Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Listen harder to yourself

Lately I've noticed lots of coming and going in the yoga room. Refilling water bottles, getting a Kleenex, going to the bathroom. One person starts the exodus, and then it spreads like ringworm. I've observed it more as student than as a teacher. One person leaves the room and soon there are three, four, TEN people jumping off their mats to do something seemingly urgent. But what is urgent during a 90-minute yoga class really? Yes, sometimes a student really truly needs to do some business in the bathroom. Of course, by all means, go to the bathroom. But 99% of the time there is really no great reason to leave one's mat.

As a teacher I'm pretty strict about this stuff and make no bones about my approach. "Strictness", I tell my students, "is the love language of The SweatBox." I remember kids (including me) doing dumb stuff in childhood and adolescence. A teacher or a parent would inevitably respond to our stupidity with, "If Max jumped off the bridge, would you do it?" That cliche phrase is one that most of us heard (some of us with more frequency than others) during childhood. I use it with my own daughter. "Think for yourself," I tell her. "Be your own person."

A regular yoga practice will result in a more connected self. There is more connection between the physical and the mental, the emotional and the spiritual. With regular practice one can also develop a stronger sense of self, a more clear point of focus and direction. Ninety minutes can seem like an eternity some days, and there are potentially thousands of distractions to lead us astray in every session. We have to be committed to following our own path, not that of someone else in the room. As Bikram himself says, "Don't let anyone steal your peace."

When one person in a class makes the first move, hops off her mat to get water in the middle of the posture, there is an interruption in the class that invites other people to follow suit, ("jump off the bridge with Max"). It's so easy. We've all done it. We see that sneaky cat get across the room with no trouble and figure it's easy so we do it too. Some teachers (yours truly) are more vocal about discouraging this behavior. I make it clear as a teacher that my expectation is that people won't do this. So recently, as a student, when I watched 5, 7, 12 other students interrupting their practice with silly distractions, I started to wonder why they do it in this class, but not in my class.

And here's what I realized. We're all human. We live in a world filled with temptations and sometimes we fall prey to them, even when we don't want to. This is why yoga is important, why it makes us healthier, saner, more calm. Yoga helps us develop our own internal voice to guide us through the distractions. It shouldn't matter if a teacher ever says one word about staying on your mat. Part of your yoga practice is building your discipline, honing your internal voice, so that it is louder than any other. You are your most important teacher and your internal voice, your more connected voice, if you listen, is likely telling you to stay on your mat.


  1. I completely agree, Laura. I love this part,"You are your most important teacher and your internal voice, your more connected voice, if you listen, is likely telling you to stay on your mat."
    I love, love the strictness of Bikram yoga. I love working with the postures, attempting to keep the proper form, even if I can't go that far into the posture. I love getting back into savasana efficiently during the floor series.
    And I would never dream of getting up off my mat! Unless I was puking :)
    Thank you for upholding the strictness...out of love.

  2. Thanks for your post, Laura. I really needed to hear this today as I prepare for your 5:00pm class. Sometimes I am distracted and frustrated easily by others fidgeting and moving around the room. I forget that staying still is one of the hardest things for people to do, myself included. So today, I'll try to stay focused on myself and my own practice, and not what is going on around me. And I won't leave my mat! ;)

  3. Thanks Melissa and Amy for your comments. Staying still really is so hard, but cultivating that skill is so important. See you on your mat!


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