Often, once we start something new and love it, we want those around us to share in our joy and appreciation. Yoga practice is no different. I can remember my joy at finding yoga and in my first few weeks, I tried (unsuccessfully) to thrust it upon some of my friends. Some came to class with me and others were steadfast in their resistance. I heard every excuse in the book; things like, “Yoga? I can’t even touch my toes!” “What? You mean pay to pack myself into a room and have someone next to me sweat on my mat?” So, I proceeded solo, knowing that at least I had finally found the right blend of sweat, strength and serenity to keep me healthy for a lifetime.
I see a lot of people in both class and the street in my neighborhood and one of the more frequent questions I get is, “How do I get my (fill in the blank: wife, boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, sister, mother”you get the idea) to start practicing?
Ah, if it were only so easy. It’s natural to want those around you share in what you have come to not only love, but also see as essential for your health and wellness. But remember your own initial resistance to starting a yoga practice? Maybe you didn’t experience any resistance but instead jumped willingly on the mat, open-hearted and ready for anything. But many people struggle with a lot more than just tight hamstrings when it comes to the idea of practicing yoga. Sometimes this resistance is compounded by poor body image, low self-esteem, shyness, resistance to trying new things, past conditioning or less-than positive experiences in past yoga classes. Whatever the reason, most of them can be boiled down to one core emotion: fear. Ah yes, that ugly monster that seems to rear its’ head when we are trying to make positive changes in our lives. It sneaks up on us when we least expect it; surprising us, making us feel anxious and holding us back from expressing our true nature.
One of the best ways to create an environment ripe for possibility around yoga practice with your loved ones and friends is to be a shining example of the value of a yoga practice. This is best practiced by not trying too hard. This does not mean buying Yoga Journal and reading it at the dinner table or swapping your boyfriend’s favorite comedy DVD for the latest popular yoga one. It just means to demonstrate through your actions and words what it means to love something and be genuinely excited by having it in your life.
Having said that, there are some concrete things you can do to encourage a tentative would- be yogi to jump off and start a yoga practice:
1. Be an example in consistency. Yoga practice is best done on a regular basis. Just like you would brush your teeth every day, having a regular yoga practice, even if it’s not daily, is an example of what it means to stay committed, even through the ups and downs of life’s challenges. When you demonstrate perseverance and commitment even through life’s tough times as well as life’s good times, your loved ones will see it and see its affect in helping you stay grounded. This sets a powerful example for those around you.
2. Answer questions openly and honestly, without turning every opportunity into a sales pitch. Often, when someone we love is thinking about trying something new, they will poke and prod and ask around, before taking that first step. They’re gathering information, in part to allay their own fears about taking that step. What seems common to you, is fraught with fear for a newer practitioner. Where do I change? Are there showers? How much space between the mats? How hot does it get in the room? Is the teacher going to show us all the poses? These are often some of the things that race through the mind of a new student before going to their first class. Be patient and answer completely and without any attachment to results. Asking questions is almost always a sign of movement towards positive change. Resist the urge to close the conversation with a “You should DEFINITELY come to class with me tomorrow!” Keep an open invitation and support them where they are at, not where you WANT them to be.
3. If asked, share what you have gained from yoga practice versus telling them what you think THEY will get out of practice. You might hear yourself saying, “You should definitely try yoga too. You have such tight hamstrings from running.” Or, “You get so stressed at work. Yoga would really relax you.” This is giving advice. This usually never works and when it’s given from one person to another, and these two people are involved in a romantic relationship or a parental relationship, it can be fraught with emotional minefields. Try sharing your joy through what yoga has done for YOU. ” I love how stretched out I feel” or, “I’m sleeping better than I have in years,” or, “I love how I digest my food better.” These are all individual statements, but hey, who out there won’t say they want to feel stretched out, better rested and calmer? Most of what we draw from yoga practice is universally beneficial; this is because yoga is based on essential truths we all share as humans. We struggle against “what is” and in that struggle, we lose connection to the present moment and the present moment can only be accessed when we focus on our breathing. This is the essential truth we learn as yoga students and it’s the overarching premise under which all the other benefits fall. You can give advice, but honestly, no one really likes a know-it-all. Let your glow and personal experience speak for itself.
4. When that day comes, and perhaps it will (perhaps it won’t) be supportive not enabling. There is a subtle difference and anyone that has lived with someone struggling with addiction knows it. We’re not talking tough love here but there is a difference from showing someone the ropes and leading them. I have seen quite a few yogis bring their loved one to class, plop their mat next to the guy/girl/friend/mom/dad and then proceed to talk to them and point to various spots on their mat throughout the opening sequences, in an effort to be helpful. This is completely natural and sweet and can come from a place of love. But it will usually only end up in frustration for both people. It’s really hard to practice yourself, while you’re worried about the other person. It also short-changes the other person from a huge part of yoga practice; tapping into their own inner wisdom or realizing they have absolutely no connection to that intuitive sense anymore. This can bring up a lot of emotion for people but best to leave the person alone to figure it out. We all can relate and remember our first yoga class as a time filled with not only a sense of wonder and excitement but maybe discomfort and crazy realizations as well. Sometimes we realize it’s been so long since we have paid any attention to our bodies except for when we are hurt or injured. This is such a powerful realization and we want to honor it by letting someone experience this alone. Group yoga classes are a powerful illustration of being in a space with others, supporting each other with your presence, but yet making what are sometimes profound realizations about yourself at the same time. The general rule of thumb I like to use is to help out with the mechanics: the check-in process, where the bathroom is, getting props. But once class starts, you’re both on your own. You might even say to your loved one before class, “Hey, I’m here but don’t feel as if I’m not being supportive if I don’t show you the ropes. I’m so glad you came. Have a great class!”
5. If they fall out of practice, let them be. We’ve all fallen both in and out of love with yoga. Heck, that’s one of the basic principals of yoga itself; transience. Things are changing all the time. Although we talked about consistency and commitment in #1, we’re realistic too. We know there are going to be times in our lives when we don’t, or can’t practice. If it’s your turn, you’re not going to want to be nagged and neither should you nag the one you’re with. Just keep on your own path and they’ll jump back in when they’re ready.
6. Be there for each other. Just as you don’t want to push someone into yoga practice, once they’re in, have fun! These days, there are lots of partner yoga classes out there where you actually need another person to work with you. If that’s a friend, a romantic partner, or a relative, what a great way to strengthen the relationship! Look for opportunities to practice together and support each other in learning new poses and trying more challenging things. If you feel safe doing so, you can spot each other and assist each other as you explore new areas. This can be a somewhat non-traditional but wonderful way to grow your own practice and also your relationship.
Yoga is indeed a solo practice. It’s an opportunity to explore the depths of oneself in a pattern of movement and breath. It’s a chance to tap into the inner workings of the mind and challenge oneself on a physical as well as spiritual level. Let the love you have for yoga shine through all that you do; let it be the light that shines on all around you and draws them in. Whether they end up on the mat or not, you’ll both be better for having yoga in your lives.
Karen Fabian, M.S., Certified Baptiste Yoga Teacher, ERYT 200HR, has been teaching in Boston since 2002. She is the founder of Bare Bones Yoga, whose mission it is to bring yoga to adults and children in creative ways. Follow her on Facebook @ Bare Bones Yoga and Twitter @barebonesyoga. Visit her website, www.barebonesyoga.com