Top Five Yoga Pet-Peeves. ~ Amahl Majack

Via elephant journal
on Jul 13, 2012
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Amahl Majack

Let me start by saying that I love my yoga-studio.

I have a great respect for the knowledge, courage and passion of all of my yoga teachers, past and present.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, I’d like to discuss with you the things that are prone to drive me absolutely insane during a given class. Look, I know it’s borderline-blasphemous to be sitting (or squatting, or twisting) during my practice, and thinking about how annoyed I am with said aspect of said practice. But, there are a few things that get me every time:

1. I know you can count and talk at the same time. I love a good anatomical tip in class. It’s great to be reminded to slide my shoulders down my back, keep length in my neck, tuck my tail-bone under or pull my lower-belly in.

What I don’t love, is when we’ve all been squatting in utkatasana (chair pose) for 15 seconds while our teacher instructs us into magazine-worthy versions of the posture and then he starts counting. “One?!” What do you mean “One?!”

2. Phrases like, “Shine your heart forward”.  What the hell does this mean? It’s all too romantic and fluffy for me. I spend too much time in my head as it is. In class, I want get out of my head and into my body. I don’t want to be deciphering phrases better suited to a Nicholas Sparks book.

For me, phrases like, “shine your heart forward” and “lift off and soar” are poor substitutes for phrases like, “broaden your collarbone, drop your shoulders, and remember to breathe.” Give me some practical direction people! Also, by my 20th chaturanga there ain’t nothin’ “shiny” about my heart. Except maybe the boob-sweat.

3. Adjustments that take a good 30 seconds, while the rest of us are squirming with agony. OK, perhaps the agony part is a bit of an exaggeration. Yes, I know the yogic philosophy of ‘honoring my body’ would have me simply back out of the pose when I’ve had enough, but that doesn’t always fly with me.

Part of my personal practice is centered around cultivating discipline; on not giving up when something gets difficult. So while you’re over there holding Stu’s ankle and speaking in low tones, I’m torn between forgoing my intention and honoring my limits.

At the same time, I’m not a tyrant. Everyone deserves an adjustment from time to time, and a trained eye is part of the reason we attend class. So, I can be flexible on this one (do we have to acknowledge the pun?) and simply ask that you don’t whisper your advice to Stu. Are you telling him to internally rotate his thigh or press through his heel? Chances are that tip can also help someone else.

4. Sadistic instructors. There’s always one, isn’t there? Half the time, we call it upon ourselves. We show up at her 5:30 class knowing she’ll kick our asses; and she’ll do it with that Cheshire-cat grin on her face. She’s teaching you a lesson, or rather, hoping you’ll teach yourself a lesson, by backing out if it gets to be too much. She’s asking you take your ego out of the picture and, perhaps today, lower your arms a bit… if, that is, you just can’t take it anymore. Her intentions are pure, but why does she seem to enjoy it so much?

5. Everyone bowing “namaste” to everyone else. This gesture is wonderful in theory. To acknowledge one another this way, with genuine goodwill and graciousness, is a beautiful way to end a class. In practice however, this too, only serves to stress me out.

Where do I start? What if I’m turned around and I miss someone’s eye? Do I go in order? What if I skip someone? It feels silly to admit, but this sweet offering feels a bit overwhelming in my post-yoga haze.

In truth, these pet peeves say a lot more about me than they do about any of my instructors. In examining this tendency to become easily flustered, even in this most serene of settings, I can see that my relativity short-fuse and my anxiety and fear of losing control are often mirrored in the things I do and create.

Instead of allowing myself to feel annoyed, I know I should use these moments as an opportunity to grow, and to cultivate patience.

I should surrender to the fact that I am not in control, and I should learn to love that feeling. I should give myself over, gratefully, to the idea that the beauty of life is often in its wonderful unexpectedness—but for now, I’m just going to grin (maybe a bit wildly) back at that sadistic instructor—and bear it.

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Amahl Majack has completed her 200hr certification in the Rasamaya style of yoga. She currently lives in New Hampshire’s seacoast and works as a web-copywriter and SEO strategist. Despite her frequent yoga practice, Amahl has a tendency to become a bit crotchety, and relies way too heavily upon her two cats for respite from the daily grind. You can find her online at:



Editor: Carolyn Gilligan


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51 Responses to “Top Five Yoga Pet-Peeves. ~ Amahl Majack”

  1. __MikeG__ says:

    Bowing namaste to everyone in the room? I can think of nothing more horrifying than that.

