Did you assume this was the back of the class?

Sometimes when I’m teaching a yoga class, I like to turn the class around. And then I walk to the back of the room, and say to the class, who are all now facing in my direction, “I bet you all thought this was the back of the class didn’t you?” The point of this is not be different, or to confuse people. It’s to point out an assumption – the assumption that the class would take place facing the front of the room – and to ask students to let go of this assumption.

Did you assume this photo would be related? It isn't. (Image via Flickr: Zanthia)

In addition, it’s also important to let go about any assumptions surrounding your body while practicing yoga. Don’t assume that you need to dress a certain way, or look a certain way to practice yoga. Don’t assume that you will like or dislike a pose or practice that you haven’t tried. And most importantly when it comes to your body, don’t assume that you can or can’t do something without asking and listening to your body first. Making assumptions about your body can easily lead you on the path to injury, because what worked for you yesterday may not work for you today.

In the same way your assumptions can also hold you back; if you always assume that you can’t do something, then you’ll never do it. Give yourself permission to let go of the assumptions surrounding not only your practice and your body, but yourself as well. If always paint yourself with the same brush, assuming that you are a certain way (someone who can’t stand silence, or a fidgety person, or a person who needs a very active practice, for example) then you may never get to experience those things that don’t fit into the picture that you have of yourself. Maybe you needed a vigorous yoga practice 5 days out of 6 last week, but could have used a restorative practice that one other day. If you assume that you’re a vigorous yogi, you may never try that restorative practice. So let go of your assumptions about you as well.

Take a deep breath every morning, ask yourself who you want to be today, and then give yourself permission to explore. To let go. To discover. And to put your assumptions aside, just for today.

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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.

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.