How one instructors words made me feel & the letter I wrote to the studio owner

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Words really do matter....Discover how an experience in a yoga class made me feel so bad about myself that I wrote a letter to the studio owner.
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“Stop Running….Start Doing Yoga”

The year was 2014, and I was dealing with a host of medical conditions, including undiagnosed migraines, depression, anxiety, and a HORRIBLE case of overtraining syndrome. A doctor had suggested I pause all high intensity activities for a 2-month period of time to see if my health would improve. Very reluctantly I agreed to try. I decided it was time to get back into yoga (I had been a regular practitioner in college and the few years following graduation, and was a BODYFLOW instructor at the time) and started to hunt for studios in my area that could help bring me some calm while keeping me moving.

The hunt was difficult, as I first landed at an Ashtanga studio and faced what I now realize to be a case of ‘improper touch’ in the yoga space (I had a male instructor perform a technique adjustment by coming behind me in a seated position and straddling my body while wrapping his arms around me to ‘deepen the stretch’); needless to say I didn’t return to that studio.

I tried classes at gyms, but they never brought me the sense of inner peace because I was too distracted by all that was going on in the gym settting.

How a Few Words can Dehumanize a Person

Then one day, a friend and I went to a small local studio that prided itself in being accessable and open to everyone. I was excited to jump into a small class and get my body moving. We arrived early, got ourselves set up (with about 200 pieces of equipment the instructor wanted us to have), and settled in at the back of the room. The instructor arrived and asked us about injuries and our experience. We provided that information; however since at that time I had alrady had 2 knee surgeries, a major ankle reconstruction, and was dealing with all the other health injuries, she immediatly labeled me as ‘broken’ and discouraged me from participating in class. I reassured her that I would be fine, and knew how to modify and move in ways that were right for my body.

Well that didn’t sit well, and what occured over the next 75-minutes was one of the most humiliating and dehumanizing experiences of my life. She made me feel little, bad, incapable, and incompetent. I left with the exact oposite feelings than what I had intended to get out of the class. My (undiagnosed) anxiety set in and I spent days spinning and spiraling out of control becuase of the words she said.

Finally, after almost a week of just feeling horrible, my friend suggested I send an email to the owner of the studio and express how the experience had made me feel. To help showcase the exact emotions and feelings I was having in that time, below is that exact email (names and class specifics removed). I don’t post this to call any specific facility or instructor out, but to help you consider how your words might impact for someone years later (it’s been 7-years and it still sticks with me).

ORINGIAL EMAIL | SENT IN 2014

Hello,
I attended my first class at your studio recently.  I’d heard great things about your studio from coworkers, and was excited to try out a class. As a fitness professional, I always appreciate feedback, and felt compelled to send you this note to show how a poor experience in a class has caused me to have feelings of self-doubt and confusion.

First, I would like to say that the women who greeted me and begun my time at the studio was excellent.  She was very friendly, provided me with a great amount of information, and overall set a good tone for the studio.  However, my great time ended there….

I unfortunately was very discouraged by instructor’s lack of professionalism and the overall way she treated participants during class.  I personally have a lot of injuries, however, as a very active individual (and professional), I have a good understanding of how to modify and adjust based on my needs and injuries.  I however, was made to feel very inadequate and was told not to do the majority of the moves throughout the class due to my injuries (although with just slight modifications, I can successfully participate in anything).  At one point she even made a comment that she was not paying attention the rest of class because she had “2 sick students who needed her attention”.  At that moment I was beyond embarrassed and wanted to walk out.  She continued to make me feel small, weak, and belittle my body and my experience throughout class.  Her tone and many of the comments / remarks that she made towards me and other participants throughout class was also very harsh.  I am a believer in making participants feel successful and helping them to feel good about themselves during class.  This was not the feeling I had after this class at all.

If this had been my first experience in a yoga class, I likely would have been completely turned off to the practice and vowed never to return.  As a fitness professional, and former manager, if I had an employee who spoke to their participants in the ways she spoke to us, I would have been very uncomfortable keeping them on the staff. 

I am not a person who likes to complain, or even speak bad about others.  However, considering how horrible this experience was for me, I felt it necessary to send a note and let you know that this experience has made me feel.

Thank you for taking the time to read my comments, and I wish you the best. 

In Health,
Summer Sides

While I wish I could say that sending the email and communicating with the studio owner made me feel better (the owner was amazing and very kind in her response to me), it didn’t. I avoided going to any more yoga classes for months and quickly spiraled more downhill mentally and physically than where I was prior.

Eventually I did find my way back into yoga. I found an instructor who inspired and encouraged me to ‘be me’ in the classes. She had powerful music playlists, inspiring motivational cues, and classes that took me on a physical and emotional rollercoaster from start to finish. I found myself crying in her class and finally was able to release some of the emotional challenges that I had buried for years. Her classes brought me back to yoga and I couldn’t be happier with how that has evolved over the past 6 years in my personal and professional life.

It’s now 2021…

Now, in 2021 I look back on that class experience as a learning opportunity. I recognize that while that original instructor communicated poorly with me, I was also in a really dark spot in my life and know that maybe my brain took her comments to the extremes.

However, that doesn’t excuse her behaviors and makes me truly realize how important it is to be kind and caring to everyone who enters my class. I have little to no knowledge about their personal stories, I don’t know what mental and physical challenges they may be going through, and it’s not my place to judge or critique someone for doing something different than me.

My parents taught me the golden rule of “treat others the way you want to be treated” at a young age, and I believe these words speak in all aspects of life. I want fitness instructors, yoga teachers, coaches, and teachers to treat me like I’m a human living in this 21st century world and dealing with internal and external struggles daily. Some days I’m in control and feel great, and other days I just feel like my head is going in 10,000 directions and I don’t even know where to begin…but isn’t that life?!

I encourage you, whether your a fit pro or a fitness enthusiast, spread love, joy, and kindness wherever you go.

Have you had experiences in yoga or fitness that have turned you off from moving your body or participating in certain activities? Sometimes sharing your story is the best way to help you move through the situation. I am happy to be that listening ear for you, feel free to DM me on Instagram or email me and let’s help you discover the pure joy that is movement.

It would be my honor to have you join me on your mindful movement journey over on GXunited.TV or in our “Yoga for the Modern Human” program.

Happy Moving,
Summer

Summer N. Sides, M.S.

Summer N. Sides, M.S.

Summer N. Sides (MS, RYT-200, CSCS) is the Founder of GXunited, an educational resource hub dedicated to group fitness and the owner of Greensboro Downtown Yoga. For almost 20 years, she’s helped participants ‘stand taller, move easier, and perform better’ through science backed mindful movement experiences. She’s worked with companies such as NETA, Les Mills, IGNITE360 (a division of IMG Performance), and ACE as a national presenter, assessor, curriculum/program developer, and freelance writer. As a former Lecturer of Exercise Science, she aims to elevate the next generation of fitness professionals through fun and creative educational experiences.

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