  2. Tiffany says:

    Love it! I also need to be okay with the fact that I can't always be in control, especially comes to my wide array of pet peeves. Thanks for reminding me to let go, or at least try. 🙂

  3. Felicia says:

    When they have been adjusting someone else while everyone else has already been holding the position for 15 seconds, then they start counting one!!!!! OMG, hate that!

    "What I don’t love, is when we’ve all been squatting in utkatasana (chair pose) for 15 seconds while our teacher instructs us into magazine-worthy versions of the posture and then he starts counting. “One?!” What do you mean “One?!”"

  4. cathy says:


  5. mike says:

    If these things are "prone to drive you absolutely insane"…maybe you need to put a little more yoga in your yoga. It's just a very intense little article (e.g. "agony", "sadistic")…like your really seething about these things for some reason. I reread and your last few paragraphs did balance it out a bit more on a 2nd pass, and at least your being honest, but sheesh. Best of luck taking your own advice from those last lines, and in the meantime if it helps speed your path: you sound petty and shrill and none of the examples you gave seem very important at all. Try a child's pose next time your having an inner conniption fit over holding a pose while someone gets some help. It just ain't a big deal sista.

    Take care, (I dare not say namaste),


  6. Amahl Majack says:

    Thanks for the funny and thoughful responses! I’m glad you found some humor and were, maybe, able to relate!

    @Mike, you’re right – I *do* need to put more “yoga” in my “yoga.” Taking my own advice will be difficult, as there’s this big-looming-ego-thing to get over, but that’s the goal, anyway.

    Thanks for reading, all!

  7. Amahl Majack says:

    Thanks for the funny and thoughtful responses! I’m glad you found some humor and were, maybe, able to relate!

    @Mike, you’re right – I *do* need to put more “yoga” in my “yoga.” Taking my own advice will be difficult, as there’s this big-looming-ego-thing to get over, but that’s the goal, anyway.

    Thanks for reading, all!

  8. Meghan says:

    You mad, bro?

  9. Meghan says:

    Mike, I'm afraid I must take further umbrage at your scornful response to this article. This is an honest piece by a beautiful young woman who has the courage to admit that she's dealing with pet peeves in yoga class. You had to read the article twice before you understood that she recognizes the inherent contradiction here. She even recognizes it again in her gracious response to your suggestion that she "put more yoga in [her] yoga."

    You didn't need to take her down a notch by pointing out her shortcomings; she specifically acknowledges that these are shortcomings. Are you so spiritually advanced that you no longer get miffed? About anything? If so, then your comment should have been about that!

    We all struggle with petty annoyances, to some degree or another. And we also get to learn from them. Once I took a yoga class in which the teacher played Pink Floyd's The Wall the entire time, and she turned it up really loud during savasana. At the time, I thought I was going to have to flee the room in an absolute panic. For whatever reason, that class–which truly broke the boundaries of annoyance–brought up enough inner material to keep me occupied for weeks. Did I believe that I should be unmoved by all externalities and instead focus single-mindedly on my practice? You bet! But I couldn't! There was a great chasm between where I was and where I wanted to be, and that was my starting point. The teacher of that class is the greatest teacher I've ever had.

    And I believe that one of the major failings of modern folks who write or talk about yoga is that we kind of ignore that chasm between our ideals and our reality, focusing only on the perfection part. Often we're only looking at the answers.

    Yoga has actually given us a lot of them. But we see so many answers that we stopped living the questions. (Apologies, Rilke.) We have to work with these answers, fail them, again and again, and remake them, and make meaning of them. That is what we do when we're doing our very best, and what this young woman has done by writing this article.

    Your comment represents our very worst. Your only offering is critical disdain: "Put more yoga in your yoga, you philistine!" And in the same breath you dismiss the specifics of the author's experience as "not very important at all." Nobody learns from that! You are doing it wrong!

