I’ve had a few conversations in the past week or so from people who were thinking of coming to take my class but didn’t. When I asked why, they said they weren’t sure they were physically ready or able to do a power yoga class. There were some other thoughts shared but the overall thought seemed to be stemming from the name “Power Yoga.” It got me thinking about the name itself and if I should just call it “Breathe and Move Your Body” or something that really doesn’t emphasize the “Power” aspect.
I then had another conversation with a woman who had recently read a description of a yoga workshop being held in her neighborhood. She was commenting on the words and phrases used to describe what sounded like an opportunity to practice yoga but to also do some self-exploration as well. When she read me the program description, it was filled with lots of phrases that talked about “opening your heart” and “pushing yourself outside the boundaries of what you think is possible” and things like that. It sounded fine to me but she wasn’t sure it was her cup of tea.
There’s a lot to be said for how we describe what we do. As yoga teachers, we often teach from our own experience of how things land in our bodies and hearts and we often describe our workshops and classes in a similar way. But it’s not until recently that I started to wonder if perhaps I’m excluding people simply due to the language I choose to describe things. Could I be pushing people away because I take for granted some of what I’ve grown to love about yoga… both physically and spiritually and I’m using that language in my descriptions?
Yoga also can touch people deeply in their hearts and souls. I can again only speak from my own experience to say that some of my deepest problems have been worked through on the mat and many of my greatest challenges have been faced there was well. I have grown immensely through my participation in teacher trainings and workshops and have watched others as they have come to some deep realizations too. So, it’s only natural that as I describe what I do to others, as I describe what I might be teaching to others, that it would be peppered with language that illustrates what might be a bit profound and even “over the top,” maybe?
Honestly, most of what I offer is pretty straightforward: Runner’s Workshops, Basics Workshops. Things that talk about “Running and then doing poses that open the hips” or “Learning or Re-learning the basics of yoga poses.” But even in that language, are there pitfalls? What does “opening the hips” mean to someone who has been running for years? What does “re-learning” mean to someone who has been practicing yoga for a long time? Again, I’m not sure I have answers (yet) but I can tell you that this whole topic has got me thinking about how I communicate my yoga offerings with others.
The other factor that I believe is central to this topic is the idea that yoga practice is a form of exercise, yes, but it’s also based on thousands of years of history and despite its popularity in the West, still carries a bit of mystique. It’s sometimes hard enough for someone who has been avoiding exercise to go into a gym or go out for a walk but to ask that they jump on a yoga mat and move their body in ways that have strange names, in a room with a bunch of other people, where sometimes different music will be playing and pictures or statues of Hindu or other yogic art may be present… well, for some, it’s just asking too much. Again, for those of us that practice yoga regularly, whether or not we tap into all of what yoga means, we at least know that there is a peace, a solace and a physical practice that we get from yoga that we just cannot get from any other thing. And that’s why we practice. Because it gives us a way to connect to the present, breathe, stay healthy and grounded and that’s just the beginning. There is so much we get from our yoga practice that we sometimes can’t articulate it.
So much of what we read is processed through our own filter and our filter is clouded with our own experiences and perceptions. Sometimes these “clouds” help us grow and sometimes these “clouds” hold us back. I know for myself when I read something, it goes through my logical mind (left side) and then my more creative side (right side). Depending on the day, one side might win over the other and I’ll sign up or take the class or go to the event. But if I’m feeling particularly ungrounded or worried about taking a risk, I might pass. When it comes to anything related to exercise, there’s often a significant amount of “psychic inertia” that we need to overcome to do even that which is familiar, let alone something that’s unfamiliar. And, on top of that, to introduce something new that has a somewhat mystical side to it might make it even more challenging to try.
So, what’s the answer? The answer really just lies in our awareness. Sometimes the best thing is just to be aware of how we’re reacting and to ask ourselves honest questions about why our reaction is what it is. Are we reacting out of habit? Are we reacting out of fear or doubt? Are we reacting out of a need to protect ourselves or are we holding ourselves back? These are only questions you and I can answer for ourselves. There’s a lot to be said for knowing when something is the right fit for you and that usually can best be determined by giving it a try. Certainly, the greater the required investment, we might not be able to give something a try (there are a lot of yoga events and teacher trainings I’d like to try but I don’t have the time or money to invest in them) but when it comes to something like a local class or workshop, the barriers to entry are pretty small. Usually, what blocks us in that instance is our own sense of what we’re capable of and usually, it’s a lot more than we give ourselves credit for.
Usually when I meet a new student who is experiencing doubt over the ability to practice yoga on any level, I answer whatever questions they have about the class itself, ways to modify the practice and anything else that they might be wondering. We like to understand as much as we can about yoga before jumping in and I’m happy to oblige in that regard. But it always amazes me once class begins at how students, new and more experienced, get caught up in the moment and the poses and the breathing become their main focus. We move together, breath together, stretch and are challenged. Inevitably, after class, the new student will say, “ That was fun!” or “ I feel really stretched out” or “ that was hard but I feel great.” That last one usually comes from students who feel really challenged but they feel great because they faced it, as a challenge and worked through it. This is the stuff that moves us out of our equilibrium and into an area of growth. Through this growth we often can change the perception of how we see ourselves. For those of us who struggle with weight, we can see ourselves as being on a path to wellness. For those who may struggle with self-doubt, we build self-confidence. For those of us, all of us really, who are overworked and overbooked, we give ourselves faith that we can find time for ourselves to invest in our own health and wellness.
Pretty soon, who knows? Someone may stop you as you’re leaving your local yoga studio and they may ask you, “Hey, what goes on in there? I’ve always wanted to try a class but I’m afraid I won’t know what I’m doing.” And then, who knows? It may be you that starts describing it in a way you’ve never known. It may be you challenging the person to give it a try, even if they aren’t sure how to do the poses. It may be you saying, “When I practice yoga, I feel alive in a way I just don’t in other aspects of my life.” Who knows what you’ll say. Maybe you’ll just say, “It’s a great workout!” That’s great too.
We all take from yoga what we need and find what we need oftentimes when we aren’t ready for it. Therein lies the beauty of yoga. There when we need it, welcoming us back when we’ve been gone, supporting us through the good times and bad. Have you spent time with yoga today?