Is it just me, or does it seem like talk about calories, “being bad,” “falling off the wagon,” and starting a diet immediately seem to ratchet up wildly this time of year?
‘Tis the season, right?
I think this time of year is only outdone by the new year. But when I think about it, I see how perfectly the diet industry has set that up. They encourage us with nods and winks about indulging through Dec. 31, with knowing looks that we’re being “bad” but that it’s okay because it’s the holidays. But come Jan. 1 — whoo buddy
Yoga + Mainstream Culture
Yoga teachers and classes are, of course, not immune from mainstream culture. It’s not unusual to hear talk of “burning off” holiday indulgences in yoga class, even if it comes with a little nudge and a smile.
I believe this happens for two primary reasons: (1) Yoga teachers often try their best to meet their students where they are, and sometimes this looks like perpetuating diet culture and (2) Yoga teachers are so immersed (like the rest of us) in mainstream culture that they don’t even think about what they’re saying — much less the effects.
What’s that they say about how fish don’t know they’re in water?
While there are certainly yoga classes dedicated to weight loss, where calorie talk is the norm, many classes are not like that. And in those latter classes, I believe that most of the time yoga teachers just haven’t taken the time to think about the implications of what they’re saying because yoga culture hasn’t forced them to — yet.
If you’re blissed out in a reclined twist and your yoga teacher starts talking about detox, or if you’re flowing through some sun salutations and your yoga teacher gives a mini-lesson on how many calories you’re burning and that makes you feel uncomfortable, here’s what I recommend:
1. Check In
Before anything else happens, you have to figure out how you feel. The best way to do this is to check in with your body. Notice what happened when the conversation came up — did your breath catch, did you just pass over it without really noticing, did you feel a tightening in the pit of your stomach, did you feel a contraction in your body followed by a quick release? Knowing how these comments are affecting you and your practice is key.
2. Keep Going
Unless you’ve been dramatically offended or triggered, keep going with your practice. Breathe. Move your body. These things will allow you to stay connected to your body and not move solely into your head and internal narrative, like many of us are wont to do.
3. Consider Your Next Step
When you hear something like this come up in class, you have several choices (at least), including: (1) Talk to the teacher now, (2) Talk to the teacher after class, (3) Email the teacher later, (4) Don’t go back, (5) Drop it. Begin allowing yourself to breathe and consider each of these options. Again it’s great to check in with your body and notice how they feel in your body. See if you can differentiate between the nerves many of us feel when confronting someone, no matter how constructively, and your gut telling you that an option is not right for you.
4. Talk to the Teacher Now
Depending on the pace and structure of the class, you might be able to say something in the moment. If it was me, I might try a little joke to offer a different viewpoint in a loving way. For example, if the teacher said something like “Okay, let’s burn off some of those holiday cookies!” I might quickly throw out something like “I liked those cookies! I’m just ready to stretch + feel good!”
5. Talk to the Teacher After Class
When offered constructively, I believe that it’s great for yoga teachers to receive feedback from their students. After all, we can’t know what’s really working (or not) unless we hear from you. If a yoga teacher offered some calorie or weight discussion that you didn’t find helpful, let him/her know. Yes, this might feel scary. But if you keep the focus on you, hopefully your yoga teacher will be able to hear you. For example, rather than saying “I really don’t think you should talk about weight in class,” you might say something like “Thanks for class! You know, I wanted to talk to you about something. When you talked about calories in class, it took me out of my practice because I’ve been focusing on body acceptance, and I wanted to let you know.” By focusing on your own experience rather than a lecture, you give the teacher a concrete example to go on and hopefully leave them feeling less scolded and defensive (and therefore more open to change).
6. Email the Teacher Later
Sometimes it’s nice to be able to collect your thoughts before offering your feedback on a class. If you have the teacher’s email address (which is usually fairly easy to find — most teachers these days either have their own website or are listed on the site of where they teach), you can take your time to email them. Although there’s no hard and fast rule about how much time to take, I recommend emailing them within the week just so the class will be fresh on their mind. Many yoga teachers teach multiple classes/week, so the longer you wait to talk with them, the harder it will be for them to recall exactly what transpired in the class.
7. Don’t Go Back
As I mentioned earlier, I think that many, if not most, yoga teachers really want to create a loving and supportive environment for their students. But just as many of them haven’t had the opportunity to consider how what they say affects students’ body image because that’s just not a common yoga teacher training conversation (yet — give me time!). So my hope is that they will be responsive to your feedback if you offer it. But if that doesn’t feel safe, or if the teacher was hurtful, you don’t have to go back to their class. There’s no reason to put yourself in a triggering situation — that’s the benefit of how many yoga teachers there are these days. So try someone else’s class (or many people’s — sometimes it takes a bit to find a good fit!).
8. Drop It
Of course, offering your teacher feedback is not a must-do. It’s a can-do. If this was a rare comment in a sea of otherwise body-friendly classes, you might choose to let it go and see if/when it comes up again. This all depends on how you felt in the moment, how safe/comfortable you feel offering feedback and if you’d like to keep attending this teacher’s classes in the future.
Keep coming back to #1 above, checking in, as often as you need to. You deserve a yoga class where you feel safe and encouraged, and you’re the only one who gets to decide what that looks like for you.
Got any other tips? Share ‘em in the comments below!