…As a New—or Seasoned—Yogi/Yogini.
Photo: Brad Coy
As I start to discover what it means to become a yoga teacher, a frequently used and ever so dynamic phrase to describe an individual committed to both practicing and teaching yoga, it has led to me think about the beginning of one’s yoga practice.
I have been fortunate enough to assist regularly over the past few weeks in a beginner’s yoga class and so often I have to remind myself of what it was like to first start out. I have been better at catching myself before I tell a brand spanking new student to feel the vayus in a pose or utilize hasta bandha, recognizing they will understandably have no idea what I am talking about. There was a point in time when anyone who has studied yoga did not know what Trikonasana (triangle) pose was, let alone a mudra.
This list represents just a handful of the many so-called humiliating experiences one can potentially have in a yoga class. Whether you are a new student or have been practicing for many years, recognize that all these may seem to be “embarrassing” at first but are moments in time we can use to remember that there will be times in your yoga practice that simply seem downright un-yogic. They are just as important, beautiful, and fleeting as any other moment in your practice.
10. You may encounter the passing of gas.
Let’s just get this one out of the way. We twist and turn our bodies in so many different and unexpected ways in class, especially as a new yoga student. Things in the body get moved around. For crying out loud there is a pose called wind removing pose, almost establishing that there is an expectation for flatulence to occur. If you have a juvenile sense of humor (admit I am guilty here), when you hear someone else pass gas it will be very difficult to not laugh out loud. Try your hardest to pretend to not notice, as this is one occurrence that many people fear to the point that if it happens once and is mortifying enough, they may never come to a class again. Try your hardest to not contribute to the potential shame for any other person. Whatever your experience is, observe it and let it go.
9. You may walk in late to class.
Life happens. Unfortunately so does traffic. There will be a time where you were right on schedule to sign in, throw your mat down and have a few minutes of time to relax before class started and that time was snatched from you. There will be teachers who welcome you to the class with open arms, find a spot for your mat and let everyone else know to use this interruption as a moment to practice mindfulness. There will be teachers and students who give you a dirty look for messing up the vibe of the class. There will be teachers who will not even let you in because it would not be safe for you to pick up the class at this point having missed the beginning or just out of sheer principle and you will think they are the meanest yoga teachers in the world. At some point you will learn what a particular teacher’s preferences are, helping you make your decision whether you still want to venture into a particular class late. Whatever your experience is, observe it and let it go.
8. You may make close contact with a stranger’s body part that feels awkward.
Depending on the class attendance, there may be times when mats are set up incredibly close to one another. This of course means in certain poses (such as prasarita padotonnasana – a wide legged forward fold) you will find your head close to someone’s butt, foot, hand, etc. Staggering mats in class will help alleviate this, however in times when it simply cannot be avoided, use it as a moment to turn inward. Close your eyes if possible and try not to stare or get distracted. Whatever your experience is, observe it and let it go.
7. You may get lost in class and have no idea what you are doing.
Stepping into class can be overwhelming and downright intimidating. There are many different types and methods of teaching yoga, not to mention the variation from teacher to teacher. With this variation comes moments in class of “what did he just ask me to do?!?” Perhaps you come into the completely wrong pose, look around and have that moment of “oh, that’s what we’re supposed to be doing.” Yoga is teaching you a new skill, listening to succinct (and sometimes confusing) cues and having your body respond directly to these cues. This adult version of Simon Says can be difficult at first. These moments of confusion are an opportunity to forgive, laugh at yourself and keep right on practicing. Whatever your experience is, observe it and let it go.
6. You may walk into a class, realize there is a sub you are not particularly fond of, and have to make the decision whether to still take the class or walk out.
After a certain amount of time as a yoga student, you will start to develop your own set of preferences. Perhaps it is for a particular style, perhaps a particular teacher. The universe may realize this and throw you a curveball to mess with your expectations. When you show up to your favorite class you’ve been looking forward to all week, you come to find there a sub you do not know, or even a sub you have taken class from and simply did not like for whatever reason. You will have to make a decision. If you decide to stay with class, ensure that you are going to stay and practice with an open mind and not bring negativity to the class environment. Whether you realize it or not your state of mind will have an effect on the rest of class. If you simply cannot let go of the fact that your teacher is not there, then as quietly and compassionately as you can, leave. It will be the sub’s yoga practice to learn how to accept your decision. Whatever your experience is, observe it and let it go.
