As a yogi and personal trainer, I’ve noticed that many of my friends and clients get uncomfortable whenever I suggest they try yoga. Despite its growth in popularity over the past few years, yoga still intimidates people. This can be so frustrating; I see how much yoga has improved my life and I want everyone to experience its benefits.
One of my clients, a 61 year-old grandmother, recently told me about an awful experience in a yoga class. She was given little direction, yelled at when she did a sequence wrong, and told that yoga isn't for her. She felt like she was being instructed by a drill sergeant, not a soothing teacher.
Needless to say, she hasn’t gone back. (Fortunately, I'm creating a yoga program at a gym in my hometown this summer and she has agreed to expand our training relationship to include yoga.)
As she explained her story, I couldn’t help but relate. Before I embarked on my journey as a yogi, I, too, felt like I didn’t fit into the yoga world. I’d see people walk through the gym, barefoot with their yoga mats, go into one of the training rooms, and disappear for at least an hour. All of a sudden, they'd emerge from the room, sweating, still barefoot, still holding their yoga mats. They wouldn’t speak to anyone in the gym except each other. I admit, I was a bit judgemental and thought they were pretty eccentric.
I was intrigued but still skeptical. I'd hear them talking about their salads and coconut water and meat-free diets. Yet here I was, a lower-middle class, weightlifting, carnivore, thinking how I could I possibly fit into their culture?
After researching and discovered that yoga had many benefits (including aiding in anxiety and depression), I decided to give it a shot since I’ve suffered from both since I was 14. I browsed countless YouTube videos before coming across a Tara Stiles video. She was nothing like the people I saw at the gym. She was lively, funny and very animated. She made yoga look fun.
I practiced at home with Tara’s videos for a little over a year before I ventured into a studio. Despite enjoying the practice from the beginning, I couldn’t help but think about the people I’d seen at the gym every week. I was afraid that yogis at a studio would be the same way.
I eventually built up enough courage to visit a studio. I picked one that was away from my home and my job, hoping I wouldn’t see anyone I knew. Once I found that, I signed up for their beginners class.
My first studio experience was amazing. My instructor, Jill Sanchioni was calm, welcoming, and communicative. At the start of class, she told us that this was our own practice and that we should be aware of what our bodies were telling us. At the end of the class, she stayed and talked to everyone (myself included). I was worried about my limited flexibility in my shoulders due to years of weightlifting, and she showed me a few shoulder openers that I could do at home. To this day, I practice with Jill regularly.
Some of my friends and relatives were a bit skeptical about yoga, thinking that it would change me—and it did. It helped me break my addiction to cigarettes and prescription meds, decreased my anxiety and depression, and also helped eliminated my chronic migraines. Yoga taught me how to find happiness within myself and appreciate each moment. Now my friends and family ask to join me for yoga frequently.
My goal is to spread the positive messages of this practice, in hopes that others won’t allow prejudgmental ignorance to deter them from a life-changing discipline.
Recently I emailed a few yoga studios in New York inquiring about potential openings, in hopes of expanding my business outside of Baltimore. The reception has been great thus far, but one email from a well-respected studio was cold and unwelcoming. It didn’t quite exhibit the positive response that I had come to expect from such a highly valued organization.
The experience reminded me of how I used to feel about yoga before I knew what yoga is. My interactions with that one New York studio made me feel indifferent toward the company, and I wonder how many newbies they’ve scared off with an attitude like that?
If you're a practicing yogi or yogini, or if you run a yoga studio, think about how you're promoting the yoga lifestyle. Are you standing firm in your yoga values? Are you offering others the opportunity for acceptance? Or are you guilty of deterring others from enjoying the countless benefits of a consistent yoga practice? The decision is yours. Namaste.