Saturday, January 9, 2010

It's Okay to Hate the Teacher -- Eight Lessons for a New Yogi

Given the fact that I was smacked on the face during utkatasana, rolled on during reclined twists, and farted in the general direction of during a long series of squats during yoga class today, I can tell it’s New Year’s Resolution Time at my local gym. Before I became TPFSY (Too Poor for Studio Yoga), January would pass by with no visible changes in attendance at the nice-smelling, feng-shui’d practice spaces I used to frequent. Since everyone there was Totally Committed and Had a Beautiful Practice, they showed up year-round and on-time (early, even!). They didn’t let the Jenny Craig commercials that started running on December 26 shame then into Moya’s 8:05 Fitness Yoga class at the Southdale YMCA. (Held in what used to be the spin space, it still smells of burned-out gearshifts and man sweat, which makes me want to weep at the thought of Jeffrey, Tarana Studio, and those eucalyptus-scented incense sticks he used to wave around).

I’ve been practicing yoga regularly (I hate to say “seriously” because it sounds so pole-up-the-ass-y) for about eight years. I can honestly say that I was the most pathetic yogi on the planet for a good three of those years, and maybe more. I grunted. I sweated. I fell over during every class, in poses like, oh, say, triangle (not a real balance-buster for the normal person). I’m not that much better now, but I’m less visibly pathetic. Still, just because I’m not falling over doesn’t mean I don’t sympathize. So during today’s full-to-the-resolution-brim class, in between the smacks and the farts, I decided to create a Quick Guide for the New Yogi, with some tips I wish someone had shared with me back in my early days.

Lesson One. Show up on time. And if you simply must be tardy, and you are currently tipping the scales at a nifty two hundred pounds, don’t tromp past all the other mats in your big dirty outside shoes, and rearrange your rustly coat, while the rest of us are accessing our inner whatevers in child’s pose. Lady with the bad haircut and the kittycat t-shirt, size XXL, feel my wrath. Wait until an appropriate time, open the door quietly, and unroll your mat in the closest space possible. You're already late; don't be loud, too.

Lesson Two. Close your mouth and breathe through your nose. The teacher isn’t kidding. Breathing really does help. But if you keep imitating a Japanese koi during class, you’ll never have a chance to find that out for yourself.

Lesson Three. Take your socks off. If your feet, or any of your other parts, are that grotty, go outside to the weight room, which, to my delicate sensibility, resembles the yard of a penitentiary and will be much more to your liking. Otherwise, you are going to slip around so much that there is sure to be a cross-mat violation with your neighbor. The way things are currently going in my life, odds are that the neighbor will be me.

Lesson Four. Stop looking around. It will just depress you and it will make me very nervous. I once had a teacher say that if you walked out of class and could describe the person who had been on the mat next you, you weren’t doing yoga at all. In short: Stay On Your Mat.

Lesosn Five. Brush up on “left” and “right.” Here’s a little exercise: Hold your hands out, fingers straight ahead and thumbs touching. See the letter “L” made by that one special hand and thumb? That’s your Left Hand, and it’s attached to your Left Side! If this little exercise does not do the trick, use a Sharpie to write the 411 on your knuckles, like a prison tattoo. Your fellow classmates, who do not really want eye contact with you when you’re on the wrong foot every single time we do Warrior II, will thank you.

Lesson Six. It’s okay to hate the teacher. I think back on the best yoga teachers I’ve ever had, and I hated them so bitterly and miserably, and with such specific plans for their demise, that it’s a wonder some of them didn’t just immolate about half an hour into the proceedings. (That’s the point at which, even now, despair usually overtakes me and I realize I will be stuck in this room For. Ever.) I think it’s better to allow yourself to really fixate on how much your hate that teacher’s well-toned behinder. Go ahead and despise deeply -- it may allow you to stop thinking about the pain in your knees for a few seconds longer. And now, a personal note: Andrea, I owe you a special apology here. Yes, now I do understand that you were in fact aware that we were all holding side angle for HOURS while you were helping that grandma understand that a bent knee and a straight leg were Two Different Things. You were a wonderful teacher and you did not deserve the evilness I sent your way.

Lesson Seven. Find the top of your mat.  Stand on your mat.  Walk forward.  When you feet touch the floor, back up.  You are now at the top of your mat.  Stay there until further notice.  Also?  When all the mats in the room are not perfectly parallel, the Buddha weeps (another shout out to Andrea, who taught me this important tidbit).

Lesson Eight. It’s going to hurt. For the first two years of my practice, I never climbed up my front steps after yoga class in anything but a whimpering crouch. My butt hurt all the time. If you’re doing it right, yours will hurt, too.

So why bother? Bother because it IS hard. Bother because progress IS slow. Every class, you’ll move forward the thickness of a piece of paper. One hour of your time invested, and all you’ll have to show for it is one flimsy sheet of paper. And if you think that’s not worth it, look at a phone book some time.

Someday, you’ll be a great yogi. Or, maybe not. But every single class that you attend, you’ll leave in better shape than when you went in. And, I hope, you won’t remember anything about me, that lady on the mat next to you.


  1. Great post, Julie! Thanks for your spot-on observations and advice!

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