The teacher’s dilemma

Since I passed my Introductory level assessment, I have been subbing quite a few classes since most teachers at the studio are or have been on holidays. This is ideal for me as I am planning to move to New York by December, so I don’t want to get a regular class when I will leave in a couple of months.

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Even though I genuinely enjoy teaching at the studio, I oftentimes find subbing an ungrateful job. Some people are clearly surprised to find you instead of their usual teacher, and many are reluctant to even give you a chance at teaching them something. Because my style is different from their regular teacher (as is everyone’s teaching style at the studio, which could be surprising considering we all teach Iyengar yoga, sometimes thought to be so strict and codified!), the students become impermeable to any learning experience. And sometimes they make their discontentment very visible.

This is usually when my true yoga experience starts; when I have to let go of wanting all of the students to like the class (and by extent, me!). It’s hard work for me. It’s hard work to enforce my own instructions, I find it awfully difficult to know whether a student is not doing what I’m asking them to because they know their body better than I do, because they think they know better than I do, because they don’t see the point, or because they don’t even want to try. And the bigger the class is, the more difficult it gets to tend to everyone.

I usually try to adapt my style of teaching to the teacher’s of the class I’m subbing. Oftentimes it works quite well, and it enables me to explore different styles (even though I’ve been teaching for two years, I still feel very much like a rookie teacher). But in a large group, I often have to let go of all my plans for the class because said plan and students clearly don’t fit together. Some students are then disappointed that the class isn’t challenging enough. For now, I’d rather play safe than sorry, but I’d definitely like to get better at giving different options for different levels. That said, as a student I often learn a lot from “beginner level” classes, and I wish “advanced” students would pay more attention to the explanations rather than start doing whatever I’m demonstrating immediately.

I definitely need to learn to care less about what students think and be a bit more authoritative. I have to say I now understand way better why Iyengar teachers are seen as strict by other styles. It’s not that I want to be strict, but I am trying to teach something here, and if the students don’t listen, best case scenario they will miss on understanding the teaching point, but worst case scenario they might hurt themselves and I will be responsible.

That said. I’ve been told by my teacher I often look like I’m really angry when I’m practicing in a class setting. And it really is my “what-is-the-teacher-talking-about-I-don’t-get-it” face. Nothing to do with me being annoyed with the teacher. So I need not only to be more authoritative and enforce my teaching, but also be less self-centered and take everything personally. So subbing might be frustrating at times, but it’s definitely bringing its blessings in the form of personal growth as a teacher*.

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Anyhow, if there are teachers from the US and/or more specifically NYC, I’m wondering what the best course is to start teaching once I am there. I will likely be on a scientist visa (probably J-1) so I am not even sure I would be able to teach for-profit, but I guess donation-based / non-profit classes are ok. Currently wondering if the US Iyengar yoga association helps moving teachers? Any tips welcome.

* During YTT, my own teacher once talked about how she wanted us to become yoga teachers, not instructors. She said that instructing someone to turn their feet and arms in different directions was easy, but that was only instructing. The teaching starts after, once you get students to go inwards.

 

 

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The pressure to be so French

I’m gonna keep on writing a bit on the differences between France and other countries. But this time, it’s not about veganism. It’s about the pressure to look good. I had already touched upon these topics here and there.

The more I live abroad, the more I can see clearly what makes France so typically French, and why it’s often seen as such an attractive country. French culture is very strong. It’s such a diverse country geographically speaking, yet somewhat culturally homogeneous for the size. Food is important, art is important, fashion, love, freedom are important, in ways often pervasive through society and difficult to recognize while you’re part of it. For example, I had never understood why Paris was seen as the city of love until I went abroad and noticed that Public Demonstrations of Affection (or PDAs, which at the time I didn’t even know there was a word for!) such as couples holding hands or kissing on the street, which were typical for me, were weird or even frown upon in other countries. Oh cultural norms! The main critic I will always bear towards Frenchies is their pride, for except perhaps Americans and Italians, I have never met people so proud of their countries. Now, there are many reasons to be proud of France, and I am proud of my country, but I often think it crosses borders when it becomes such a strong part of your identity that you can’t talk about anything else.

Anyways as usual I am diverging. I was going to talk about body image, specifically concerning women. I recently talked to a couple of people about what you’re expected to look like as a woman in France compared to other european countries. If you’re at least a tiny bit into fashion, you might have heard of the term “effortless chic”. Well, as a French woman, the ideal is for you to be “effortlessly thin”.

