Truth is like a woman

Published on December 23, 2011 by      Print
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By Judith Ellen

Back in college I was a part of a campus ministry group that held weekly Bible studies.  There was the usual cast of characters who attended:  caffeinated bible thumpers, quietly desperate freshmen, and horny juniors fawning over those freshmen.  One evening a new participant showed up ready to drop spiritual knowledge like it was hot. It didn’t matter that she had never cracked open a Bible in her life.  When she raised her hand to comment, she simply said, “Truth is like a woman.” We were used to hearing self-serving and impassioned non-sequiturs, but this simile was bizarre. Whatever mumbo-jumbo language she spoke in her head had no earthly translation. She attended a few more discussions, looking to dispense wisdom that our feeble minds could only wish to comprehend.  I believe she sought validation from others; however, she alienated people in the process.

I left that campus ministry, church association, and altogether, the practice of Christianity. I assumed revival only happened in church. Twenty years later, I’ve discovered that one can be born again in a yoga class and that Truth Woman has reincarnated as one of my yoga teachers.

The class I attend has a devoted mini-following seeking enlightenment and alignment. On one occasion the owner of the studio was subbing for the regular instructor. I’d always been reserved in my perception of the owner, but this particular class confirmed my misgivings and why speaking in parables should be left to Jesus.

She opened the class with:  “Today our theme is beauty is truth and truth is beauty. We all understand this.”

Perhaps — if we’ve taken college courses in philosophy, or we’ve spent that time smoking weed in the dorm. Nevertheless, she said that she sensed that we “got it.” Not like the previous class of mostly beginner students who lacked the spiritual maturity and joy to comprehend this illuminating truth.

The offensive remarks just kept coming.

She excused herself for being sick and did not want to get too close to anyone, but decided that she was going to “lay her hands” on a student anyway to demonstrate prepping for handstand. The student was a willing young Indian woman. The teacher added that it was okay for her to touch this student because she was from “a third world country and has already developed an immunity to diseases.”

I’ll pause right here so you can digest that statement.

She had us partner up to practice handstand. My partner was clearly nervous. Her body literally shook as she reached her arms out in fear to spot me. I tried coaching her through the process, since being a yoga teacher, I too can understand the fear of being upside down. The instructor left her partner, who was also new to the pose, to come and assist us with the impending damage.

“There’s only one instructor here,” she murmured as she told my partner to step aside.

Translation: This studio ain’t big enough for two teachers. Someone’s gotta mosey on outta here.

In her proud, instructional voice, she was showing me off and up in a perfectly pitched pose. Never mind the seven years of my practice, which has often been laced with injuries and embarrassment. One time, I fell over and kicked a Ganesha statue off of his altar.  Ganesha is the destroyer of obstacles. So, yeah, I did that, too.

Safely back on my mat, I wondered if I should just walk out. There was still time to make a mad dash for the door well before savasana.  Lost in my thoughts, I suddenly felt her hands grab my inner thighs. She was attempting to swivel them outward (or was it inward?).  Whatever the direction was, my thighs were clearly not doing what she wanted them to do. This awkward moment became a showdown.  There she was hovered over me in the noontime shadow, reaching for her holster. I stared her down ready to draw. I shook my head at her to signal her to back off.  You may be the teacher, I thought, but these legs have given birth to two children, bitch.

A lesser yogi would probably have probably written this woman off and cursed her ancestors, studio, and any future profits. Me?  I worried about her, and here is why — the real truth is that she wore her insecurity like glimmering pearls around her neck, choking her to death. Two hundred hours of training, stringing together fancy sounding words, and being able to do a drop back does not make even a decent yoga instructor. Jesus said it best when he spoke of the Pharisees, uptight and snobby holy men who accumulated knowledge, yet lacked the wisdom to use it:

For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled… (Luke 18:14)

If this teacher continues her thoughtless behavior, students will catch on, and her numbers will dwindle.

And in this case, truth will be more like a yoga mat.

About Judith Ellen

Judith Ellen is co-founder of Transcend Consulting, a firm providing mindfulness based approaches to education, health and wellness, and cultural competence training services.  She brings over 15 years of experience as an educator, yoga instructor, and personal trainer to her work with adolescents,  women, and historically under-served, urban populations.  She could babble further about all the funky stuff she does, but you decide if she’s worth the time by checking out her street cred: and





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  1. Sachie says:

    This sounds like the style that starts and ends with an A. :)
    Few people are really gifted at philosophy, and usually that’s all they teach. I wish asana teachers would just focus on expanding their knowledge of physiology and on fitting the yoga to the student.
    Thanks for your post!

  2. Caroline says:

    OMG! A room not being big enough for two teachers…yes, I’ve definitely been in that strange situation! You’d think the aim was to teach people something, and the how and who of it doesn’t really matter…when the student is ready, the teacher will appear vs. —> “when the student is ready, I appear” (and all others must disappear?). Such status bling!

    Really enjoyed this post!