    Say you are faced with someone who's had something stolen from them and is very upset about it. You are doing nobody any good when the person tells you their troubles and you say: "Whelp, that's what you get for having possessions, huh!?" (I have seen this in real life.) You can't just lodge an aphorism at someone who's suffering! Where are your manners? Maybe you have, in fact, attained the ego-less state, and honestly do not feel that any part of your being is altered by the loss or gain of personal property. But why would you be such a dick about it?

    You gotta meet people where they are. Not bully them because you think you know more. Until the time comes when you can offer something uplifting or empowering (or at the very least, responsive to content), I might suggest you consider joining the silent, non-commenting community. Or pick on someone your own size.

    Ahmahl, thank you for writing this. It is a piece of honest self-reflection and it got me thinking, which I appreciate very much. Keep it up.

  10. John Smith says:

    "your" … really??? If "your" going to criticize someone, at least use correct grammar…it's kind of a big deal… brotha.

  11. jenifermparker says:

    I think that there is a lot of good feedback there.

    But, I do want to touch on giving one-on-one instruction to Stu. 🙂

    You see, I assist in my classes. I'm what you might call "handsy." LOL Luckily, my students love it. In fact, when we survey our clients (once a year), the primary response to "what is your favorite part of classes here?" and then we have a list of various attributes of our classes, and the overwhelming majority will respond with "all of the above: particularly the assisting!" So, it's a well loved attribute of our studio.

    While there are times when the whispered assist would be relevant to "everyone" in a big picture, mongo-general sense, sometimes it really is just about that person. It is that person's time with the teacher, to go over whatever it is that that person and teacher are working on.

    You see, each student in the room is unique. While "push the heel back" (or whatever) is a great general assist, Stu's unique ankle situation that I know about and you do not might be relevant in the description. I might be holding Stu's ankle and heel and attempting to draw him into the right weight-balance across the foot — and in that moment he needs to push the weight back a little bit more, and it's really, truly specific to his foot and ankle?

    And, doesn't Stu deserve that one-on-one time?

    Because I guarantee you, when I get around to you (I systematically visit every person in the room throughout the class), I will be giving you specialized instruction about what I know about you, what you need, and what you are working on.

    And then Stu might be thinking "but but but what about general instruction for me? If she's telling her to move her arms that way, what about me? Should I be moving my arms that way?"

    Maybe not, Stu, maybe that instruction is just for Amahl. Because Amahl is not Stu, and Stu is not Amahl. And I care about both of you, and making sure that both of you have a safe, effective, and progressive practice.

    And it's ok if I whisper to Stu because that's what Stu needs, because in a few postures, I"ll be whispering to Amahl about what Amahl needs.

    Don't take it personally. 😉

  12. InSearchOf says:

    I can't imagine anything more horrid than a class with Pink Floyd blaring throughout. I do not think it is necessarily part of the practice to find ways to surrender to things that are really not part of the practice. There is something to be said for yoga classes being yoga classes. I for one have spent some time now searching for a real yoga class. Having broken away from my usual routine/teachers and forging a road out into other studios and types of teachers to see what it is that is really going on around here in yoga world USA and… I must say I with disappointment move on to the next studio in search of …. a real yoga class. Today, it was pop music love songs of some sort or some thing that you find on the radio as our backdrop the yoga aerobics move through as many poses as possible in the 1.15 hr class and end with a very loud Prema Mittal for shivasana. Why save her for the end. A nice topper to top 40 radio hits from rest of the class? Where was she when we really needed her!? Not a moment of true silence or reflection created in the space. And yes, this teacher had a physical fitness, trainer, pilates, yoga teacher background so I was pre-warned however we do adapt to what "program" we are teaching don't we? I've practiced for many a year I'm still not "advanced" and I'm still in search of a real yoga class. Anyone seen one anywhere lately? Please do tell.

  13. Hattie says:

    sounds like you are looking for an Iyengar class Amahl! I really enjoyed reading the pet peeves though! I wouldn't be able to cope with most of those! xxx

  14. Amahl Majack says:

    Thanks for the kind words Meghan! I'm glad you understood the spirit of the article and I appreciate your taking the time to say so 🙂

  15. Amahl Majack says:

    Jennifer, you make an excellent point! Someone who *doesn't* have my excessively long arms doesn't need to be told to relax my shoulders in dandasana, for example. Your comment will remind me think more about the *student* during these moments, rather than the instructor. Thanks for your comments!

