How many students does a yoga class make?

Photo: lululemon

It was 7:43 am and I was standing alone in the studio staring at the clock. Should I take away the sign in sheet? I wondered. I shuffled some papers around the front desk and then looked up at the clock again: 7:44 am. My morning class was supposed to start in one minute and no one was here. I would not be disappointed by this, I reminded myself. This is how it works in a very small town. Though I had been teaching at this studio for a few months now and my other classes were starting to fill up, this early morning class had been a ‘test’ class on the new schedule, to see if anyone was interested in yoga before weekday working hours.

Apparently, they weren’t.

At 7:45 am I started a mental list of things that I could accomplish in my newly vacant hour. I reached over to put away the blank sign-in sheet, but just as I did so I heard a car door close outside. I glanced out the window to see my single dedicated early morning student rushing toward the studio. She was running late. I smiled and left the sign-in sheet on the front desk. After a quick mental calculation my brain reminded me that I could make more money not teaching this class than I would by teaching. I pushed the thought aside; it didn’t matter right now. This would be my last early morning class (unfortunately I do still have bills to pay), and I’d give this one student the yoga experience that she came for.

I experienced a moment of internal embarrassment in the opening moments of the class. Could I really call it a class with only one student? How many students does a yoga class make? The benefits for the student were clear: personalized attention and a chance to have the practice tailored for her, all for the cost of a regular yoga class. The benefits for me? Well, they certainly weren’t financial. But in a one-on-one setting, this student was more likely to ask questions and provide direct feedback; a valuable learning experience as a teacher.

In the final moments of the class, after the closing om and namaste, I glanced up at my single dedicated student and thanked her genuinely for coming to the class.

After all, a class of one is better than a class of none.

I gave up coffee: why you have to fail to succeed.

I’d like to share something with you that I’ve learned: if you want to change a habit you have to be prepared to fail.

I love coffee. The taste, the smell, and the coffee shop scene all just draw me in like a fish on a lure. But I don’t drink it. In fact, I gave up coffee almost three years ago, and caffeine entirely more than two years ago – but before you go thinking that I made a ‘lifestyle choice’ so that I could be more ‘yogic’ or something, let me tell you: I did NOT want to give up coffee.

A number of years ago, I was what you’d call an average coffee drinker. One or two cups per day, a latte and a regular coffee perhaps, and everything seemed quite normal. But slowly over time, without noticing at first, I started to become stressed in a bad way. After trying the medicated route, I decided it wasn’t for me and started paying attention to my life to try to discover the reason for my stress. It wasn’t until I spent a morning in my office having an anxiety attack after drinking a large coffee that it occurred to me there may be a connection between caffeine and my anxiety problems. So I decided on a test: give up coffee for one week, and see how I feel.

One day and one massive headache later, I completely hated this plan. But, being the achiever that I am, I decided to stick with it anyway, and by the end of the week I felt okay. Not miraculous, but not bad. Still, I loved coffee and craved it so when the week was over, I went out and got a coffee. And boy did I feel awful. Shortly after drinking it, I felt stressed, incredibly anxious, and just all around bad. Immediately swore off coffee again, and as the weeks turned into months, realized that I was giving up coffee for good. Was I happy about that? No. But did I feel better? Definitely. And the farther away I got from drinking coffee regularly, the more I started to notice how other caffeinated drinks were affecting me too, so I gave those up too. And that was that.

Okay, it wasn’t quite that simple. Here’s the truth: during the first year or so, I probably had a coffee or decaf coffee once every six to ten weeks, when I was really missing it. The next year after that I maybe had a caffeinated drink once every few months. I was breaking my no-caffeine rule, but I’m glad I did. Because every time I broke it, I felt awful and remembered exactly why I quit caffeine in the first place. I would chastise myself: “Why did you do this? You know caffeine makes you feel terrible!” and re-commit with even more determination that next time, I would just say no. Because of this the lure of coffee became less and less appealing over time, as I became more and more determined not to feel like that again. Now I can’t even remember the last time that I had a caffeinated drink; I don’t consider it as an option anymore.

The point here is that I had to fail every now and then in order to succeed. Just like sometimes in yoga you have to fall out of a pose before you can get it right, because that’s how you learn where your limits are. We have to experience the bad in our lives in order to remember why the good is good. Failing reminds us where our limits are, and when too much is too much – something that you need to know in order to succeed.

