Yesterday I left my yoga class with a full heart. My clothes were drenched with sweat, my legs and arms quivering with fatigue. I was positively brimming with all the love I have ever felt--for people I no longer see, people with whom I had terrible fights, people who broke my heart or whose heart I broke. All I could remember was that I had once loved them. And I loved the strangers around me too, and there were many of them. It was all there, all at once, a history of love, a future of love, flooding me with good will. I was practically lactating love. And endorphins.

Yoga is something I have done on and off for thirty years. More off than on--and  yet every time I start again, I wonder why I let my practice lapse as it makes me feel so good. I often take a peek at Daily Cup of Yoga to see what new excitement is roiling the yoga world. So I'm going to throw in my two cents about what makes for a great yoga class--and what goes wrong. Herewith a few humble requests for our respected teachers.

PLEASE TURN DOWN THE MUSIC  I would ask you to turn it off, but that might be considered heresy. We enter your classes with minds jangling from the sounds of the streets or the anxieties caroming around in our skulls. We come for respite. To learn to quiet our minds. Otherwise we would be doing aerobics with a disco beat. Just as we settle into class, up comes the volume on the music. This is an unfortunate new development in the last decade or so; I remember a time when there were no iPods (gasp!), practice rooms were not equipped with docking stations,  and no one walked around with wires trailing from their ears.

Of course I could think of the music as yet another challenge against which I must hone the discipline of detachment. It would help if I could hear you explain how to do that.

Teachers, we are in your classes to learn. We actually pay to hear what you are saying. Why must you compete with your playlist? I admit to having a hard time with too much sound coming in at once--a result of the tinnitus that has plagued me (and millions) for years. But I'm not the only one having trouble--because half the room, teenagers included, is looking to the other half to catch the instruction.

Think of us students as babies, laughing babies, if you like. Babies' ear drums are not fully developed for months after they are born. They do not hear quiet, whispery sounds. This is why they don't mind the loud noise of the cars and washing machines to which they seem so drawn. The ears of new yoginis are similarly undeveloped.

PLEASE REORIENT YOURSELVES  Most yoga instructors ask the advanced practitioners to take a place at the front of the room. That makes sense: they help lead the class. But wouldn't it make more sense for the teacher to put herself in the middle of the room--so that she can keep a better watch on the students who are wobbly? Be one with your students.

PLEASE WALK AROUND  When the teacher walks around, adjusting, advising, soothing or urging us on, it feels like real engagement, active teaching. I am always mystified by teachers who take the class with the students; who can see them, down there on the ground?

PLEASE OPEN YOUR HEARTS  There is how to do yoga. And there is why to do yoga. This involves all sorts of muscles one cannot see, beginning with the heart muscle, and including all those involuntary muscles that control negative thinking, self criticism, self ridicule, and etc. It is helpful for teachers to talk about these involuntary muscles, to laugh at the ways in which we try to be perfectionists, to remind us how such thoughts are irrelevant. To teach at a spiritual level, as best they can.

PLEASE TRANSLATE I happen to enjoy chanting. One of the teachers I take class with even brings in her harmonium. I frequently have no idea what on earth we are chanting: translations would be helpful. Otherwise we are left to our filthy imaginations. Same thing goes for all those poses. Give us the bilingual version.

PLEASE SMILE Or at least don't frown. After all, this shouldn't be a grim business.

In return, we promise not to giggle uncontrollably at some gossip we just remembered; not to come to class smelling like a sewer (you know who you are); not to grunt, groan, and moan audibly; not to leave the car running throughout class so that it is warm afterwards; to return the blocks and blankets, properly folded, to their bins; to make room on the floor for our classmates without being asked to move our mats; to respect the concept of private property, antithetical as that might be, and not make off with someone else's mat. I'm referring to the orange one with the flower pattern. At least return it, thoroughly washed.

NAMASTE Which either means "Thank You", "Hello", "I'm Out of Here", or "I bow down to the sacred within you, and within myself"--depending on whose class you just took.


Anonymous said...

