Fresh Living

Fresh Living

Attack of the ‘Mean’ Yoga Teacher

The other day in yoga, I was being kind of a spaz. I was lost in my head and positioned oddly on my mat.  When the teacher called for Ardha Chandrasana, a pose you do with one foot and one arm on the ground and one foot and one arm in the air, I had to hop backward a few steps so as not to fall into the person in front of me. But ended up hopping so far back that I accidentally kicked the hand of the woman behind me. I turned around, apologized and hopped forward, but not far enough. When I went back up, I grazed her fingers with my foot. “Eep! So sorry,” I whispered, knowing how incredibly jarring it is to get kicked around in yoga–a not-uncommon occurence in packed New York City yoga classes.

A minute later, our teacher, whom I’ll call Lila, came over to me and hissed, “Stay at the front of your mat!” I weakly protested that it was an accident. “And look, your foot!” she added unpleasantly, pointing to my angled toes as if they were rotting meat at a veggie feast.


I silently fumed as we moved through the next poses, feeling ashamed and blamed and hurt and angry, a not-unfamilar stew of feelings. I poutily imagined rolling up my mat and leaving. Tears started to stream down my sweaty face while thoughts sucked me into a pissed self-pity–“Why am I so sensitive? Why is she such a bitch? Why do I keep coming back? What is wrong with me? What is wrong with the world?” Then a clear, calm, all-caps voice came into my head: “USE THIS.” So I took a breath and noticed my thought swirl. And breathed again. And decided to finish this practice. For me. Ok, and to show her I could hack it. But mostly for me. It felt good to keep moving through intense emotions, chaturanga-ing through judgement of myself and of her. If I could keep my center and my breath in something as not-high-stakes as this, it would be good training for the real stuff.


But I still rippled with annoyance in savasana when Lila said “Sometimes this heart-opening practice brings up feelings, anxieties, just let them go.” Arg, she had to mean me, right?  Another opportunity to breathe. As soon as we rose, I apologized wildly to my kickee, who seemed to have almost forgotten, waving my sorries away with a sweaty hand.

 As I tucked my props back in their cubby, I overheard Lila say to someone, “Yep, I’m working like a slave” and sigh in a decidedly unhappy way. So clearly, it wasn’t just me. I considered: I’ve been going to this class for over a year–this was the first time I’d kicked anyone, and not the first time Lila had vented (“the bolster goes like this!” she yapped the other day). And yet, it’s hard to find classes that fit my schedule. And I do, overall, like how I feel after, despite the not  terribly loving vibe. Have I just been jaded by my old Bikram practice where the teachers often wear their harshness like a badge? Or is it New York, where, frankly I have had some excellent teachers but very few I would call remotely warm or fuzzy? I’ve almost completely forgotten what a gentle, loving practice is like, having practiced 10 of my 16 years as a yogi here.  (This 2001 NYT article, “Attack of the Killer Yogis” pretty well nailed much of the scene.) 


Later I posted a slightly martyred Facebook version of the story–“Valerie Reiss is wondering if she should go back to class with the yoga teacher who yelled at her and made her cry. Again.” A flood of responses mostly said NO, no, and, NO. But an art-teacher friend suggested maybe bringing her flowers–saying she was probably having a lousy day. Another asked if the room felt positive or negative to me. A devoted yogi wrote: “I think the lesson here involves tuning into your own spirit and deciding based on that. Also, finding out what needs of yours that teacher is meeting that makes you consider going back. There are so many very good Yoga Teachers in NYC. I have tolerated emotional disturbance from Yogis before but I always had a very clear goal in mindAnd then later at some point, I realized God could find another way for me to learn that didn’t feel so abusive to my spirit. I am all for a good challenge though!”


All good points! I decided to go back, but I’ve also decided if it happens again I will, after class, have a chat. And then see. Ah, to be a grownup. Or a doormat? Or a martyr? Or a true yogi? Unclear. But I did sweat like hell in class today and I feel pretty clear, balanced, and good. Om.

Ever have your own teacher-clashing? 

  • Carla Melucci Ardito

    Anyone (and this teacher is a perfect example) who obviously has no control what-so-ever over their moods, should be teaching anything, never mind YOGA. I was in a crowded class one day where the teacher stopped everyone in the middle of Sun Salutations and yelled “People, people when the class is crowded it should be obvious that you need to keep your arms within your space, get it together!” I thought to myself “What did I just hear??? Is that the best way she could have helped create harmony in movement and spirit??” Her skills were seriously lacking and she made that quite obvious to us all.
    Regardless of whether you are going to a yoga class for a challenge or for a restorative hour, you should be in the presence of someone who is taking care of you. Yoga teachers should be in control of their emotions, and if they haven’t reached that level of yogic ability, they should at the very least, have enough respect for their students to check their bad mood at the door!
    I have learned that every time I left behind this kind of teacher I have taken another giant step towards learning how to love myself. Most of us have enough of a task master in our own heads – we certainly do not need to pay a yoga teacher (of all people!!!) to help amplify that voice.
    Sweet Valerie, there are so many nurturing and knowledgeable yoga teachers out there – move on!!!!

