Please Stay Just a Little Bit Longer.

Via Julia Clarke
on Apr 15, 2011
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Why I Stay Put Even When I Really Hate a Yoga Class.

Once upon a time in New York City, a group of fresh-faced young yoga teachers-in-training decided to boldly go where many had gone before in a vain but honorable attempt to sample all the yoga that great city had to offer.

“I had a dream about B.K.S. Iyengar last night!” pronounced one girl excitedly to the others, “We must start with an Iyengar class!”

And, since this is how many decisions are made in Yoga Land, the matter was settled. That was how I found myself back again in what is without exception my least favorite asana practice. And by that I mean I hate it.

Now please, before you begin to compose lengthy comments below in defense of Iyengar, this is not intended to be an Iyengar-bashing post. We all have practices that make our hearts sing and others that make our teeth hurt, and for me, Iyengar falls definitively into that category of severe dental discomfort. If for you it falls into the jumping-for-joy category, I couldn’t be more pleased on your behalf. Moving right along….

Some of the very first yoga classes I ever took, almost twenty years ago, were Iyengar classes. I have taken more than my fair share of Iyengar classes over the years, and having carefully compared and contrasted the style alongside others such as Vinyasa, I have come to the conclusion that I prefer to flow from pose to pose instead of standing static. While safe alignment is vital to my practice and teaching, I love the feeling of heart beat and breath and sweat and sensation that flow practices bring me. In comparison I find myself chilly and bored in practices that don’t extend beyond thinking and technique application. I despise having to jump my feet together from wide legged standing poses (why???). I think the teeny shorts worn by traditional Iyengar instructors are creepy. And as you’ll know if you read this recent post, I hate having to sit out on forward bends because my spine doesn’t remain completely straight when I fold forward.

So, when my friend suggested an Iyengar class, I said “okay” and after work I caught the subway to Grand Central and the shuttle to Times Square and another subway downtown and an hour later emerged at the bustling Iyengar Yoga Institute of NYC where two of my friends, virgins to Iyengar style, met me in a glow of anticipation (I never asked exactly what happened in the dream to garner such enthusiasm).

We unrolled our mats close to the back of the busy studio and settled in. Duly, the teacher strode in and our idle chat dissolved as our collective gaze swung to the front and fastened upon her. Like a love child of Cleopatra and Mowgli, she stood before us: striking, statuesque, severe….until you got to the waist and saw the tiny, teeny, saggy shorts. On my left, my friend clapped a hand over her mouth not at all inconspicuously (in the interests of fairness, I had not given either girl any indication of what to expect). The friend to my right failed miserably in her attempt to withhold a snort. Teacher shot a withering glare in our direction and we snapped to attention.

But in our first downward dog, the whispering began.

“What is she wearing?”

“It’s kind of….what they do.” I offered by means of a lame explanation.

“Even the men?”

“Even the men.”

More sniggering. I closed my eyes and breathed deeply and tried to ignore my dear friends even as their opinions about class became rather less veiled. It was not that I didn’t understand their reaction, you see, rather I didn’t want to dissolve into uncontrolleable laughter. For the next 90 minutes I stonewalled any pleas for eye contact as we tiresomely performed the same three poses over and over again. I avoided their gazes as the teacher (who was becoming increasingly more Gestapo-like as class went on) proceeded to parade around the room smacking students on the behind if their hips were not aligned to her liking in Trikonasana. I will admit I discreetly treated myself to a roll of my eyeballs every time we had to jump our feet together but I still did it, because frankly I was terrified of this woman.

“You! Is there a reason you are not jumping your feet together?”

Silence fell. My eyeballs ceased rolling and swiveled towards the subject of persecution.

“I have a knee injury?” stammered a thirty-something white male meekly.

This seemed a sufficient reason and our teacher dropped her accusatory pointer finger and resumed teaching and shouting and roaming and smacking. Meanwhile I began jump my feet together with a touch more gusto lest I be ordered to the gas chamber. Finally, after all the stopping and starting of a Catholic mass, we paused for the fiftieth time and were instructed to retrieve an impressive list of props that it seemed would have been easier to obtain before class began. A hullabaloo of fifty odd yoga students elbowing each other out of the way to get blankets, bolsters and blocks ensued and somewhere in the chaos I accidentally met my friend’s gaze.

“Should we just leave?” she implored, eyes boring into mine with a silent begging.

The question caught me off guard. I was shocked. I didn’t even hesitate in my response.

“Absolutely not.” I said firmly, and resolutely lugged my props back to my mat with me, ready for the next round of torture and insults.

My reasoning was simple: I was not okay with disrupting class, even if the teacher was wearing my dad’s most archaic pair of Y-fronts. Nobody had forced me here. I had shown up entirely by my own doing, quite prepared for what to expect, and was there for the full Iyengar experience, no different than any other yoga class. There was not a doubt in my mind that I was staying till the end. I may not like the way the teachers dress, I definitely don’t like the way the practice lands in my body, and I certainly don’t agree with smacking your students if you don’t enjoy their alignment, but I won’t walk out of a yoga class.

