well he RUDELY left class before savasana, which is the final and most important pose. At that point I did go up to him and ask if everything was ok? He responded, “I’m fine, just looking for a yoga class.” I asked him who he studied with in the past b/c perhaps I could suggest a class he might prefer if he wasn’t happy with mine. He said, “a real yoga teacher… seane corn.”

    That’s when he rolled up his mat and stormed out of the room. His presence, his looming over me and his nasty response to me asking him if he was ok or If i could suggest another class and now a whole article about it?

    I am blown away Ira. I am hurt and overwhelmed that this was your experience and your unkind judgement. In 10 years of teaching no one has ever said these things about me. I am friendly and kind and have always kept my ego in check. In fact Seane Corn was my very first teacher and one of my heros! I studied under the previous owner and founder of YW Maty Ezraty and Lisa Walford for years before I even subbed a class. I assisted Seane, Annie Carpentor and laura Miles. ALL of these women can vouch for my character and values. As can my students and loved ones. I feel humbled and grateful and blessed everyday that I am given the honor of teaching anyone! My motto in life is the more you know the more you know you don’t now.”

    I have openly shared that I have suffered from tremendous depression and anxiety and that yoga has helped me heal and repair and continues to do so everyday. I see very little difference in a student and a teacher. We do the same things for each other!

    Humans are fragile and complex. Life can be glorious and beautiful and sometimes tragic and challenging. We are all in this together to offer each other support and kindness and compassion.

    For just one brief moment your judging and hateful words actually made me forget this! I hope that means something to you. I cannot begin to understand who you are or why you felt the need to target me having as little information as you did.

    • Jess says:

      Thanks for giving us your side of this, Jesse. It’s a great reminder that a lot of what we think we see is our own projection. It’s a pity we can’t hear from the two young lads what they experienced. I don’t know what I would have seen and heard if I’d been in the class. However, I’m noticing how easily we can weigh in on the side of whoever’s telling the story as if it’s gospel truth, without stopping to remember that any view is only one facet of the whole, and none of us knows the whole story.

  38. Ira Israel says:

    Dear Jesse,

    Thank you for your response and please accept my sincere apology for hurting your feelings. That was not my intention.

    As I stated in my first paragraph, I’m casually attending myriad teachers’ classes to see how yoga has evolved in Santa Monica over the last 5 years. I think that there are some problems with the broad definition of “yoga” that now includes PiYo and Yogalates and many other exercise regimes that have little or nothing to do with uniting with the divine. I also think there are some very serious problems with how the business of yoga is conducted. For example, in the past week I met with 4 excellent and devoted yoga teachers who don’t have health insurance and sometimes have a difficulty paying their rents.

    This may seem shocking or absurd to you, but from what I can discern, the guilty culprit is the housing bubble which caused all rents to go through the roof. The studios can no longer survive just by teaching 60-90 minute classes so they conduct 200 hour teacher trainings for $3,000 many times per year. This has flooded the market with teachers vying for students and trying to distinguish and brand themselves the way that many of the celebrity teachers have branded themselves.

    Many people in our culture (particularly in Santa Monica) are concerned with how they look. They do physical exercises in order to both look and feel better. This is great but it has nothing to do with yoga, uniting with the divine. I do not know what the solution is. It’s obviously too late to “Take Yoga Back” as a spiritual practice but how can studios accurately convey to consumers what they are offering when the definition of yoga has become so broad?

    On the other hand, I was aghast at how you spoke to those boys. I found you to be haughty and condescending and unwelcoming. As I said above, we are the good guys. Those boys did something very brave that day and I would have done everything in my power to welcome them, make them feel at home, proactively demonstrate how yoga has improved my life, and inspire them fall in love with the practice. You did the exact opposite.

    Anyone – especially a young male – who comes into a yoga studio for the first time is obviously on the path of personal growth, just like anyone who walks into an AA meeting for the first time. Those boys paid for a class but didn’t receive one. Maybe they should not have been let in in the first place? That’s a fair argument. But once in the room I feel it was your responsibility as a teacher to both insure their safety and provide them with a memorable yoga experience. I heard the way you spoke to them and I watched them leave. Voila.

    Finally, I feel compelled to defend myself regarding one statement you made above: on the Yogaworks website the class time was clearly stated as 10:45-12:15 (on the same line with the words “Vinyasa 2/3”). At 12:10 you were still leading the class through a seated sequence so I did a 5 minute sivasana and left at 12:15 so that I could make my 12:30 appointment. I’m sorry if my leaving ON TIME offended your sensibilities.

    If you have any questions or comments I’m free to meet to discuss this in person or you we can continue this dialogue in public.

