Are Narcissistic Yoga Teachers Ruining Your Asanas?

Bikram Choudhury, recently profiled in Details, has built an empire of eponymous yoga studios, but is he just a narcissist dressed in guru's clothing? (photo: Details)

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.

Newsweek, via Yoga Dork

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    • Paige

      I was just having this discussion with on of my yogi friends last night at our studio. We got to comparing last night teachers to one that teaches on another night. Last nights instructor is fantastic, listens to her students and even ask us to make request. The one that we compared her too likes to talk way to much. I mean I’ve even started avoiding her class because her talking is starting to get in the way of my Asana. I love the stories sometimes…but every single time I step into her class i dread the thought of hearing yet another personal story. It’s like when I’m on my mat and sweating like crazy I do not need to know what happened to you today.

    • Leanne

      I think it is fine to talk. It keeps me entertained. The problem is a lot of yoga teachers are narcissists. I have reached out to my yoga instructors and some have responded and helped and others didn’t care. One time we had only 3 people in this class and one was a first timer. I was doing full binds and he was trying and failing miserably. The instructor did nothing to show him begining pose. So I finally get annoyed and I started showing the poor guy by doing the poses and having him mirror me. She stopped class to lecture about how she is the instructor and we have all been new at some point and she will correct when needed. Talk about ruining your asana.

      • Ginger

        Yoga is about leaving your ego at the door. If you saw a newcomer come into class why didn’t you just forget the binds? Instead you wanted to show off and make them feel like crap for not being able to do them. Then you proceed to try to assist the student into the binds? Are you nuts? Not everyone can do them! You are a yoga teacher’s nightmare!

    • Jennifer

      In my experience, the narcissistic teachers are few and far between. In any profession, there are bound to be a few “bad eggs” – but the story made it seem like ever yoga teacher is acting like a rock star in training. The Newsweek article seemed sorely disjointed and one-sided. I wrote about this on my blog as well: http://www.jenmaguire.tumblr.com. Enjoy…

    • Lise

      Couldn’t agree more!

    • Tina Romano

      Yup. I am a yoga teacher and a humble one at that. It’s my student’s class not mine. I roll my eyes at the narcs. I took a class with a famous actor’s wife before she became “famous” and I must have expended all my energy trying not to laugh at how phoney she was. I never went back to her class…

    • Jennifer C

      Well yoga teaches us, what you see in others is there in you.
      watch what you judge and then look for how those qualities are reflected back.