Dear readers, say hello to Agni. She is our anonymous columnist who will be responding to your questions about what happens on and off the mat in the yoga world. She is a yoga practitioner and teacher with several decades of yoga experience. She has had many amazing teachers, and even more amazing students. She chose the “nom de plume” Agni in homage to “Dear Abby”, and because she hopes to help us burn down our obstacles to joy and freedom. Send Agni the questions you won’t ask your own yoga teacher at AskAgni@seattleyoganews.com – no topic is taboo.
Dear Agni, Why do yoga teachers have a different voice when they teach? One has an accent that only shows up when she teaches, others seem to be singing when they direct. What gives? an anonymous yoga practitioner

here-is-what-agni-had-to-say

Ah, yes, the yoga teacher voice. It’s still out there, flitting about, capturing innocent throats and turning them into trilling birds of platitudes and gerunds, gently reaching and softly stretching, eeeen-haling and axe-haling us into the ether. It is the film of saccharine that covers the satguru (inner teacher), the costume that turns teaching into a performance.

I liked it when I first started yoga. My teacher sounded so sweet, and Goddamned positive – just what I needed. Her voice was a bit like honey, and I would do anything she said. Taking her class was like being in Canada, where that optimistic singsongy uptalking puts me in an alternate universe where people don’t carry guns or yell or say f**k.

I was fine with being somewhere else; I didn’t really want to be where I was in the first place.

Then I took classes from a truth teller. She was tough, and kind, and deep, and real. When she taught, she spoke like she was having a conversation, a conversation with a trusted fellow practitioner. We, the students, were those trusted ones. We weren’t the audience in a play or dancers following fancy choreography. We were fellow practitioners. She told us what to do, firmly, directly, and then asked us questions: How do you feel? Where are you afraid? What is your heart’s desire?

We had to work in her classes, dig, go deep, inquire. She held a crystal clear authentic space with that voice of hers. It was the same voice she used out of class, the same voice she used to order beet juice, the same voice she used on her answering machine.

And that’s when yoga turned from a fun distraction to a lifelong practice that would transform me inside and out. It’s when I started to show up in the present moment. It’s when I started to see the power of women and how often we undermine ourselves with how we use our voice. We like to sound pretty. We have too few opinions. We make statements that sound like questions so that we don’t have to own them. We end sentences up in the air instead of connecting them to the ground.

Which is not to say male teachers don’t have yoga teacher voices, or issues with self-worth, there are just a whole lot less of them in this particular profession.

Sometimes I catch myself using teacher voice. It usually happens when I am insecure, or tired, or haven’t planned and have to pull a sequence and/or a theme out of my ass in front of people I hardly know. When I hear it, it makes me cringe. But I also have a boatload of understanding and compassion for myself, and other teachers, when we float above the ground with our “special voices.” The culture we live in rewards costume, it loves an act. The world around us is airbrushed and Photoshopped. It takes an act of rebellion and courage to be real, to be yourself, and some of us just aren’t ready for that. That’s one reason we come to yoga, to get ready.

So, my friend, this teacher voice, it comes with the territory. There’s nothing wrong with it, or the teachers that use it, but the fact that you noticed it says a lot. It tells me that you are ready for a teacher who is real and authentic, who will coax you into your own true voice. Keep looking, he/she is out there, on the ground, waiting patiently. And don’t forget to eeeen-hale and axe-hale.

[Photo by emily balsley– CC BY]


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