Michele Pernetta tackles how to spot and avoid faux spiritual superiority for a better student-teacher relationship
I'm in a pristine white yoga studio, light streaming in from stained glass windows, sweaty organic cotton crotches unfold in front of me, my eco-rubber mat's smell mingling with the stink of sweat, groans of ecstasy punctuated with whimpered fake-throughs. The male instructor is standing God-like on his podium, stripped to the waist, gleaming in a moist glow, giving a sermon about the virtues of discipline while he checks his budgie-smugglers in the mirror.
Yoga teachers are the unclad priests of the century, the de-frocked, barefoot missionaries of the sweaty masses. Churches are empty, yoga studios have queues of desperate sinners around the block. There are real priests of calm teaching yoga and many true orchestrators of transformation. But as with all explosions in popularity, the hoards of opportunistic bandwagon-jumping fakes flooding the saturated market are hard to tell apart from the real maestros. The risk of meniscus tearing agony can be a high price to pay to tell the true from the faux.
Does the yoga teacher have a responsibility to uphold the teacher-student relationship and not abuse it? The most obvious way the teacher student relationship line is blurred is when the yoga teacher sleeps with their students. It's rife. John Friend, Bikram and countless others have been accused of mass impropriety. If it's consensual then what's the problem? Having a body that can perform the entire Karma Sutra of an evening is probably preferable to the drunken, behind-the-recycling-bin sex we Brits are famous for on a Saturday night. We are not yet famous for wheatgrass fueled Down Dog orgies behind the yoga studio compost heap, but it may not be far off. No, it is WHEN the yoga teacher adopts a faux spiritual superiority in order to elevate their position of power to prey on adoring students that it makes many choke on their Green Smoothie.
Fake spirituality is the gag-inducing 21st-century con of the yoga studio. It is the cheap veneer of IKEA meditational superiority, the plastic smell of faux-enlightenment and the promise of Primark Tantric bliss. Chants to unknown gods, Sanskrit tattoos, pretend meditation and the hollow rattle of pseudo-spiritual mottos regurgitated from the back of a packet of cheap incense. But it works to get fit girls in bed.
Once in a class with a well known male teacher I was faced with his entire tofu-and-two-veg in my face, freed from their Lululemon inner pant as he raised not just his eyebrow but his Linda McCartney as well. Another well-known instructor encourages his students to "get into their pain" while on his retreats as this results in lots of Yummy Mummies crying on his shoulder and then in his kaftaned lap.
It's not all the male teachers' fault. A famous male teacher confided that he is regularly stalked by his female students on his retreats and he often has to barricade himself into his yurt and lie quaking under his mosquito net for fear of a Cougar attack. Female yoga teachers on the whole, spacing typo aren't doing the "Shiva-Lingham Tantric initiations" their male counterparts are doing. What the female yoga teacher might do is tease. Pressing students into poses with boobs and hips on backs and Ujayii breathing in their ear, performing up close and personal eye-gaze adjustments and demonstrating straddle bends in front of helpless male students before wafting off in a haze of curls and Patchouli. Seemingly innocent, but the male student now can't concentrate on his Cock Pose. But he will be back next week £15 in hand.
So in my 19 years barefoot here are my tips; apologies if this negatively impacts your yoga sex life:
1. Your teacher is a normal, flawed, insecure person.
2. If sex is on the cards, enjoy. But you will not be getting some sort of tantric, spiritual sex initiation. Yoga teachers are no better in bed than your builder.
3. The diet don't make the man. Some of the best and most famous yoga teachers eat meat, swear and drink red wine.
4. If your teacher is busy expounding their opinions, looking in the mirror, wearing tight speedos or Wonderbra's and not making your experience their number one concern, stretch elsewhere
5. A wise teacher will not let you project. They will remind you they are normal and talk of their flaws, weaknesses and struggles to put you at ease.
6. A famous sage once said, "There is only one way to judge a person: How easily they laugh". If your instructor has no humour then perhaps their yoga, enemas and smoothies aren't working.
7. If we stop idolising the instructor they will feel more comfortable to be who they really are and accept that their normality is their greatest teaching asset and not something to hide.
8. Take your teacher with a pinch of Himalayan salt, enjoy your yoga practice and don't make a religion out of it. It's just a yoga class.
Now I'm off to the bloody pub.