I’m finally resting my head on my pillow after a long day in the city. It was a great day, don’t get me wrong, but it was also long.
I went to the city to teach a community class at the studio I graduated from. I wasn’t very nervous; in fact, I was calm and I felt prepared, unlike how I felt when I auditioned to sub at a studio local to me. Because I was auditioning at that time, I was so nervous about how the studio owners were going to like my class. I had also not taught people aside from my mom in a month.
Well, that audition went well and I’m now on their sub list. My community class in the city went well too, but something happened that inspired me to write this post.
The community class I led consisted of five people, one of them being my darling girlfriend. All of the students were engaged and connecting their breath to their movements, which was awesome. I made adjustments, offered props, and I provided a ton of verbal support. Everyone seemed to enjoy the class, especially because they were all smiling at the end and thanked me several times. Well, everyone except for one student who had spent a majority of the class disregarding my instruction.
First of all, one does not have to do every single thing a teacher says to do. If you are tired, you are welcome to rest. If something hurts, which it shouldn’t, but if it does, you can get out of a pose. You don’t have to do the hardest version of a pose either, you can do modifications that are offered.
I feel like these are the general guidelines for how students act in a class. One student in my community class, as I said before, did not behave in this manner.
I offered her a prop to more safely do a pose, but she quickly moved it away from her the second I took a step back. I then said that there is nothing wrong with probs, I use them all of the time. I should have added that the props are there to support you and to allow you to come into the true form of pose that is right for your body. Even if I did say that though, I don’t know if it would have made a difference. She hardly touched the props.
For the inversion, I instructed everyone to put their legs up the wall and to release their hands by their sides. She had her arms crossed the entire time, which to me is an uptight gesture.
During the entire class, she added some of her own poses that made things a little more challenging. Some of them were minor while others were a little more noticeable, such as doing dancer when that was not part of the class. Her decision to add her own poses was most notable during the final stretches and savasana though. She did her own stretches, completely disregarding my instruction, and she never took savasana. At one point I thought she was going to do an inversion. The old camp counselor/tennis instructor in me walked up to her and advised her not to go upside down. She claimed she was stretching so I moved on and focused on the people who were participating in my class, but it was so unexpected. I felt like I was chastising a kid rather than an adult in her twenties, or possibly even older.
This experience caused me to remember what the “capital-Y Yoga” is really about.
Yoga is not about pushing yourself during every class to go the deepest in a pose. Yoga is also not about being able to do the hardest poses.
I’m a teacher, although a new one, but I’m not flexible nor can I do most advanced poses. I don’t really enjoy inversions and the tendinitis in my elbow from my tennis-playing days makes arm balances really uncomfortable. I don’t do chaturanga because it requires a ton of arm strength I don’t yet have, and it also flares up my tendinitis.
Basically, I’m not the typical example of a yoga teacher because I can’t or I don’t do the “fancy” poses. You won’t see me post a photo of myself doing a deep backbend or an arm balance right now, but I’m okay with that. That mentality is part of the true, “capital-Y Yoga.”
On the first day of my yoga training, one of my instructors said:
Yoga is about getting with what is.
In the case of what my body is capable of, I am content with what my body can do during a yoga practice. I focus on what I can do, rather what I cannot. Besides, I don’t have to be able to do all of the hard poses to be able to teach them. Plus, I am grateful that I’m even able to do the asana yoga practice because I’m able-bodied.
It is worth noting, however, that the asana practice is only the third limb from the bottom of the Eight Limbs of Yoga. In other words, the asana practice is not the most important part of the “capital-Y Yoga.”
Lastly, and maybe most importantly about the practice of Yoga, if you can do all of the hardest asanas but you are a jerk, you are not doing the real Yoga. You’re just doing gymnastics.
The student in my community class, while she was or wasn’t doing the real Yoga is besides the point…what I think is important though is whether I was doing the real Yoga.
I feel like I did practice the real Yoga because I was patient and accepting of her and I ensured that she was safe. I taught her what I knew and I supported her to the best of my abilities. As a new teacher who does not have a rapport with the students because this was the only time I taught them, I believe I did all that I could do.
Plus, I don’t know her situation. As my girlfriend pointed out, maybe she can’t afford more challenging classes, or maybe she doesn’t want to pay for it. Perhaps she has an inability to relax and surrender. It’s possible her yoga practice is the only area of her life where she feels competent, so by me offering props, she felt I was insulting her. On the other hand, maybe she is a perfectionist and believes she is a failure if she uses props.
Basically, there are tons of possibilities as to why someone would focus so much on doing poses how they think they should look as well as not participating in the relaxing and surrendering portion of the class. That is not my business though. If she was a regular, I would definitely spend a little more time with her to get to know her, but that is not the case unfortunately.
This student also reminded me that everyone comes to Yoga from a different place. For me, I was attracted to Yoga as another form of exercise, but one that provides coping mechanisms for anxiety and grief. For others, it may be because their partner is doing it, because it’s trendy, because they want to lose weight, because they want to become more flexible, etc. I don’t know what that student’s reason for doing yoga, but it seemed that she was interested more moving rather than staying still. People come to yoga for all different reasons, but they may fall in love with the philosophy and spirituality of Yoga, as I did.
So…I hope that the student I had eventually finds the “capital-Y Yoga.” I also hope that you learned a little bit of what Yoga is, and perhaps you can take some of this knowledge into your own lives by honoring and getting with what is.