4.6

Shut Up & Listen to Me when I Teach you Yoga.

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Warning: Naughty language ahead!

 

I’m a Bikram Yoga teacher.

I practice Bikram Yoga as many times a week as my schedule allows.

It feeds me, makes me feel empowered; it has healed my broken body and screw-loose brain, taught me compassion and opened my eyes to other meditative practices. I love it.

I also love teaching this yoga—regardless of what my paycheck reflects, I believe the work I’m doing is important. People trust me with their bodies, believing, whether they consciously know it or not, that I will create a safe space for them to engage in personal transformational work.

But I’m not here to pick a fight or convince you that this yoga is the shit (even though my basic human, egotistical instincts at times nearly convince me to write a very long rebuttal in the form of an article, maybe even a book, to counter all the blogs posted online these days about how there is only humiliation and injury to be found in the hot room).

I have countless reasons why I fucking love this yoga, so come ’round for a tea sometime or ask for my Skype username and we’ll have a little chat, free of social media platforms.

Instead, I’m here to ask you non-Bikram yogis and teachers to listen to my words if you come to my class as a first-timer. And many of you will probably show up as 2015 gets off to a roaring start, whether what sparks your interest is something as innocent as curiosity or as deep as the need to feel alive again.

The good eggs in the Bikram Yoga community always look forward to this rush of newbies. It’s second Christmas for us. A gift for us and for you as well. Any mortal who enters the hot room for the first time is a brave one, surely, and we see a potential new beginning for each of them.

But reality hits. It’s hard, it’s hot and it just seems outrageous how big those mirrors are and how little that chick’s shorts are. Trust me, I get it. My first few classes in the hot room were spent belly up silently plotting my escape from the combination of surrounding flesh and humidity.

None of that matters, though, if you listen to my words—I promise.

The hot room, a place where deep shit can be released, is not for the faint of heart. It is unavoidable to run into some resistance, which is often just a side effect of feeling vulnerable and uncomfortable (not always bad things!).

You’d be surprised at whom we find the most attitude from. Not yoga virgins who are struggling with their health or physical injuries. Not the shy, insecure individuals who are intimidated by the idea of being half naked.

It usually comes from experienced yogis or instructors from different practices, most of them overflowing with the negative “Hot Yoga isn’t Real Yoga!” feedback they read online before they even walk into the studio. Those folks who are confident in the strength of their Trikanasana. Those bendy people who like to elaborately stretch in the front row before class even starts.

They don’t listen to us. On purpose. Defiantly.

I say “feet together, toes and heels touching.” They bring their feet 6 inches apart.

I say “Interlock your ten fingers, release your index fingers, thumbs crossed.” They put their palms in prayer position.

I say, “Turn your head and look up to the ceiling.” They stare at themselves in the mirror.

Bikram Yoga teachers give instructions for specific reasons, many of them proven to be physiologically sound (all those supposed “injuries” you might hear about online rarely show up in medical case studies or emergency room reports; injury, due to various circumstances, appears in all forms of fitness and yoga, not just Bikram).

We aren’t correcting you because it makes us feel like Mr. Vernon from the Breakfast Club. We are bidding you to touch your forehead to your knee to compress your internal organs and balance out your hormones. We are instructing you to bring your knees together, touching, to keep your hips in one line.

But if you come in revved up, firmly believing that this yoga is the road to hell, you will likely use that aggression to harm yourself and my instructions won’t mean a damn thing.

So please give Bikram Yoga a shot the right way—not the way you think it should be done or how you saw it in your favorite magazine. Rather, by listening to what we have to say, even if it seems a bit different than how you previously learned it.

I implore you to consider another notion if you still think I’m just some militant shmuck who gets off on people following my orders: If we can’t respect each other in a yoga room, how are we supposed to lead exemplary yogi lives?

Look, I like to mix it up, so I took a vinyasa flow class this morning. When Ardha-Chandrasana Half Moon came along, I didn’t froth at the fact that it wasn’t anything remotely close to how I teach it. I followed the nice lady’s instructions word by word. When even the Sanskrit names didn’t match the English like I’m used to, I didn’t pout or sneer around the room to see if any other miserable person would join me in my tirade. I opened up my stubborn mind and allowed her to lead me through the sequence, which I unexpectedly enjoyed.