Lovely post. I tried yoga a couple of years ago and found it very interesting and soothing. Sadly, because I am a bilateral hip replacement "survivor" (can't think of a better word), I was unable to do many of the positions and found some of the moves a bit painful. I am still looking for a yoga class geared to people with limitations like mine. I'm able to ride a bike, hike, and do just about everything but serious yoga.

Cristina said...

...who knew you could also be so
- soothingly! - stinging.
such a pity this can't be a poster stuck wherever it's needed.

mary said...

Ah, the oneness of life. So beautifully healing. I have physical limitations that prevent me from doing yoga, but I breathe and am at peace. So glad that your heart is settling. Mary

William said...

When this guy's tee-shirts came out a few years ago they were all the rage downtown - I never bought one but I always admired them and I loved the story. Who knew it would turn into quite the little cottage industry.


Ashling said...

Thank you for the laugh! I confess that my very short yoga 'career' was blessed by an instructor who wasn't a skinny-minnie, Gumby-like twenty-something. She was the ideal instructor who taught from the heart....your post has me missing her a great deal! I hope some instructors--particularly yours--take heed of your gentle critiques and manifest them on this plane of existence.

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

I've never been good with enclosed, en masse, physical activity, for all the reasons you mention. Particularly the smells.

My Dog-Eared Pages said...

I have the same pattern with yoga practice. Less than should. And, always feels so good. I love Bikram and I think you've motivated me to get back to class. I've been lucky in most classes with music that was just soft-enough to allow for savasana. Translations are a must! ; )

Everyday Goddess said...

OMG, that is hilarious! Especially the "at least don't frown" part. So true. And the Namaste translations are all spot on.

Personally, my experience leads me to believe that Yoga is another four letter word for Pain.

Karena said...

Excellent Dominique!! The noise should be very soft soothing to the soul, and I agree with evrything!! Love your defintition of Namaste, Ha!

Art by Karena

Tricia O'Brien said...

This really rings true for me, especially about the music. Where did that come from? I too have been taking yoga for about 30 years and I look forward to the quiet, the "being" in my body for a change, instead of my mind. I sometimes like the music, but more often than not, it is another distraction. After moving two years ago, I am lucky to have found a wonderful Monday night teacher who walks around the room, moves from side to side, and generally helps each of us with our positions. I am thrilled to find her. I plan to do yoga for the rest of my life.
Thanks for the great message.

Unknown said...

Remember that there is a difference between "TEACHING" a class and "GIVING" a class. They are called TEACHERS for a reason. TEACH.

William said...

Why do I hate everything about yoga?

I'm an enlightened educated cultured guy. I lecture annually at Harvard. I'm a Republican who voted for Obama and i will again.

Why do I hate yoga?

It just all seems so silly.

I know this is horrible but i see these girls in my gym in the yoga class and it doesn't look like they have ever taken a walk in the park, EVER. I just want to say to them, "Central Park is 2 blocks from here, go take a walk!"

Is Yoga just a way for physically lazy people to do something they consider as being "healthful" and, more important, as a distration to getting on to other issues in life?

Just asking, gals.

Privilege of Parenting said...

One of my teachers taught us that it also means: The light in me recognizes the light in you. I like that version a lot. Here's to taking the yoga with us into all we do. Namaste

Dominique said...

OK William, I'm going to take you on. Of course people should be going for walks. That's strengthening of legs, lungs and hearts. But yoga helps with flexibility, stretching, and strengthening (think isometrics) and balance, all in a single session. There's nothing physically lazy about it all--it is really a hard workout. Guess what? It works for Republics as much as it does for Democrats.

Maybe you don't hate yoga. Maybe you hate any hint of smugness, and that often comes with the territory. But I've noticed the same thing in all runs, walks, and bounces of life....

Anonymous said...

great post... the smile one is a good reminder to all of us teachers. I teach in Sanskrit and English so my students get what I'm saying.

Daily Cup of Yoga said...

Dominique, This post just brought a smile to my face, especially the line about "practically lactating love." My only addition to your requests would be "PLEASE STOP TALKING." Nothing like non-stop chatter from a yoga teacher to ruin a blissful moment. Thanks for taking a peek at the blog. Namaste! Brian

Andrew said...

