January 31, 2014

The Yoga Mindset

Yesterday my friend Sam posted an article on her Facebook and tagged me in it, asking me what I thought. The article in question is about a girl that goes to a pay-what-you-can yoga studio, and how she felt that only skinny, white people attended class, and the plight that a "heavy-set" black woman who, in the author's eyes, "tried" to take class must have felt. Basically it was an extremely condescending and presumptuous article with traces of racism subtly woven through. But I digress--that's not really what I wanted to talk about.

I wanted to talk about what I'll call the Yoga Mindset. This is something that I imagine being at the ultimate peace with yourself and others - something that I'm sure everyone strives for, practicing yoga or not. Who knows if I'll ever achieve this kind of zen, or if anybody ever really does, but for the purpose me talking about it, that's what I think it is.

Get Zen Hot Yoga has been an awesome experience so far. The studio and the teachers are really great, the classes are wonderful, and I'm always a sweaty mess afterwards. I always leave with a good feeling of accomplishment. The studio is growing - with the combination of New Year's Resolutions and Groupons, I'd say the attendance size just about doubled in the last month. Now, this is both bad and good. Good: Lots of energy to feed off of, you can fade into the background if you want, and the room is always nice and warm because of all the body heat. Bad: It's super crowded in class, filled with people who don't quite know what they're doing.

A crowded class - can you find me?*
I understand that there are beginners and we all have to start somewhere - that's not what this is about. But, being a beginner means that you don't necessarily know the rules right off the bat. That's fine. That's why the teachers encourage you to ask questions and to read the little signs printed outside the two entrances to the Hot Room. Most of the rules are common sense (bring a towel, yoga mat, and water; don't leave class before it ends), but maybe not to the newbies who have never taken a hot yoga class before. That's fine! Just... read the rules before you start something new. Follow directions. Be respectful.

Last night, I went to Yoga Sculpt. This class is a different animal entirely, as it's more of a body pump class than a yoga flow (vinyasa) class, and it involves weights. At Get Zen Hot Yoga, they use upbeat music during their Vinyasa classes- and naturally, the Yoga Sculpt class follows suit. If Yoga Sculpt happened to be your very first class at Get Zen Hot Yoga, I could understand that maybe you thought it was a different kind of class altogether - not a "normal" yoga class that you think of when you think of the word "yoga" (meditation, "ohms", no weights/loud music, etc.), so you thought that maybe the regular yoga rules wouldn't apply to this class?

Back to my point.. so I went to class and it was really crowded, which I was prepared for. I unrolled my mat and set my water bottle down in the front row, and then left the room to put the rest of my clothes with my stuff outside. I came back just as someone was laying down his mat next to mine. This wouldn't be of interest, except for the fact that it was SO CLOSE to mine that it was almost comical. And there were plenty of other spots in the room. It completely baffled me why he would set his mat SO close to someone elses... I realized he probably must be new. Fine. So, I moved my mat farther away from his and it was fine. A small hiccup.

As I was sitting down, I noticed that there were two distinct groups of people chatting... inside the Hot Room. Most of the time I think some quiet greetings are okay, but these were full blown un-hushed conversations that I could hear every detail of. I mean, what?! I was annoyed, to say the least. I just wanna get my yoga on and zone out, I don't really want to hear about how your mundane day went. So, I just laid down like I usually do before class, closed my eyes, and tried to tune them out.

Then one of the ladies snickered, "Oooh...whoops. I guess we're supposed to be meditating," in what I can only assume was in response to seeing me trying to relax before class. And that just made my blood boil. She had the gall to make fun of me (because I can only assume that's what she was doing!) for doing exactly what I was supposed to be doing - not talking - while she was doing exactly what she wasn't supposed to be doing - talking. And devaluing my yoga practice in the process. How dare she?!

I understand that people can take out their insecurities in different ways. I'm pretty sure this was one of her first classes - she was in the back row, and I mean, the incessant talking at the beginning of class showed a clear desire to not be focused for the class ahead. I've done that kind of stuff before - trying to distract myself from a huge looming commitment. I see now that she was clearly nervous about the class and took out her anxiety on seeing me trying to focus. And of course now I'm not irritated anymore. But damn. When will people learn that their words and actions affect others??

Back to The Yoga Mindset and that article. This is the response that I wrote:
"i really dislike the assumptions the author makes in this article about the woman in question. what if she was just having a bad day/was sick/just came back from vacay and wanted to relax in a hot room with awesome energy all around her? who is the author to say that she was "glancing around anxiously, [...] looking wide-eyed and nervous"? has she never heard of Bitchy Resting Face? sometimes our faces echo feelings that our brain doesn't feel. and i don't know about her, but i spend a good 30 seconds adjusting my clothes before class starts to make sure everything is straightened out before i'm drenched in sweat. "I watched as her despair turned into resentment and then contempt. I felt it all directed toward me and my body." well yeah, she could probably feel you staring at her for the last hour, how would you feel?! regardless of size, shape, color, level.... just respect the person next to you (this applies to y'know, life as well), whether they spend the entire class in child's pose or whether they're doing all the crazy modifications. it doesn't mean they're tired, it doesn't mean they're showing off. just let them be and focus on YOU."
One of my favorite ideas is "you do you, and I'll do me". As long as you're not hurting someone else, I can respect whatever you do/believe, as long as you also respect what I'm doing/believing. If I want to lay on my mat and close my eyes for a few minutes before an hour of Yoga Sculpt, respect that decision. If I look over and see you in child's pose for 30 minutes out of 60, I will respect that decision and not judge you any further. Who knows what you wanted out of class that day... maybe that's what you came to do. Who am I to decide? Why is it any of my business? Who really cares?

The Yoga Mindset, something I strive for and hope that everyone else strives for, is just this kind of thinking - I'll do me, and you'll do you, and we'll respect each other and love each other for it. And that'll be that. No conflict, no disrespect. Mutual respect. No idea why that's so hard for people to recognize.

Rant over!

*You can see me in the top left of the picture, front row, through the mirror. I have a blue water bottle next to me. :)

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