I’ve only been officially teaching yoga for about three months now, but already I feel like I have learned so much. Teaching has given me a deeper understanding of the practice, of myself, and of people more generally. I wanted to spend a little time reflecting on these past few months as a way of tracking my journey. I like the idea of, years down the road when I am a more experienced teacher, looking back at this and seeing how my observations and interpretations have expanded or shifted.
I keep a personal yoga journal, but I wanted to share some of this with you all on the blog, partly because I know a lot of you are interested fellow-yogis, and partly because I haven’t made a new recipe in weeks (yikes!). I hoped this kind of post might be kind of a win-win in that way. :)
So, in no particular order, lessons from the yoga room:
Everyone is going through something.
I think I become most aware of this in two moments during the class. First, when I adjust people in half-pigeon. It’s a hip opening post, which means it’s really intense both physically and emotionally since we rarely stretch our hips in everyday activity, and because the hips are one place on the body where we store our history. When I press people deeper into the pose, some students surrender in a way that intimately shares with me that they are letting go of (emotional) hurt, disengaging with something that is causing them dis-ease in their life. This release is often coupled with trembling, and a long exhale. I know how this goes—I’ve cried in half-pigeon on more than one occasion.
The second moment is at the very end of class. I bring people out of savasana and invite them to gently sit cross-legged in the front of the room with their eyes closed. I deliver a closing, ending, of course, with the word, “Namaste,” and directing us all into a bow forward with our hands at our third eye center. Sometimes when I sit up and open my eyes there are people who are still curled over. Once again, I know from my own experience, that it is often in that moment of submission that feels most important to acknowledge and release something that is causing us stress, anxiety, or sadness.
Bearing witness to students’ process of navigating their pain is incredibly powerful. It inspires me on a daily basis to be as kind as possible to every being I encounter, because everyone is going through something.
Every body is different.
I mean that very literally. We were taught this during our anatomy portion of Yoga Teacher Training, but it wasn’t until being in classroom after classroom of students that I really internalized this. The first clue was seeing hips and booties in the air during child’s pose. “Sink hips to the heels,” I would say. The hips and booties wouldn’t budge. “Hips to heels,” I’d say again, gently, hoping they’d hear me. Booties and hips remained stubbornly afloat. Finally, I approached one of The Lifted, and pressed my palms into their low back in an effort to place them into the pose. The little sinking I enabled from my pressure was reversed when I released my hands. The hips sprang back up. Oh, I realized, not everyone’s hips can sink to their heels.
This was a good lesson about the importance of remembering that if some hips can’t sink to the heels, then it makes sense that some bodies are naturally more curvy or thin. As someone who still struggles with a constant need to make my body different, it’s humbling to witness the unique dispositions of bodies not as something to work against, but to work with.
Yoga is not free from cOMmodity fetish.
Do you see what I did there? I highlighted the “OM” in “commodity fetish” to make a clever connection between a yoga term and Marx’s theory of objectified value! Okay, bear with me a sec, I promise this’ll make sense even if you’re not brushed up on your copy of Das Kapital.
The concept of commodity fetish is way more complex than I’m about to make it, but for the sake of this being a food blog and all, let’s just go with it. Basically, it’s the way the labor behind products becomes invisible so that consumers are fooled into thinking that products are magically imbued with qualities that go beyond their use-value. The commodification of yoga in the Western world is no different.
Like the macbook that we think makes us part of the “cool kid group” without considering the help of sweatshop workers, our magical yoga studios are not abstracted from the labor that makes them run. I was reminded of this the day that two heat system repairmen walked into my (hot-style) yoga room before class started. What is usually a place of serene quiet and skinny middle-class white women in Lulu gear became, well, a lot more like the real world. Dirty, working-class men and all. Workers whom we unwittingly depend on to create our little slice of yoga heaven. That day, I dedicated my yoga practice to them.
We are So Different, but So Similar.
I teach yoga to two very different populations. The yoga I get paid for takes place at Corepower, a corporate yoga studio that caters to mostly middle and upper-class white folks. The yoga I volunteer teach takes place in a jail and consists of 18-20 year-old mostly Black men.
Obviously, the life experiences of each community differ considerably. And it’s because of the privilege of the former that enables the disenfranchisement of the latter. Those things are obviously very true.
But despite those tremendous disparities, there is, truly, some common ground. At the risk of sounding really soft, there is something remarkably beautiful about seeing how both sets of students gain similar things from the practice. I teach the class in almost the exact same way at both places. When the students reach savasana—whether at the jail or the studio—I feel the exact same energy circulating in the room.
And then I remember: Yoga means union. “To yoke.” If we are all one, then it makes perfect sense that there are some things in this world that can be universally felt. What a powerful truth!
If you’re a yogi (student or teacher), what lessons have you learned in the yoga room?