William, you don't sound enlightened, cultured, or educated. You just sound like a troll. FYI, it's not just "gals" that do yoga.

Little Miss said...

BRILLIANT. Especially regarding music... I love my one instructor for all of the other reasons, except his play list. If music is necessary, let it be something my breath can harmonize with, not fight off with a rumpled forehead!

david terry said...

Three of my longtime friends practice yoga for reasons that have nothing whatsoever to do with "spirtuality", "centeredness",etcetera. One broke her back (and a lot of other stuff) in a horrible car accident many years ago. Another was born with a spinal problem that required 4 or so grotesquely painful, long operations (followed, each time, by 6 or so months in a bodycast) before she was even forty. Both are in their late fifties and are absolutely grateful to live in an area such as this (Duke Medical Center is five minutes away) where many yoga instructors are also allied with the Medical and rehab folks at Duke. Both of them are intent on not allowing their vertebrae to "fuse" again...and to avoid further, increasingly-risky-at-their-age surgery. The third friend had several bad skiing accidents when he was young...all of which were coming back suddenly to haunt/plague him in his fifties. His doctor put him in yoga classes, under some very particular supervision/routine.

I'm supposed to start "doing" yoga myself this Spring. In my case?....I've never been sick a day in my life (had the flu only twice) and have always been giddily athletic/active (coached soccer or twelve years, for that matter). Still?.... in 1990 or so, I fell out of an attic (courtesy of a badly-installed pull-down ladder) and fell flat on my back onto a concrete garage floor. At the time, I didn't really notice anything beyond waking up, looking at the clock and realizing that I had been knocked out for something like 45 minutes.

I never really thought about it again until, just three years ago and with utterly NO "warning signs", I found myself completely unable to get out of the bath-tub. Once I'd crabcrawled my way to the front of the house, a neighbor (he's a medic) showed me how/helped me to stand up. Later that day, and once I was in the hands of the authorities, I was asked if I'd ever had a serious fall?...because the left side of my back muscles seem to have once been torn, long ago, at the pelvic region. In any case, several chiropractors (and, yes, I also used to scoff at these helpful folks....before I NEEDED one) put things right. I was warned that this might/would happen again....which it did....on the top of a very high climb in Chinon this past Christmas. I once again had to crabcrawl my way down (in this case, through an icy, muddy trail). In case you wonder?....it's not dignified, and it's painful as hell.

I'm now told that I have to do yoga, or this will keep re-occurring, and one day I'll need surgery to fix it if I don't attend to it now with yoga and some other flexibility/strengthening exercises. I turned fifty this year, and mother nature just doesn't "fix" everything on her own, it seems.

So, off my tail goes to Yoga come April.

I should emphasize that I'm still crabby about the whole issue. I've been to visit the joint once (it's only a few minutes from my house), and I noticed that they didn't have any ashtrays there. That means I'll have to bring my own, I suppose.


David Terry

William said...


I'll give you the stretching benefits and perhaps it is the hint of smugness that bugs me - but it's also the trendiness that causes me to not trust yoga as being 'all that'.

My friends (and talking about women friends here, sorry) who have now thrown themselves into yoga today equally threw themselves into spinning and then into kickboxing and then into TM and then into Pilates a few years ago - each was the greatest thing at the time and all are forgotten now.

Now it's all about yoga and Kabbalah.

Searching? Distraction? Lemming mentality?

david terry said...


Newsweek carried a very interesting article ("Bow Down to The Yoga Teacher!") on yoga teachers last week:

go to:

Salon had a similarly interesting (for those who, like me, are lookin more than a bit warily at the whole bidness) article. It was titled "Die, Smug Yoga Teacher, Die!". And,yes, of COURSE paranoid-me clicked on it...

go to:


Both were amusing/informative articles.

Leel Best as Ever,

David Terry

SweetRetreat said...

Well, I don't like the smugness of yoga either - and nor do I like the necessity of so much 'garb' that goes with it. Those plastic/rubber/vinyl/PVC mats in an enclosed space cannot healthy. And they smell. Special clothes, water bottles, bags! Yikes.

