David Regelin’s Response to New York Magazine Article

We had originally posted this article yesterday.  But it turns out that David feels he was misquoted and his interview largely misused.  Though Kim and I feel the same way about the current state of yoga and how this article presented it, David’s true intentions and words deserve space.  What follows is his response and our original posting after that:

When I read the headline of the New York Magazine article about me: “You call that a tree pose?!” my heart sank. I immediately sensed that I had been used to promote the growing popular and reactionary trend of yoga skepticism. …I actually couldn’t read it all at once, I had to lie down for a bit before finishing as I found it nauseating. The very tone of it is sensationalist and off putting. Practically every quotation has been skewed and taken out of context making it seem as though I am a harsh and bitter teacher who admonishes and scares students as a teaching tool. By the end of the article I was devastated. I honestly found it to be a thoughtless, lazy, and provocatively tasteless ploy to sell magazines. Dear reader, please, if you took the time to read the article, please do the same with this response and allow me to clarify and defend myself before you allow this false characterization of me to harden in your mind. For those of you who shared the article on Facebook please share this as well. I would like to address some of what was printed and described in what I feel was a skewed and unfair manner, as well as elaborate and give a positive context to what I actually offer as a Yoga teacher. The article begins: “David Regelin draws his dark eyebrows together into an expression of concentrated disdain”. Oh lord. While I do have thick dark eyebrows, and I certainly concentrate while I am teaching, I am not disdainful of my students, especially with the eight faithful students who showed up to my class on that rainy night over the recent holiday vacation period. “The eight students before him are obediently bent over in ankle to thigh (…I think she meant ankle to knee) …like a flock of Lululemon clad flamingos (!?), but the instructor does not like what he sees”. Altering the position of someone’s yoga posture does not mean that I don’t “like” what I see, It is a formal adjustment and it is not accompanied by a like or dislike, a correction is not a value judgment. It is purely objective. That I would say “A lot of you think you are good at yoga…but you shouldn’t be coming to class to perform” during an “ankle-to-knee” moment is an incomplete and misleading quotation, and this particular seated pose is very difficult to show off with. In reality while I teach I make my way around the room to help and adjust as many people as I can, I get blocks/blankets etc. for those in need, while describing the geometry, natural form, and function of the given pose. The “red faced middle aged man” that I am supposedly telling “not to perform” is a dear student whom I know well, and that guy is definitely not coming to class to perform for anyone, he gets red sometimes because he works too hard, and he is in class because I give him personal attention whenever he shows up. And I do not admonish him or anyone else who shows up to my class. I do however speak in a very direct and matter of fact way, and I don’t think many people are used to that. I do now and again crack a joke typically with a dry tone and say things like “you shouldn’t be coming to class to get muscles like mine” which is usually followed up with the zinger “because that would be impossible”. I tell that joke every other class and It’s one of those jokes that’s funny because it’s too arrogant to be taken seriously. It is an attempt to offset the intrinsic confrontational moments in the practice. The “confrontation” I speak of, by the way, is between the student and themselves, not them and I. If I say something to the effect of, “If you want to show off all your best moves then this class is not for you”, it is followed by, “because in this class you have the opportunity to work on that which you can not yet do”. I now place the emphasis of my teaching on technique and form because my goal as a teacher is to give people the tools to develop their own skillful personal practice, as in: “give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”. And I do think it is all too commonplace and easy for Vinyasa teachers to offer a fleeting workout experience with a fun music playlist. Students don’t know what they don’t know. I want my students to become skillful: skill defined not only as physical ability, but the mental capacity to make distinctions. When I taught the “Multi-Intenso” class years ago it was a reflection of the diverse practices I had going on at that time: Kundalini Kriyas (sets of Hatha postures typically held for long durations, or with many repetitions, along with intense breath practices, and sometimes chanting), martial art’s, and gymnastic like handstands. There are many teachers and students in NY who nailed the handstand and it’s variations in my class back then, and I don’t mind boasting that fact. I played Indie rock and hip hop, almost always the more subtle kind with few or no lyrics. The music was a tool to keep a metronomic pace, entertain people, and even sometimes purposefully distract students during the discomfort of a hip opener such as “ankle to thigh ;)” and I never, by the way, said “I hate that!” about teachers doing similar, I did, however, say it is a ploy to captivate and entertain students. And I admit that I myself used it as one for years. For the record, music during class is a tool which can be used effectively or not. Most often it is not. I make loops of songs at home to play in class designed specifically for the purposes of the class structure. What I was doing back then worked, in the sense that people came in droves, and I had fun with it. I only taught at one studio, Kula, and I never traveled anywhere or was part of any jet-set. I do travel often now, mostly offering the Vesica Practice, and I use music sparingly as a tool for rhythmic breathing and pacing postural sequences. Handstand classes with music and long flowing sequences are par for the coarse now, and there is nothing wrong with them necessarily. I have simply moved on. It worked for me then, I was younger and I had a mere 200 hours of training, and hadn’t yet developed my teaching skills. I think