Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Well that was just awful....

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.


  1. I have a question for you, Bloggy. Every time I had an awful class, I started bringing in rabbit's feet. When I felt distracted beyond reason with hair in my eyes, I brought in a bobby pin. Then two. When I wanted to gag, I brought in a lozenge. Then two, then three, just in case. When I felt dizzy from lower blood sugar, I brought in GU Gel. Just the one.

    You taught me a lot that first year. Was it noticeable, my little shop I set up? No one said a peep until I went to teacher training, then all of the sudden I realized that maybe I didn't need my props. But, gah!, I do think I needed them that first year.

    As my teacher, did you ever want to jump up and down on my trinket aisle? Were you sage enough to not even notice?

    I've now started to see some darling students develop similar tics and 'bad' habits and am itching to say ... something. anything. I feel like I'm watching someone move in to a bad neighborhood... and I do struggle with 'teaching' duties. Is it just the dialogue, ma'am, and nothing more? Or do we have an obligation to guide people out of bad 'hoods?

  2. I say you absolutely have an obligation as a teacher to help students break bad habits and form good habits. That being said, you never know what's going on with a student, so have compassion, tred lightly, act from a place of love rather than control. My guiding principle, or one of them, is "Structure is one of the greatest expressions of love." Give them structure and they will soar.


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