Updated: Sep 30, 2020
I had an interesting encounter with a student in class last week. She was doing what I would call a yoga performance -- deep scorpion dogs with a collapsed back; loud, sensual sighs; and generally deviating from the sequence. She resisted receiving personal guidance from me in the form of some not so friendly looks and words, so after my 3rd attempt, I gave up so as to not make the entire class about her alone. This experience left me feeling completely disrespected, truth be told, angry. It got me to thinking about the yoga community and practice itself and there a few "do's and dont's" I wish to throw out there.
1) If you go to a public class, respect the teacher and other students and stay with group unless you need to modify. There are definitely ways to explore your individual needs in a public class, but doing your own (and many times unsafe) practice the entire class is not one of them. Public classes are just that. If you want to go fully rogue, do it at home.
2) We all have to hone in on our super powers so that we safeguard the vulnerable parts of our bodies & minds, as well as the community at large. Don't do shit in your practice that will likely lead to "innocent bystander" body parts getting hurt, and don't practice in ways that step on one party of yourself to access another. It's never worth it. We want to instill harmony and balance. To do this, we have to know ourselves deeply so that we're able to practice alongside, and in awareness of, all our stuff (i.e. limitations, strengths, weaknesses, etc). This is a sign of a true advanced student.
3) Ultimately, you are responsible for your body, but I'm responsible for knowing enough to guide you safely. I take my end seriously, so please practice radical self care and reliance on your end.
4) If you're a well versed teacher or student and the teacher is teaching in an unsafe way and you KNOW this, you still have to respect their classroom. When I encounter these experiences, I usually do a lot of child's pose. There's always something to learn from each teacher and class - even if it's what not to do.
5) Be willing to listen, be vulnerable and experience beyond your initial reaction of resistance. This is my mantra because I'm a big ol' stubborn Capricorn, and my tendency is to dissect things until no shred of mystery is left. When you allow yourself to be guided, you are honoring the storyteller and opening yourself up to possibility. When you think you know better, you are succumbing to rigidity.
6) Yoga teachers - do your homework. A 200 hour is not nearly enough to teach the vast array of bodies that walk through the door. Don't be in a rush to teach. Dive into the practice deeply! In class, hold space with a firm kindness. I see way too many teachers throwing out instructions like "if you want to go into headstand, go for it" or "if there's any final poses you need to feel complete, do that now" -- NO. Teach the damn class. That's your job. If you hold that boundary, than the students will respect the position of all teachers. I'm not suggesting these things to enforce some sort of hierarchical standard, but rather, I'm pointing out that there IS a difference between being in the seat of the teacher in the classroom, and being the student. When I myself, as a teacher, am the student, I fully submerge myself in that role. It is a practice of humility.
7) There are ways to allow advancing students explore safely in an all levels class, but first you have to have established a strong boundary with yourself and your students as the teacher. Advanced students will know what's best for their bodies most of the time (my definition of advanced is just that - someone who knows themselves enough to honor their limitations fully - not necessarily someone who can do crazy poses) but you as the teacher should be able to spot when someone is compromising a body part (or 2). What I do when I'm teaching is say "if you are level 2/3" and then give those students an option - but I am very firm about who is able to do this without closing off the possibility of advancement to those students ready to experiment. I will go up to individual students ready to test the waters and offer encouragement and pointers, and I'm not afraid to guide students back who are pushing themselves past their limits.
8) Leaving mid-savasana but then hanging out at the studio to check your Instagram well past the end of class. Don't do it.