Christina has written a series of posts this past week on her teaching perspective. One entry includes her take on what I call, the conversion mentality ~ that is, when yoga teachers attempt to convert or “shame” students from other yoga methods to THEIR way of teaching. Her thoughts prompted me to reply with a long discourse on a related idea, my belief about the origins of defensiveness.
Whenever I find myself having a strong response to something, I (try to) stop and ask: “Why am I reacting this way? What is it that’s pushing my buttons?” Granted, sometimes it takes me awhile to calm down and actually get around to thinking about it, but it’s an interesting question and an important exercise for my own personal growth.
That said, my thoughts below evolved from one of these self-inquiries into my own defensiveness. (And just for clarification, while this was written in reply to Christina’s post, it’s really more about defensiveness in general, not those “bossy” yoga teachers of which I am a grateful student of ONE!)
What Makes You People So Defensive … not that I am 🙂
When people are comfortable and confidant in what they believe and what they are doing, they do not feel threatened by those who are different or who question them. They are comfortable in “their own skin”. But if there is any part in them that feels uncertain or insecure, then their defensive-o-meter goes a bit crazy. Sometimes this results in: “I MUST CONVERT YOU TO MY WAY! (Read: because if you don’t buy in, well, perhaps I might be wrong!)
Here’s my non-yoga example from the world of motherhood. When you have small children (and even during your pregnancy), you are constantly subjected to other (random) people’s (random) comments ~ from the lady behind you in the grocery store check-out, to the clerk at the post office, to other shoppers at the mall. (And let’s not even mention the relatives!) People will barrage you with unsolicited suggestions, feedback, criticism, and “helpful” advice about everything from breastfeeding to pacifiers to walkers to baby schedules to your child’s NAME!
In my own experience, I have gotten most rattled and angered when people gave feedback about stuff I wasn’t feeling completely sure about. For example, my oldest son LOVED his pacifier. We’d be out and about and someone would say, “Pacifiers are bad for his teeth, you know!” If I didn’t have any concerns about it, I would just be “whatever,” smile, and go on about my merry way. But, it would REALLY get under my skin if I was having my own stuff going on about pacifiers. “How DARE they question ME about my OWN son?! Some nerve they have!”
In general, people seem to get dogmatic and bent out of shape due to some kind of FEAR. I believe that’s pretty much where all prejudice stems from: I am being “threatened” in some way. (And the extension, what if I’m wrong? What would THAT mean about me as a mother, person, yoga teacher, whatever?!) When we are really okay with what we’re doing, we are comfortable letting other people do their own thing too, and have their own beliefs (as long as it doesn’t interfere with us and “the greater good”).
Now in the context of yoga traditions and yoga classes in particular, there IS a call to good studentship. (Adikara???) There is understandable frustration that yoga teachers of ANY tradition must experience when a student blatantly does NOT do what that teacher asks. There IS a reaction: “Hello?? Why are you even in my class?!”
But another take on why we want people to “do it our way” often stems from the conversion bliss: “I gave up smoking and my life is SO much better, and you TOO should follow suit!” Many of us get caught in that “I want to share the light” mentality. It truly comes from a sincere place, I think, it can just be SO offensive to others.
Really, the greatest sales pitch we can make for ANYTHING ~ be it parenting, diets, religion, marriage or YOGA methods ~ may simply be the old Dr. Phil litmus test: “And how’s that workin’ for ya?” When we live a life that “works,” people are naturally attracted to it. They want to know, “what’s the secret?” It becomes totally unnecessary to shove it down their throat ~ shamefully, blissfully, or otherwise!
“This is how humans are: we question all our beliefs, except for the ones we really believe, and those we never think to question.” ~ Orson Scott Card