by Allison Smith, long time Bodhi Tree yoga practitioner
I’ve been practicing yoga for over ten years now. Various styles; various studios. Throughout these blissful years of practice, I’ve had many thoughts about how the yogic experience affects not only myself, but other students. And I’ve long wondered if yoga teachers really know – or remember – what it’s like to be a student of yoga. It prompted me to come up with a “Top 10” list, if you will, of aspects which I hope yoga teachers know.
1. We Deeply Venerate You
Students of yoga have the utmost respect for yoga teachers, and we hold you in the very highest regard. Your skills are varied; you must be equal parts anatomist and humanitarian; an awe-inspiring blend of tour guide, safety officer, story-teller, and steward. We may not show it, but we honor you deeply.
2. Our Silence Should Never be Taken for RudenessOften, yoga teachers will ask questions – even ones as simple as “How is everyone doing?” – and that can occasionally be met with abject silence. I’ve seen exasperated looks on the instructor’s faces, as if to say: “Anybody..?” Personally, if I’m really calm and ready to practice, I’m already so inward that speech seems like an intrusion into my serenity. I talk most of my day – this is my time to power down vocally. Also, most of us are so hugely adherent to basic yoga etiquette, that it seems almost blasphemous to speak in the yoga space. As much as we would likely never leave anyone “hanging” if they asked us a question outside of the studio, sometimes we’re too in the zone to answer. That’s all.
3. We’re Likely Not as Comfortable as You Are (or the Adjustors Are) with Touching Others
I get the theory behind partner work. I totally understand that it’s a bonding, team-building exercise with our fellow practitioners. It enhances a feeling of community, and puts us in the perspective of seeing someone else’s practice at close range, and being able to assist them. However – unless I’m being assisted by a qualified instructor or adjustor (who has signed up – by their very career choice -- to touch sweaty people) – I really don’t want another fellow citizen to encounter my sweat. Or I theirs. This professional indifference to sweat – and even just the act of touching someone else – which yoga teachers must possess and don’t think twice about – is not necessarily something we feel comfortable with. I’ve also had bad experiences where partners have not spotted me properly or have put me in a dangerous situation more than once. I’d rather be handled by the pros.
4. We’re Here to Work
Too many yoga instructors will apologize for teaching a demanding class, or say things like: “Only one more -- I promise”. It’s not a dental appointment. We want to be there. And unless we’re having an extraordinarily tomasic day or we’ve realized that we’re in way over our heads and we’ve decided to take a 90-minute Child’s Pose – we’re there to work. No apologies needed.
5. Sometimes, We Want to be Alone in Savasana
There are times when an instructor comes along when we’re in Savasana and gives us some extra love in the form of repositioning the body, massage, or gentle manipulation. It can be quite heavenly when we’re in the mood. And then, there’s the other times. I still don’t know where I “go” in Savasana – it’s kind of an odd twilight area somewhere between consciousness and sleep. I do know that when I’m very deeply in it – and I’m floating in that liminal state -- someone touching me can startle me, and disrupt my journey to that nether world. I wish there was a way to communicate which extreme I’d prefer. I only know that sometimes – even knowing that the adjustment is a rare and beautiful treat -- being touched is the last thing I want.
6. Good Cueing Makes Our Practice Grow
I think everyone’s been in a class where the cueing seemed....odd. Too slow. Too inexact or confusing. Those times – I’m happy to report – are rare. More often than not, the cueing is so expertly done, so incredibly subtle, it seems like a voice in our head. We’re moving naturally and organically to the instructor’s cues – like a musician playing fluidly to sheet music. Like a heart – which beats flawlessly without us even having to think about it – good cueing makes us better practitioners.
7. We Appreciate an Environment Where We’re Free to Edit Our Practice, Bypass, Opt Out, and Take Care of Ourselves
I was in a class once where students were reprimanded for taking a water break which wasn’t sanctioned by the instructor, and I never forgot how angry that made me feel. The instructor also pointed out students who were taking an unscheduled break in Child’s Pose, or if someone decided to linger longer in a pose which felt good to them. We appreciate – from the bottom of our hearts – the majority of the instructors who encourage us to listen to our own bodies and to give ourselves what we need – even if that means a rest, an extra chathuranga, or a sip of water if we feel that would serve us.
8. There a Reason That We Practice Here, Instead of at Home With a DVD
We feed off the energy of others in the class, and that’s a huge part of why we choose to practice as a unit. Teachers have told me that they’re had a lesson plan in mind before class, but promptly had to abandon it due to the “energy” or “feel” of the class – they just knew the class was going to go in a different direction than they had planned. And so it is with students: to my delight, I’ve arrived feeling low-key, and have been instantly bolstered by the energy of my classmates. As much as we think we practice in a bubble, or on our own little rectangular island, we really do draw on the energy of those around us, and take our cues – both physical and mental -- from both them and the instructor.
9. We Care About Anatomy – To a Point
I think we’ve all been in the situation where the instructor’s explanation of why we do what we do (and how we do it) has been a little too in-depth, technical, and has compromised the rhythm of the class. We’re definitely interested in anatomy as it relates to us practicing safely and effectively – but we’d prefer that the explanation isn’t too long, detailed, or compromises the flow of the class.
10. We Don’t Mind The Spiritual Aspect of Yoga
In fact, when it’s just about the poses, it becomes technical....a workout. I don’t think the art of yoga *can* be separated from its spiritual underpinnings and rituals. Personally, I love hearing the Sanskrit words for the poses, the folklore behind the asanas, the meditative aspect to it, and that lovely, resonant “Om” which feels like it aligns all of us in the room. Some instructors are resistant to go too far into the ethereal side to yoga – and defer almost too much to those who might be uncomfortable or offended by it. I think most of us welcome that side to the discipline. We’re inwardly practicing together all at once – sharing an experience that’s extraordinary and beautiful and difficult and freeing all at the same time; and we love it. And we love you, yoga teacher.
We thought you should know.