Tough Love?

teacher giving adjustment to a yoga studentWhen I was a new yoga student, a substitute teacher scoffed at my Cow Face Pose, asked me if this was my first yoga class, and harshly poked my ribcage. “I was going to teach something else, but I guess I have to work with what I have,” she said with a grimace on her face. Apparently, my ribcage had put a wrench in her plans.

I wasn’t the only student who offended her, though. Later in class, she instructed us to fold our blankets for Shoulderstand. When a classmate folded her sticky mat over part of the blankets to keep her shoulders from shifting during the pose, the teacher went from annoyed to visibly angry. “Who taught you to put a sticky mat over your blankets?” she demanded. “I want a name!” I sat with my mouth open for several seconds before I closely studied the exact position of the teacher’s blankets. Then, with more care than I’ve ever taken to place my shoulders on the perfectly folded blankets and lift my legs over my head for Shoulderstand. The teacher’s approach wasn’t pleasant—it wasn’t even nice—but in the end, it was effective. I practiced the pose with more attention to detail than I ever had before. Still, if I ever saw that teacher’s name on a class schedule again, I’d run for the hills.

You know that spa-like environment you find in many yoga studios with soft music playing and an encouraging teacher urging you to follow your body’s intuition in a soft, soothing voice? There are plenty of yoga classes out there that just aren’t like that at all. In my day I’ve studied with more than one teacher who was pushy, abrasive, and maybe just a little bit mean. I once witnessed a student being called out before class because he was eating a burrito in the lobby. (Not the best idea before a twisting workshop probably, but worthy of public humiliation? I’m not so sure.) In a workshop once some of the students laid on their bellies so they could scribble notes when the teacher insisted they sit up immediately because were “bringing down the energy of the room.” One of my friends studied with a well-known teacher and was shocked when the teacher “kicked” her to adjust one of her poses.

It definitely isn’t the soothing atmosphere we’ve come to expect, but I’ve been wondering lately if a little tough love from our teachers can ever be a good thing? (There are teachers out there who abuse their power—and that’s never, ever OK.) But I’m talking about those who are unwavering, maybe a little forceful, when it comes to correct alignment or have a low tolerance for anything disrespectful to the practice. Obviously, there must be students out there who are willing to pay teachers for this disciplinarian approach. Even though I don’t enjoy it, when I’ve found myself in classes with strict teachers, I can appreciate that their approach did bring me to a place of greater awareness—which is the point, isn’t it?

Have you ever taken class with a harsh, strict yoga teacher? Do you think there’s ever a place for this approach?