Some people’s yoga teaching fees just went up. And others are wondering what “influence” would have landed them on the list. That list being the 100 Most Influential Yoga Teachers in America dropped yesterday by the Associate Editor of Sonima, the blog component of the Sonima Foundation, formerly known as the Jois Foundation, the non-profit arm to Jois Yoga, the home of Ashtanga from their late founder Pattabhi Jois. They have their own #Sonima100 hashtag and everything.
You might have seen this list because your favorite teacher was tagged in a post on facebook. Let’s first raise a glass of wheatgrass and cheers those who did make the list. It’s an honor to be singled out for being good at what you do and included amongst peers in your field you might admire or may have even studied under. I’m sure you have lots of students who have been inspired, encouraged, maybe even enlightened, by your teaching and that’s something worthy of appreciation.
But here’s the thing about lists. They’re subjective. They’re exclusive. They’re created by an assumed authority on the topic and usually you end up with one group elated (those included) and another group thinking wtf (the ones left out). In this case, I’m not entirely sure why a list is even necessary, or wanted. Just as we’re all trying to step away from guru worship and setting a better precedent for the student-teacher relationship sans pedestals, we’re presented with a fresh list of 100 of them to follow, seek and glorify. Then again, we all need our heroes, don’t we? Who will be our role models, now that our role models are gone?
Which brings me to the glaring omission. There is no Bikram Choudhury. Sure, not surprising in light of all the rape lawsuits. But there are also NO Bikram teachers on the list at all. I repeat, there are no teachers on the list who teach arguably the most popular style in the country, or at least the name everyone has heard of (I still get the, Oh, you practice yoga? Do you do Bikram? All. The. Time.)
So who’s on the list? There’s the revered old school (Dharma Mittra, Richard Freeman, Judith Hanson Lasater), the hip old school (Shiva Rea, Rodney Yee), the hip new school (Kathryn Budig, Tara Stiles) and the rest, a fine mix of popular teachers and up-and-comers making moves on Instagram. (It’s nice Anna Guest-Jelley of Curvy Yoga was the one teacher included to represent curvy bodies and the positive body image movement.) Sonima notes that the list is not exhaustive, which is clear, but shutting out an entire style seems a bit odd, especially when they made sure to include a good portion of their own. Of the 100 teachers mentioned, 37 of them either teach Ashtanga or have been heavily influenced by it. But that’s ok. That’s why I wouldn’t ask Lululemon for their list of America’s top 10 favorite yoga pants.
For those who didn’t make the list, should they feel any less influential and valuable? Should they work harder to get their name cast in an arbitrary spotlight? This is 2016’s list. Who knows who will drop a few notches or who will be lucky enough to edge out someone else to make the cut next year. Which is really my point. A Sonima disclaimer concedes: “yoga’s landscape is vast and more multifaceted than ever, and there are more inspiring teachers doing good work than we can name here.” So, I have to ask, why try?
Again, praising yoga teachers for being good at what they do and positively affecting their students is not where I take issue. It’s about the list, the deducing of yoga teachers to a popularity contest, which in part just adds to the west’s obsession with idolatry and building pedestals where they needn’t be built (especially in the growing commercialization of yoga).
Or maybe I’m just being crotchety and need to practice my foot in mouth pose.
In any case…
If you’re reading this and you’ve made it this far, allow me to suggest the next time you see your yoga teacher, the one who encouraged you to stop criticizing yourself, the one who helped you relieve some pain in your back, neck, elbow, or your heart, tell them how much you appreciate them, how much of an impact they’ve had on you. Go beyond the class-closing “namaste” and “thank you.” They may not get the extra bucks on the festival circuit, but they will be so happy you let them know. And you didn’t even have to make a list about it.
hollypenny is a writer, yoga practitioner and all-around inquisitive gal living in New York City. (Full disclosure: She does not practice Bikram Yoga.)
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