Who’s the best yoga teacher in LA? The one that speaks to your heart.

i read something the other day that disturbed me. It made my eyebrows crinkle. It is from an online site called Rate Your Burn, in an article entitled “L.A.’s 30 best yoga instructors of the year.” This is the opening paragraph in the article: “We wanted to look back at 2012 and shed light on the instructors who made the biggest splash over the past year. L.A. is a city chock-a-block with talented yogis, which made this list extremely hard to whittle down. Here are the 30 most popular, buzzed-about yoga instructors on the Los Angeles scene.”

i have to admit: i had a lot of trouble writing this blog. As i strive to live my yoga practice, i want my thoughts, behavior and writing to also reflect the balanced, neutral, steady quality i seek in my practice. i am really not trying to rant, or complain. To clarify, i am not writing out of anger. But this “best of” list made me feel disturbed, not because i was not included on the list (seriously, i’m not interested), but because to rank yoga teachers is so completely un-yogic. It is dis-heartening to feel that to make it as a successful yoga teacher in our culture means making a ‘Big Yoga Splash.’ That to be considered as the “best” is to pack a room with 50 plus students, or to have your face printed on the cover of Yoga Journal. It feels wrong to assign greatness to “popular, buzzed about” yoga instructors- to prize those who have successfully opened a yoga studio, or produced a DVD. Choosing the best yoga teachers in LA is about as ridiculous as choosing the best film or music album of the year- it’s totally subjective. Although many teachers listed on the website are friends of mine, very cool people and very good yoga teachers, i think what confused me about this list is that someone created this list. It’s like the oscars of yoga teachers- to me, it doesn’t even make sense. And it certainly is not yoga.

The reason i left the dance world was because i was tired of the competition and self-judgement that i experienced in being a dancer. i felt i was constantly comparing myself (and being compared) to other dancers- never feeling i was “good enough.” Walking down the narrow hallway at Broadway Dance Center in NYC in the late ’90’s, getting the evil stare down by waif-thin beauties in perfect splits, i felt out of place- small, insignificant and very uncomfortable. It distracted me from enjoying what i loved about dance. And after many years of self-depreciating thoughts, i found yoga and officially hung up my tights.

What initially attracted me to yoga was that i could do the work on my mat, and it had nothing to do with how i compared to anyone else. Yoga did not judge what my body looked like, or the level i was practicing at. Yoga did not rate the level of my performance if i was having a bad day. i could just be me- i could move and breathe and dance with my body in asana. i could move at my own pace- and without self-critical thinking, i could feel my body moving toward greater health, positivity and balance. i could enjoy the intensity of the sensations as they arise from the practice, without judging my experience. i could just be with the process and understand this journey as my own.

So why should this be any different in looking at our yoga teachers? How can we highlight certain teachers and call them the “best?” How can we “rate” a yoga teacher? i don’t understand this.

Every teacher has a gift- because of their unique, individual experience of yoga, their specific life path and distinct way of sharing that experience with their students. Every teacher has a unique voice that we need- because it will speak uniquely to someone. i love watching my teachers in training as they first step up to teach. There is usually some initial awkwardness and struggle in finding the words. It takes practice and skill to translate into language what they experience in their bodies, from their authentic experience of yoga. i try to explain that this skill takes time, but that their voice is very important and needed. i often say “your students will be so happy when they find you.”

Remember when you found the yoga teacher that just nailed it for you? Everything they say- the way they describe the pose, the tone of their voice- this teacher speaks clearly and directly to your soul. With that beloved teacher, you may feel safe, empowered, special or encouraged. That teacher may challenge you to your edge, or guide you how to take rest. And for you, that teacher is the Best.

One teacher cannot be better than another. If ten teachers taught the exact same sequence of postures, each class would feel entirely different. It sounds different, it feels different. Some teachers you connect with, others you might not. It’s an individual thing. Some teachers make you laugh, others can open your heart. Some teachers guide specific alignment, others guide from an energetic level. When i have to get my classes subbed, i tell my students to still come to class. i explain to them that this teacher has something unique to share. They will teach you something new, or they will describe something in a way that makes more sense than the way i say it.

i guess what i’m suggesting is that we not approach yoga the same way we do with so many aspects of our culture- which is by comparison, competition and rank. Instead of creating meaningless lists of who is the best yoga teacher, let’s instead think creatively about how to enrich this community- how to encourage one another, how to support one another to manifest our visions of a healthy, peaceful, interconnected planet- and for a stronger, unified community. Let’s help one another find happiness.

So, who’s the best yoga teacher in LA? The one that speaks to your heart.

(Art by Daniel B. Holeman)

here’s the article in case you would like to read it: (i’d love to hear what you think about it.)


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