Too often in the recent months I have walked into a yoga class and immediately feel like I didn’t study for the pop quiz. Totally unprepared for what I never was aware would be happening. I know that I am not the only person that has noticed the business behind yoga, the drive to get asses in the door, instruct some made up sequence designed by someone who doesn’t practice, sell high priced juice, towel rentals, shower caps, bottled water, and more, more, more. The funny part is that rarely does anyone say, “Welcome! or ‘I hope you find yourself on the mat today.’” I started my yoga practice after a dance injury, and didn’t really find my own practice for another 4 years. Let me explain, I took regular classes every week, and did exactly what the teacher told me to do every class, until one day my teacher said, just find yourself. What!? What did she mean, “find myself!?” I wasn’t lost. I rolled my mat out and began doing every pose she instructed for the next 30 minutes. What the hell was she talking about? As I was literally having a nervous breakdown on my own mat, she started talking, moving, flowing, singing, dancing, and was completely ignoring us. I watched her for a few minutes until I decided to try it. I closed my eyes, and just started moving. Before I knew it I was dancing again, rolling all over the place, sliding, flipping and eventually crying. My teacher walked over to me, and said “Isn’t it nice to meet yourself?” Holy crap, she was right! For the first time after months on the mat, I had finally checked in with the person inside me. That class not only changed my life, but it changed my practice forever! I didn’t start my teaching journey for another 4 years, but that class follows me with every class I teach. I never ask students to copy me, do as I say, or mimic something I envision. I was meant to lead students on a journey of self expression. How can I tell anyone what their bodies should be doing? I didn’t create the ancient practice of yoga, so who would I be to tell people to do something that they can’t or just don’t want to do? Recently, however, more and more teachers are doing exactly that… telling students to follow everything they say. Too many classes throw you in front of a mirror and want you to stare at yourself while you try to look pretty in your $90 pants and get deeper into a pose than the chick next to you. Yoga shouldn’t be a circus and it definitely shouldn’t be a game of Simon Says. So if you don’t want to find yourself in that game of Simon Says and want to stay in the room to do your own practice, here are some helpful tips to get you through the class.
1. Research the class first – It is very important for any student to check out the class first. Read the description, call the studio and ask questions, maybe even find out who’s teaching and check out their Youtube or social media pages to see if what they do is what you’ll like. It’s your right as a student to find a teacher that shares your same preferences.
2. Close your eyes – Most teachers take that as a sign of you needing your space. If they are good teachers they will allow you to find your way through the flow. It is also a time where you can just stop and restart your practice with your third eye leading you instead of someone else’s.
3. Find Child Pose (Balasana) – All yoga teachers know Child Pose is a restful or comfort asana, and seeing a student take this asana during instructed flow indicates the student is really listening to their bodies.
4. Modify – There are modifications for every asana for the advanced to beginners. If something isn’t feeling right then don’t do it. Really listen to what your body is telling you in a pose. Some asanas are supposed to take you to your threshold, but you should never feel like jumping off the cliff would be a better idea.
5. Listen to your body – Seriously, I can’t say it enough. Listen to your own bodies! I swear that’s my tag line in class. I tell my students all the time that I give suggestions and your body gives the directions. It is very important that we all check in to what is happening on the inside, and let that lead your outside (physical) body in the right direction. Maybe a Twisted Dancer pose ain’t happening today because you slept on your neck wrong; don’t do it! Find something else that will make your heart dance, maybe an actual dance move. Whatever your soul speaks to at that moment, find it.
6. Just do you – If you find yourself in a class and it’s just not the right fit, just do you! Whatever that is, do it! You paid for the class, it’s your practice, and if you can safely lead yourself thru a flow then do it. If the teacher has an issue with it, it’s their ego that needs to be checked, and express your love for the practice after class by telling the teacher, thank you for allowing me a bit of freedom during your class.
Love + Light