The other day, I decided to check out a studio here in Chicago that came recommended to me by a friend. The owner of this studio has a national profile and often appears in the pages of Yoga Journal. Of course, just because someone is a celebrity yogi doesn’t mean that she is actually a good teacher, so I wanted to find out for myself.
I ventured over to the studio and signed up for a new student intro pass. Much to my dismay, though, I was not allowed to take a class with the studio owner because there are some prerequisites that I had not met. In particular, in order to take a Level 2-3 class with the owner, you have to take five Level 1-2 classes and get permission to move to a “higher” level. Personally, I find this sort of requirement a little off-putting. I don’t know the owner of this studio at all, so I don’t want to make assertions about her character or personality on the basis of this policy. But as a longtime yoga practitioner, I can say that a class labeled as “permission required” rubs me the wrong way.
There are some legitimate reasons for wanting to restrict Level 2-3 classes to more experienced students. As a former teacher, I know how frustrating it can been when a bunch of new students show up at your advanced class and force you, more or less, to teach the class in an entirely different way.
As a student, too, I prefer it when the classes labeled as advanced or Level 2-3 actually deliver what’s advertised. I’m far more likely to be a repeat customer to a class or studio when I know that dedicated, serious, regular practitioners will be practicing alongside me. In many ways, yoga is a group activity, even if we each do our own practice on our own mats. The attitude, personal commitment, and experience of each student infuses the room with a certain energy. This energy changes when a lot of beginners are in the class.
Despite these considerations, I still don’t see why it’s necessary for any teacher to restrict or regulate attendance to their classes as if it’s some sort of exclusive night club. When I used to live and practice in L.A., I remember seeing some Level 3-4 classes that you could attend only by invitation. On several occasions, I was invited to attend these classes, but I always declined because I found the whole notion of an “invite only” class to be absurd. If a class is really too difficult for some students, let them come and find out for themselves. There’s really no need to put up a velvet rope around the class and place a bouncer outside. But that’s what it feels like when a teacher requires students to get permission in order to attend his or her class.
What I’m getting at, ultimately, is that “permission required” classes smack of yoga elitism. Whether or not this is the intended message, “permission required” suggests that the teacher thinks her class is so hard, so uniquely challenging and special, that no schmo walking in off the street can handle it.
Unfortunately, in the case of this Chicago studio, I won’t be able to find out whether this celebrity yoga teacher’s classes really are the bee’s knees, because my intro pass is only for three classes, but I’d need to do five Level 1-2 classes to get permission to practice with her. Maybe the owner’s classes are amazing, and maybe I would have become a monthly unlimited customer had I had the chance to find out. But since I am not allowed to make a decision for myself about what classes I can and should take at this studio, I’ll probably stick to practicing at studios where the students get to choose their teachers, and not the other way around.