  16. […] Top Five Yoga Pet-Peeves. ~ Amahl Majack […]

  17. mike says:

    @Meghan..I guess i just managed to miss her entire point and thought she was being serious. I guess I was also hearing some of the more banal things that manage to consume many of our mental ruminations and was thinking to myself how my mat is my one pseudo-refuge from lots of the mental "noise" my mind turns up all the time as well. As if those thoughts would be more normal on the street, but sounded out of place in my mind's conception of a yoga class. I don't know. I didn't mean to pick on her, I just found the examples (even in jest) to be pretty meaningless and said so before I gave it much thought. I go to classes where teachers ask the students if they are ok with a particular focus or a more restorative class or some change to a normal routine and I never really understand that or see it as my place to say anything but "of course…it's your class". I show up and I breathe and whatever happens happens. Kinda like the weather for me. If I don't like the class, I can bring an umbrella next time, or stay indoors, but no chance I'll think the weather cares much for my wishes or preferences. Of course my mind does its own somersaults while I practice yoga, but ascribing that to someone else's malevolence or imbalance or whatever seems foreign to me. I guess that's still the whole point i was missing: she was pointing out the absurdity of such thoughts in a humorous and then reflective light.

    I apologize Amahl. I wasn't trying to be a dick or scorn you. All the best in your efforts to turn the volume down on your specific mind chatter that I passed judgement on while sounding like mine was more meaningful. My shit stinks too..I guess I just prefer it to anyone else's.

    A final thought: maybe I was bummed to hear specifics of what goes on in the heads of my fellow yogis at a class. I think I'm a yoga idealist and was taken aback by hearing what's behind the veneer sometimes.

    I'll ponder more before I speak up next time Meghan, but I won't opt for silence, and I won't feel like I have to be 100% uplifting or empowering all the time as that's a little too Pollyanna for me. I will reflect on being perceived as a bully with a superiority complex though.


  18. Steph P. says:

    lol…Sounds like someone needs more yoga. Chillax lovely!

  19. Meghan says:

    This explanation makes way more sense to me. Honest and awesome. Thanks for taking the time to clarify.

  20. Jessica says:

    I really have enjoyed reading all of this! The article, to which I totally relate, and the wonderful comments and the process that Meghan, Mike and Amahl beautifully took the time and care to go through. THIS IS YOGA IN ACTION! You must all be yogi's in the sincerest sense.

  21. cray says:

    yes !! enuff with the shine ur heart/floss ur shoulder blades/…how about butterfly ur buttocks… & ALL u english majors have a ball in ur critiques…

  22. kevin says:

    Thanks for the article Amahl.
    From my teacher perspective I appreciate the perspective on use of language and getting lost in adjustments.
    As a student you've reminded me that my peeves are just that, minor annoyances that I can be rid of and happier without.

  23. Amahl Majack says:

    Couldn't have said it better myself. Thanks to both of you for this thought-provoking dialogue!

  24. chad says:

    Why did the author hyphenate pet peeves? Didn't we already read this post, as well. Why does anybody want to list pet peeves, unless they are the massive number of teacher trainings that produce little yoga robot teachers? What about the unendurable new age sweetness and light language in the magazine or the faux-butch power yoga guys para-military script? What about the debasing of yoga into all these sub-genres that are out there that make me want to puke? What about all the senior yoga teachers with arthritis, heart problems, cancer, etc. What about all the John Friends–who at one time seemed to be the real deal? Help

  25. Xerxes says:

    Amahl, I really enjoyed this! It’s always refreshing to know that I’m not the only one who gets annoyed and distracted. Humor definitely helps one to breathe. As a guy in a class usually full of women, here are my pet peeves:

    1) talking about periods and hearing “it feels like a kagel”

    2) A lithe young thing in yoga-inappropriate clothing who puts her mat in front of me and expects me not to look during downward facing dog. 🙂

  26. Brian says:

    One of my pet peeves is people walking on my mat. What's up with that? Is it a metaphor for how they walk thru life: stepping all over people? Unaware of who and what is around them? No respect for other's personal space…Thanks for the article.

  27. Steph says:

    My Pet-Peeve: b**ch fests from people who probably should stop doing yoga then.

