Yesterday I had a brand new student in class. As always, I fully briefed her on the heated room, taking breaks, and being open minded about what to expect in her first Bikram class. She seemed to be fine for the first few postures. While she didn't smile, she also didn't audibly moan or grunt or signify indications of discomfort. Towards the floor series, I could tell she wasn't loving class, but she stayed.... until the last posture. At spine twisting, she abruptly rolled up her mat and walked out. I called out, "Wait, you're almost done. This is your last posture!" But, alas, she was out the door.
It's very unusual for a student to leave the room at that stage in class. I mean, once you're in the last 5 minutes, it doesn't really make sense to abandon ship. After final Savasana, I found the student in The SweatBox lobby. She was quietly sitting, her mat rolled up on her lap. When she saw me, she stood up. "How are you?" I asked, "you did really great for your first time." (She really did).
"Well, that was just awful" she said. "That was really really unpleasant. I just hated that." I'm not sure what my exact response was. I probably told her the heat takes a while to get used to. I might have said something about the first time always being the most difficult. But she was done. "I'm never coming back" she said, "that was really just awful." Okay. Bye.
I've been teaching Bikram Yoga for over 11 years. I've taught thousands of students. My skin is pretty thick. I didn't take this student's comment personally. Not at all. She's right. Sometimes yoga practice is awful. Sometimes it's really awful. That's the point. We practice through the discomfort, the unfamiliarity, the heat. If you're a new practitioner, you might still be in the throes awfulness. If you've been practicing twenty years, you too will have practices that are awful. And then, you'll have practices that are wonderful, enlightening, epiphanic.
It's hard to tell a brand new student that "awfulness" is part of the process. Until you've endured the struggle of practicing through hard times, it won't really make sense. Once you've been there, seen both sides of hard and easy, inflexible and flexible, wobbly and balanced, you know how important all of the experiences are in your practice.
Maybe I should have tried harder with the new student, pushed her to understand more. I hope that she tries yoga again so she can see the other side of "the awful."
As for myself, the experience with this new student was a great reminder for my own practice. I remember those early days.... Some days yoga class was so hard. And now, almost twenty years later, it still is sometimes. The only difference is that now I know the rest of the story.