How To Be a Yoga Student and Get the Most Out of the Student / Teacher Relationship

My observations since Yoga Matters opened 19 July 2011 (and the mullings of a Yoga student on the other side of the world) has led me to write a few pages that might be of benefit to my students (the focus in these tips is mostly external and relates to practice within our little Yoga school environment).  The intention behind writing these observations down and sharing them is to enhance the practice and experience of the practitioner in class.  Please also refer to {‘Love Prep’}.  Applying these tips could be considered to be practicing some of the most basic Yogic principles described by the great sage Patanjali; it is not necessary to know or memorize the sanskrit terminology for Yamas or Niyamas, these principles are universal, but I have made reference to which ones I consider the tip to relate to beside each heading for those who like to consider these ‘within a more Yogic context’.  I urge all to consider them either way.

1. BE A STUDENT (Aparigraha)
I frequently have students whose asana practice is more developed than mine; but I am still a student of Yoga and they are still a student of Yoga. To be a student one must adopt the attitude of a diligent student for the class period, especially with a new teacher. For many students, especially if one has a regular practice, there is a tendency to compare teachers. The mind likes to think “my other teacher did not do it that way” “therefore this must be wrong”. Using existing knowledge and experience as a sort of bias against new teachings and experiences puts up a barrier to learning what the teacher has to offer. The truth is one can learn something from every teacher, if we can be open to what they have to teach.
2. OVERLOOK (Aparigraha)
Yoga teachers are works in progress. It would not be unusual to hear them mispronounce the names of asanas, forget a student’s name, momentarily forget where they are in sequence, do or say something that seems odd, forget a student has an injury if they have not seen them for some time (please re-declare any injuries/conditions if you are an infrequent practitioner – my memory is not what it should be 🙂 ). Most yoga teachers are not masters and are people in varying stages of development, just like the students. The solution to odd situations and flaws is to hang on in there, even if you don’t like it. Sooner or later the message will out. Overlook the flaws so that you can enjoy the real yoga teachings which are pristine and eternal.
3. TRUST THE PROCESS (Aparigraha)
There is an implicit trust relationship between the teacher and student. It is the teacher’s duty to find a way to get the student to learn. The forms and words of teaching can seem quite odd indeed and the ego may not always like. Time will tell. Trust the process – you are not “checking out” completely; you are allowing your body to be guided by somebody else’s brain for once. When you have a class where you are one with the instruction and the process you know it. It’s the best feeling in the world.
4. JUST DO IT (Tapas)
“An ounce of practice is worth ten tons of theory.” If you open your heart and just keep on turning up on your mat for practice then you will discover the rewards of yoga. Although you don’t ‘do’ Yoga; just keep practicing. Keep TRYING. Adjust yourself and practice during the ordinary chaos of life. Practice despite days of lesser energy, strength and flexibility. Practice without comparing yourself to what others are doing on the mat next to you…
5. AVOID COMPARING YOURSELF TO OTHERS (Aparigraha, Asteya, Ahimsa)
Negative thoughts block progress. Thoughts like “I will never look like that” will steal your energy and put you into a mode of struggle in your practice. You cannot be that person on the mat next to you; you can only be a better you. Expect and accept that some days you will feel better than others. Ultimately it is what is going on internally, not externally, that counts. If you hang on in there, you will get great satisfaction from your practice.
Teachers have different styles. Some have a faster pace, some place less emphasis on external form and more emphasis on breath and concentration during practice. There is no bad choice. Regardless how long you have been practicing always know that any requests or suggestions your old or new teacher makes of you in relation to your practice is with good intention to help you enhance your experience and asanas and should not be taken as a slight on your current form (see 1. Be a Student). What is important is to do the practice their way so that you can get the benefit from their style of teaching.
7. ON THE MAT (Saucha, Ishvara–Pranidhana)
Bikram classes are often busy places as per the Bikram model. During practice stay on your mat (i.e. be conscious of not straying off diagonally sideways especially when lying down). Bikram Yoga clothing should be minimal but modest i.e. it should cover all the essentials. Dousing with water or excessive, continuous wiping every patch of bare skin with towels in a Bikram Yoga environment is not permitted {Read/Scroll Down: ‘Love Yoga’ Thermoregulation and Sweat & Heat and Acclimatization} and remember! there are no props in Bikram Yoga. (YM have mats to rent. Usually people rent mats whilst considering whether they like practice enough to invest in own. At YM heavy sweaters must have their own mat.)
8. THINK ABOUT YOUR TOWEL(Bramicharya 😉 )
A towel is a prerequisite and one cannot participate without one; they provide traction, comfort and sweat collection. YM does not rent towels; practitioners must bring their own: hand towels are not sufficient and bath sheets are too big (unless you fall into the category of ‘very’ heavy sweater think – a bath sheet takes up half a washing machine load and takes up half a space wider than your mat!). A long towel no wider than your mat will do. The towel must be placed on top of mat and the practitioner must stand or lie on them at all times. This is an absolute must if you are renting a studio mat. Minimum adjustment of the towels must take place; it is a waste of Prana and a distraction to others to constantly be occupied with the arrangement and rearrangement of your towel. (YM keeps a few old towels for cases where a regular practitioner has forgotten one – it happens. However, a proliferation of people turning up without towels has put a strain on resources and in future a fee of £1 will be charged to people who request a towel).
Yoga is a Discipline just like any other. Bikram Yoga has the added heat to test your discipline still further. Know that you are attending class in an environment that will challenge even the fittest athlete at the outset of practice. Please don’t be surprised that you walk into the room and it is HOT; the heat is integral to this school of discipline. Discipline and control over the body and mind is the essence of Yoga and without pursuing that you cannot truly experience the full benefits of Yoga. The 90 minute practice will involve asana, conscious breathing, concentration, mindfulness, meditation. Regular practice of this discipline will bring an overall sense of wellbeing and many practitioners translate that discipline into their everyday lives.
10. MIND THE ETIQUETTE (Saucha, Asteya, Aparigraha)
Have due regard for the Yoga etiquette and any disclaimer and/or waiver set by the studio you attend. Please don’t blindly sign your undertaking/disclaimer/waiver and then promptly ignore its stipulations. This makes it very uncomfortable for us to have to remind people of the basics of Yoga etiquette and what they signed (agreed) to. These usually represent the terms and conditions under which students are admitted to practice in the studio. Also, where you can, review the Yoga class logistics periodically/prior to attendance at the studio so you are familiar and comfortable. I promise; It will enhance your experience.
Namaste ~ Trisha

October 2011