This is something that has been on my mind for a while now.
When I first started my training in September, I encountered an older Black woman who had just begun teaching a meditation class at Bonda; let’s call her Anna. She also trained with Laurie, and we chatted for a bit one evening while waiting for Laurie to arrive for class. She told me that she’d had an interview scheduled at a popular gym earlier that day. But when she arrived, the woman interviewing her refused to make eye contact with her and barely asked her any questions.
Anna said, “The moment I stood up and introduced myself to her, she became disconnected. I knew I wouldn’t get the job. She couldn’t see me as a yoga teacher, teaching at that fancy club.”
I asked her what she meant and she replied, “I teach at a local library. On the first day of class, five out the seven people who showed up asked if I was the teacher. And they were totally shocked when I said yes. No one expects a woman who looks like me to be in front of the class. They barely expect me to be in the class.”
Anna is in her late fifties, with smooth skin the color of unshelled Brazil nuts. She is five feet eleven inches tall; curvy, with broad shoulders, full breasts and hips, and large hands. She has a gravelly voice which softens to a hoarse whisper when she teaches. And she is a really great teacher.
I thought about my own teachers, and what they look like:
Rei is short like me, always tan, with thick eyebrows and a bushel of shiny black curls perpetually tied in a topknot. She is slim, but we wear the same–very large–bra size. She laughs loudly and jokes about having to move the flesh out of the way so that her sit bones can connect to the earth. She is fun.
Laurie is also short, pear-shaped with impeccably dyed red hair and expressive brown eyes. She is more quiet than Rei, and softer. She is older, too, and more self-deprecating. She is honest about her body image issues. She says it took her a long time to accept her generous hips and bottom.
I can’t say I looked at either one of them and thought that they didn’t look like yoga teachers. But sometimes I wonder if my future students will react to me in shock and think: What’s she doing here?
Because when I asked Anna what she thought her students had been expecting she said, “You know. Someone in their 20s. White. Thin.”
And I am none of those things.
So what do you think? If any of you practice yoga, did you have any expectations as to what your teacher would, or should, look like? Do you think it even matters?
I’m inclined to believe it doesn’t matter. But I do know that lots of people are drawn into yoga by photographs like this:
They want to be bendy and do cool poses like Eka Pada Koundinyasana, and they want their teachers to inspire them. So what happens if a teacher doesn’t fit a student’s physical expectations? Are they any less inspirational?