“First time? For real?“
“First time,” he says cracking a tentative smile.
“Dude! Awesome,” I shout as I give him a high five.
“What about you girls in the back?” I ask as I return to the front of the room. I look at a cluster of young women sitting in the back, who I guess to be in their 20’s.
“Second class,” the one in the corner says.
“Second class ever?”
“This is the best night!” I say slamming the palm of my hand on the floor. “I’m so happy you’re here!”
I am sitting on my mat in front of my Thursday night New to Yoga class with a room full of beginners.
I begin my “talk,” a two minute overview on the purpose of yoga, according to Pantanjali, the sage, who, some 3,000 years ago organized the system of yoga through his written work called The Sutras upon which most yoga lineages can be traced back to.
I explain to them that the aim of yoga is to enable us to learn to control the fluctuations of our minds. And that we first do this by working with the body, working with the postures and our breath. We do this by becoming completely aware of what our bodies are doing in each posture and aware of our thoughts in each posture. Because once we are able to watch our thoughts we can begin to control them.
This is an eye opener for some people and stuff that not everyone’s ready to hear when they walk into their first yoga class. Most people walk into their first class because they heard yoga will provide stress relief, flexibility, a shapelier butt, or more sculpted arms. Controlling their thoughts never came into the equation. But at the least, I feel the need to explain Pantanjali’s theory to them. I feel the need to explain to them the life changing potential of yoga.
I know many, so many, who don’t want to be responsible for their thoughts. They want to blame their thoughts and their feelings about themselves on others.
At first I try to be gentle about these concepts, but after you’ve worked with me a while, I get pretty blunt. I tell you to buck up. I tell you to get out of your own way. I remind you that you are the only person responsible for your own happiness, and I remind you often.
I encourage my students to push themselves beyond their known physical limitations.
It’s not unheard of for me to get the eye roll from one of my girls when I have the class stay in Warrior 2 for a lengthy amount of time.
“Iyeangar said that pain is our guru,” I say to my eye roller. “Stay there a little longer and try to see what you should learn.”
When you push yourself on the mat, you’re more likely to push yourself off the mat. That mat is your training ground for life. And I use the postures to train you.
I make you hold Chaturanga to test your strength.
I put you in Crow to test your balance.
Every now and then I’ll take you through 12 entire rounds of Sun Salutations to test your endurance.
I encourage you to listen to yourself.
I support you in discovering what feels right.
I remind you to stop judging yourself.
I teach according to Iyengar’s interpretation of the Sutras and Swami Satyananda’s interpretation and Swami Satchidananda’s interpretation. But it’s an interpretation through my eyes, not theirs. It’s no longer the interpretation that my favorite teachers gave me or the director of my teacher training. Maybe that’s good and maybe that’s bad but it feels authentic. When I teach this way, my heart is in it because I want to give these students what’s been given to me. It took me a while to find my voice in front of a yoga class, because at first I thought that teaching the “right way” was to teach a class like one of my favorite teachers did. I tried to emulate them. I tried to speak quietly.
But speaking quietly has never worked for me. Ever. I’m loud. And I’m loud as a yoga teacher.
I love yoga so much, how can I not be loud about it?
When one of my guys did his fist crow into a jump back chaturnaga, I gave him a high five. The class applauded.
It’s not unheard of for you to find Pearl Jam on my class playlist.
We laugh in my class. A lot.
We are here to be happy, and that’s what yoga teaches us. Part of its purpose is to help us get in touch with the inner bliss that is inherently ours.
Underneath your fears and biases and that filter through which you see the world and all of the ways that you have created the illusions of differences between you and other people, sits a piece of you that’s completely untarnished, by life and your baggage and your complexes and your perceived limitations and your childhood hurts and your neuroses.
Sometimes we have to dig deep to get to that untarnished piece. Sometimes, we have to look at things about ourselves that we never wanted to see.
I believe in that untarnished piece in me and I believe in that untarnished piece in you.
Sometimes, the journey requires us to be silent, and sometimes the journey tolerates some noise.
I’d like to think that Pantanjali would approve of the occasional fist bump I give out in class. I mean, what’s so special about the path to enlightenment if we can’t have a little fun every now and then along the way?
This post is dedicated to my lovely friend Michelle Montero, professional photographer and creator of the blog Callias Corner. It was inspired by her post “Image Overload” that I featured as one of my “Favorites of the Year.“ Michelle, I have 100% certainty that so long as your style is your own when you are behind the camera, every photo you take will be as spectacular as you are. xo
In what areas of your life can you be more yourself?