During a devout stint of yoga practice, I usually (privately) entertain the dream of becoming a yoga teacher. Any rational person would point to my inability to hold tree pose as a major drawback to this plan, but in my mind, it’s not inflexibility or lack of strength that make my dreams come crashing down; instead, chanting om and speaking Sanskrit are where my confidence falters. According to a recent Newsweek article, my overblown sense of ability may just make me the perfect instructor candidate: They say that these days, teaching yoga is for narcissists. While the leader of the pack is supposed to be a humble and spiritually enlightened guru, they point out that often, they’re more like performers who’ve finally found their captive audience. Instead of tuning into Dharma, instructors are indulging their egos, thanks to their devoted, high-paying students.
The article vaguely suggests that instructors’ egos have inflated alongside the westernization of yoga: “in the recent past, around the time that $100 yoga pants became as common as designer jeans, the once inconspicuous yoga instructor has morphed into something more grandiose.” It follows with stories about yoga teachers in New York and Los Angeles whose dedicated students fill massive studios, making classes seem more like theatre than spiritual workshop. One Buddhist psychotherapist, Miles Neale, explains that it’s not just an invasion of ego-driven instructors that have made this a trend; it’s also the reaction of students to such charismatic leaders: “People elevate because they want to be accepted by the one that’s elevated,” Neale says. “That makes them feel good.”
I’ve certainly had to hold restrain myself from rolling my eyes at certain instructors, whose personal stories and anecdotes seem to take precedent over correcting my clearly faltering form, but it usually doesn’t bother me. But what bugs me more than feeling like I paid for story time more than yoga instructions is that these instructors make yoga live up to its worst stereotypes: Cult-like groups of students religiously devoted to narcissist instructors are enough to repel even the most experienced, intrepid yogi, to say nothing of timid, first-time yoga-goers.
Has a yoga teacher’s ego ever gotten in the way of your yoga practice? Tell us whether you think narcissism has turned yoga teachers into cult-leaders instead of spiritual gurus in the comments section, below.