it’s fine for young teachers to do that, those classes can be really fun. I do think that nowadays its difficult to find a teacher who is brave enough to come out from behind the overpowering music and actually get in the way of fun and teach them something. Yoga is in it’s disco era, and it is a little depressing when you are trying to teach to people who just want to boogie down. I am, to anyone who knows me personally, an introspective person, with a deep yearning for spiritual insight, and was this was long before I discovered Yoga. I’ve always felt spiritually inclined, however, the student base I was attracting with the Multi-Intenso brand was primarily fitness oriented, and while it is not necessarily “non-spiritual” to strive to be fit, I was disappointed because my message was buried under the intensity of the class format. I was also consistently injured from my own overzealous and uninformed practice habits, and I didn’t want to pass that on to my students. Any teacher who gets injured from their practice and does not reevaluate how they teach lacks integrity. Plain and simple. And people who say that if you practice with the right intention you will not get hurt are ignorant. Don’t get in a car with them at the wheel. Nobody intends to crash, you have to watch where you are headed, adjust your mirrors, and maintain your vehicle. When I found Nevine I was like a wounded soldier of Yoga. I pushed myself and injured myself so consistently that I had begun to wonder if yoga was actually beneficial and transformational, or if it was just an awesome sport. When I began to apply Nevine’s method of centering to my own practice all of that changed. I couldn’t keep it to myself, I couldn’t go on teaching as I had before, I am so much more capable now than I ever was and I used to work so much harder at it. Good form functions. I changed the name of my class as an attempt to appeal to those who were searching for something mystical, revelatory, and profound within their Yoga experience. I was showing up to teach, turning down (not off) the music, and asking people to examine the pattern and relationship between the content of their consciousness and that of their own posture, instead of concerning themselves with what the people around them were doing. Many of my Kula students from a certain era were primarily conditioned to work hard and sweat. As my teaching method evolved I had to introduce a new set of terms to my students because I was not offering the same concepts as most popular alignment methods. “Alignment implies measure” -Nobody understood or seemed to care. Finding ones center is not just a sentiment, It is an actual process which at first reveals how off-center one actually is to begin with. Being centered often feels strange because we are all conditioned to practicing/living with our own particular disposition and a new perspective can be revealing and unsettling. The quotation – “yoga is not about performing”, is always qualified by the following statement, – “it is about informing” -a classic Nevine statement. The bodies language speaks of none other than our own thoughts, feelings, and overall state of being. In that way the dialog of Yoga can be informative and transformational. The geometry that I describe is an impersonal and objective way of revealing very personal aspects of ourselves that we might otherwise overlook or avoid without a means of interpreting and linking the relationship between inner and outer form. As a result of these changes I lost many of my old students. Others praised my evolution and brought their friends to my class who had been scared off by the name or idea of “multi-Intenso”. The dialog between myself and students after class went from “can I have your playlist” to “can you show me that adjustment again?”. I have definitely taught classes where in hindsight my vibe was too serious, or where I perhaps addressed one individual to the point where they might have felt picked on. I am still evolving and developing my tact. I also encourage and praise people directly and as a group when they apply themselves or have a breakthrough in their practice, but I am not in the business of handing out gold stars. I want to be clear that I do not use fear tactics or intimidation to motivate or scare anyone into doing as I say, as the article implies, nor do I have a problem with being a teacher and holding the space, or speaking directly with someone. I do not teach yoga postures for the sake of developing a flashy practice, or as part of a dogmatic tradition, or stylistic allegiance. I teach form and pattern, so that people can develop a functional practice that enables good posture, perspective, insight and well being. I’m still working on it. 9 years of teaching is nothing in the grand scheme of things. The article isn’t all bad, and I don’t mind the photos, but it does paint a harsh picture of me as a teacher and individual. I know the author just wants to get people to read her work, and to sell the magazine she is paid to write for. I also know from speaking with her that she has a limited knowledge of yoga and she did not make any effort to speak with my long time students, or explain in any substantial way the method which I took the time to explain to her, my carefully planned sequences, my honest intentions to inform people even if it means that they might not see the value of it for years to come, or the intentional silliness and of my jokes. I’ve just gotten back from a vacation, and I honestly felt a little jittery as I logged on to Facebook to read posts concerning the article. They are of course mixed. The article does not make me seem like a nice guy, and I am a nice guy, but when I teach, I teach. For the record Kula is a wonderful studio and I still promote Schuyler Grant and her teachers. I did have discussions that turned into arguments with some teachers. I am critical of yoga trends because I am invested in the practice, and it is not just a pastime for me. I do not in any way associate my observations or base them on what was printed in the NY times article recently, I won’t even get into how poorly researched and misconstrued that one was. Practice Yoga. Do not underestimate it’s potential for good and harm. Teachers keep upping your skill. -“The revolution will not be televised, the revolution will take place in your mind when you turn around and take a look at what you have not been shown”. -Gil Scott Heron

