We all do it. We all excuse it.
When is gossip right speech and when is it just wrong?
In many teacher trainings, discussions about the Yamas and Niyamas are often condensed into easily digestible concepts.
Satya = truthfulness, right speech, non-gossip…sorta. It’s much more complicated than that but it’s a good start.
Every workplace, including yoga studios and fitness clubs, has a policy against malicious gossip. If you’ve ever needed to go to human resources to address it, you know that the line between malicious and unintended is broad and mobile.
When is gossip a positive? Here are three areas to consider:
Are you sharing your personal experience or speculating about others? Malcolm Gladwell talks a little about the other minds problems in his book, What the Dog Saw. That’s the phrase psychologists use to describe our innate curiosity about the interior lives of others. How often do we ask, what do you think about this? Tell me more about that? It’s fact vs fiction.
Are you exploring bigger concepts or just looking for angry allies? Discussions that are often, and sometimes rightly, avoided at work can be had with close work-friends with respect and integrity. Talking about cultural antagonisms, social movements or even the weather can be an honest exchange for deeper understanding. But, phrases like “don’t you agree that…” are a form of peer pressure that are often used to gather support an unstated agenda.
Humour vs snark. Many people love a catty sense of humour. It takes time to get to that level with work-friends. Friendly jabs at those who are present can be fun. A friendly jab at someone not present who has already heard it directly on other occasions can be on the line. A ‘friendly’ jab at someone called out or named, who is not present and has no idea tends to go over the line.
We all do it. We all excuse it. When is it right speech and when is it just wrong?
Check out this interesting article on how to “Gossip Like a Leader”
As teachers, we teach what we know. Sometimes it’s easy to get into a rut of teaching what we’re good at. I’ve taken classes with yogis who have dance backgrounds and very flexible hips. Every class explored hip openers. Every class featured the teacher demonstrating the “right way” to do a pose.
What about the rest of us? How can a student find his or her individual practice when, as teachers, we preach right vs wrong poses and only teach what we can do well.
We all come to the mat for different reasons. And, every body is very different. Someone handed me an article about a decade ago that explained why some people will never get their hips to the ground in virasana. NEVER. It’s not about flexibility, knee health or dedication to the practice. It’s about the shape of the pelvis and its relationship to the femur head. Bone against bone. I constantly meet students who have become convinced that they aren’t “really doing yoga” because their hero’s pose doesn’t look like the picture in the magazine, the teacher at the front of the room, etc. So, what’s right and what’s wrong here?
By relying on what’s easy for us, we can involuntarily teach our students to measure themselves against our personal standard instead of what’s right for them.
I recently taught an inversion workshop during a period of time when my own handstands weren’t very stable. I still had to demo the action of lifting up instead of kicking up. I fell backwards and sideways every-single-time.
I was embarrassed but it was what it was. I got the point across.
Thankfully, one student remarked that she was terrified of trying a handstand without a wall until she saw me, the teacher, fall …fail. I wasn’t perfect. I did something I wasn’t good at and it helped the class.
There is no right…just right now.
We should often try to teach those poses that we don’t love or aren’t proficient in. The students come to benefit from the wisdom of our journeys. If that journey is long and difficult, the wisdom we share may be deeper and more impactful in a positive way.
Every time I teach pincha mayurasana, I tell the story of getting unilateral direction for success. I tried to follow that direction for over 8 years and never went up. EIGHT YEARS!! Then I noticed another teacher doing it differently. I tried it and I’ve had a stable pincha mayurasana ever since. But, it works for me. The other direction works for others. I teach both and everything in between so students have the opportunity to find their own practice and not just watch me do it the right way at the front of the room.