I'm with William. If I lived in NYC I would be in Central Park (so envious).

Sunny said...

All the instructors at Innerlight Yoga in Middletown, RI already follow your suggestions with no "smug attitude" as referred to above. You should give that studio a try. They offer over 50 classes every week! Namaste.

Dominique said...

Hi there Innerlight Yoga, I'm delighted to know about you. I also know a fantastic yoga teacher in Tiverton, Rhode Island, Caryl Sickul, whose classes I love. My bad yoga experiences have tended to be in NYC--where I guess there is so much happening that you get the bad with the good. Many thanks. And Namaste.

Dominique said...

David Terry: I think the yoga is going to help your back enormously, but be sure you don't overstretch reaching for your ashtray; that's how injuries happen.

karenleslie said...

as a former chiropractor, i found the therapeutic benefits of yoga unrivalled and recommended it to many patients. david, i'm glad to hear you recognize the benefits of both chiropractic treatments and yoga to your healing process. i was always amazed at the number of doctors who referred patients to me in whispered voices "don't tell anyone i suggested this, but you should go see a chiropractor."

regarding yoga, there is nothing trendy about something that's been around for literally thousands of years. that said, many people follow the latest trends without critically understanding the point. i think yoga will continue to be popular and then lose popularity, only to return to poularity again, but that doesn't change the fact that it works... the chinese have a saying that you are only as young as your spine is flexible.

Lynette said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lynette said...

I'm a yoga teacher and I would like to thank you for this post. It is a great reminder for teachers, new and experienced. Also, it reminds us to continue being a student. Thanks and have a great week!

david terry said...

@ "Karen Sandburg"....

Just for the record? My Duke doctor sent me to the chiropractor, and the chiropractor's the one who's sent me to the yoga-folks.

We're lucky hereabouts in that both Duke and UNC Medical center have, over the past twenty or so years, made very concerted and consistent efforts (both public and within the medical-professionals community) to increase cooperation/communication between, say surgeons & chiropractors (same with obstetricians and midwives). etcetera.

there are, of course, some "horror stories", but it's still the case that, as a very general rule hereabouts, one isn't forced to "choose" (in an either/or dichotomy) between methods of treatment/care.

It's a far cry from the days, as late as the 1980's, when my surgeon grandfather or uncles(this was in a small, East Tennessee town) would no more recommend or even discuss a chiropractor than they would give you tips on finding a decent headshop.

----David Terry

Anna Guest-Jelley said...

Love this! I'm so with you on the no music and translation points!

Ken said...

As always, your writings are as soothing as a yoga session. Glad to have been reading you since the H&G days!

VL said...

Dear William and David Terry: I sympathize! Do take care to find a good instructor, though -- makes all the difference. What counts as "good" might differ somewhat from one person to the next, but years of experience teaching seems to help.

My body's response to yoga is very different from its response to any other type of workout I've experienced. It makes me feel both energized and relaxed at the same time. I've never been a devotee of any form of exercise other than dance, for brief spells, so I can't be accused of faddishness. :) And the proof is in the pudding, as they say: there's a strong inverse correlation between how frequently I do yoga and how frequently I visit my chiropractor. Stop doing yoga, and I need to be adjusted once a month; pick up yoga again and I get to send him a Christmas card. Since much of my time is spent sitting, and yoga was originally concocted as a way to help monastic types sit and meditate for longer periods without getting stuck, it's an ideal form of exercise for me.

For those of you who are in NYC, I would recommend taking a class with Frank Mauro at OM Yoga studio near Union Square. He is wonderfully precise in his explanations, has an eagle eye to help students, encourages use of props to make sure you don't overdo it, and I've never been bored or felt my mind wander in one of his classes. (Can't say that for most teachers.) My other favorite teacher, Margi Young, was a former ballet dancer and choreographer, which helped her be a superb instructor (she moved to CA, so I can't recommend her class at OM anymore).

Anonymous said...

Do yoga here:


the real thing, not trendy -- just intelligent, inspiring, profound. Music?

sfauthor said...

Good points. Do you know about these yoga books?


