I was an eager and devoted student in my early days of Iyengar yoga. Maybe too eager.
The owner of the yoga studio was sponsoring a senior Iyengar yoga teacher’s workshop at the studio. I had been doing Iyengar yoga less than a year at that point, but the requirements for the workshop stipulated at least 6 months experience with Iyengar yoga, and I had nearly double that. I had no idea what to expect, and I was excited to attend. The teacher was a very tall and boyish looking woman. She seemed to talk with a slight accent which I coudn’t place until she revealed that she had been in India so many times that she developed an accent. It felt affected to me. She put us through our paces, and I was struggling to keep up. I didn’t know many poses by their Sanskrit names so I had to look around the room if she didn’t demo the pose. Then it came: Uttanasan (intensve forward fold). I knew that name because I hated the pose due to its difficulty for me. I struggled because of tight hamstrings, and the tall teacher saw me struggle. She called me to the center of the room to do the pose for all the participants to see. I did the pose and then she asked “What is wrong with this pose?” There was a frenzy of comments. The comments just kept coming. I felt a flush of shame wash over me-and said, “I am a beginner. Please don’t pick on me!” For the rest of the class, she had me go to the corner and work on uttanasana. I felt humiliated. If I tried to join the class she said, “You go work on uttansana.” That night I took 4 ibuprofen before bed. I really hated this teacher. She didn’t inspire; she humiliated.
I showed up the next day for a couple of reasons: 1) I had already paid and 2) I wanted to give her a second chance. My hamstrings were screaming. Before class started she looked at me and said, “Go work on your uttanasana.” she gestured to the corner where I had been stationed the day before. Eventually, she invited me to join the class. She had us find a partner, and everyone sought someone they knew. I was just standing there when the oldest woman in the room appeared out of nowhere and introduced herself and asked to be my partner. I felt like crying. I knew this woman to be certified at the hightest level in our town. I was inspired by her grace and kindness. She saw how I was feeling and she shared my humanity. This was right action.
I finished the 3-day workshop and hated the teacher even more by the end. I swore I would never study with her ever, though she came back to our studio year after year. There was pressure from the studio owner to attend workshops by senior teachers when they came through so eventually years later, I attended another workshop. The tall teacher didn’t remember me, but I felt slightly redeemed from my humiliating first experience when she complimented my parsvottanasna (intense side stretch).
Years later the tall teacher started teaching workshops with her husband so I decided to check it out because it had been years since I attended her workshop. As much as I disliked her, I really hated him. He never stopped talking. I remember thinking he was like a shark only he had to keep talking to stay alive.
One morning as I was seated for the chant, one of our students, who happens to be a priest, entered moments before class was to start and all the blankets were being used so he didn’t have one for his seat for the chant. I was sitting on three blankets for my stiff hips, and I offered one to him. The tall teacher’s husband didn’t witness this, but his eyes focused on me. He look directly at me and asked, “What is your name?” I told him. He then spoke for about 15 minutes using my first name over and over again about how I was doing violence to myself because my knees were higher than my hips. All heads turned to look at me, because I was in the back of the room and everyone wanted to see who he was yelling at. I had never heard my first name used so much in a yoga class. I didn’t flush with shame but I did flush with anger. By the end of the workshop I had bruises on my arms where he had violently adjusted my arms in dwi pada viparitta dandasana (two legged inverted staff pose). I never ever studied with them again. I felt he was a very dangerous and abusive yoga teacher and she was not much better.