fitness · yoga

Exploring bossy yoga

It’s been fun over the past couple of years to explore different types of yoga offered at my studio in Watertown, MA, as well as other places.  They offer flow, restorative, ropes yoga, yoga and meditation, chair yoga, and many specialized classes for particular groups (like yoga for cyclists and runners) or particular body parts (like hip opener workshops and such).

My studio also features Iyengar yoga classes.  Here’s what Yoga Journal says about it:

By paying close attention to anatomical details and the alignment of each posture, Iyengar Yoga is the practice of precision. Poses are held for long periods and often modified with props. This method is designed to systematically cultivate strength, flexibility, stability, and awareness, and can be therapeutic for specific conditions. B.K.S. Iyengar founded Iyengar Yoga.

I was talking with a friend about Iyengar classes, and she said to me, “I like them, but the teachers are kind of bossy”.

This is so true, now that I think about it.  In an Iyengar class, the focus is entirely on alignment, which requires a number of small but crucial adjustments of inner or outer rotations of limbs, weight shifts, foot position, etc.  The result is a deep and often intense experience of what it feels like to be embodied.

But getting there is often not pretty.  In Iyengar class, I often feel like I’m trying to back a large truck into a small parking space.  This is not what the teacher says, but it is what I hear sometimes:

Okay, bend the left knee– not that knee, the other knee.  Now, rotate the left hip back and the right hip forward.  More.  More. Even more!  Stop. Pull the torso back– no, not that way– back!  Lift out of the ribcage.  Breathe.

It’s kind of an intense experience, my body being bossed around in class.  I have to surrender individual control and will to what’s happening.  There’s no place to hide.  I can’t soft pedal or adjust the tension like in spin class.  It’s all out there, and the teacher sees all and attends to all.

Oddly enough, Iyengar class doesn’t make me feel vulnerable.  It makes me feel attended to and seen.  It’s a place (one of the few places, actually) where I just don’t mind being bossed around.  The teachers see me, and are brave and caring enough to help me in a literal hands-on way to achieve alignment and strength.  I’m into it.

Readers, do you have experiences of being “bossed around” in physical activity classes or workshops or events?  Do you like it?  Do you not like it?  How does being seen, identified as doing what you’re doing, and adjusted, advised, etc.  affect you?  I’d like to know.


15 thoughts on “Exploring bossy yoga

    1. I find it fun; it reminds me of how I’m doing and what my body is like, both in general and that particular day/hour.

  1. I like coaching and that can involve being pushed. Especially if the person knows me and my abilities well and I trust them, it’s terrific.

    1. Well, I was kind of joking about the bossy part. However, I do feel seen and directed and helped, which feels good; it feels like I’m being helped to go deeper into a pose, and also I see everyone in the class being adjusted– all of us can use some help…:-)

      1. Ohk! true if the teacher is kind and bossy in a friendly sort of way, I wouldn’t mind too, I guess. The only teacher of the bossy kind, kind enough to bother about what is right for me is perhaps my mother 🙂

  2. The first time I went to a bikram class the bossiness turned me off.
    I like instruction and I would like what you describe. I do not like someone snapping their fingers at me.

    I recently ventured back into a group fitness class instead of my usual yoga practice. The instructor used guilt, shaming and yelling as motivation. I hated it and almost walked out. I won’t be going back.

    1. Oh God. Bikram. Yeah, never again. You don’t know me. Stop yelling at me. I bought a pack of classes but only used one. I was too scared to go back and complain!

      1. YUCK! That’s terrible. I’ve never been to a Bikram class (or a hot yoga class– I’d faint immediately), but I want all my classes to be no-yelling (unless we’re yelling together, which might be fun).

    2. YUCK– that sounds awful! I would definitely avoid classes where someone is yelling at me or trying to guilt me into doing more. Seriously? Can’t the person see that we’re all doing the best we can? After all, we’re not being paid to be there. I hope other class experiences (and yoga in particular if you choose to go) will be more supportive and positive.

  3. I stopped going to a spin class because the instructor yelled at us all the time, ‘turn it up’. If I’d been brave enough, I’d have said, ‘Look, we’re not training for the Tour de France; we’re just normal folks trying to keep fit’.

  4. My time in the military gave me all the yelling & bossing around I will ever need. I’m full up. Plus the instructors literally held my career in their hands so any power stuff and I shut down.

    I prefer coaching, collaboration and encouragement. If I’m doing difficult things the last thing I want is controlling or mean behavior. Heck I can’t even enjoy dominator submission in other contexts, dang military!

  5. Iyengar has been my go-to yoga for three years now, and I find myself frustrated in non-Iyengar classes because, truly, the lack of focus on alignment (generally) in most mainstream yoga is a crying shame. In those classes I look around, knowing everything I’ve learned from my amazing teachers at Yoga Centre London (in London, ON), and I think: 90% of the people in this room are doing these postures wrong, and may hurt themselves – if not now, then down the road.

    What I most love about Iyengar is that it caters to flexibility, mobility, and strength – and most of the people in my regular class are older than I am, some properly elderly. The instructor knows everyone’s bodies really well and our specific conditions, and adjusts our poses and props and options accordingly. (When I am having an AS flare-up, she modifies for me all through the class – like you, Catherine, I feel seen and held and protected, not bossed.) Because we are a team – same time and session each week for 10-12 weeks at a time – we also know each other, and laugh together as the instructor demos the poses. She laughs at herself, too, and reveals along the way which poses are not her strengths – proving that you can be a seriously experienced yogi and not be able to get into some poses at all.

    Yoga in North America has become so commercialized it’s exhausting: I hate going to studios where the pretence comes with expensive outfits, implicit judgement, and often poorly trained instructors. I realize that’s not most studios, but it is many – and after realizing how much Iyengar has taught me about my own body, and its alignments, I feel genuinely bad that commercial, mainstream “hatha” yoga is most peoples’ idea of what yoga is or can be.

    1. I feel the same way. My usual studio isn’t Iyengar specifically, but borrows a lot of concepts, variations, etc. from Iyengar. When I go to other studios, I find the cuing insufficient for most of the students (& don’t work with my limitations)

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