So next time you are trying to accomplish something, don’t be afraid to fail. In fact, fail repeatedly. You’ll already be that much closer to success than the person who never tried.

How to take your yoga camping.

  

This past weekend I went camping with a group of friends for four days in the mountains. And when I say mountains, I don’t mean some pretty numbered campsite that you drive your car to and that has outhouses and shower facilities around the corner; I’m talking drive a few hours through the mountains in a 4×4 vehicle to find a clearing by the ocean to park a tent or build a shelter out of nearby trees, if you wish (seriously, one friend did this). That kind of camping.

Knowing that I would be without the comforts of home but would have time aplenty (yeah, I just said aplenty), I was determined to bring my yoga camping with me, showers or no showers. So I did. And guess what? It’s surprisingly easy. Here’s how to make it work:

Step 1: Bring a yoga mat. Your cheapest, oldest, worn-out yoga mat. You know the one the dog tried to chew up? Yeah, bring that one. ‘Cause it’s going to get dirty while you are doing yoga outside, and so are you.

Step 2: Bring layers of wicking and quick-drying yoga clothes. You want to be as comfortable as possible but still be able to move. Again, these will probably get dirty, so be prepared. Layers will keep you both warm and cool, and the quick-drying abilities will ensure that if you get rained on or want to give them a rinse that you will still be able to wear them for tomorrow’s yoga. Because if you’re going to take your yoga camping you might as well make the most of it, right?

Step 3: Bring music. This can be a stereo, an ipod, or even the radio in your car if it comes right down to it. Yoga to the sounds of nature is great, but if you aren’t lucky enough to be camping on a warm sunny day, you might need some extra motivation to get moving, and dancing for 5 minutes to an upbeat song can help get you warm and ready for yoga.

Step 4: Find a flat surface. Or an inclined surface. Or just any surface, really. If you wind up with your mat on a funny angle, just think of it as an extra challenge in stabilization, and change around your position on the mat with every downward dog so that you can reach all angles. If there are no surfaces to place a mat on, then practice your standing poses. I’ll bet your Warrior III feels a bit stronger when you are trying not to fall off a rock.

Step 5: Experiment. This isn’t your typical at-home or in-studio practice, so why not take the opportunity to do something different? Instead of bringing a class with you, just practice what comes to you naturally. See some trees nearby? Practice tree pose. Missing some sunshine? See how many sun salutations it takes to bring the sun out. Was that an eagle that flew by? Eagle pose. Get it? Go with the flow.

And if all else fails, there’s always more to be learned in downward dog – a yogi’s best friend.

Finding Success as a Yoga Teacher

Lately I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about the future. Okay, that’s not entirely true; I’ve probably spent most of my life thinking about the future (being present in the moment is a teaching of yoga that I have yet to master off the mat). But lately the question that keeps coming up for me is, what is success as a yoga teacher?

For those who choose a more traditional career in business, it seems like the path to ‘success’ is often better defined, even if it isn’t easy. You start at the bottom, and work your way up the ladder. There may be lots of different paths up the ladder, but many of them are right in front of you, and you can see the paths to choose one.

Finding success as a yoga teacher is much less straightforward. What does success as a yoga teacher really mean? Is it teaching a certain number of classes per week? Is having your classes packed full of dedicated students? Or is it gaining recognition? Traveling to teach workshops internationally?

Just like everything else in life, everyone has to find their own definition of success. So I’ve started by asking a couple of simple questions:

First, how do I spend my time? Not how do I want to spend it, because I can want to do something or to love something and still never do it. But to actually examine the way that I spend my time, and my free time in particular, brings some things to light. For example, I’ve discovered that I am happiest when I have the freedom to express my creativity in a way of my own choosing. This means that I like to be self-directed in most of my tasks. A perfect example of this goes back to my teenage years: every so often, my mother would tell me to unload the dishwasher, and I would always get upset. I hated it with a passion and would therefore avoid doing it as much as possible. But it was never the actual act of unloading the dishwasher that I hated, it was the being told to do it. In my own house these days, I unload the dishwasher all the time without complaint – the difference is that I am deciding to do so for a reason of my own choosing. So perhaps success for me will be best defined as something in which I am self-directed.

Second, is it my ego talking? Am I envisioning this idea of success because I will really love teaching workshops or owning a studio or traveling, or because it will make me feel important in some way? If you’re looking to do something because it will make you feel important, your interest will fade fast. Examine your motives.