The fact is, I have never walked out of a yoga class. I have seen others walk out of class. Students have walked out of my class. But I have never walked out of a yoga class. I’ve stayed put through teachers that seem as though they’ve just stumbled into the studio and decided it might be nice to teach a yoga class. I’ve remained present with teachers who clearly think all their students are total dipshits for not being able to do drop backs. I’ve been bored to tears, I’ve fallen out of Tree Pose laughing so hard at terrible Sanskrit, I’ve seen teachers send text messages in class, and still I’ve stayed till the end. So, I’ve wanted to walk out of yoga classes. I’ve even wanted to walk out of my own yoga classes from time to time and just leave my students in downward dog till they realize I’m never coming back. But I have never walked out of a yoga class.

I’m in your class for whatever experience you have to offer. If I don’t like it, I probably won’t come back. If I see room for improvement, I might offer you feedback after class. If I hear you shaming a student, I want to stand up for them. If I feel like you’re endangering your students, I will alert your supervisor. But I won’t walk out just because it’s “not my thing.” I’ll stay put because staying put is the hardest thing to do, and every time I do it, I learn something about myself worth learning. I’ll form my opinion based on the entire class and afterwards I very well might laugh about it over Thai food with my friends across the street. But I won’t walk out.

I would love to read your comments – have you ever walked out of a yoga class? If so, why? 


About Julia Clarke

Julia Clarke is a yoga teacher and writer in Vail, Colorado where she loves and plays every day. You can read her work at Friendly Universe Yoga.


13 Responses to “Please Stay Just a Little Bit Longer.”

  1. drbinder says:

    That was a very fun read Julia. I especially liked the line "since this is how most decisions are made in yoga land." LOL. You have certainly had some obnoxious teachers (a text? seriously? I hope it was an emergency!) and still hung out till the very end. For that I applaud you!

  2. This blog bowled me over.

    I'll have to admit. I felt uncomfortable at first with your preoccupation with their shorts (could a pair of shorts alone be that funny?), but after that you had me running away, culminating with the laugh-out-loud line:

    I’ve even wanted to walk out of my own yoga classes from time to time and just leave my students in downward dog till they realize I’m never coming back.

    And then, out of nowhere you give us this terrific video of Jackson Browne, from perhaps the second greatest rock album of all time, Running on Empty (second only to Layla). Whew, I'm breathless. Need some pranayama to recover.

    What else you got? (But give me a few days to recover.)

    Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

    Bob W.
    Yoga Editor

  3. Just posted to "Featured Today" on the Elephant Yoga homepage.

  4. Jen says:

    I agree! I HATE Iyengar, but I would never walk out of a yoga class. I just think it is so rude. Even if the teacher is teaching a completely boring " lets hold triangle for another 5,000 breaths" Type of a class, I endure the moment. I have been to a few vinyasa classes that actualy ended up being very alignment oriented. That REALLY pissed me off. If you want to teach Iyengar, fine, but please list it that way on the schedule. I think leaving a yoga class unless you have told the teacher ahead of time that you have to leave early, is right up there with those people who answer their cell phones in class.

  5. Antoinette says:

    I’m a yoga snob. Yeah the one who peeks in the doorway of my regular studio to be sure that the teacher I showed up to practice with is the one who is actually teaching. And if not, I’ve left. But always before class starts. Once it starts I will wrestle with the antagonism in my head, but like you will never leave and like you I know my annoyance or criticism of whatever is happening is merely a reflection of my own stuff. Nice piece-it was a compelling read.

  6. Anna says:

    i have wanted to walk out of many yoga classes, but have never done it. i find that i can learn something, do something i've never done before, or at the very least, learn what absolutely not to do in every class i attend.

  7. Jennifer says:

    I HAVE walked out of a yoga class – just once in my life. Just playing devil's advocate here, but what about the consideration that some teachers may actually be so bad, they may be dangerous for their students, particularly if that student is newer in their practice and doesn't know their own personal body limitations? Just a thought…

  8. 3momm says:

    I have to problem taking a class that is different, my problem is like Jen's^^, if you say its a Vinyasa class, I don't expect to be holding poses, and that pissed off feeling has to be dealt with, I find it is an excellent time to still the mind and focus on the breath…except when my brain is screaming…why is he/she sequencing like this, this will never work!! and my favorite is when the teacher COUNTS off the crunches, apparently forgetting she is in a yoga class not the gym…but usually, I use it as an opportunity to breathe… 🙂

  9. Monique says:

    I have never walked out of a class (sacrilege!) but I think I most definitely would if it was blatantly unsafe or if the teacher was mistreating people. I wouldn't last two minutes with Bikram. And, btw, Iyengar teachers smack people? Seriously?

  10. Tracy says:

    This had me laughing out loud; thank you! Walk out of a yoga class? No way, I can learn something from every experience. If I felt it was unsafe, I modify. I know how to modify well because I have to.

  11. Just posted to "Popular Lately" on the Elephant Yoga homepage.

  12. Kristina says:

    This could be one of the best Elephant articles I've read…so funny and true on so many levels! I thought I was the only one who felt that way about Iyengar classes. Great work, thank you for sharing

  13. […] Please Stay Just a Little Bit Longer. […]