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.