I’m still working on my vision of what success means to me, but asking myself these questions gets me a little closer to living my  dreams. What is your vision of success?

Exactly What You Need

It is the end of the day on a Thursday, and I just returned home from teaching my last yoga class of the day. At the end of the class, as everyone was slowly starting to open their eyes and ease themselves off their mats, one student looked at me and said with a smiling peaceful look on her face “that was exactly what I needed”.

Words cannot express my joy at hearing these words. As a student, I too have experienced those moments, the peaceful and happy afterglow that comes after a great yoga class. I know how incredible and powerful those times can be, and they can shape the rest of your day or even week. So, as a teacher, I feel so much joy at being able to help a student, just one even, to achieve this state of bliss.

But I must also admit that tonight it was more than just that.

As a new teacher (and an imperfect human), I often worry about how my classes will turn out. I want every class to be a great class (I have both achiever and perfectionist tendencies as you may have already learned), and I sometimes find it difficult teaching classes and receiving little to no feedback. But I understand that not only is this part of the reality of sharing yoga with others, but it is a lesson in faith that I need to learn. It is a practice in having faith in myself, and just doing my best to make every class great, share what I’ve learned, be myself, and just let the rest go. This is not an easy task for me at all. But I practice, because that is what yoga is. As Rolf Gates says in his book Meditations from the Mat, “we are making a commitment to focus on the nature of our efforts and not the nature of the results”. I practice trusting and letting go. In every practice though, there are times when it becomes hard and you feel discouraged. I was having that kind of week this week. My classes all seemed a little emptier for some reason, and I felt as though a couple of my classes just didn’t click as well as I wanted them to. But hard times are the most important times, because they are when we have the greatest opportunity to learn and grow.

So tonight, to hear just one student say “that’s exactly what I needed” was exactly what I needed. It reminded me once again why I work hard to study, practice, and share the joy of yoga with others. It reminded me to keep practicing faith in myself and letting go of the results of my efforts. Most of all, it reminded me that more often than not, if you continue with your practice through the difficult times, the universe will give you exactly what you need.

A Step Off The Mat

As a yoga teacher and continuous student of yoga, you quickly learn that the most important lesson of yoga is to take your yoga off the mat. No, this doesn’t mean that you have to start practicing yoga on the grass outside  – it means that every lesson you learn on the mat you must learn to take with you into the rest of your life.

As part of my yoga teacher training program, each trainee was assigned to practice one day of each of the Yamas (spiritual guidelines of yoga). We were asked to spend a day thinking about one of the Yamas and writing down the results. The aim was to examine each of these areas of our lives to see what could be improved, what was great, and what we simply may not have been aware of. The assignment was pretty straightforward, and I got through it without much difficulty – except when it came to Satya.

Satya means truthfulness. I have always believed myself to be a truthful person; I hate lying and do my best never to lie because it makes me feel awful and doesn’t really help anyone. But the Satya day came and went and though I thought about it all day long, I wrote down nothing. It wasn’t that I couldn’t think of anything to write; the problem was that I didn’t want to have it written down. That’s when I realized that I am guarded with my truth.

This was a surprising revelation for me, because I have always thought of myself as an open person. I will readily tell anyone who asks about what I do, where I come from, and things that have taken place in my life. But when it comes to my own personal opinions, beliefs, hopes and dreams, I sometimes keep these truths guarded closely, choosing carefully if and when to express all or part of them. Very few people in my life get the whole of my own personal truth because I often will hold back my full opinion or point of view on something.

What is the reason for this? When you come right down to it, I am afraid. Afraid of being wrong. Afraid of being judged. Afraid of other people’s opinions. Afraid of simply putting myself out there, because I somewhere I’ve always felt that my own opinions and beliefs just weren’t good enough. And so I have become a person of neutrality, because it feels safe.

But safe has its limits. Yoga teaches that you can only control your own actions and intentions; there will be negative moments that arise in life, and not everyone will like you, and that is unavoidable. That is something that we all need to accept that and learn to deal with. Most of all, I need to trust in myself in order to really live my truth.

So I am taking my yoga off the mat. I am going to practice living my truth, and really letting go of my fears and worries surrounding the expression of it. And I am going to do that here on this blog.

Read, enjoy, and leave your comments – or don’t. But thanks for stopping by, either way.