  28. yoga bear says:

    I got involved in yoga because of my back and it has really helped. I love yoga, well my back does. I do not pay attention to the chanting and a lot of the other aspects but I remain respectful to the others that do. I have always found the people at my studio to be wonderful and generous. It seems to me that everybody is rooting for everyone else. Where else in this world can you go and feel that. I like what I have found and will continue to attend and respect the people who go about their practice a little different than I do.

  29. azyuwish says:

    God I love a refreshing voice. Thanks for your honesty. I meditate, privately, pray…privately, practice yoga…mostly privately but have gone to some classes. If someone said 'Shine your heart forward"…i know I would inwardly groan. She is assuming she knows about hearts now? How about just stick to body postures and let the person privately deal with their own internal metaphysics? Some people might even imagine they are not "shining" enough….a yoga instructor should keep to yoga postures and not try to be a guru too.

  30. Cesare says:

    What's wrong with listing one's pet peeves? It seems like your response is a listing of your pet peeves, some of which I agree with. I too get seriously bothered by the blind optimism and new age sweetness amongst some yoga schools/teachers. It fails to take into account some of the real shit that happens in this world. And I agree with you about the teachers who have physical health problems, or more so I can't stand those who think yoga and new age natural medicine are panaceas for all physical ails. Yoga can cause injuries in addition to healing them, as with Ayurveda, and I'm not going to immediately go to a natural medicine practitioner if I get hit by a car. And John Friend was an arrogant prick long before this all happened. His bio used to advertise how he read all these spiritual books when he was 13. Yea, so did me and all my friends. We mustn't deify any teacher, 'cause they'll always disappoint.

  31. terranoble says:

    wow, lighten up a bit. It was HUMOR. I laughed thru the whole thing.

  32. Amanda says:

    There is a wonderful video by kino macgregor about this very topic – she talks about the moment that you decide you can't take the pose any longer. This moment is psychological. Your brain will give out before your body does. This is more of a key to strength than working your muscles! Here is the link to the video if anyone is interested

  33. Amahl Majack says:

    What a fascinating & relevant video! Thanks to you, I'm officially declaring her my new yoga-crush. I've already watched like, 7 of her videos haha. Thanks!

  34. James says:

    What's wrong with poetic phrases in yoga, yoga is a beautiful poetic expression of your body. It's not all just anatomy, c'mon let your heart shine we're not robots.

  35. Jess says:

    How long have you been practicing, Amahl? Many of these things also bothered me several years ago. 😉

  36. Wow – such dialogue here. Many points to consider here, but when you look at the big picture, you have to just smile. Someone once said, we are only truly ok, when we are ok with not being ok. What you focus on will grow. So if you want to keep your pet peeves, that’s your prerogative, but if not, that’s your prerogative too. Choice is always ours. Wink, bow, Namaste to all.

  37. Jen says:

    Oh gosh, that is so rude. As the instructor even I refrain from walking on other people's mats whenever possible. I'd not be very yogic about a fellow student walking on my mat. You hit the nail on the head with your metaphor.

  38. Bridget says:

    I try to do what feels most genuine to me at all times. For years at the end of class I typically sign thank you in ASL to the teacher(and sometimes mouth it in case its a new teacher). This feels more “me” than most other gestures. If I feel compelled Ill approach other students and mention something I noticed and admired in their practice… but bowing to each person???? Why do something insincere when you could do something you can put your heart behind.

    A pet-peeve I could add is when you have a teacher who wont walk you through higher level poses. They say something like “If you know how to do _____ pose now would be the time to do so.” I want a teacher instead who says “If this feels like enough for you stay here but those who would like to try here is how you do _____ pose.” I would have never gotten into Bakasana if it wasn’t for one teacher and a whole lot of face plants into a pillow at home.

