Yoga teacher voice
By Nadine Fawell
When I first arrived in Australia four years ago, I lost my voice for a little bit. It didn’t last all that long on account of how I can’t refrain from sharing my views with anyone who will listen. But the insecurity about the way I sounded that caused me to go around mostly silently, except for bleating the occasional “yeah” and adding an upward inflection at the end of my sentences? That stayed. For years.
I have a broad South African accent, all hard-edged consonants and Germanic vowels. When I first got to Australia, before I realized I had to ask for “meeelk” if I wanted milk, people didn’t understand me incredibly well. Then there is the swearing. I am a famous potty mouth. Once, at the age of 12, having told my brother to Fuck Off in full hearing of my parents and their friends, I got taken out for dinner to be told about how a young lady should speak.
It had no discernible effect.
My point is this: I communicate in a very…. specific way. All well and good when I was teaching yoga in South Africa, to a bunch of people who, for the most part, had the same accent as me. And were used to the swearing. But, considering how I was having trouble getting milk in my coffee, I was pretty worried about how my accent would go over if I taught yoga in Australia.
I still have a rough South African accent, and I still swear when I am teaching a yoga class. Yes, I do. I mean, seriously, if you don’t engage your core in arm balances, you are fucked. How else do you explain it? I have never developed the Yoga Teacher Voice.
Yoga Teacher Voice is a terrifying phenomenon which transforms otherwise intelligent, coherent people into breathy space cadets who sound nothing like their street selves.
I remember going to yoga toward the end of my marriage. I wasn’t feeling very zen at the time. Actually, I was pretty fucked up, and hoping that a yoga class would set me right. The class was okay, but at the end, the teacher had us all lie down in savasana and started talking us through a guided river meditation thing. Her voice went all breathy, and the pitch changed dramatically. Suddenly, she sounded like a different person altogether. With my eyes closed, it was really alarming. It was all I could do not to sit up suddenly to check whether she’d been possessed like the little girl in The Exorcist. She was no longer our yoga teacher, but rather, The Voice. The Voice wanted me to “surrender to the flow of the river,” to imagine I was one with it. I wasn’t convinced. I knew The Voice had plans to take over my body if I just let it. I wasn’t going with any flow, thankyouverymuch.
Yoga is about connection: people go to a specific teacher’s class because they like that person. It’s really hard to feel connected to someone when they have a fake yoga mask on – especially when they dip in and out of yoga mode depending on whether they are teaching (or guiding a relaxation), or ordering a smoothie.
I would have infinitely preferred that my teacher use her normal voice, and my students often tell me they like me because I say what they are thinking. They know I am in the same boat as them: sometimes I get stressed, sometimes I get out of whack, sometimes life just feels all too much. It’s easier to connect with (and trust) someone who shows their humanity. Even if that humanity comes with a rough accent and salty language. Yoga Teacher Voice? Creepily inhuman, if you ask me.
Yoga teachers, keep your street voices. Trust me, people want to hear your actual self —swearing and all. Who wouldn’t feel more comfortable with a coherent, smart-ass teacher than a space cadet who’s been body-snatched by a horror-movie voice?
About Nadine Fawell:
Nadine Fawell’s edit button doesn’t work: if there is something inappropriate to be said, she will say it. Often in yoga class. She drinks coffee and swears and sometimes she thinks deeply about life. You can find her at www.yogawithnadine.com.