  • Wendy

    Oh, boy, do I have my hand up in the air on this one. Here’s my bad mental health yoga experience: It’s a Friday night and I’m in the last yoga class of the night (7:30 to 8:30). The instructor is quite young (in fact, younger than my adult children). She’s also somewhat flighty, but whatever – I just go for the yoga, right? On this particular night, after wrapping up the class, while the room was still dark and just as I had made steps to leave, young, clueless instructor shouts across the room (yes, shouts): “How far along are you?” Well, the question hit me like a physical attack. First, I gathered my thoughts, thought for a minute, and then quietly said “I’m not pregnant,” before ducking my head and leaving the room. Then, outside of the gym, I vented to the window washing lady about what had just occurred. Problem is, I still haven’t been back to yoga at this place, even though I keep paying them monthly dues. And this was probably two months ago! So, I’m totally empathetic to this unsavory yoga instructor story. Thanks!

  • Advanced Yogini

    This is an old story with me: Killing the yoga teacher with kindness … which I did with mean, arrogant even snobbish teachers … oh, it just makes them want to sell you more yoga lessons. Why pay highway robbery prices for these mean teachers when you could cultivate a home practice …. unless you think yoga is all about teachers getting you to do advanced, acrobatic poses … or about “advancing” in the first place.

  • amanda

    I teach at a space near me and was there since the opening day. In the beginning many of my students would come up to me after class asking if I’ve taken a class yet with one of the other instructors, ‘she’s insane!’ they would say under giggles ‘she yells at you in the middle of class!’ Trying to take a neutral stance on most things involving coworkers I’d reply no I never took the class, everyone has their different styles of teaching etc. One night my mother and sister wanted to try out the gym and my mother wanted to take a group class while we were there. It happened to be that woman’s class. It was much smaller than mine at it’s inception as people would come and never come back because of the tense atmosphere this woman would inspire. Throughout the class she would frequently state if other teachers do this or that you should not take their classes. (For example the mouth should never open during ANY yoga breathing exercises, if a teacher teaches that you should never attend their classes again) When I knew for a fact that other disciplines (kundalini yoga for instance) involves breathing practices that open the mouth, cooling breath, lions breath. We got into a legnthy discussion as many of my students were in the class and the woman was straight out rude. During the practice the woman went over to my sister to perform a hands on adjustment where my sister said I can’t twist that much thereafter the woman shouted NO YOU CAN and pushed her further pressing her chest onto my sisters back scolding NOW BREATHE as she obnoxiously breathed loudly into her ear to demonstrate. All in all it was a horrifying experience. Months later her class has grown substantially and I am often recieving questions from confused students who assume that because of her rigidity she must know what she’s talking about and because of her consistant insults the students must know less than her. It makes me sad to see yoga instructors so based in their egos and makes me wonder what kind of world they are perpetuating as they send their students out of the classroom with these rigid concepts of knowing whats right by looking to an angry teacher rather than inward to their true guru’s: themselves.

  • Niki

    wow! guys! I didnt think that somebody else was going through emotional disturbance from mean Yoga teachers. The best solution is to find a new Yoga teacher, I bless the mean one for that> I found Duncan Wong!! I am the happiest person in the world now :-)
    and it is true, indeed> ‘God could find another way for me to learn that didn’t feel so abusive to my spirit.’ I get loads of energy from nowhere when I suffer attacks.. just amazing!!
    however, the problem how to help others now to protect themselves from these people.. perhaps it is a personal experience and practice..

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  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Flyboi

    Bitch you should not practice yoga if you do not have the courtesy not to fall on people. Yeah if ur feet are crooked, that is the reason why you fell. Stop being a fucking ego-centric bitch and practice more. Fucking stupid bitch.

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  • Svasti

    You know, there’s not always a lesson in putting up with a bad yoga teacher. Sometimes you just have to recognise that they are being abusive in their behaviour and move on.

    There are other yoga teachers. There are other classes. You don’t have to put up with being yelled at in a yoga class.

    I left a practice that I loved behind because I realised the teacher was abusive, mean and harsh. I then found a practice with a teacher that I love and I can’t believe I put up with that sort of crap for so long.

    Move on. Be loving and kind to yourself and vote with your $$ and your heart. Find another teacher, one who won’t treat you like crap.

    My story is here:

  • Scratch Map

    Personally I don’t think that anybody can go through emotional disturbance from Yoga teachers. If this still happen, just change your teacher and find a new one to whom with you are comfortable. Thanks

  • Kimberly Jones

    I’d been in yoga class and I was being kicked out too. I think, all yoga teachers are like that, just to discipline us. I stopped attending yoga class, a year thereafter because of hectic schedules since then I do my alternative detoxification which is taking supplements to detox my body naturally.

  • terianne

    i just went through this. this discomfort of mine around the yoga teacher (and studio owner) continued on and off for months. and a good friend talked sense into me and said, “Take responsibility and talk to her. you were judging her and you don’t know anything about her world.” so that’s what i did. it was the best most honest conversation i’ve every had with her. i mean, what do you have to lose — really?

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