Recently I read a post about what to stop doing in a Bikram yoga. The piece stirred some strong emotions in me, and I thought it might be helpful to offer readers some guidance on what to do instead. These tips apply to Bikram, but they're applicable to all styles of yoga.
As someone with years of experience on the mat as a teacher and student, I know that sometimes it can be tricky to know what to do when the class becomes uncomfortable. Here are some pointers to help you enjoy your yoga experience, no matter your starting point.
1. Listen to your body.
Your body knows exactly what it needs and it will do what it has to in order to get that. If you're going to a yoga class where the teacher asks you to not listen to your body, I suggest you leave that class and never go back. If you feel like you need to take a break, please take one! I cannot stress that enough. If you keep fighting through the urge to rest, your body will make you rest by fainting or making you sick. I'm not sure about you, but I'd rather sit for five minutes instead of being on bed rest for a week because I pushed myself too far.
2. Make your health your first priority.
Whether you're coming to yoga class to relax, de-stress, or deal with health issues, your health should be your first priority. There's no need to push yourself too far or try something that makes you uncomfortable. This can result in torn or pulled muscles, joint damage, and sprained wrists or ankles. Yoga is a place for healing.
3. Keep your eyes on your own mat.
When I go to a yoga class, I sit in the front row, beside the wall so the only people I see are the teacher and the one person next to me. This is because I have trouble not looking at what the other students are doing. I keep my eyes closed as much as possible, and when I can't close my eyes, I focus on a point on the floor in front of me. A yoga class is your time to be selfish and turn all your attention in on yourself. So ignore what the people around you are doing. Focus on your breath and let it all go.
4. Do what makes you happy.
If you want to clap, go for it, sister! If you want to Om super loud, or not at all, or sway to the music or hum or laugh or cry, that's OK, too. Do what makes you happy. Yes, there are other people in the class and you should be respectful (which is the next point) but as long as you're not making yourself the center of attention, then do it! This is your practice and if everyone has mastered point #3 (keep your eyes on your own mat), then you won't be bothering them. I have a friend who was criticized because she didn't Om along with the class. Seriously people, mind your own business.
5. Act with compassion, kindness, and respect.
I think this is a basic rule for every situation in life. Do you what you feel is right for you, but keep others in mind. If you disagree with what someone else is doing, put yourself in his or her shoes and remember that we can never know what's going on in someone else's life. If you remember this, it's very simple to live your life from a place of compassion.