I have owned my own yoga studio in Tampa for over five years, and have been teaching for a little over seven. It seems like almost every day I learn something new about what Yoga is.
Some of my most memorable examples are listed below:
I taught a class with an older gentleman who fell asleep on his mat before class started, and continued to snore loudly throughout the entire session. From this, yoga became a way for me to learn laughter and how to respect another’s personal space and personal situation.
I taught a class with a large body builder who moaned rather sensually in every pose. From this, yoga taught me how to smile inwardly and see the pure joy that people can feel from experiencing yoga in their own way.
I taught a class with a woman who rolled up her mat, gave me a dirty look, and left my studio because I was teaching a class with all partner poses. From this, yoga became a lesson on how to not take things personally and how the age old saying “different strokes for different folks” applied to me and my classes—no matter how much work I put into them.
I taught a class on a day when I was rip-roaring mad, and everyone who attended was in a very foul mood. We decided that the “f” word was going to be the theme of our class, and everyone in the room dropped the word as much as we could throughout the hour. We left laughing hysterically and watched our bad days and bad moods disappear to nothingness. From this, yoga became a way for me (and the others who attended) to choose happiness and learn that even the nastiest of things have a lovely little silver lining.
I taught a class of poses that were each held for several minutes, and during each pose one person would share a personal story that was inspiring or a part of their lives they were proudest of. We learned things about each other that were so profound, so intimate and so beautifully honest that none of us will ever forget that class. From this, I learned that yoga can be freeing, surrendering and so honest that you can laugh and cry all at the same time.
The word yoga incites so many interesting responses from people in America. Some believe it’s a religion. Some think it’s some sort of cult following.
Many have the notion that it’s a bunch of old ladies sitting around stretching and breathing. Most think it will be boring and/or weird, and it’s certainly not for them.
Yoga is whatever you want to make of it.
There are classes across America that offer a myriad of yoga styles. Some classes are quiet, meditative and introspective. Others are sweat-inducing, challenging and fat burning.
Most classes are somewhere in between, offering a little bit from each end of the spectrum. So, before you take a yoga class, decide what you want your experience to be and find a class that suits your needs.
When I first started with yoga, I was drawn to it for two reasons.
First and foremost, I enjoyed the physicality of power yoga and the lean body I had as a result of consistent practice. For the first few years, however, I remember standing on my mat and very often thinking, “You want me to do what?!?!”
I would inwardly laugh at the crazy instructor who was asking me to put my right elbow on the outside of my left knee. But, when I tried it, hey! My elbow would and could actually go there!
But the thing that made me come back to yoga versus any other form of exercise was the mental benefit I received. When I practiced yoga, I didn’t think of anything else but what I was trying to do in each moment of class.
I quickly realized that the complex postures and requirement of me to be there, in the moment, also allowed me to check out of the rest of my life and receive a well-deserved mental break.
There were no to-do lists. There were no worries about babysitters, or what I’m cooking for dinner. There was only me, my mat, and a bunch of poses that seemed to be ever-changing, always challenging, and incredibly fun and laughable.
Those challenges allowed me to forget about the rest of my life for a full hour. They allowed me to return home stronger and healthier, both physically and mentally. So yoga to me, at the beginning of my journey, was my stress reliever, my weight manager, my muscle toner and my sanity keeper.
As I progressed, I decided that I was going to make the leap into instruction and began teaching yoga to some friends in my home.
I quickly learned that teaching was much more difficult than all those calm instructors made it seem. And learning the ropes of how to teach it drastically changed my view of what yoga is. It was, at that time, more of a technical body of work for me to study, embrace, and ingest.
I studied and worked hard to make my classes creative, fun, exciting and unpredictable. But most importantly, I wanted to make the people who attended feel as though they received a part of me with every experience. So yoga during my teacher training time became methodical, anatomical, and a creative outlet. The experience felt to me to be more extroverted, rather than the personal experience I’d previously cherished it to be.
I now teach and practice many styles, from easygoing basic yoga to intensely challenging power yoga.
Yoga to me, as an instructor, is so beautifully different in each and every class I teach or attend.
It is the breath that we all share as we move through the postures. It is the mood that is felt and created by everyone on their mats. It is the grace and beauty in each and every pose from each and every yogi experiencing them.
It is the journey of body awareness, satisfaction and self-exploration that we experience both personally and as a group as we progress through a class. As the people, the mood, the postures and the bodies in the classes change, yoga changes for me as well.
Yoga in America may seem like it is only a form of exercise. I often hear criticism that it has become Westernized and we’ve lost all the spiritual aspects of it. I completely and respectfully disagree.
For me and everyone I meet who approaches their practice with an open mind and a commitment of regular practice, yoga is unbelievably intimate, personal, and soul-filling. It is what keeps us young, makes us laugh, makes us scream, and warms our hearts.
Yoga is most definitely spiritual. And it is definitely more than just a way to lose weight. It is a way to learn more about ourselves, and to experience a way of letting go that permeates every part of our lives.
Americans may come to their mats looking for a good workout, but most leave their mats with a sense of self they cannot get from any other style of exercise. I experienced this happening to me personally. Over the years, I’ve watched it happen to hundreds of people in studios across the country.
And I know it can also happen to you.
Adrienne Reed hosts the nationally syndicated public television series, “Power Yoga: Mind & Body”, with a reach of over 53 million households. She has released ten award-winning DVD’s. She is the founder of Namaste Yoga studio near Tampa, Florida. Adrienne has appeared on Daytime, ABC News, Fox News and other television programs, and appeared in the magazines Self, Fit Yoga, Fitness and others.
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Yoga in America:
In the Words of Some of its Most Ardent Teachers
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