A few years ago, I went to one of my first yoga classes in Dublin. I walked into the studio, out of breath from trying to find the location, and found myself in an oasis of calm and smokey Nag Champa. I was happy to have stepped into this magical space, but I didn’t quite feel like I fit in. I wasn’t as calm as I felt I should be and I was wearing plaid pyjama pants. I shyly borrowed a mat and a blanket and sat near the back corner of the room.
Even though it was obvious I was new, I wanted desperately to seem like I knew what I was doing. So, I sat there, somehow adjusting my legs into a pretzel shape, and didn’t dare approach the serene looking teacher or ask any questions.
We started the class and I quickly realised that my very comfortable pyjamas were not so great for doing yoga in. My tank top started to shift from all the movement, and my pants kept creeping up my waist, causing me to adjust myself every 3 and a half minutes. So for the hour long class, my focus was not on my breath. My focus was on my pants and how close I was to looking like David Brent.
I remember that class now and it makes me laugh. I’m a yoga teacher and I can’t believe that I was ever embarrassed to seem the least bit like I didn’t know what was going on. I realise now that if I had talked to the teacher before class, she probably would have told me that it didn’t matter how I looked. She would have said that how I FELT was the most important thing. She would have given me the permission I couldn’t give myself to let go of trying to be correct or “good” at the postures. And perhaps I would have let my inner David Brent out on the mat and focused solely on how the practice was making me feel.
I know now that the most important thing about a yoga class is focusing your attention inwards. This means focusing on your own breath, your own feelings, your own experience. The teacher is just there to offer assistance and encouragement, to prepare a space that helps you connect with yourself.
So, for anyone who knows how it feels to not know what’s going on in a yoga class—it’s okay.
Every yoga teacher you’ve ever seen, no matter how poised or relaxed they seem, they were also beginners at some point. And they also had to learn to let their practice be between them and themselves.
And here’s the big secret:
Teachers learn from their students.
That’s right. Just as much as you learn from your teacher, they learn from you. Teachers want your feedback. They want you to ask questions. They want to know how you’re experiencing your time on the mat and how it’s trickling into your life. Even questions that might seem silly—they’re not. Whatever helps you to let go more into the practice, whatever permission or support helps you connect to that peace that’s inside of you, tell your teacher what you’re thinking.
Every class is about each individual with themselves. The teacher is just a guide. The teacher is there to keep everyone safe. The teacher is there to laugh with you if you feel like you wore uncomfortable pants, and to offer a space that allows you to tell yourself that it’s okay, it doesn’t matter. So remember the next time you have a question or you just want to tell your teacher what’s on your mind—we’re all in this together. We’re all connecting to ourselves together. We can all relate.