Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Young Does Not Always Equal Inexperienced

I have a lot of experience being the youngest. I am the youngest in my family. I've been the youngest student in my class, the youngest intern, the youngest yoga teacher trainee, the youngest teacher... Being young has its advantages and disadvantages--particularly in the yoga community. The older students might smile at the youngsters--possibly envious that we got an early start on the practice, possibly envious that our backbends are deep and effortless (though, that's not always the case.) It's all fine and dandy until a youngster decides he or she knows enough the practice to share it with others.

When I decided to blog about my teacher training as a sweet and innocent 22 year old, I was kind of crushed when I received a critical email from someone I'd never met who was "sick and tired of these 20-somethings" who think they can teach something to someone--anyone!--for that matter. I'm still thankful to my editor who smiled and said, "Don't listen to them."

When I read the criticism of fashion-model-turned-yoga-mogul Tara Stiles following her recent story in the NY Times, it all came back to me. Of course, I expected the criticism about Stiles breaking from tradition, focusing on the physical benefits/weight loss, and wearing clothes that show her model-icious body (the scandal!)... but I was a little surprised by the collective attitude toward her age. I mean, come on! She's 29, not 16.


In case you haven't been following, here's a sampling:

That someone so young, with so little training, but with a big megaphone due to her celebrity, is off training yoga teachers? Sounds like hubris to me. -- comment on

And even with a pro-yoga business plan, the emphasis on youth and beauty puts such young teachers in a position where they don't have the time to naturally develop their practice to the place where they're really absorbed a lot of the wisdom that's come before and then really honestly decide that it's time to innovate. If they take this time, they will miss their marketing moment, and the lucrative contract will go to someone else. -- comment on

Maybe one of these days a little light will shine on in her head and she’ll 'get it.' Probably not until she’s 40, but you never know. -- comment on

What's with all the age-ism when it comes to yoga teachers? Is it a jealousy thing--that they get to be young, beautiful, talented, AND successful that rubs people the wrong way? I just don't get it. Some young yoga teachers devote years of daily practice with their teachers (hours every day) and log more time on the mat that teachers twice their age. It's entirely possible that teachers like Tara Stiles (29), Kathryn Budig (28), and Alanna Kaivalya (30) have more experience teaching and more wisdom than older teachers, too. And thank goodness for them! And even if the younger up-and-coming yoga teachers don't have more experience, they're more relatable to a lot of people! I've studied with a lot of older, more seasoned yoga teachers ... and while they have lots of experience and knowledge to offer, I can't relate to their experiences at Woodstock or their contentious objector status during the Vietnam War. But here's the thing.... even though I can't relate to all of their teachings, I realize that I can still learn something from them. And I certainly don't go around questioning their teachings. That would be disrespectful, wouldn't it?

I admire Stiles for saying her teacher training wasn't up to snuff--many teacher trainings aren't. I admire her even more for choosing not to publicly disclose what teacher training that was (just because it wasn't what she was looking for doesn't mean it won't work for someone else). And I'm glad she's a successful teacher now with the opportunity to teach every single day if she wants to--because just think about how wise and amazing she's going to be in a few years! 

For the record, I'm 27 ... and I've spent the last five years of my life (eight hours a day) practicing yoga, reading about yoga, writing about yoga, studying yoga, and pondering yoga. That's about 10,000 hours if you DON'T include my nights and weekends.