I’ve come a long way in my yoga journey.
There is so much to learn, so much to experience, and keeping the eyes of a student is only going to help me to continue to grow and evolve in my practice, and off of my mat.
My very first yoga class was on September 11th, 2001.
Yup. THE 09/11.
If you have PTSD regarding this topic, scroll to the bottom or click off the page.
I was driving to my classes at the local community college while listing to Pamela Anderson being interviewed on The Howard Stern Show when the first plane hit.
It was surreal and I was in shock. I kept listening, heard him announce in real time when the second plane hit, and was late to my first class.
When I walked into school, no one had heard the news. We had cell phones but no one was as connected as they are today.
I hesitated whether I should make an announcement to the class or not, but struggled because I was still unsure of what happened, and was in denial. I whispered to my friend Aaron and he kept saying “not ah, not ah.”
After that class, I had a yoga session that was on my schedule because I wanted to learn more about the practice since I knew I was interested in working in the fitness/wellness industry.
Walking in, the instructor had the radio on with the news, and there was an eery silence. All I wanted to do was go home and see my mom and my siblings.
The instructor had that soft “yoga voice,” but you could hear the sadness on that particular day.
She asked us to journal, and write about our feelings, and if there was anything we wanted to share with the group we could (not required).
Now, there wasn’t anything wrong with that … but as a 19-year-old, who was very confused about her feelings, and hadn’t had the chance to process or understand what was happening, it felt strange.
She walked us through some Pranayama basics, but it felt uncomfortable to me.
This was probably because the breath is so powerful, it was something I never focused on, and to start on such a traumatic day really effected me negatively at that time.
It was no fault of the instructor, or the class.
It was just a very unfortunate day to begin my yoga journey.
When we were finally able to leave to go home, about 3/4 way through the class, I jetted out the door, later dropped that class, and didn’t look back again at yoga for several years.
I doesn’t help that I associated my first experience with the most traumatic day for our country during my lifetime.
I think if I had been in a different place in my life, or had some experience with the practice already, I would have embraced it …. but all I can say to describe that experience is that it was very uncomfortable. I could not get comfortable with feeling my discomfort.
To make matters worse, it took me over two and a half hours to get home (normally a 15-20 minute commute), unable to get through to my mom on the phone since all circuits were busy, (while crying my eyes out listening to the radio).
There was so much stress, tension, and sadness.
I am pretty sure if I had already had yoga in my life, that experience on that day would have been different. More open. More receptive. Maybe I would have been more comfortable with feeling my feelings, but then again, I think I am not alone when I say that at that time it was so hard to process what actually was happening.
Today, I don’t know how I could live without this practice.
As an instructor, I transitioned from a fitness trainer to a power yoga teacher, which was a little but of an adjustment.
I’ll be honest, when I think about my very early teaching days … sometimes I cringe.
Yoga is a journey, and we are constantly learning and evolving. As students, as teachers.
As long as we ALL remain students, and remain open, honest, and authentic to our story … we can keep making it a happy one.
There are so many types of yoga. After I tried Hatha on 09/11, I took a Vinyasa class about 5 years later, and felt so intimidated and judged myself the entire time.
Before I got pregnant with my daughter I started doing those On Demand Yoga Works videos at home on my gym “off” days, then once I was pregnant I took prenatal yoga religiously.
After Ella was born, I took my first studio power yoga class … and it was the hardest thing I had ever done, but also the best.
I was hooked.
I was ready to let go of judgment of myself, and stop telling myself stories in my head about what I couldn’t do, and just went for it.
I’ve learned a lot, and by no means am an expert!
The gifts we receive from this practice are so personal … and there is so much more to yoga than the poses.
And although the journey is persona, there are some things I wanted to talk about that will may make your experience even more enjoyable, if both teachers and students can let them go!
I may have done a couple of these things on or off this list, and here is my apology to to universe and myself for doing any harm before I knew any better.
I’ve done it.
SO many times.
Never judging others … but ALWAYS, constantly would judge myself.
When someone is new to my class I do my very best to make them feel welcomed, and hopefully comfortable. Trust me when I say that NO one is worried about you, most of the time we are all so focused on our own mats and getting out of our own heads.
I will be completely honest and say that EVERY single student that walks into my class inspires me every day in one way or another. Whether you take handstands or child’s pose … I am in awe. In awe of everyone that listens to their own body, and honors where they are in that moment!