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Exemple case number 1 : Charlotte Gainsbourg, effortlessly chic and thin

This involves two parts: first, that you should eat everything. If you’re going to the restaurant, you should eat bread with butter while waiting for your starter, have a three course meal with wine, and coffee with sugar to finish. Secondly, you should not do sports, except maybe dance or gymnastics. You wouldn’t want to be muscular (= unfeminine)!

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Exemple case number 2 : Audrey Tautou

So, you ask, how does this work? You should be slim or better thin, eat everything and not do sports? It sounds impossible! And you’re right, it pretty much is. I’m sure you’ve heard before of CICO (Calories In, Calories Out): if your calorific expenditure is lower than your calorific intake, you will put on weight. If it’s the reverse, you will lose weight, and if they’re equal, you will stay put. You’ve probably also heard that muscle mass burns more calories than fat tissues, so an even weight of muscle vs fat will not burn the same amount of calories. This means that if you’re the same weight but have a different percentage of muscle you will not burn the same amount of calories at rest. And of course, the best way to build muscle is to use them, a.k.a. do sports. So these “effortlessly thin” simply doesn’t work.

Why, you ask, is it that most French women still look so lean?

First, this is rapidly changing. France, like other developped countries, has an increasing number of overweight and obese people, as obesity levels doubled between 1995 and 2004. So it’s pretty much a myth that French women don’t get fat. But let’s dig in a bit more, the French women who do, how do they do it? I’m not going to talk about eating disorders (even though France ranked second amongst european countries for rates of anorexia in 2012), but about things I’ve seen many of my friends do through the years. Some are positive life choices, others not so much. I’m not advocating you do what they do, just telling you how they do it. Here we go:

  1. They walk. Walking is not considered as exercice, and cities are easily walkable. Furthermore, the Sunday post-meal walk is somewhat of a tradition, as it is seen as very healthy to walk in nature, whether it is a park, the seaside, or a mountain.
  2. They take time to eat. When I was studying, we were always complaining that the one-hour lunch breaks were too short because we didn’t really have time to eat properly (we had around 30 minutes sat-down time once you count going to the university restaurant and queuing for the food).
  3. They skip meals. If you’re gonna induldge during your meals, skipping one efficiently cuts down the amount of calories you’re eating in a day.
  4. To help with not feeling hungry because of point 3, they smoke and/or drink a lot of water. Both help cutting through the feeling of hunger. Interesting article on France and smoking.

Overall, many French women are unhappy with their weight and their looks. When I was living in France, I was one of them. I would never be caught out of my appartment without make up or unfashionable clothes. It tooks a few years of living in the Netherlands (where what you should look like is very different, but that’s for another post) and yoga practice until I found myself happy with my looks, and I often stop and reflect at how happy I am with my body. It might sound conceited, but for me, after years of struggling with body image, it’s simply noticing how much brain space has been freed from not thinking about what I look like, how I could look better, and what people on the street think of me.

Not me, but one of the things I enjoy the most is cycling with bare legs. Especially the first time after winter, when the wind still feels quite cold ❤

Being a gluten-free vegan in France

I’m back home to my parents’ for 20 days. I usually never stay home that long anymore, but since I’m about to move to the other side of the ocean, and I won’t be there for Christmas for the first time ever, I decided to spend some quality time with my parents. I was also hoping to go swimming at the beach, but so far the weather hasn’t been very compliant…

Veganism in France is still pretty much seen as a thing crazy malnourished hippies do. The culture is so centered around food, and the food so centered around animal products, that being vegan pretty much prevents you from going out to the restaurant, unless you are in Paris. Since I also can’t have bread, it gets very difficult to eat out. I often joke that my French citizenship was revoked the day I got diagnosed with a dairy and gluten allergy : “Quoi, tu ne peux pas manger de pain-beurre-fromage?!“.

That said, I was happily suprised to see many more vegetarian options both in restaurants and supermarkets, and I was even floored to find FIVE different types of vegan spreading cheezes at the supermarket in my small hometown’s supermarket. I wasn’t convinced at first, but the one I tried was actually really good.

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Interestingly, I thought this cheeze tasted a lot like… saucisson. Guessing because of the garlic and pepper combo. Note the pun “tartine et moi” (bread slice and me) “tartinez-moi” (spread me). Puns are a national sport in France. 

