The other day I heard "through the grapevine" - well actually, from my husband who had heard it from a fellow yoga teacher's husband - that another teacher in town had attended his wife's class and "She kicked her butt!" I asked, "What do you mean, 'kicked her butt'??" My husband replied, "Well, this guy's wife is very buff, she's even more ripped than you, and the other girl just couldn't keep up with her, I mean she wore her out!"
Apparently there is a fairly common practice, at least in our little town, of yoga teachers attending the classes of others, often incognito, for the purpose of assessing their "competition." My studio has been relatively immune from this phenomenon, presumably because nobody considers me "competition." Only one yoga teacher, Su Lin, has come to my class. She attended 3 times, was extremely friendly, focused and seemed sincerely interested in learning. She was clearly too advanced for the basic class I was teaching. She told me that she had taught yoga in Japan and shared one of her textbooks with me, which unfortunately I couldn't read. I offered to go over the more advanced stuff privately with her, but due to a significant language barrier we never got very far. On her last visit she graciously gave me a lovely pair of beautiful silky pants from Japan which were labeled "Extra Large" and she said she believed they were my size, which could have been an insult although I suppose a size 6 would be "XL" in Japan, and anyway they are quite comfortable. I subsequently learned she has opened her own studio in town which in addition to yoga offers massage and other holistic therapies; all the best to you, Su Lin!
The only other local teacher who has expressed interest in studying with me is Trace Moeck-Martin, who shares my understanding of "yoga as a devotional practice," and I would like to have her teach at Lothlorien if we can ever find a mutually agreeable time in our busy schedules.
So anyway, while I know the practice exists, I found my husband's story troubling for a couple of reasons. For one thing, from the ego standpoint of pure vanity, I was quite surprised to hear him describe the other teacher as "more ripped" than me. Certainly I am not the most buff person in the world. However, in this very small southern redneck town where diet and lifestyle are generally not optimal, "ripped" women are uncommon and I personally have never met any female here who is as buff as myself, with the possible exception of my farrier, Keely, who lifts horses all day. I am more ripped than some men my own size. In fact, on more than one occasion due to my upper body musculature combined with my unusually androgenous figure - broad shoulders, hardly any waist and very narrow hips - people in bars have asked me if I am a man or "used to be a man." I take this as a compliment. The only other woman I know who actually is more ripped than me is Trace. You might not see it in her photos, as she is model-thin (bordering on anorexic, IMO, as we often see with vegans), but the fact is, the woman does 100+ pushups a day, whereas I would be lucky to do 20.
Now my husband described the "butt-kicking" yoga teacher as being smaller than me but more muscled, "built like a 13-year-old gymnast." Umkay. But it is unclear what that has to do with yoga. I have never met "the gymnast," and all I know of her background is that she had a "very important guru in Europe" and when my husband offered her a brochure about Mark Whitwell, she rolled her eyes and sniffed condescendingly. The lady who attended her class, whom I also have not met in person and who, like me, is a dancer, appears in her photos a pretty, petite, cheerful, slender blonde who reminds me of a young Madonna. She now has her own studio on the beach, which apparently is quite popular and has the lowest prices in town. The butt-kicking teacher's husband told my husband that his wife was justified in charging more for classes than the blonde based on the fact that she had "kicked her butt" and "really worked her out."
But again, what does this have to do with yoga? Not a damn thing, IMO.
When Lothlorien House opens in June, which will offer yoga classes on a donation basis, I invite any and all serious students to come and study with us. Teachers, non-teachers, beginners, advanced, everyone is welcome. But don't waste my time if you are just looking for a "workout" or "competition." Yes, we do have various exercise/ weight equipment and I offer personal training on the side for a fee. But we are primarily about yoga here - Real Yoga, the classical variety as handed down from T. Krishnamacharya through our teacher, Mark Whitwell, with the emphasis on the breath. You can do this yoga if you are totally ripped, or if you are in a wheelchair. It's not about how the pose looks on the outside, or keeping up with somebody else doing a difficult or extended pose. The fitness aspect, if any, is secondary. The purpose of yoga is how it makes you feel inside, experiencing your oneness with the Source. It is a devotional practice, whole-body prayer. We're not here to kick your butt. You can go to any gym for that.
Personally, I am quite glad that our style of yoga does not require fitness, because at 50 my strength is not what it used to be, and I intend to keep practicing yoga when I am very old, in devotion and as preparation for a happy death. Someday we will all leave this body regardless of how fit we may be.