It’s not as if I have a sign outside my yoga classes that says, “Make sure you have your cell phone with you at all times.”
You see, in my perfect world, no one would ever bring a cell phone into a yoga class. In my perfect world, everyone would show up five minutes before class, stay completely present in their breath for the entire time, enjoy a full savasana and float blissfully out of my class, completely in love with yoga and the world around them. No one in class would ever fart, or laugh too loudly, or snore in savasana. In my perfect world.
Which, by the way, does not exist.
A few months ago, a whirlwind of controversy erupted in the yoga world over a blog written by a yoga teacher who complained of being fired from her job at a large social media company because she flashed a disapproving glare when a student could not ignore her cell phone during a yoga class. (This was after she was told by her superiors that students were allowed to have phones in class.) Crying foul, and in the process creating her very own fifteen minutes of fame, this teacher also went on to make some pretty snarky and disparaging remarks about this same student being unable to sit still for “even a short meditation.”
If there is one thing I have learned over the eight years I’ve spent teaching yoga, it’s this: We are all tripping and stumbling our way down the very same path. The very same one. My path is not on a higher elevation than yours just because I happen to practice and teach yoga, nor is yours far more beautiful and right than mine because of what you happen to believe. Seriously, folks, it’s the same damn path.
Currently, I teach my yoga classes exclusively at a local Y. I love my Y classes, I love the diversity of the members, I love my colleagues, I love the room I teach in. But let’s face it, it’s a gym, not a yoga studio. When I began teaching yoga nearly a decade ago, my intention was this: To bring yoga to those who would never step into a yoga studio. Throughout my career, I have taught at corporate offices, in churches, in school gymnasiums, on grassy lawns, and in beautiful, sexy yoga studios. A few years ago, I was at a place in my life where I wanted to focus my teaching in one place, to establish a home base. It didn’t take long before I realized that teaching at the Y helped me stay true to my initial intention. And while preaching to the choir is very nice, it simply doesn’t bring me the fulfillment I am looking for as a yoga teacher.
Here’s the thing–I want to meet people where they are.
And where most of us are is a busy, plugged-in, over-scheduled world. We are juggling jobs and kids, stress and aging, grief and worry, feeling uncomfortable in our own skin and sometimes scared to take that first step. Most of us are not yoga teachers. Most of us do not have a regular meditation practice. Most of us are not reflected in the images of What Yoga Looks Like in Yoga Journal or in the Lululemon ads. When I teach a class, my primary goal is to create a safe place for all people to explore the practice of yoga, just as they are. No fancy pants, no chanting required. And sometimes, yes, that means a random cell phone ringing in the middle of class.
Lest you think that my classes are an exercise in uncontrolled chaos, I will assure you I do have boundaries. If someone answers their cell phone and begins a conversation during class, (which almost never happens…almost) I will quietly ask them to take their business outside the room. If someone is visually or vocally disruptive to others around them, I will go over to them with a smile and remind them to draw their focus inward. God help me if I ever shoot daggers from my eyes towards someone who is distracted, antsy, or somehow otherwise not “in their yoga.” Who hasn’t been in that place at some time in a yoga class? Is it my job to shame them into behaving better? I sincerely hope not.
With the popularity of yoga increasing by leaps and bounds in the Western world, controversy follows. There are folks who want rules and guidelines and rigidity and dogma. To hell with that, I say. Come to my class solely for the physical exercise and screw yogic philosophy and you will get a powerful physical practice for your muscles and bones. Come to my class because you’re a teenage girl and it’s cool to do yoga and you will get an hour of great breathing and stretching and strong triceps. Come to my class because you love the playlists and you will hear great music, both familiar and new. Come to my class because you want to connect with your spirit, a deeper pull, the voice of the universe, and guess what? You can get that, too. We can all get what we need, side by side, breathing and moving and sweating together. Just as we are.
It is not my job to tell you why to come to yoga or to rattle off my rules for how to practice. It is my job to greet you with a smile, to keep you safe but challenged, to give you permission to fall flat on your face, (literally and metaphorically) and encourage you to laugh about it afterwards. Yes, of course, it is also my job to create an environment conducive to practicing, with minimal distractions. But if you happen to reach for your cell phone on that morning that your kids are sick, or your husband is traveling, or you’re expecting news from your doctor, know that I get it. And know that I’m glad you showed up, in your imperfect, messy self.
Seriously, just show up.
(And here you go, music fans…this is the theme song for all my classes. Plus it features a really young Dave Grohl on drums, so I kinda like it.)