The Ego Issue (in Yoga): A Surprising but True Story About the Time I was Yelled at by a Yoga Teacher

Friends, the search for finding a place to teach yoga is – surprisingly – full of a lot more drama and heartache than any other job search I’ve done. I’m sharing this story because I think it’s important to understand what can happen with the wrong instructor.

And I’m sharing it because, if it’s ever happened to you, it can be upsetting. And you can feel helpless. And there is a whole lot more to say about it than I have room for in this post. But expect me to talk about it again. Expect to hear what I have to say. And, please, share your experiences as well.

Learning Something New

I recently came across a class at a power yoga studio which focused on working your core. “Great!” I thought “This is exactly what I’m looking for!” and went to the studio, fully intent to get the most of this experience and confident that I would learn something and meet an instructor that I wouldn’t forget.

All of that happened. But not in the way I expected.

No, what I would learn was not at all about power yoga, or core workouts, or physical strength in yoga. What I learned was the dark side of yoga. The dark side of ego, and borderline abuse, that is more common in the yoga world than most of us could ever imagine.

The Ego Issue (in Yoga): A Surprising but True Story About the Time I was Yelled at by a Yoga Teacher | How I Sustain Blog

The Ego Issue

The instructor was clear from the beginning of class. This was “not a yoga class.” It was a strength building class, using yoga postures.

“Hooray!” I thought “I hope I can keep up.”

Within the first few postures, I found myself really struggling to feel the effort that the teacher was claiming we should feel. Wanting to be a part of the class, and to do it “right,” I started looking around the room to make sure I was in the same position as the rest of the class (and, if so, figure out what I was missing). Everything I did looked the same as the other students, but I couldn’t feel any effort.

Like at all.

By the third pose, the only feeling I had was tension in my knee. We were in bridge pose. Now this particular posture is something that I typically modify (not always, but usually) because it hurts my knee and ankle. Specifically, my right knee. One of the things I learned early in yoga teacher training, was that each body is different and the needs, the angles, and the approach to postures needs to be adjusted to suit each individual’s needs.

So, naturally, when my knee started to hurt, I lifted my heels. Problem solved! Or so I thought..

I was very much in head, thinking myself through the posture, when I faintly heard the instructor say “drop your heels” from the other side of the room. I didn’t think anything of it because I was modifying to avoid injury. Then I heard him say it again. And again. And, once more, but this time standing directly over my head, he – once again – said “drop your heels.”

At this point I opened my eyes. “Was he really talking to me?” I thought. I looked around the room.

“Do you have a back injury?” he asked. “No” I said. “Then you shouldn’t have any problem dropping your heels on the ground.” And he watched and waited for me to do it before moving on to the next instruction.

Against my better judgement, and half hoping I could sneak my heels back off the ground when he wasn’t looking, I stayed in that posture, with my heels on the ground, for less than a minute. My core felt nothing. But my knee and ankle were flaring in pain.

A little while later, again seeing me staring at everyone else, wondering where the “difficulty” in the core workout was, he came over to me again. “Are you having trouble with this class? Is it too hard?” “No” (with a laugh under my breath). And, sensing that he was waiting for something else “I’m a teacher.”

For the rest of the class he made statements like “some of you are having trouble with the ques” “this isn’t yoga, it’s a core workout” and “I see this is hard for some of you.” There were more. And it was truly uncomfortable. And while I can’t say with certainty, it felt as though he was very directly talking to me. And it was really upsetting.

The Bullshit

So obviously it sucks being yelled at. Especially in yoga – because that’s like completely against the entire philosphy of yoga.

But, truly, the worst part of it was not the part where I was verbally abused by an instructor (because, friends, that’s what it was).

No, the worst part was that my knee and ankle hurt for 4 days after the class. The day after, I was limping. And I want to be REALLY, really clear here friends: that yoga instructor hurt me. And he didn’t even give me the satisfaction of a good ab workout.

Yes, he hurt me: a newly trained instructor, with all of the knowledge and experience in my own body to know better than to follow an instruction that would lead to pain.

He hurt me: a free-willed and not-afraid-to-stand-up-for-myself badass lady entrepreneur.

He hurt me: a mom of two wild boys and an outspoken, forthright, advocate that has fought many battles in her life.

He hurt me: a person who has been researching the psychology behind injury in yoga since I first learned about it two months prior.

Friends, he hurt me. And I was too afraid to say anything.

Lesson Learned

Now, I’ll be honest, this isn’t the first time I’ve been yelled at in a yoga class. In fact, the first time happened just a few months ago at another studio where I was considering employment.

Part of me blames myself – after all, this kind of reaction has only happened to me since I signed up for teacher training. But, truly, I try SO so hard to go unnoticed in class. I always have. I don’t believe in ego or superstar-dom. And I certainly don’t want praise for my practice. I’m the kind of person that comes to the same class for years, and never actually talks to the instructor.

Which, if I’m thinking about it now, probably only contributes to the feelings I have of frustration and judgement around yoga.

And – friends – let’s not forget – WE’RE STILL TALKING ABOUT YOGA. Which is crazy. Because yelling at people in class is literally the opposite of what yoga is all about. Total opposite.

So I’ll conclude with this: if this ever happens to  you, say something. You don’t have to confront this instructor. You don’t even have to directly talk anyone. But you have to tell the owner. They have to know.

And if this has ever happened to you, and you want to talk about it, talk to me. I’m not going to stop talking about this. Because I think we have to. I think it’s necessary. And I truly believe it’s the only way to lead to positive change in the yoga world.





Julie Love Gagen

After unexplained illness, with no diagnosis, forced me to take medical leave of absence in college, I chose yoga as a path towards healing. For me, it was a gentle way for me to get back into my body. And the experience, and practice, gave me the confidence I needed to believe I could heal. It worked. And it’s been magic ever since. In 2012, I chose to do a personal wellness challenge – 30 days of Hot Power Yoga – in celebration of my 30th birthday. The studio I picked was Baptiste Yoga in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The studio which, just a few years later, would be the inspiration and the setting for my RYT 200-hr Yoga Teacher training. The style of yoga I teach is a little different from what you’ve seen before. In my class, we focus on strengthening your core, elongating your spine, and finding the ideal position for each body, regardless of what it looks like.

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