April 15, 2011

Please Stay Just a Little Bit Longer.


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?


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