We can all agree yoga is popular. Its popularity isn’t new, in fact yoga has stood the test of time with over 5,000 years behind its back. However, modern day life that includes such things as yoga celebrities, self marketing via social media and the relative onslaught of ‘yoga teachers’ graduating from yoga school; the way in which yoga is appearing in the world is changing. This is both an incredible thing and a slightly scary thing. I personally feel most everyone could benefit from a yoga practice so I love that yoga is popping up more in studios, gyms, workplaces and homes. But as a teacher I want to protect the sacred nature of the practice and not proliferate or bastardize it.
I find myself having this internal discussion quite often then of how to find the balance. I tend to steer away from what some might call more ‘traditional’ yoga, in that, I speak very straight forward when I teach, you’ll more than likely hear pop music or even rap on the right day bumping through the studio speakers, my language isn’t always PC and I do in fact engage (often) in social media- but I feel as though I still uphold the integrity of what I’m doing as I teach beyond teaching just shapes/poses and infuse practical yoga philosophy into my classes. I work people physically for sure, but I also work them mentally, translating this incredible and ancient science with the intention of making it applicable to daily life. At least that’s my goal.
Eight ‘Must Have’ Traits to Embrace
As a student of yoga myself, I look to my teachers for inspiration and guidance. Despite the number of followers someone has or who sponsors them, why I am attracted to a teacher depends on one thing ultimately: their knowledge of yoga- as a whole- and if they practice what they preach. As a student I feel like I also need to cultivate certain qualities in myself to truly be available to absorb and practice the teachings I’m being offered. I’ve broken these qualities down into eight specific ‘must have’ traits for students to embrace.
Here we go:
1. Be Curious
A lot of people come to yoga because they’ve heard it would be good for them. That in its essence means that they were curious to find out if what they’d heard was true. “Why can this practice help me?” is a great mentality to approach the top of the mat with. Once someone starts to become comfortable with the practice that curiosity can begin to fade away. Bottom line here is, I chose this as a career path because I knew that I would NEVER get bored. There is just too much to explore, too much to experience. Ask questions, pick up books, take private lessons and find great teachers! Stay curious.
2. Stay Light
Watching a classroom go into tree pose (Vriksasana) is a simple way to learn quickly that people have a tendency to take yoga way too seriously. Their faces scrunch up, ujjayi breath is lost, their cheeks turn blue, and if they heavens to Betty fall out of the posture…just sheer disappointment over shadows their being. If you can fall out of a pose (and trust me, if you practice yoga long enough, you’re going to fall out of a pose (or 200) and keep a smile on your face; you’re #winning. Learning the art of humility on the mat is a great way to practice it and then, in your everyday, when you trip on a curb on your first date, or have basil stuck between your front teeth during a meeting with your boss, you will be able to laugh it off and accept that sometimes, we trip, sometimes, we get food between our teeth and you know what?- it’s ok. If you can’t be light…… life can be nothing else but it’s opposite, dark.
3. Be Compassionate
Compassion is essential and it’s not only meant to be directed towards or for others, but also towards yourself. I placed this one specifically below humility because, they are good friends. We can be so hard on ourselves, but on the mat, in the micro, if we can practice compassion when we aren’t perfect – how powerful can that be off the mat? And practicing it towards others? Well, that breeds nothing but goodness all around. Give both yourself and others room to grow.
4. Hold an Attitude of Determination/Perseverance
I love teaching arm balances because there’s a lot of magic that can happen in them. It’s not just fun to take flight (and empowering, and beautiful and fun!) it’s also a way to conjure up an attitude of perseverance. Time and time again I’ve taught something in class like side crow (Parsva Bakasana) and watched students not even try. They decide before hand that they can’t do it, so they don’t even make the effort. Then I give them a challenge talk and essentially tell them they CAN do it. 90% of the time the next time they go up to bat, they will try it if not float up into it and look up when they are done with a huge smile. There are so many postures that will challenge you. I’ve been working on my jump-ups for DAYS (ok years) and STILL don’t have them down perfectly, but I keep trying. Everyday. Because I know that one day, it’s going to happen. Trust the process. If you don’t get it the first time, try again. Don’t give up inside of failure, see opportunity.
