Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Show Your Work!

I think it’s really good for bands to go out when they’re not ready. Because then, as you do get a grasp on your instruments, people see you in a continuum, as opposed to you just jumped out of nowhere, which is what I always thought: The boy comes out of the womb with a screaming Led Zeppelin guitar, and I feel like I’ll never be able to do that.
-Molly Neuman, Bratmobile (from Sara Marcus’ Girls to the Front: The True Story of the Riot Grrrl Revolution)
One of the coolest things about being part of a punk scene is getting to watch the bands evolve over time. Band members meet one Saturday at a party, practice together for the first time on Tuesday, and then play a show the next Saturday night.

Needless to say, you can’t always get your sound right in a week, so that first show might be a big fat question mark, but if the band sticks together and the audience sticks around, the kinks get worked out and you get to watch everything fall into place.

This kind of process orientation is characteristic of punk’s DIY ethic. Bands aren’t there for you to just look up to, they’re there to inspire you to start your own band. Being able to see the process makes it seem doable, like self-expression isn’t just for the talented few.

Pop music has basically the opposite approach. An artist appears overnight, fully formed with a readymade mythology and a meat dress. Her talent is magical and untouchable. If you happen to find any early videos of her playing to small audiences at dimly lit bars, they seem somewhat disconcerting and a little embarrassing.

Too many yoga teachers feel pressured to take the pop music approach to yoga. And for good reason: when people are looking to you to be an expert on something, you want to be that for them. As a culture, we want idols. And we want them to be basically perfect.

We want yoga teachers to look like yoga teachers. We want them to act like yoga teachers. In effect, we want them to represent perfect yoga values, perfect yoga form, and perfect yoga bodies. AND we want it to look effortless. We want to think that there’s a shiny yoga pill somewhere that we can take so that we can have perfect yoga lives, too.

We don’t want to see the long-term struggle that goes into the (seemingly) effortless demonstration of pincha mayurasana (forearm stand). We don’t want our yoga teachers to smoke, to eat fast food, have casual sex, or to need anti-depressants. We want them to sell us the yoga that we want buy and package it in their own bodies.

But it’s not real, y’all.

The reality is that yoga teachers are fat. They smoke. They take drugs, have affairs, get divorced, and sometimes aren’t nice to children or old people. And, what’s worse, sometimes they couldn’t make it into bakasana (crow pose) if their life depended on it.

I know this, because I am a yoga teacher and all of the above statements are true about me. Sure, I’m a sober, vegan, well-adjusted lesbian yogini with a strong practice today, but I’m 36 years old and I’ve been practicing yoga since 1996. And even today I’d say that almost half of my students have far more physical prowess than I will ever hope to achieve.

So what the hell kind of yoga teacher am I?

A real one.

I am proof that years of sustained practice will change your life, even if you walk into your first yoga class high and completely out-of-shape (true story, y’all). Yoga has gotten me through quitting smoking and cocaine binges. It has helped me heal from scooter accidents and psychic scars so deep I thought they were part of my genetic makeup.

But it doesn’t come in a pill. And as a teacher, I think it’s really important to embody not just the beautiful results that come from the practices, but also to expose the struggle that is the real meat of the endeavor.

I think it's important to show your work.

Not only is it just too much pressure to represent some imaginary idyllic yogic lifestyle, it’s not actually good for students to think that their teachers are perfect. It just reinforces cultural norms that force us to curate our lives ad nauseum before we show them to other people. It makes our practice space symbolically something like a status update.

I want my classes to be safe places for people to struggle, and to make them safe I am willing to expose my own struggle. Because, damnit, this practice is hard, and sticking to it is hard, and pincha mayurasana is super fucking hard and we will all wobble through it and sometimes fall.

And falling is okay, as long as you get back up.

And I want my yoga class to be a place where it’s okay to fall down and also a place where students know there is someone there to help them back up.

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