    Om namah shivaya,
    Ira Israel, MA, MA, MA, E-RYT500, CYT, LMFT

  39. Jess says:

    I’m not sure what the problem is in giving a level to an asana class. As far as I can see, this just offers potential students a clue about whether it will be suitable for their current physical ability. No, yoga is not about fitness, but at the same time in order to do some hatha yoga postures safely, a certain level of fitness is necessary. Does being able to do these postures make a person more evolved or a better yogi? No, of course not. At the same time, hatha yoga is a technology for awareness through the body, so how how a practitioner relates to their body and their physical practice is far from irrelevant. Of course, no one wants to make a student feel even more uncomfortable than they may already be feeling if they are in a class that is too challenging for them, and I would always do my best to offer suitable modifications, but if they are still not able to practise safely and with an understanding of the teachings being offered in the class, it seems to me entirely professional to guide them towards a class more suitable for their present needs.

  40. Jess says:

    I’d also like to clarify what the writer is intending to imply by stating that the teacher has a scoliosis. I also have a scoliosis. Does this mean I’m not a good yoga teacher? That there’s something wrong with my practice? That someone with a scoliosis shouldn’t be teaching yoga? As far as I’m aware, it’s just a genetic condition. Is it significant that the teacher is blonde? Are blondes not good teachers? Is it significant that she has externally rotated femurs (I assume this is what’s meant by ‘a ballerina’s waddle’? And if these are the result of earlier ballet training, does this mean that ballet dancers are not good yoga teachers? I find this all rather nasty and irrelevant to the point the writer is trying to make.

  41. Joslyn Hamilton says:

    I read so many comments that seem to insinuate (or just flat out say) that “yoga shouldn’t be about the physical practice” and “yoga is not about fitness.”

    If someone wants to practice yoga sheerly for the sake of getting flatter abs, should we really prevent them from doing so because, in our noto-so-humble opinion. they just don’t get the higher goals of yoga? Why is it so bad for some people to just be in it for the physical? I’d rather have an entire country of people doing yoga for all the “wrong” reasons than not at all.

    Let’s all just drop our personal definitions of what yoga is and isn’t and just let people do yoga (or not!), shall we?

    • Vision_Quest2 says:

      What Yelp is to restaurants (and yoga studios), RY could be to yoga teachers.

      Right On!!

      Don’t say they haven’t been warned!

      By the way, I go into a too-tough class to pick the brains of the teachers and/or the students for my home practice. Sometimes the sleeper effect could be over years of quite regular home practice. Even if I don’t even attempt the poses. It’s called “learning by osmosis”, and it got me through a tough, specialized science high school and most of college …. Yoga teachers should try it sometime …

      I don’t thank any studio for finally getting me to hold crow for a couple of breaths, but I am appreciative of those yoga teachers–actually a plurality, after many months (I practiced, in those days, primarily at home)–who did not think I was too lame to be in their Level 2/3 class … I only once fell out of crow in a yoga class .. which was actually a Level 1 class with a hyper-ambitious teacher.

      Many times I modify way, way downward [no thanks to the teacher who pretends I am invisible and suggests *nothing*, while *I'm* trying to pick his brains in the Level 2/3 (or "Open") class] … sometimes crudely (but it still works) … the style had been rather classical and still sometimes slow-moving, even at the higher levels, so I was able to do that …

  42. Darth Vader says:

    Ira, I would be happy to meet with you and talk about this if you would like. This will be my last post b/c there are two sides to all stories and I believe you and I have exhausted our own opinions.

    I’d like to address two things. One about myself and the second about the boys….

    I actually agree with a lot of what you wrote about (minus the fact that it was targeted at me)…There was no need to point out my scoliosis. It is something I work on everyday of my life and it is painful and challenging. There was no need to say I had a ballerina waddle. My hips are hyper mobile and once again that is a personal challenge of mine that I work hard on. Finally, yes I am blond. Every so often I dye my hair dark brown!…..All of those traits you pointed out, what was your INTENTION? It was hurtful and unkind. None of these traits should factor into what a teacher’s class is about or who the teacher is as a human being.

    The boys: They are doing just fine! As I pointed out in my first post, I checked with the front desk after class and they said the boys were GIGGLING! They said the boys liked my analogy of yoga being like learning a language and that they needed a lower level class. The boys came BACK and are now practicing yoga! I even checked up on them a week later!

    Whatever you perceived as my tone or intention was not in my heart. No one else in a room of 40 people perceived me the way you did. I NEVER make ANYONE feel unwelcome in my class. I do however make sure the new students to yoga understand that this is a level 2/3 class and if they have not had the experience it will be very challenging, just like learning a language and starting fluently! The BOYS were smiling and laughing when I was talking with them. Did you not notice that? Yes they left. WHY? It was too hard! People are allowed to leave if it’s too hard or if they feel sick or if they need to pick up their kids, etc….

