April 9, 2015

My Yoga Class Is Not Your Gym.

Meditation contemplation

I teach yoga for the spirit, for connection, for understanding, release and awareness.

Over the winter, I took a massive break from teaching. I needed to reorient myself and focus on my practice. I needed to heal and to receive more than I had to give. Over this time, my view of teaching—and my practice itself—shifted fundamentally.

When I felt ready to start offering classes again, the obvious choices were to teach pranayama (breathwork) and guided meditation. I was still rebuilding my asana practice (the physical poses) as I recovered from having had surgery, so I wasn’t ready to offer anything more physical.

I was also still confused in that area. I was confused by people seeing pictures of yogis in poses and thinking: “I could never do that. Yoga must not be for me.” I was confused by the idea of someone coming to a yoga class “just for the workout.” And I was confused by people thinking yoga is exclusive to any one kind of person.

So I taught meditation. It’s the first class I ever offered. It’s my passion and it’s something I hope to always offer.

I believe if everyone was given the tools to comfortably meditate (observe and go within), so much healing would take place and so much possibility would open up in the world.

I also love asana. I recognize it as a beautiful way to move into awareness and become more familiar with our beings. It is a part of yoga that allows the whole practice to be, well, holistic.

But meditation is my priority—to all of you, as well as for myself. I offer this class over others because it’s so badly needed and so rarely offered.

Why are yoga teachers so afraid to go into more breathing exercises? Into life quandaries and profound emotions? Into the uncomfortable shiftiness that takes place when we sit with the discomfort that often surfaces, but tends to bury itself deep within?

I believe so many of us teachers are afraid to take our students to uncomfortable places because those places are uncomfortable for us, too. We want to please. And in my experience, the truly uncomfortable arises in the silence, the darkness, the surrender, the scariness and the stillness.

Yet that is also where our power lies.

That is where the ability to find the most abundant inner peace comes from. And it only seems scary when you have no idea how to go there or feel like you’re going it alone.

Cue my class earlier this morning. A few students show up late. No problem. They enter and roll out their mats as the rest of us are just beginning to center into our breath. I bring over some props and greet them. I give them cues to help settle in, as the rest of us had begun to do.

Yet I still feel this shiftiness and anxiousness from over in their corner. I start to observe them more. I realize they are doing some stretching. They’re dressed in super spandexy clothes—full sweat headbands and everything. And it hits me:

They think they’re in a vinyasa flow class.

Oh no!

Their shiftiness is going nowhere. Something must be said. I walk over and ask what they were expecting and tell them this is a guided breathwork and meditation class, with yoga nidra, which is sort of like guided relaxation.

The astounded look on her face as she asks, “So this is an hour-long meditation class?”

Why yes. Yes, it is.

To which she replies, “But I looked it up online and it said it was a yoga class.”

Cue everything I was confused about this past winter. What do most people think yoga is anyway? A bunch of flopping around on mats followed by suddenly breaking out into a sweat and doing a perfect handstand?

Yoga can be all those things, but it’s also stillness and quiet and being okay with whatever life throws your way, which is sometimes a meditation class when you were expecting vinyasa flow.

I gave them the opportunity to leave and was slightly relieved when they took it. I was a little saddened by the occurrence and the overall state of what “yoga” has become these days. But I was also grateful for the myriad of students before me who were willing to find the bravery it takes to boldly look within.

I was grateful that our safe space had been restored.

I want to make it clear that I’m not bashing these women. Sometimes movement is what is needed to be able to still ourselves. In that case, by all means let’s find abundant movement! It’s just that I see this all too often. People refusing to delve deeper, to give a real yoga practice a chance to show what it’s truly made of.

 So as much for myself as for all my future students:

If you’re simply looking for a workout, please leave. I find you offensive and can give you directions to the nearest gym.

If you’re open to diving into something deeper and want to experience what this practice can actually do for you, please stay. I’d be happy to broach that subject with you.

If you’re hoping to move rapidly and lose your breath because of always striving to stretch further and be better, you might be in for a big surprise. I might ask you to take it slow and find power from within by backing off. I’ll let you decide.

And if you’re open to laughing and crying and being blown away by the wildness that lies within you, then please do stay. Let’s go there together.

It took me a long time to get to this place, to feel compassion and confidence in what I offer. It took me a long time to recognize that I’m not here to please everybody and that some people just don’t enjoy what I offer, or at least aren’t in a place to give it a chance. I’m okay with that too.

Just know that if you come to my class and say it’s not “yoga” because it’s not vinyasa flow, you’ll have to excuse me because I will need to go meditate.



Author: Jessica Cartwright

Editor: Evan Yerburgh

Photo Credit: Flickr


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themenopausalminimalist Mar 25, 2016 9:17pm

When you sit down on your mat to teach a Yoga class… you must teach the students that come to you, you accept them at that moment in time with no judgement or preconceived ideas. A good teacher can take their message ( their yoga) and make it fit the practitioner. We can not be so "stiff" as teachers that we can not make adjustments to what we are teaching. I can not imagine EVER turning a student away from a yoga class. i have had beginners in advanced classes and the other way around (it can be frustrating) but, it is I, the teacher that needs to adjust not the student. Although I have empathy for the author my compassion lies with the people she is teaching.

Melanie Mar 25, 2016 1:14pm

I think a misconception among students and teachers alike, is that if you teach yoga you must be more evolved, more self aware, have something others don’t. The reality is somewhere along our own path we found access to self transformation and made the decision to hold space for others to do the same. Being of service this way allows us deepen our own spiritual awakening and purpose as we allow others to do the same, in their own way in their own time. I find it unsettling, to say the least, that as teachers we are peddling to our students that what they need is something we personally can give them. To offer anything other than an access to their own personal power, intuition, and purpose is irresponsible and a misplace use of position and influence. Meditation, yoga, asana, breathing techniques can all become one more addiction for people to feel peace if they don’t understand how to access it within themselves. Our responsibility is to allow our students a safe and sacred place to play around with breath, with asana, with stillness, with being around like minded people, to discover for themselves who they are and why they are here. We don’t create the meaning, we give opportunity for them to create and recognize it. If I walked into any studio and felt like I couldn’t be myself, experiment, feel supported, feel open to be curious about who I am and how I’m showing up, well, it wouldn’t be the place for me. I hope as teachers we are not getting so wrapped up in a perspective that maybe works for us, that we lose sight of who we are here to serve, the continued responsibility for our own growth, and not getting attached to how it all comes to pass.

ecogayle Aug 4, 2015 5:33pm

Jessica, I hear where you're coming from. I also appreciate your honesty. I just had this article published today. Let me know what you think. http://www.elephantjournal.com/2015/08/yoga-is-no

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Jessica Cartwright

Jessica Cartwright is on a mission to make the world a better place, one happy mom at a time. She provides mothers with the tools they need to support themselves, so that they can support their loved ones. She teaches pre and postnatal yoga locally in her hometown of Bozeman and through her virtual course, Mamas with Spirit. Her obsessions include making sourdough bread, sunshine, and her daughter Bella. Stop by and say hi on Instagram or her website.