Why so Serious? (A Look into Yoga Class Culture)

I know something is blog-worthy when I have talked about it more than a few times over the span of two days. In this case, it was about the general atmosphere in a yoga class.

Every now and then I attend a 90-minute power class at a local yoga studio. Yes, it is intense and a lot of the sequences are advanced, but at the end of the day we are told to do only as much as our energy in that moment allows. Child’s pose is always available, and there are ample opportunities to rest. However, the vibe in this class is completely different. The mats are placed across each other so I regularly make eye contact with the person across the room. I try to meet the person’s gaze with a smile, but quickly realize that they do not see me at all. They exhibit pure suffering, unfaltering focus, and a glare so fierce, it could shatter glass. As this class progresses, I constantly hear grunts and heavy panting. In those moments I question why they are in this class at all…do they even realize this is yoga? Come on, yogis, why so serious?

I’ll admit, there were times when I was in the same boat. I stretched and warmed up before class, had a variation of props ready to go, and constantly judged my alignment and capabilities. The biggest shift in attitude came after I started teaching and saw that attendees continuously forgot their breath work and instead pushed themselves to the point of potential injury. At that moment I realized that I needed to make a change and lighten up the mood. Here are some things I did:

Changed my playlist: Yes, I know, yoga classes aren’t about the music, but it certainly helped the yogis when they heard the recognizable soundtrack from The Lion King during a sun salutation. It was meant to be a subtle reminder that we need to keep our inner child alive and just be more playful.

Added humour to my cues: I am a clown at heart, so I started cracking jokes during class. The first few times it was a miss, but as soon as one person laughed, so did everyone else. The humour does not target anyone (except myself), and is often very “punny” (Na-ma-stay in bed…). I also ask my class to smile as much as possible, specially when they are in Warrior 2.

Admitted my mistakes: This was a tough one to do, because many times the teacher is seen to be in a position of power. These days if I ever butcher any instruction or mess up on my mirroring, I call myself out and then proceed to fixing it. It was initially perceived as a weakness, but is now recognized as a strength – I don’t take myself too seriously!

Altered my yoga-wear: Not all yoga teachers wear Lululemon, and often such brands are quite expensive and act as a deterrent. I frequently wear my fun t-shirts while teaching, many of which represent my other loves – Marvel, DC, and Doctor Who. There should not be any specific attire associated with a yoga class and students should be encouraged to just be comfortable.

Wheel pose

If you are a student or an attendee, here are some tips to make your next yoga experience enjoyable, irrespective of the teacher:

  • Share the space; don’t be afraid if someone places their mat too close to yours
  • Try a different spot every time you go to a class
  • If you are inclined, introduce yourself to the person next to you – break the ice
  • Know when you need to take a break and rest in child’s pose
  • Do not compete with other yogis in your class; everyone has their own practice and each day can be vastly different
  • Smile if you fall, stumble, or lose your balance – happens to the best of us!
  • Make your breath a priority, because isn’t that what yoga is all about?

Yoga is a union between the mind and the body, therefore, if you find clarity in your mind, your limbs do the same. If you are at ease, the poses may come more naturally. Alternatively, if you are suffering, your muscles may experience your angst. So end the pain, laugh a little, and of course, breathe. Xx

By the way, yogis, the soundtrack for “Inception” is absolutely epic during Savasana. 


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