“You have to start with the singing bowl!”
A woman spoke up with alarm as I told the Hatha class I was subbing for to take a comfortable seated position and find their breath. Other students looked nervous as well, shifting on their mats and looking at me expectantly.
“Our teacher always starts class with the singing bowl, and then we…” She continued on to explain an outline for the class I was subbing.
I’ve been subbing a lot of classes lately. Still finding my footing in the yoga community of a new town, I’ve been taking every opportunity to teach. The chance to meet new groups of yogis has been wonderful—beginners, seasoned practitioners, old, young; new people, new stories, new established methods of practicing yoga. It’s been endlessly rewarding, not only as a teacher, but also as a human. Learning to adapt to teaching multiple styles in a day, at multiple studios, with multiple sets of students really sharpens your focus and keeps you prepared. There is this thing, though, that I keep noticing—this resistance to change.
This alarm that the class I am about to teach will be different than they class they’ve come to expect.
Humans are creatures of habit. We are quite literally wired that way. Imagine your brain as a complex operating system firing along pre-established protocol. Even your flakiest friend, your least predictable family member is behaving habitually; their brains have adapted to choose the chaos. Every choice we make strengthens our behavioral responses; every time we re-choose that response, change becomes more challenging.
The key thing though is that change may be challenging, but it is not impossible or even unwelcome. In fact, research shows that yoga and meditation are ideal ways to prepare the brain and body for change (Froelinger et al., 2012). More to the point, we come to class looking for change, don’t we? We are looking for more flexibility, strength, presence of mind, focus, or any number of the benefits that yoga can bring. Why then, this resistance to change within the hour of our practice?
Yogis, I encourage you to try something new. Try a style you’ve never heard of, or a teacher you don’t know. That deep Yin practice you drop in on can set you up to rock your regular weekly Vinyasa class. No energy to give that evening? Check out a restorative class and let those props do all of the work. There are an amazing variety of styles and teachers out there, be open to them. Be open even to that weird breathing exercise, or the singing bowls, or the new poses you’ve never heard of before.
There is almost always an underlying method to the madness, and the worst thing that can happen is that you learn that something does not suit you—a good thing in and of itself.
Teachers, (and I include myself in this) I also encourage you to stay open to the new. We all have our favorite sequences, breathing exercises, and cues. That comfort in the familiar is potent, even to those of us who lead the class. It is important to remember, though, that within every style of yoga there are an infinite number of potential sequences, ways to approach poses, and areas to focus on.
From Eastern ideas such as the Sutras (ancient yogic texts), Pranayamas (breathing exercises), Bandhas (yoga locks) or Mudras (hand gestures), to straightforward Western Anatomy and Physiology, there’s an endless amount of inspirations to draw from.
Stay curious as a teacher, and you will keep your classes growing.
There’s never been progress without experimentation, and wherever we are in this practice of yoga, we’re all looking to progress.
So let’s stay open, shall we? Whether it’s singing bowls or no singing bowls, hippy scarves or lululemon, physical practice or meditation: let’s all stay curious.
Freolinger et al. (2012) Yoga Meditation Practicioners Exhibit Greater Gray Matter Volume and Fewer Reported Cognitive Failures: Results of a Preliminary Voxel-Based Morphometric Analysis.Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, Volume 2012. Web. 18 Sep. 2015.
McGreevey, Sue. Meditation’s positive residual effects. Harvard Gazette, November 13, 2012.
Author: Sarah Damiano
Editor: Renée Picard
Image: Photo: Ian Bothwell / Flickr