That said, I cook most of my meals from scratch at home. I’ve noticed that my parents are getting a bit more curious about what I eat, I guess since they realize it’s not a phase and they know how much I love to cook and eat. However they stay so very French in that trying non-French cuisine at a restaurant is impossible. I made this mistake recently when they were visiting me and I brought them to a non-vegan restaurant which I thought could catter both to their taste and mine. Having them choose something on the menu wasn’t easy… they ended up eating the first hamburger of their lives (yes, a classical one with meat). I guess this was a good reminder that people around the world eat very differently, but this is also quite comical when you know my dad travelled all through the middle-east in the seventies and had to eat snake and lamb’s eyes.

 

In any case, I feel that times are changing and veganism is becoming more mainstream in France too. Hopefully the health and environmental messages are reaching more “omnis” who are reducing their animal product intake. I do think that my parents have reduced their intake, but in any case I can see that my brothers and friends are definitely more open-minded about not eating animal products, and even regularly choose the vegetarian option – with no intention however to stop eating meat, at least for now. When I see how far I’ve come and how the environment in France is changing, I am hopeful for the future of veganism. Cause if veganism gains the strength to become somewhat mainstream in France, if vegan options are available in supermarkets and restaurants like in the US, there will be no excuse not to at least try to be vegan.

 

 

 

2 years!

I can’t believe it’s already been two years since the experiment. I don’t think when I started, I ever imagined it would turn out into a permanent thing. Now I can’t imagine going back to eating meat!

So, what changed during the past two years?

I read. A lot. I informed myself about the different reasons to be vegan, and I realized that I was lying to myself. Even though I care a lot about the environment (see below), I am an ethical vegan. I recently came to this conclusion, partly after watching many of Unnatural Vegan videos, but also reflecting on my feelings towards animals (even though there is evidence that it can be healthy and in some cases environmentally neutral to incorporate some animal products into one’s diet, I would not do it) and reading this interesting piece on vegetarianism and the yoga sutras of Patanjali (please let me know if you cannot access the article).

People started to ask me questions about veganism, and I am slowly openning up to the idea of being an “activist”. At least with friends, I am ok explaining why I am vegan, and also not having all the answers. Planting a seed and sometimes admitting I’m not perfect has its role in promoting veganism, if only for making it more accessible and not-all-vegans-are-assholes. #leadbyexample? Interestingly, I’m the only vegan I know. And I used to think vegans were crazy, so I can relate to non-vegans. Arguing is getting easier as I get more informed, and I have to give a shoutout to r/vegan for its very well maintained wiki. I once too thought that animals were mistreated only in the US, that no harm was done to dairy cows and free-range chickens. And back in 2011 when I watched Earthlings (don’t you love that it’s classified as horror/documentary?!) for the first time, I got easily convinced to eat animals again “because you can’t survive without animals products”. Worst is, I totally believed it. But I know better now,  and I also know to do my research on pretty much any claim before taking a decision.

Which leads me to: making better decisions as a consumer. To reduce the harm I create, both to animals and to the environment. What am I doing about that?

I started looking into the zero waste movement. I replaced my plastic toothbrush with a bamboo humblebrush. I was already using a menstrual cup, but I’m trying to switch most of my other beauty products to plastic-free ones (think soap bars and homemade deodorant – I used to use coconut oil only, but it’s not strong enough for me). I’m planning to buy a safety razor when I’m done using the plastic ones I have. I stopped using plastic bags or plastic-wrapped fruits and veggies, am planning to start bulk-shopping, and near-stopped buying organic products once I realized that:

1) they’re not pesticide-free

2) they’re not vegan

3) they’re often not better for the environment

4) organic produce is almost always wrapped in plastic!

Ideally, I would grow my own veggies in my garden, but yeah, this is not gonna happen before a while. Even though I moved to a place which has a small garden with a compost bin, and I’m very happy to finally be able to compost most of my waste since I eat mainly whole foods!

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Illustration by Maddie Bright

Generally I’m trying to be more conscious of anything I’m buying and limit what I do buy. Do I really need it? Can I buy it second-hand? What about fairtrade / slave-free / etc? (I got a Fairphone 2). Food-wise, I sometimes have to make “hard” choices. I’m already very limited between allergies and veganism, so sometimes I will by a gluten-free vegan good that contains palm oil. Because my mental health is also important 😉

Alright I think that’s all for now, if you have advice and/or questions please leave them in the comments below, I’d be happy to hear what you do to limit your impact on this planet 🙂