August 20, 2013

5 Yoga Attitudes & Trends That Make My Skin Crawl. ~ Sapha Arias

As both a student and a teacher, I have been blessed by my yoga practice in more ways than I can count.

As both a student and a teacher, I have been blessed by my yoga practice in more ways than I can count.

Over the years, I have learned to appreciate all aspects of the practice and have incurred some of these teachings onto my own students. And yet there are a few things that, as both a student and a teacher, I cannot stand.

In an effort to start a conversation and maybe change things a bit, here they are:

1. Mirrors

I am in a perpetual fight with mirrors in the studio. No, it is not because I am self-conscious or weirdly purist. It is because I can see the ill effect that mirrors can have on a practitioner, particularly one who has just begun his or her practice.

It is important as part of the practice that we learn to listen to our bodies and focus on the present moment.

Yet, how are we supposed to tune out, let go, and focus on the moment and on the four corners of our mat when there are mirrors all around us? I see it all the time: people glancing at the mirror to make sure the pose is “right” or “pretty” or that they don’t look too fat in their leggings. It is such a distraction.

In fact, it becomes a huge crutch! The students depend so strongly on the mirrors to get their alignment right that they forget how to listen to their bodies and really focus on how to align and access a pose in a safe manner. If you ask these “mirror junkies” to walk into a yoga room without mirrors or maybe even have them close their eyes to move through surya A, I guarantee you will have enraged students, a mass exodus, panic-ridden students, poor alignment, or immense amounts of confusion throughout the class.

Suddenly, these students who were so confident in the room surrounded by mirrors have forgotten how to breathe, how to align the body properly, what pose comes after plank, what “down dog” means, and even what on earth the words “left” or “right” mean. You have essentially crippled your students and taught them to depend on their sight to practice when all the while they should be able to listen to their bodies, to be present and focus on finding that meditative flow we all talk about so often.

It can even become a vanity issue.

Often times, students with really high or really low egos will either spend the whole class looking in the mirror and thinking how great or awful they look (picture a body-builder in the room flexing his or her muscles to make sure he or she looks perfect), or they will be fidgeting, straightening their shirt, their hair, and their pants; I even had a student stop in the middle of a flow once to redo her hair and make sure her makeup was not running (I got the feeling she was also hoping she’d had some lip gloss to reapply).

To top it all off, having mirrors in the room makes it impossible or a darn right pain in the tush to try to do anything “against the wall” because there is no wall! And goodness forbid we try something like handstands “against the wall” and someone ends up breaking a mirror! I mean, why do we need mirrors in a yoga room?!

This isn’t aerobics, this isn’t gymnastics or ballet, so why not allow students to learn to move from the inside out and remove all mirrors from the room?

2. The I-Come-to-Yoga-to-Chat-with-My-Bffs Attitude

Look, I am the first to admit I have a “talking problem.” Seriously, there is no shutting me up, especially when I am with my friends, but please, please for the love of all that is good and kind and sacred on this earth do not talk through the class! It is so disrespectful to everyone. I get that we all have been told by movies and TV shows that yoga time is “hash it out” time but this is not true.

So please, be respectful of those around you. There are people in the room wanting to let go, find peace, grow, and evolve. But that can be a tad hard to do when you are talking about how big or small things are or how terrible or amazing your date with whomever was, not to mention how incredibly hurtful and disrespectful it is for the teachers.

I know it may not be common knowledge, but teachers spend a great deal of time, energy and effort into putting sequences together to help their students grow and learn from the practice. And it isn’t always easy to just get up in front of a bunch of people and describe alignment, body parts, philosophy, psychology, and still manage to help make adjustments and “demo” new poses.

So, while you may think it is “cool” to chat about how you can’t believe Billy Bob finally dumped Donna, the poor teacher standing two feet away from you is telling you to place your feet hip’s distance apart and pay attention before you get hurt! Please, please, once more, just don’t. If you really need to hash it out with your girlfriends, go for some tea or coffee, but don’t come into the yoga room and pretend to practice.

3. The I-Know-More-Than-All-of-You-and-I-Will-Prove-It Attitude

As an Ashtangi I have to say…I freaking love Mysore. I love the energy in the room when everyone is so focused, working so hard, and breathing so purely. Seriously, I think there is nothing better.

That being said, if you have chosen to attend a lead class, please pretend you are five years old and playing Simon Says or Follow the Leader because walking into a lead class and busting out your own moves is incredibly deterrent to the energetic flow in the room, and it can be highly intimidating to those around you.

Think about it: When you are being led by a teacher, as stated previously, this teacher has spent hours researching, thinking, planning, and putting a specific sequence of poses together in a specific order for very specific reasons, meaning no matter how much you may hate the sequence the teacher created; that sequence was put together in a particular order and with much love and care for a specific reason. Trust that the practice will do its work, even if you didn’t like the pace, the sequence, or the teacher.

If you just give it a chance, stay open to grace and allow the practice to take over, you may actually learn something. Regardless of how unchallenged you may have felt and how many arm balances you missed doing, you can always do these awesome things at home if you’d like.

And yes, I mentioned the energy in the room because it is a very real, very palpable thing, and when a strong personality barges into the room, breaks away from the group and decides that they know better and will do more challenging, more intense things on their own, the whole energetic flow is broken. It is possible the people around this person will begin to feel discouraged, annoyed, intimidated, or even fearful. (I mean, how would you feel if you were in child’s pose and some random person was busting out a one armed handstand next to you?).

Also, once more, I refer to the respect element in the practice. If a teacher is guiding you through a sequence, it is beyond disrespectful to do something completely opposite or different from what you are being guided to do. So, if you cannot find it in you to be kind and respectful, practice at home where you can show off as much as you want or find a Mysore class, not a lead class.

4. The Mean Girls, Yup.

There have been plenty of articles and comments made about mean girls in a yoga studio and in the yoga world, so I will try to keep it short and sweet. When you are practicing, please do not do the “mean girl” thing and make fun of the teacher, the students around you, or your bff who is not as strong or bendy as you.

This is not high school.

Time for you to grow up and harness some love.

5. Yoga Isn’t Challenging Enough, So I’ll Add Weights and Dance Moves to It…Right.

Ok, ok, before you all murder me, please remember this is just my opinion. I am not the final word on anything, but I too need to vent as both a student and a teacher of yoga, and this is a hot button for me.

The way I see it is, if you want to use weights or burn twice the amount of calories you would burn in a Zumba class, please do something like Crossfit or P90X or something like that. All these programs are amazing, and they can help change your life and achieve all your fitness goals. But please do not try to “marry” these fitness workouts with yoga. It is so dangerous.

Remember a few things: yoga is not just a physical practice. Sorry, but it isn’t. It is so much more if you are willing to look beneath the surface. Yoga is a way to help us quiet the mind and grow exponentially as human beings on a mental, physical, and even spiritual level.

So, making yoga all about how buff you can get or how many calories you can burn during one session is just not yoga practice.

Also, in yoga we use the weight of our bodies to tone, strengthen, etc. Adding weight (especially if you are someone who is not fully in tune with your breath or body) can be dangerous. There is a time and a place for everything and the yoga room is not a time or place for ego, competition or a desperate need for more “westernized” activities.

So there you have them, the five very real, very annoying attitudes and situations that break my yoga zen. Some of you may read this and think I am a snob or being overly judgmental. And since I am imperfect, you may very well be right.

However, understand that my love and passion for the practice are so big that certain “trends” really just break my heart.

It may change as my practice helps me evolve, but at this moment in time, this is what really makes my skin crawl in the yoga studio.

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Ed: Bryonie Wise

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