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

In October 2011 I wrote a blog that I usually re-post at this time of year every year about ‘How to be a Yoga Student and How to get get the most out of Student/Teacher Relationship’. Happily we have new people trying on Bikram Yoga for size J and now with a few classes under their belt they are really settling in with their pattern of practice and working out how they can get more out of their Bikram Yoga class.  The blog was prompted by my observations on opening in our first 3 months back in 2011 and was influenced at that point by the mullings of a Yoga student on the other side of the world; reminding me this is a universal practice with the same universal stumbling blocks initially for a few).  The intention behind writing these observations down and sharing them was to enhance the practice and experience of the practitioner in class.  Please also refer to {‘Love Prep’}.    Bikram Yoga is a discipline and the discipline of it is broader than the 90 minutes Asana, it begins when one books their class and/or walks through the door of reception; kind of like any other discipline.  Please do read the blog and the related logistics and etiquettes (online) {and more lately ‘covid protocols’}.   When one signs up at reception, they are signing up to undertake to put the stipulations into practice.  Many of them actually form part of our terms and FUNDAMENTALLY they are actually part of traditional Yoga Ethics and by engaging with them you are all ready well on your Yoga path/journey. CONGRATULATIONS! In applying these tips you are already 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 each 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. {I may have wrote them in 2011 but they are still 100% valid today.} There is a ‘post script’ at the end added in 2020 based on our experience running a Yoga School in St Helier for nearly 10 years…

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)

ave due regard for the Yoga etiquette and any disclaimer and/or waiver set by the Yoga School you attend.  Please don’t casually/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 our school.  We have clearly communicated to students BEFORE they even come, via our website where we have displayed OUR terms that we are prepared to serve them under when we opened in 2011.  EVERYthing a potential practitioner at YM could possibly need to know on how to engage with us and the behavioural expectations for walking into a new environment to practice their new discipline is on that website spoken in multiple different ways via ‘Love Prep’ and in our hundreds of blogs.  Our practitioners should review the Yoga class logistics prior to attendance at the studio and periodically so you are familiar and comfortable. We promise, this knowledge will only enhance your experience.

Namaste ~ Trisha October 2011

Post Script:  {added 2020 ~ because or nearly 10 years experience running a Yoga School in St Helier has taught us more about our limits}    ALL Are Welcome’ in our Yoga School.  Most people need only be met 50% of the way and they are ‘in’ and comfortable in our environment and community.  Some characters need us to meet them 60%-90% of the way in order to assist them to adjust and settle in a different environment and way of living. We want to serve and we have frequently HAPPILY done this over the years, it has worked tremendously and we have built strong relationships with many as a result. However. There is a LIMIT to the ends we will go to in order to have practitioners in our studio.  PLEASE don’t mistake our ‘All Are Welcome’ signs OR our studio’s struggle to survive in trying times as a sign that we are desperate to accept all ‘attitudes’ in our little Yoga School.  Please remember our school is not ‘just a business’ to us; it is like an extension of our ‘home’ we are very much bound up in all happenings there as part of our own lifestyle; there is no separation for us and therefore as spiritual beings having a human kind of experience we reserve the right in the longer term to only have other beings in our home that our humanity is compatible with that we know we can smooth their path to stillness and help on their Yoga journey.  Therefore, to those who:

  • arrive with a bias (as described in 1. Above) and for whatever reason continue to repeatedly walk through our purple doors but strongly hold on to the bias and refuse to ‘connect’ with us {in our home/community} or our ways of delivering our services
  • continually flout the terms, conditions, etiquettes, protocols, yamas, niyamas of entry to our Yoga school (that they signed i.e. ‘agreed to’ on entry to first class) despite being reminded/assisted in every way to help them engage and comply
  • are disrespectful / rude / abusive towards other practitioners, the instructors or the schools etiquettes
  • continually test the boundaries of the terms and in turn us and our understanding and compassion

PLEASE. DON’T COME. We have fought the good fight on this front and tried compassion and patience to assimilate that tiny number of people described above for almost 10 years. Just because we are ‘Yoga’ instructors does not mean we have to ‘suffer with’ the small number who won’t engage in ‘how’ they can make life easier for themselves at least within their Yogasana practice. At our age we will not be martyrs to trying to get it right for those tiny few; as an act of compassion towards ourselves we throw the towel in on that effort.  We have SO MANY wonderful engaging practitioners who are more deserving of our good energy especially if they are having a tough time we want to take care of them more. So many absolutely fabulous practitioners for whom our Yoga school etiquettes/behaviours are a ‘norm’, natural and easy to assimilate. Everyone being different for a few they are a bit more challenging and as mentioned we recognize that and will meet them most of the way until they acquire the behaviours.

Compassion should not discriminate and should be a beautiful limitless practice to cultivate but, if you like, our Terms describe our personal limits of where we feel we can go with this; the boundaries within which we can work. Everyone has limits trying to go beyond which they become ineffective or unwell.  Our Terms describe are OUR PERSONAL ‘ideals’, ‘philosophies’ and ‘principles’ and we cannot compromise them anymore. We cannot serve ‘all’. We are not compatible with ‘all’. We always knew this. We never set out seeking universal popularity and we are quite comfortable with the fact that we will not meet every bodies idea of what they think a Yoga School should be.  These people do not have to come to us.  Our ‘Terms’ haven’t changed and we cannot bespoke them for those last few who whilst demanding and creating a tremendous amount of work for us and wearing their sense of entitlement on their sleeve, won’t even meet us 10% of the way to forming a relationship that works long term. We never forced those tiny few to walk through our doors and we cannot ‘suffer with’ them anymore. For those few they can take comfort in the fact that there will be a Yoga instructor out there somewhere for them that will meet exactly their needs. So. They do not need to ‘persevere’ with us and we are ‘good with that’.