BTW, the most literal translation of "namaste" is "salutations to you."

Leslie said...

Adding two rupees to the discussion: Aerobics is boring. Yoga is not. There is no getting to the bottom of yoga, no finding oneself at the end of the cul de sac, no being done. The language, the poses, the ideas (articulated by the best teachers) are endless. Yes, the "scene" can be annoying, but it also be a source of community and friendship.

Thanks Dominique. A beautiful use of the verb "lactate," btw. Snort!

Clara said...

As I recently found out when having a conversation about money with a friend, sometimes what we think we're talking about isn't really what we're talking about. Sometimes our responses to yoga, if we've never taken a class --or experienced a bad one-- is our reaction to what we've heard or think we know about it or whatever bothered us about the experience we had. And, yes, I know that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, so I'm not assuming that that's always the case, in these comments or more broadly.

For instance, as a Recovering Perfectionist :-) I don't do well with the "I'm perfect and you should be too" approach, since I'm trying hard to wean myself from perfectionism in my life. (I also think that it says something about the attitude of the studio and/or teacher, but that's another comment).

My favorite yoga teacher tells us that "every pose is the perfect pose," and that sure works for me. By this he means that whatever our body can do at this moment in time is just what it should be doing, whether or not it looks like the picture in the yoga manual. It doesn't mean that we don't try to move correctly -- as Dominique mentions, there are reasons for the specificity of the postures in yoga -- but that comparing ourselves with the person on the mat next to us, or berating ourselves for not doing as "well" as we did last week, is neither compassionate nor healthy.

To me, yoga was initially nearly 20 years ago) a way to learn to stretch safely and to help me concentrate on something other than the rock in my stomach during a very difficult time in my life. It served its purpose and then I simply forgot about it.

Having come back to it several years ago, this time as a way to remain flexible and strong and to calm my mind, I've found more, including a calmness, energy, and spirit that are helping me transform the way I live my life.

I've never considered myself of the "woo woo" variety (where did we ever come up with phrase, anyway?), but the more I read about yoga's history and its purpose, the less I can find to take issue with.

I think one important thing to remember is that there are many different types of yoga (many of the newer styles having emerged fairly recently), and that different styles suit different people. You couldn't get me in a Bikram class if my life depended on it, but a friend swears by it. it. This also holds true for teachers, too. If you have the luxury, keep looking for the combination of class and teacher that meets your needs.

I live in a town where yoga teachers seem to be as prevalent as Starbucks baristas were when I lived in Washington, D.C., so after I got some basic experience, I spent time trying out different studios and teachers. It took me a while, since my yoga "budget" is pretty limited, but I found one studio, and two teachers, and I alternate their classes every other week. Thank goodness I didn't have to make the rounds of every place in town!

Thanks, Dominique, for your thoughtful suggestions.

Carolyn said...

I do yoga first of all because it enables me move more freely, with greater awareness and control over my body, less stiffness and awkwardness, and greater strength. Yoga leaves me more relaxed and energetic as I do everything else--such as frequent walks in the park. I recently turned 60 and yoga is the key to maintaining mobility, strength and good health.

I also like yoga because it requires next to no equipment, special clothing, etc. It's so unfussy. It's not competitive, you just do your best within your own limits. It makes me stronger, too. Unlike some other types of exercise, it doesn't give me the feeling that I'm slinging my body around in a military way.

Yoga also helps develop habits of mind that seem beneficial: calmness, awareness, a sense of proportion. There is a spiritual aspect to this, but there is nothing about yoga that insults my intellect. I don't feel I'm joining a cult or trying to believe in something that requires suspension of reason.

Anonymous said...

I loved your comments on Tom Ashbrook's "On Point," and was gobsmacked by your mention of Gurumayi. That was completely unexpected. Has anyone been after you to try Anusara yoga? Gurumayi was a teacher to John Friend, the style's founder. I would highly recommend trying it if you haven't. (Elena Brower, in fact, is based in New York).

Design Directory said...

How I wish I will learn yoga. Unfortunately I don't have the luxury of time. Maybe some home lessons will do at least for the time being.

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