5. Be Respectful
R.E.S.P.E.C.T. It’s real. We need to show up to class and hold a lot of respect for ourselves, our fellow students, our classroom, our equipment, our teachers and the science itself. I honestly don’t care if you have the latest fall fabric release from Lululemon. If you’re rude to me when we are supposed to be practicing the art of yoga; that just makes you an asshole. I’d rather practice next to $5 Goodwill pants on a respectful human than one wearing Spiritual Gangster from head to toe who shows up with seconds from the start of class with her green smoothie in one hand and her cell phone in the other vacant to the environment. Of course it’s not clothes ( I own plenty of Lulu and love it) or smoothies or cell phones, this is a silly analogy- but often times we can get caught up in the wrong things. Yoga is all about respect. Show up early, get your stuff squared away and your area ready for practice. Be kind to anyone within (or hey, even OUTSIDE of) the class, smile, maybe even say hello. Keep the space you practice in clean. Take care to clean up after yourself when you’re done don’t just expect someone to do so (even if you did pay $25 for a class (never pay $25 for a classs)). Be mindful of others energetic fields and the studio environment in general- check your phones at the door. Hold the sacred space of YOGA. If you want a ‘workout’ and a workout only, there are a lot of options, if you like yoga, read the yamas and niyamas and learn about the ethical rules of this practice.
6. Have an Open Mind
You never know what a teacher has in store for you, it’s something that you really have to just trust. Odds are at some point you will wind up in a class with a unique teacher that will not resonate with you, but that doesn’t mean you still can’t be present and draw something out of what they offer. This type of open-mindedness allows you to dive deeper into your own personal practice and let the logical, judging brain have a break. You might discover things that you would have never happened upon otherwise and you might just very well learn that wasn’t the class for you- either way, take the experience and practice allowing it to be exactly what it is. Don’t try to change it.
7. Show Up
Most of you might know this is my ultimate hashtag (####). When you get to a class, cultivate awareness for your practice. Show up for what you came for. Cultivate an inward focus that allows you to leave whatever it was that it took to get you into class behind, and whatever you have coming at you after class to the future and truly embrace the present moment. Allow yourself to be concerned with what’s happening within, or beneath the surface. When you experience challenge in a class, show up and meet it. When you experience boredom, show up and meet it. When you want to give up, show up. When you want to push yourself too far, show up with wisdom (not ego). If you’re not there to practice yoga…. Don’t go. Save yourself the money.
8. Be Consistent
Just GETTING to practice is half the battle most of the time. The laughable saying goes “I regretted going to that yoga class; said no one EVER”. If you’re consistent with your practice you will start to see real changes happening in your life. If you show up every couple of weeks, not so much. Make a commitment to yourself and uphold it (while of course honoring the space for balance (aka relaxation/rest time)). We build community when we come together to practice. I’m sure all of us have been in a classroom of just 2-3 people and a classroom of 20 people. The energy is different. Your presence matters! You help create our culture. This #8- CONSISTENCY could be littered in almost all of the above listed bullet points. Consistency will drive you forward.
You Make it Happen
If you’re not there to practice, the teacher can’t teach. The teacher is dependent upon your presence in order to stay in the job, to stay motivated, to stay fed. They need you to be consistent. The studio is dependent on your presence in order to keep the doors open- Plus MOST ALL STUDIOS honor frequent flyers with membership deals/seva opportunities etc to support you inside of consistent practice. So recognize that you matter, in a million ways you matter. Be consistent.
I hope I’ve tickled your fancy here in consideration to how to be a great student. If you have any other ideas on qualities a student can bring to the table, I’d love to hear about them. Shout out in the comments!
Look forward to seeing you in class.