Every person begins at the beginning. Don’t compare your beginning to someone else’s middle. Hell, I have friends who started practicing after me that are much more athletic, flexible, whatever. It doesn’t matter. It is not about the poses and how well you perform them, but coming onto your mat for an hour and just letting go of all the crap that makes us so tense. Resetting our minds and taking care of our bodies by moving mindfully.
Every time we come on our mats it is different. Even learning to let go of comparing yourself … to YOURSELF can be hard.
Work towards letting go of all judgment. I know it is difficult, but this practice makes it easier if you are receptive to it.
We come to yoga to release the distraction. It may be the only distraction-free hour you have in your entire day! I know I speak for myself that most of the time I am working so hard to quiet the chatter in my mind, that if I had a phone or an apple watch (<<–which are a sneaky means of distraction IMO) attached to me it just would defeat the purpose.
We are so connected, all the time.
If we can learn to just practice shifting the focus from the constant chatter in the mind to our breath, we can practice more presence in our lives for the people and moments and things that matter the most.
Don’t bring your phone to your yoga mat 😉
3. Body Shaming
This is something I feel extremely strongly about.
It would take a lot for me to walk out of a yoga class, but if I ever heard an instructor intentionally or unintentionally body shame a student, or the class, I think my mat may have to get rolled up. Luckily this has yet to happen, and I know the instructors where I teach are on the same page, but I have to put it out there.
“Bikini season is coming, let’s do more boats”
“Let’s hold this a little longer to burn off all the food we ate over the holidays.”
The intention may be innocent, but these statements can be very triggering to anyone suffering from body image or food issues and have no place in a yoga class.
I have had well-meaning students, a few times actually, ask me loudly in the middle of or after a class about how many calories my class burns. It always takes me back and I never quite know how to answer it because:
1. I don’t want to bring more attention to “calories” and “yoga” being in the same sentence, and
2. I don’t want the student who asked to feel bad if I dismiss the question abruptly, that I am sure had harmless intentions.
I usually say something like “I am not sure, it’s not something I focus on in yoga, or at all.”
I’ll tell you right now, we don’t come to yoga to burn calories.
4. Blanket Statements
This one is more for instructors.
It’s probably something I was guilty of in my early teaching days, maybe sharing a meme, or a quote in class.
Kristin really hit the nail on the head as to why statements such as:
“Like attracts like”
“What you think you become”
“If you see it in your mind you can hold it in your hand”
“As you think so shall you be”
Can be very triggering and counter-intuitive to the intention. These statements need more explaining, and more compassion. Check out this post!
5. Medical Advice
Your yoga instructor is not a doctor.
Unless your yoga instructor is a doctor.
I have been in the wellness industry for about 15 years and if I had a dollar for all the times people asked me questions I was not qualified to answer I would be able to afford a year in medical school.
I love wellness, I know a lot about food, I read a lot about nutrition,I have many certifications, but I am not a doctor.
In fact, now when people ask me something I have them so trained they begin with “I know you’re not a doctor, but ….” and it cracks me up every time. Oh how disappointed they get when I say “go to the doctor.”
Trust me, I get it.
Many medical doctors aren’t into the holistic aspect,and we want to bounce ideas off of our friends/teachers in our trusted wellness community.
We can’t disregard, however, that doctors know more than your yoga instructor when it comes to your injury or illness.
And to be able to continue that relationship of trust, we have to know our place, and look out for your best interest.
I can steer you towards good food, good books, or other resources to support your body naturally … but I am not going to pretend I can “heal you.”
Luckily today it is MUCH easier to find a great doctor that is into a holistic aspect, not just writing prescriptions.
Medical advice has no place in a yoga studio, unless your yoga instructor is a doctor specializing in whatever advice you are seeking.
Have you ever had an unfortunate experience in a yoga class? What do you think there is no room for in a yoga studio?
Side note: Thinking back to my very first class on that very very traumatic day, I am not quite sure I would have done anything different from the teacher than ask the students to just quietly journal, or meditate, or just work with the breath.
If you are new to the practice, and happen to begin it on a day that just wasn’t right … don’t give up. Try different type of yoga, on a better day, until you find what you vibe with and makes you feel your best!