Dear Male Yoga Teacher,
This is a letter of love and respect. It is not an attack. It is not an indictment of you as a teacher. I like your class. I want to come back. This is an open-hearted criticism.
Do not tell me to smile.
You don’t know what my day has looked like. You don’t know a thing about me.
Maybe I’m here to work off a fight I just had with my mother or my lover and I’d rather cry than smile.
Maybe I’m a waitress or a bartender who smiles at people all day for her money, and it feels better to relax my face for the first time today.
Maybe every time I leave the house, some guy on the street tells me to “smile, beautiful” and I’m just sick of smiling like an idiot for no reason.
Don’t tell me to smile. You’re not encouraging Sattva, you’re exercising control over my body. Control that I’ve worked hard for, every day. Control that I, as a fully fledged and independent individual, deserve to have over my own body.
If I had wanted to smile, I’d have smiled. But I sure as hell don’t want to now. Now I want to leave.
Don’t touch me
I don’t like to be touched. Especially not when I’m in my yoga class. Especially by someone with whom I don’t have a relationship. There are two people in this world I enjoy adjustments from, and they are both women. They also led my teacher training, and we have a deep bond of trust. You and I don’t have that bond. So don’t touch me.
I know you’re probably really good at adjustments. I know you probably love the feeling of someone’s hands guiding you deeper into your asana. I know it’s probably not sexual for you, that I’m your student, and you would never go there.
Still don’t touch me. I don’t care if you’re gay, or married, or I’ve come to your class every day for the last month. Do not touch me. Not a little massage at the end, not realigning my shoulders. No touching.
If you know me and feel comfortable asking, then you can ask to touch me. I will probably say no, but you’re always free to ask. A low murmur of “Can I adjust you?” is not disruptive…but your hand unexpectedly on my hip is.
So please, don’t touch me. I don’t like to be touched.
Don’t tell me “this looks beautiful”
This one is a little tricky because sometimes a mixed group of yogis is doing a really great job, collectively, practicing and vibing off of each other’s energy. That is beautiful, but there has to be a better way to say it.
It’s not fair, and I believe that what you mean is we are doing a good job, but “beautiful” is a charged word for many women. It can encourage people (especially women) to work to an unsafe edge, and it makes the practice about looking good instead of feeling strong.
I know that whenever my appearance is brought up, even in a positive way, it makes me very self-conscious, and the last thing I want to be on my mat is self-conscious.
This one is kind of a semantic quibble, but it’s something I notice in class every time it happens. It doesn’t feel good, and it can take me out of my practice. Switching up the verbiage to “This pose looks really strong” or “That was a really smooth transition” not only takes the focus off of the aesthetic of the pose, it offers specific positive reinforcement.
Of course, there are exceptions, and this one isn’t a deal-breaker for me. But it’s still something to bear in mind. Especially when teaching a room full of women.
Please keep teaching
There is ample space in yoga for men, even if it is a female dominated institution. You brighten my practice, and I hope you take this to heart so that I can keep enjoying your classes.
I wouldn’t be coming if I didn’t enjoy them.
Love and Peace,