And the battle in redefining “yoga” continues with another article in the New York Times featuring star yoga teacher David Regelin.  This time David explains how he has turned away the bright lime-light of rockstar level yoga teacher success, because of a change in his idealogoy:

I started looking at my students and I was like, I’m not helping these people. I saw how their practices were evolving and I thought, I don’t want to be a part of this anymore.    

We can’t help, but identify so much with David’s experience of becoming tired of over-crowded yoga classes with students who are more intent on burning a certain amount of calories or achieving the look of a pose than being interested in what is actually going in with their bodies.

What follows are a few of our favorite sections from the piece.  Thanks to David for coming forward with opinions that are often seen as counter-culture to the yoga scene in which we work.

“You’ve worked hard, and you can get into cool-looking postures. But you shouldn’t be coming to yoga class to perform…”

It felt like functionality and the practicality of yoga was being diminished.” His problem wasn’t Kula, not exactly. It was the overall popularization of the Ashtanga Vinyasa, or “flow,” style of yoga, in which students execute a set of postures—downward dog, plank, upward dog—in rapid succession, often, according to Regelin, incorrectly. “You look around, you see people fumbling, they’re not getting the postures,” he says. “And the classes are so big the teachers aren’t able to help them do them properly.” Or they don’t bother to. “The other day I walked by a woman’s class and she was telling her class”—the voice again—“ ‘Now do your biggest, best wheel ever!’—I mean,” he says, “that’s not an instruction.”

“If you’re doing squats with one knee the wrong way,” he says, demonstrating in his chair, “you’re going to be walking upstairs one day and that knee’s going to blow out. And usually the people who do the flow classes for a long time break themselves.”

According to Michaan’s theory, people are like fold-up tables. If something happens to one of the limbs, the whole thing goes wobbly. Yoga postures can help straighten them out, as long as they’re doing it right. “Learning yoga from Vinyasa is like learning French in a bar,” 

“Yoga is not about enjoying yourself and having a fun experience that you like; it’s about changing yourself,” he says. “And what changes you is usually stuff you don’t like.”

“Most people are completely self-indulgent people who only search for the gratifying thing,” he says. “As soon as somebody points out something they’re not able to do, they get defensive.”

…Kim has studied with Nevine for many years, so we are particularly thrilled to see her quoted in the article.  Nevine’s teachings and ability to “read” bodies has influenced Kim’s teaching and, as with many of our teachers, informed our style of SMARTer Yoga™.  We tire of seeing classes so crowded that teachers can only shout out sequences, often damaging ones.  Many studios are happy to employ teachers that are not experienced enough to inform, only to instruct.  What we hope to deliver are classes that create an exploratory experience, in which students can learn about their bodies and how to best manage them.  David’s words resonate with our own sentiments about the current state of most studio and gym classes, “This is where yoga is right now. It’s depressing to me.”