Mind & Motion

Kicked Out of Yoga… Call Me a Rebel.

Posted in Personal Essays by Meghan Pickrell on November 15, 2009

yogaLast year I was kicked out of my yoga class. Yes, it’s true. I know most of you must be trying to understand this; how could this be? Yoga class is supposed to be an accepting place open to all. It’s a place to explore your body’s possibilities, find strength and inner peace… right? And me! those of you who know me, know that I’m calm, cool and collected, a body-worker and fellow teacher myself, who is never interested in starting drama… right?

My yoga past

I’ve been practicing Bikram yoga for about 9 years now. I started in 2000 while I was living in San Francisco and found the practice not only challenging but also comforting. I liked the consistency. The practice is always comprised of the same 26 postures, in the same order. There are no surprises. The Bikram class structure allows me to attend classes virtually anywhere and know what to expect. I practiced in SF, and New York when I was living there. Upon moving to Los Angeles I looked for a studio close to my home. I found a class that I enjoyed.  John taught classes on Monday/Wednesdays at 6:15. I liked John’s style and looked forward to class. He was a great teacher, very open to process and kept a laid-back approach when teaching. This was great for me because I already understood the process and knew biomechanics quite well.

The kick out

I arrived for class early on a typical Monday. I changed in the back room, set my mat on the floor and began my little warm-up I like to do before class. Other students began to enter the classroom as well and began preparation. I didn’t see John, however. This was quite unusual for him because he typically greets us with a warm smile when we check in at the front desk. It was 6:15 at this point and he hadn’t arrived. I continued stretching and wondering who would be teaching the class when a woman entered into the studio. “Hello, please stand for your practice.” Denise didn’t introduce herself but I recognized her… and her two little dogs, Muffy and Fluffy, that traveled to the studio with her. She was the owner. She was never particularly friendly. There was never a warm smile to greet us as we checked in at the front desk.

I rose to my feet to begin my practice for the day. I wanted to remain open to the idea of a new teacher. Maybe she had something to offer. Denise began the class. She had a different tone than John. She was a little harsh; controlling even. A new girl in the back didn’t understand a posture and asked a friend for help and instead of approaching the new girl with assistance, Denise asked her to be quiet. It was quite clear early on that there was a monarch in the class. There was no room for discussion. We continued on to posture number 4, ‘standing head to knee’ I picked up my foot and began the posture. Denise instructed us to “lock out our standing knee.” I straightened my standing leg to the best of my ability. Apparently, this wasn’t sufficient for Denise. She came over and started insessaintly demanding me to “lock your knee! lock your knee! lock your knee!” “What?” I thought to myself. Yoga isn’t about being demanding with the body. It’s about patience, breath and calm. I will not force my body into any position that is compromising to my health. (Note to my readers: forcing the body isn’t usually moving the body in a positive direction).

Onto the next posture. We began ‘triangle.’ At this point Denise tells the class that only certain people that she chooses can go into the full ‘triangle.’ Others need to stand in a lunge position. I had never encountered this in my 9 years of yoga experience. I had always moved into the full posture. I find it very beneficial for my hips and spine. So, I decided to perform the posture as I usually do without receiving Denise’s endorsement. Obviously, she didn’t like this. I’m assuming she saw it as disrespectful. It was at this point I was asked to leave. There was no discussion or explanation why I shouldn’t do the full posture. There were no words of safety or care. It didn’t appear that there was any reason why certain students were selected to do the full posture and others were not. The class was directed to be how she decided it would.

The lesson

I’m a teacher myself with almost a decade of experience.  A teacher needs to have some degree of control over the class. They should teach and direct the class. Not listening to the teacher can ruin the classroom flow. This is where is gets tricky. How can I listen to my body, fulfill my needs for my yoga practice and still be respectful of the teacher? It makes me wonder: what’s happening to us as yogis? Have we given the teacher too much power? Are we afraid to speak up? Are we willing to put ourselves in uncompromising positions in order to fullfull the wishes of the teacher even if this may not be what our body needs? The challenge is to keep the integrity of our yoga practice and also to keep the integrity of the class as a whole. Here are my suggestions:

Ask Questions: I always think there should be room for conversation to emerge. This may not necessarily happen during class. If you are a practicing yoga and don’t understand something, ask. If you are a teacher, you should tell the student you will explain the reasons behind a posture after class as well. Conversation is always positive.

Listen to your body: You are the only one who knows the feelings and experience of your body. Listen to that. Trust it. If something doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. If there is room for exploration, try it. Do not over do it. You don’t want to be doing something completely different than the rest of the class but small modifications are usually OK. Play with what works for you. If you need assistance with this hopefully the teacher will help. That’s their job.

Take responsibility: You might not want to say much in the middle of class, but you should be able to garner advice and challenge your teacher. They are humans. And just like us, they have flaws. Your queries might prompt  them to learn something new. If you are asked to do something in class that doesn’t make sense, try and understand it. Consult your teacher, look on the internet, start to understand your body. It will give you more power and confidence to stand up for yourself.

I was offended that I was asked to leave class, but I was also relieved. It would have created more tension than relaxation to be in a class with that energy. I would have left with more anger if I had stayed for the whole class. It was the best decision for the both of us. I did challenge the teacher. I wrote her an email trying to understand her teachings but didn’t get much of a response. Nevertheless, I am hopeful it gave her something to think about. It has given me something to think about. I will ask questions and won’t let a teacher control me. I will listen to my body and try to understand my yoga practice. I will be patient and not force anything into place. Call me a rebel.

4 Responses

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  1. Karen said, on November 15, 2009 at 10:49 pm

    This is such a sad, yet funny story. When I lived in Houston I had an encounter with what I called the ‘yoga nazi’ like the ‘soup nazi’ from Seinfeld. He had us go into a pose, I forget which one. Having practiced for several years with some breaks for child birth and being less flexible than some, I did a bit of a stretch before entering the posture. He then informed me that I could do my own thing on my time but this was his time and I was to do exactly what he said. Luckily I was in a good frame of mind and with my 3rd child at home, still in diapers at the time, I was just thankful for anyone’s time as long as I was out of the house for an hour or so… Anyway, it seems you have encountered another ‘yoga nazi’. Thanks for sharing your story. God bless you.

  2. Judie Carroll said, on November 16, 2009 at 8:02 pm

    Great lesson and it certainly made an impact on you! I like your confidence.

  3. Nicole Marinac said, on January 29, 2010 at 3:35 pm

    Meghan you are so classy! I love you. You go kick some yoga butt.

  4. Gary Brownlee said, on April 5, 2010 at 12:34 am

    You know where I come from on locking knees! Glad you resisted.

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