Our yoga community is small—about 20 percent of the American population practices yoga regularly (I thought the statistic was much higher, but that merely shows I need to branch out in my social life). We are like-minded even if we can’t see it sometimes; if we weren’t, why would we all be bending together so often?

If we can’t honor each other within our own community, how do you expect we will show love and support to the groups of people who are starkly different from us when they need us the most? Even the smallest changes we make to respect and honor each other can echo on a grander scale outside the yoga bubble.

I promise to consistently make beginners feel welcome in my class, to come with an open heart and a decent sense of humor. Join me in listening to your teacher’s words the next time you try a new yoga.

And when you come into my hot room, please lock your damn knee.

 

 

 

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Author: Gina Florio

Editor: Emily Bartran

Photo: Used with Permission by Paula May Photography

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Bri Apr 2, 2016 4:06pm

I definitely feel that commenters are completely missing the mark here. If you read the article with an objective perspective you should be able to sense the compassionate tone behind Gina’s words. She’s got a sense of humor. Lighten up, folks.

She says, “They don’t listen to us. On purpose. Defiantly.” It is evident that she is not speaking on behalf of those who might modify their practice due to injury or skill levels. She is talking about seasoned yoga practitioners who explicitly defy her instructions to make a statement, a “holier than thou” approach, if you will. It is an issue of respect. Respect those that follow a practice that is different than yours. If you don’t agree with the practice of Bikram yoga, don’t take a Bikram yoga class. Pretty simple.

Kelly Jan 7, 2015 12:05pm

I get your point; however, I think your sense of knowledge may be a little over-inflated and your approach to these do-it-yourselfers a little presumptuous.

You are totally right that it's the experienced yogis who do not follow along, but there is a difference between modifying and flat out doing their own thing.

I've had students come in and literally do their own practice (I.e. Handstand while I'm teaching sun salutations). That's a no no, for sure. That's a situation where that person didn't come to take a led class – they came to use the space for their own class and that's not how it works.

But, Everything you described as examples of students not listening are legit modifications for various injuries or anatomical deviations. Or, even more simply, they may be in their head and doing things on auto-pilot without having heard what you said. It doesn't sound like anyone is popping into wheel instead of camel, or anything.

That's the kind of stuff you have to leave space around – maybe they're hurt, maybe they are thinking about their divorce or maybe they do need some time to trust the practice – either way, give the student the benefit of the doubt.

Another Side Jan 6, 2015 4:56am

I'm going to bring in a different voice here – I have taken Gina's class many times (even though she might not even remember me) and I must say she is the most compassionate, educated and kind spirited teacher I have had in the Bikram world. She is beyond her years. This is coming from a person ridden with injuries. When I first started doing Bikram Yoga I was very overweight and stubborn. My knees were in bad shape and I had no flexibility. She made me feel comfortable and never pushed me to do something I couldn't do. She has since left my studio and every teacher I've had since doesn't pay me the same attention or care. And, strangely enough, the teachers who have been around for the longest are the ones who treat me the worst, as if they're already bored with this job and I need to figure things out on my own.

I think a lot of people have missed out on the point of this article. She is not saying all people who don't listen to her are doing it on purpose – she is speaking of the arrogant yoga teachers that come into the room. And she isn't even saying Bikram Yoga is the best yoga in the world! It just works for her and I'm guessing she has seen it work for her students. I believe there is a theme in this article that is missed by many of the people who have commented angrily: you don't have to try Bikram Yoga or even like it but if you voluntarily come into the class you are choosing to take part so try it the right way.

I occasionally do Bikram Yoga these days but I spend most of my time doing power flow or vinyasa. Gina might not even remember me as we were not acquaintances outside yoga. I will always remember her, though, and her willingness to go out of the way to make sure the struggling students got her attention. Remember, readers, there is humor here in this article and maybe even a little sarcasm too but that's all part of the fun. I recommend you find her class and take it to see for yourself.

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Gina Florio

Gina Florio is a traveling yoga teacher and aspiring writer often in the midst of some minor quarter-life crisis. She completed her undergraduate education at Emory University and graduate degree at Harvard University. Stoked about her hefty student loan payments, she is chasing the perfect beach life complete with serving the less fortunate and reruns of Fawlty Towers.