  3. Warriorsaint says:

    When I read the part about grabbing your thighs I burst out laughing like a lunatic on the train home today. You would think a yoga teacher would have a least a modicum of emotional intelligence and pick up that her behavior was physically intrusive.

    You ask permission before you touch personal areas. This is common courtesy. My mother taught me that many moons ago and it was reinforced durng my nursing training and then again in my yoga/Pilates training.

    You have a gift for writing. I hope Recovering Yogi hears more from you.

  4. Tara says:

    This was a chuckle and well written. Thanks!

  5. Chrissy says:

    Reading the part about your thighs made me pee a little bit laughing…that intrusive touching by yoga instructors always skeeved me….I swear, some instructors could learn that you must deal with the bodies of others with a certain measure of care..which to me, equals no touching unless permission is given.
    My mottos is, if you are trying to touch me in places that only myself, my husband and my OB/GYN have touched me then shame on you….WOW…

    • Judith says:

      What’s really ironic is that the instructor is supposed to teach the importance of a mind body connection, which is really hard to do when the instructor herself is so clearly disconnected.

      • Chrissy says:

        That was my thought….missing the huge “please don’t touch me that way” signal is proof positive that she was not available in any capacity…Whoah ….

  6. Braja Sorensen says:

    Hallelujah, I think I just found a new place to hang out :) )

    Brilliant…I loved this and it’s on par with one I just posted on Elephant Journal (sorry to self advertise :)

    • Judith says:

      Braja…is that you in the lovely handstand?..niiice. Thank your for reading and thanks for sharing your article with me.

  7. kiwi says:

    humm, I wish your last sentence was true, but I’ve been to a few “hot ” Yoga classes with 20 something teachers fresh out of “acting” school, “playing” the part of Yoga teacher. One class the instructor sat on the window sill the whole class, probably b/c she had already taught 6 classes that day…but there is still on average 50 people attending the class…???

    • Judith says:

      I know, right?! It’s like you look around the packed room and you’re thinking, how am I the only one NOT drinking the Kool-Aid? I think it’s real easy for some instructors not to see yoga instruction as a real job. I mean, that would actually require being guided by some sense of ethics, like, showing up on time, being sober, acting like you give a damn…

  8. linda says:

    “….young Indian woman. The teacher added that it was okay for her to touch this student because she was from “a third world country and has already developed an immunity to diseases.”

    right. that’s why I see so many hospitals in India. for all those people who are immune.

  9. Nadine Fawell says:

    Classic, Judith!

    Or should I say Amen? :)

    It takes time to learn not to be an asshole, sometimes. I often look back at my early yoga days and hope like hell that I wasn’t. Maybe being worried about it is a good start?

  10. Lisa O says:

    Yikes! You have incredible equanimity just to make it through that. A good cautionary tale for would-be teachers, though it seems so counter to the yoga teacher culture. Can’t believe I’m saying this, but your story makes a case for some regulation in the certification of instructors.

    • Judith says:

      I think being a good yoga teacher is tantamount to being a good teacher, in general. From school, we always remember the good ones, but it’s the bad ones that leave a lasting impression. Many instructors love yoga, so they believe it qualifies them to teach and although there are certain requirements to meet a certification process, one is not measured by the ability to teach. I’m no t sure how this could be regulated.

  11. Ariana says:

    Amen! I laughed so hard at the story of you kicking over Ganesh! Thanks so much for sharing!

  12. Lisa says:

    I loved your piece, thank you for expressing. I have had similar experiences and shared one on Recovering over the summer…

    I have been consistently amazed by the level of hypocrisy that can exist among the yoga “Community”?!? I am frightened by what many so called teachers are doing to the hearts and minds of innocents that show up at their classes. Yet, there must be a reason people keep showing up. I don’t know if it speaks to the inherent disconnection in our so called modern society. All I know is my personal bs detector starts whooping the minute any “holier then thou” attitude starts flowing and I don’t subject myself to it. Wearing a costume of yogi does not one make.

    • judith says:

      Thanks for sharing, Lisa. I remember reading your article and shaking my head, like WOW…these people really exist and make money?! Anyhoo, I’ve found the yoga is still in its infancy as far as a method of exercise and wellness for the general population, so the various types and lingo associated with them goes right over a newcomer’s head. But, I have faith that as the people internalize their practice they also develop a BS-o-meter.

  13. Truth is like a woman. ~ Judith Ellen | elephant journal says:

    [...] is like a woman. ~ Judith Ellen Originally published by our elephriends over at Recovering Yogi on December 23, 2011.  [...]

  14. bendybyatch says:

    I know what you’re saying, and this is not directed specifically at you, Judith….. but I need to reiterate:

    is this blogsite just a place to spew hatred toward yoga teachers? Female yoga teachers(for the most part)? I admit this particular teacher sounds completely clueless. But it’s like the articles on this site are competing with each other for which yoga teacher is the dumbest bimbo.

    That being said, I’d like to make it clear that I consider John Friend fair game.
    : )

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