Dear New Yoga Student,
Congratulations on coming to class!
I know it isn’t easy to walk into a room filled with a bunch of strangers in stretch pants. I salute your courage. Unfurl your mat and have a seat.
As your instructor, I am here to share with you a practice that has been transformative for me on every imaginable level. Because it has been transformative for me, I know there’s a good chance it could also be a game-changer for you. I like that.
As your devoted tour guide through yogaland, I pledge to hold a safe, fun class. I have had the good fortune to have excellent training and am committed to keeping you safe.
And although I am serious about what I do, I am most assuredly here to have fun. The capacity to find hilarity in our human weirdness is an underrated virtue which I vigorously cultivate. As a committed fan of the sacred lighten up, I find the art of laughing at myself to be an essential practice and I encourage others to do the same.
Please know I have your best interests at heart. You can rest assured that I will not ask you to do anything you are not comfortable with.
Don’t feel like chanting at the beginning of class? No problem. Got a bad hip, knee or shoulder? There’s an alternative pose available.
Deathly fear of incense? No worries. I lovingly enforce a strict no-smoking policy during class. Afterwards, at the naked firepit dance, we burn the incense. You can opt out if you like.
Here’s the good news: It’s all about you. Here’s the bad news: It’s all about you.
Yoga is self-centric, self-involved, self-observed. As we move through the poses, the object is to pull the attention inward. I have a beloved teacher who would often say:
“Even though there are many people in class, practice as if you were alone. Be alone in the room.”
It’s good to feel the presence of your neighbor on the mat next to yours, but keep your mind to yourself. (The only chatter you hear should be the inevitable and incessant dialogue going on in your own head. But that’s another story…)
Here’s another thing I’d like you to remember: We all walk into the room in a physical vehicle that has natural freedoms as well as natural obstacles. Some folks sit cross-legged on the floor and their knees easily drop to the ground while others have knees that hover spring-loaded near their shoulders. Some folks have free-wheeling shoulder joints and others cannot straighten their arms over their heads.
We all have our stuff, so don’t worry about what your body can or can’t do. It simply doesn’t matter.
Just because your neighbor can touch her toes doesn’t mean she’s more enlightened than you.
Lastly, fear not, brave beginner yogi! We will have fun! All you need for class is an empty stomach and an open mind. I vow to smile at you and welcome you.
I’ve been where you are now, walking apprehensively into that initial class. I did my first Tadasana (Mountain Pose) 18 years ago in a hapkido studio in Santa Clarita. You could do your first Tadasana in 2013.
Got your transformation stretchy pants on? Awesome. Let’s do it.
Shanan Harrell is a fusion of Iyengar-based asana instructor blended with a powerful streak of Buddhist warrior and seriously devoted gong player. Shanan has been practicing yoga since 1996 and teaching since 1999. Shanan’s column Yoga 101 appears regularly in the Loop Newspaper. She is also a contributing writer to Tehachapi Lifestyle Magazine. Her book, Stumbling Towards Enlightenment: a Yoga 101 Collection is a compilation of her thoughtful and entertaining columns. Buy it now. Buy it often.
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Assistant Ed.: Jayleigh Lewis
Ed: Kate Bartolotta