5. You may have a clothing malfunction.
Class will involve poses that you are not used to doing in your day to day clothes. You will be upside down, twisted, folded forward and bent backwards. Mirrors could be present, possibly reflecting your clothing malfunction to the entire rest of the room. You may have happened to wear that “cute” yoga shirt to class without doing a test run at home first, realizing that “cute” walking into class may equate into exposing and downright frustrating during downward-dog. Try to choose clothes that you know will be comfortable and will not distract you. Whatever your experience is, observe it and let it go.
4. You may fall.
Inversions and arm balances can be challenging. If you do not have a dance or gymnastics in your childhood background, learning these poses as an adult can take even longer to master in a safe, effective way. Inversions and arm balances trigger a response that is natural in most people – the fear of falling. Acknowledging and accepting the very real possibility of falling is the first step. Confront the fear. You may come up into a headstand for the first time in the middle of the room only surprise yourself and flip completely all the way over (ending up with a few bruises in the process). You may practice pashva bakasana (side crow pose), starting to hover and before you know it, you have face-planted taking a water bottle and almost kicked your neighbor in a matter of seconds. Breathe through it and if it is safe, keep trying. Use the wall. Ask for modifications. At some point the fear of falling will no longer exist and you will be able to trust your body in these times of flight. Whatever your experience is, observe it and let it go.
3. You may end up sweaty and smelly.
Whether you seek out this sweaty, smelly ending of class by going to more rigorous, heated classes or you simply underestimated the physical challenge of a class, you may get a glimpse of yourself and say “Wow that’s what I look like right now?” Enjoy the utter bliss that comes with seeing a version of yourself that is completely raw and almost animal like that so often gets covered up with cologne, perfume, makeup, deodorant etc. Your hair may be a mess, if you came straight to class from work you may have mascara strewn under your eyes, and oh yes, you might even be able to smell yourself. You will not care. The shower afterwards will feel like heaven. Whatever your experience is, observe it and let it go.
2. You may be the only person in the entire class modifying and your ego will hate it.
Despite all of the talk in the yoga world about compassion and non-judgment, there will be moments in class where you find yourself judging yourself and others. Certain poses simply will not be accessible to you for whatever reason (injury, tight hips, etc.) and you will need to modify in a way that makes you feel like you are the only one in the room who cannot do the full expression of the pose. Listen to your body, and modify. Your ego may be screaming at you to take that full bind, saying “who cares if your shoulder hurts, you are the only one not doing this!” Do not listen to it. The modifications will allow you to practice at a level so you can take the pose to the next level with the integrity and stability that is needed for it to safe. Try not to judge everyone else around you, drown out the little voice that says “look at everyone else” and find peace in the pose. Bend your knees to protect the hamstrings, come down onto your elbows if you have a wrist injury, do what you need to be kind to your own body. Whatever your experience is, observe it and let it go.
You may encounter parts of yourself that you did not want to and have some type of emotional release that could include crying, laughing or some silly combination of both.
Over time the physical practice of yoga (asana) has a way of stripping us to our very core. We start to feel emotions or think thoughts that have been buried deep within the confines of our mind and body. Asana stirs the pot, and there are times when it will expose things about you that are not very pretty or graceful. Maybe you are going through a tough time, or maybe you didn’t realize something was bothering you. You may learn things about yourself that you never knew, and you may feel things that are not pleasant. This stirring of the pot can lead to all types of emotional roller-coasters from undirected buried anger, pure bliss, feelings of hatred, the swelling of love and just an ultimate space of awareness within the mind. This could lead to tears of an unknown source streaming down your face, or a simple release of laughter at the utter absurdity and beauty of life. Through the process of yoga you are learning more about yourself and your relationship with others then you could have ever hoped for. Whatever your experience is, observe it and let it go.
These are just a few of the many so-called embarrassing experiences and in no means represents itself as an exhaustive list. Feel free to share your experiences below in the comments.
And remember: Whatever your experience is, observe it and let it go.
Jasmine Gill has been practicing yoga for about 8 years, although only “seriously” practicing for the past two years. She attended teacher training for 200 hour Prana Flow Certification in 2010 and recognizes that the teacher training was just the beginning of a lifelong of learning and practicing. She currently lives in Tampa, FL however dreams of living in Boulder, Colorado one day.