    So for everyone worried about the boys please don’t. They are happy and doing yoga! As for me I was hurt by Ira’s comments and by his perception of the experience he had. This is a first for me. No one has ever said these things about my character or my class. I will look deep inside and process everything Ira is accusing me of to make sure there is no truth to it. Yoga is the love of my life. Yoga is for ANYONE and EVERYONE and that is all I have ever believed since the first time I set foot on my mat and from the very first moment I began teaching. My practice and teaching are an honor and a blessing and I cherish them deeply and to hear just ONE person have this negative experience has deeply saddened me…I hope Ira can look inside of himself as well and make sure that his reality was the truth.

    • Vision_Quest2 says:

      Ira has a very finely tuned and working BS detector. He is not trying to bring back “old school” yoga, where people who were not up to practicing at the level of the “high middle” to whom the class is targeted, were encouraged to go into child’s pose.

      But a tradition is a tradition.

      I realize your class is far too popular to attract a class full of beginners to your Level 2/3.

      But it happens to the less experienced or known teacher, who could give people – like me – a complex.

      You were chosen to be an object lesson. Now you could go forth and teach your proteges not to throw their egos around in or out of class. And stop the judgment. Or why call it yoga?

  43. Brett HYland says:

    Ira, I see that you provided quid pro quo in this article by positively identifying Seane Corn who also happens to endorse you current Yoga DVD. …I’m just saying.

    • Vision_Quest2 says:

      And, taking up where Seane Corn leaves off, evidently–according to what I see at, at which site I like one of the teachers of a fusion yoga practice. My first yoga teacher (in the new wave of today’s yoga) was Patricia Moreno, with a dvd now called Cardio Burn Yoga. Why expect me to start off with anything else? – if cardio is what I need. This had been months BEFORE I had descended the rabbit hole with that greedy studio mentioned downthread) … Next was a mislabeled Seane Corn dvd where she instructs–not. But nothing a beginner to vinyasa couldn’t handle. I made it my business to decipher the breath session and posted my interpretation, almost to the musical measure–at my blogsite.

      Not sure who Ira’s intended audience is, but I’d rather be dysthymic than amplify my depressed mood, if that’s the mood I happen to be m in, with more power yoga–even if taught in Seane Corn’s style. Used to be more or less an intermediate before I’d sustained my…

      • Vision_Quest2 says:

        mild costochondritis injury … doing yoga, at home …

        I need not go further into the philosophical disconnect that works for SOME people.

        I’d rather rewrite past history, and write future history .. than either repress or ignore them … how my mind works.

        But that’s cool, anyway.

  44. iamhere says:

    Well!?! I for one HAVE to go to Darth Vader’s class! Besides needing to work on my ujjayi breath, I am an Iyengar sutra thumper and needs to have levels attached to my classes!

    Really. I like to know if I could be in for a +5 minute sirsasana/sarvangasana with variations, setu bandhas, dwi pada viparita dandasanas or not (Level 2/3, 3). It should be noted that I can be equally engaged in a Level 1 class where I’m pretty sure the focus will be on certain standing and seated poses, lots of chest opening to prepare for introduction to shoulder stand, etc. The asanas are more or less new to me every time so this stuff never gets old. Meditation in action and all that…

    Darth Vader, please tell me the crying part of your reaction to Ira’s post was an exaggeration, because now all I can think of is this:

    I experienced a similar public dressing down assessment. As a mere assistant, the teacher and I got a harsh/unfair review from a student who went into class with a certain attitude and left with one too. It’s Yelped for Internet eternity and I am grateful for it because it’s such a good lesson for me about how perspective and perception can be so wildly different between two people.

    Yours in Dogma,

    I. M. Here, ABC, 123, Doe, Rae, Me, Human

    • Vision_Quest2 says:

      On Yelp, I leave up GLOWING, GOT-ME-ON-THE REBOUND reviews for nearby studios that put the original perpetrators to shame (I’d taken those down on an impulse). Because I CAN write–caustic, funny and positively, too!

      Full disclosure: I live in New York City, where there are more yoga stdios than Starbucks.

      The teachers delivering the most grief to me, are no longer teaching students and have gone on to other things.

      • Vision_Quest2 says:

        … and ISN’T karma a bitch. That same studio just got PANNED on Yelp yesterday!

        They hadn’t actually needed my review left on there to raise their grade average. Which, at 3.5 stars, is now the lowest in the immediate area of town.

        Way to go, Ego-riders!

        This is even years, after the founders are no longer active there …

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