  39. Rebecca says:

    Amahl, thank you so much for this. You're humor was exactly what I needed towards an issue I was taking on with entirely too much weight. I too have found myself especially annoyed during the Namaste at the end of class. In my case, the instructor thanks everyone for coming, says the traditional namaste, then bows to the mat and stays there for what seems to be an extensively awkward amount of time. This has led the regulars to bow and stay forehead-to-mat for an awkward amount of time as well. The students don't want to rise until the instructor has, but the instructor won't rise until the students do. I may be making it all up in my head (as is often the case), but because of all the namaste mat time, it seems as if the first person to rise is sort of in last place, and I'm usually her. I've gone back and forth about my annoyance of this moment to a point that I've beat myself up for ego and judgement in journals and in heart with my head held down. I have stepped so far away from the beauty of Namaste for the divinity that is, that I walk away from class annoyed by others and disappointed in myself. I've been stuck in this rut for a few weeks now. Just the fact that you came out in public and opened up to the rest of us that you get annoyed about petty things too reminds me that I am not the evil thinker in class. I'm just me. I laughed out loud just now at the image of foreheads stuck on mats, then I laughed again at the fact that it makes me laugh. It's funny what we find to pick on when we're dealing with the imperfections and growing pains of ourselves. There is so much varying energy to dance with when we step into a yoga class. Each instructor has their own style and pocket full of inspirational terms, and every student has their way of being present amongst the rest of us . We could easily choose to avoid dealing with differences and annoyance by keeping to ourselves and practicing in the privacy of one mat, one yogi, one namaste in our homes, but then where would we be? I have a commitment to sharing my practice and learning from others that is similar to the commitment I have with my significant other. I believe that such a commitment and stepping away from the comforts of my own little selfish world is the only thing that makes me a truly better person, girlfriend, yogi. In this particular situation, being able to laugh about the silliness of it all and reminding myself of the commitment that I've made to the practice (isn't that the perfect word for this particular confession) is exactly what I needed to step out of my rut, particularly in light of the fact that the instructor is also my significant other. What I know is that I am practicing, I am learning, and as I breath to bend just a little further physically, I bend just a little further egotistically. Maybe the annoyance that we feel creeping into our hearts and minds during class aren't annoyances at all. "There is a crack in everything, that's how the light gets in." -Leonard Cohen.

  40. Angela says:

    My teacher says we can’t use the wall when doing scorpion as its not fair to the latecomers who are in the middle of the room. That’s my pet peeve as I miss out on practicing as well as them!!! Just saying!

  41. Amahl Majack says:

    Thanks for sharing your story Rebecca! I laughed out-loud at your description of the end of class; imagining myself in the same situation.

    Being able to laugh at/with ourselves is such a valuable tool in creating perspective. The quote you shared beautifully reflects that idea. Thanks!

  42. Amahl Majack says:

    hehe you give me hope!

  43. Amahl Majack says:

    "What you focus on will grow."

    You are *so* right. Especially as it's my habit to "obsess" about things in general. It's definitely a choice. My job is to choose wisely!

  44. Amahl Majack says:

    Thanks Kevin,
    Of course, keep in mind that these are my own silly issues. Some-people love that kind of language in class… and everyone deserves an adjustment from time to time. I hope you'll also take from this that you can't please everyone, and most peoples "issues" with your teaching-style has way more to do with them, than it does with you!

  45. Mia says:

    I agree with your sentiment Mike. But I do have to say the "Shine your head forward" phrase is a bit tacky and desperate.

  46. Gina says:

    I thought this as a funny and light-hearted article. I'm really confused as to why some people read it as harsh or bitter or whatever. I've been practicing for about 13 years, and I have been teaching for two, and some of that stuff still bugs me on certain days. And when it bugs me, I know that it's part of my yoga just to acknowledge that its bugging me. What I choose to do with that is up to me. I'm confused as to why so many people seem to feel that they know better than the author what she should do with/ about her thoughts and experience.

    PS. – Unless we're mat-to-mat, please don't step on my mat, and even then, please don't stride right through the middle. All these years and I still think it's just rude and invasive – like the metaphor that someone mentioned above.

  47. Gina says:

    Oh, and I'd like to add:

    People that spend no time in savasana at the end of class and have no idea how to leave a room quietly.

    Studio owners/ teachers that do nothing to teach yoga etiquette to their students.

  48. craigdrummond says:

    "In truth, these pet peeves say a lot more about me than they do about any of my instructors. In examining this tendency to become easily flustered, even in this most serene of settings, I can see that my relativity short-fuse and my anxiety and fear of losing control are often mirrored in the things I do and create."

    Summed up my thoughts about your post exactly.

  49. Senta says:

    well said!