One Thing All Yoga Instructors Should Do, But Don’t

A lesson in the little things.

Yesterday, I had a weird — but good — experience in a yoga class at Grace & Glory Yoga’s new Fishtown location. The weird experience I’m talking about is this: As the class started, the instructor, Gillian (who was awesome, and undoubtedly tripled the strength in my shoulders), told us we would be starting on our feet. Then, she told us to introduce ourselves to everyone around us. There were only about 11 people in the class and we had about two or three minutes to make the rounds, so pretty much everyone ended up shaking hands with everyone else in the class. Weird, right? I thought so, too — until afterward when I realized that forcing us to break the ice with each other completely set the tone for the rest of the class.

For one, when, roughly 50 minutes into the heated power-yoga class, Gillian told us to touch our very sweaty neighbor’s shoulder — something I generally hate doing, because, well, sweaty strangers — I didn’t cringe at the thought. And I think my lack of annoyance had something to do with the fact that my neighbor felt a little less like a stranger than in other classes where instructors have made me touch my sweaty neighbors. I mean, let’s not get it twisted: I didn’t love it. But the fact that we’d already met each other made the whole situation a bit less eye-roll-inducing.

Similarly, when I nearly fell flat on my face during the millionth Chaturanga, I didn’t want to die of embarrassment, as I would if I’d fallen walking down the steps to the El (this happened to me last week, by the way) or strolling down Frankford Avenue. Because again, the people surrounding me didn’t feel like strangers. Loud sighs that brought to mind images of a birthing room also felt less uncomfortable, both coming from me and from others. And I could list off the billion other ways a simple, “Hi, my name is ____ “ changed the dynamics of the class for me, but I think you get the idea.

When I explained the experience to Be Well Philly editor Emily today, the best way I could think to describe the shift was that it felt like, for that hour-and-some-minutes, I was living in a super-friendly small town — the kind of place where people also say hi to strangers in the neighborhood coffee shop and at the grocery store and when they’re just walking down the street. And no offense to Philly, but “friendly” just isn’t the first word that comes to mind when I think of my experiences here, love it as I may.

And what’s even weirder to me, now that I have had this experience of being forced to introduce myself to the people I’m going to be sweating profusely next to for the next hour, is that I have never had this experience before. I have been to a bajillion yoga classes at just as many studios, and never once has an instructor started the class with introductions. And I totally get not being able to take the time to have people introduce themselves to everyone in a class of, say, 85. But even just introducing yourself to the people around you, in my opinion, would make all the things to come — sweating like there’s no tomorrow, loud (weird) yoga-breathing, feeling like you just might die if you have to stay in chair pose for one second longer — next to someone you’ve never seen before a little more pleasant and comfortable. And better yet, more community-building.

And community is one of the things most of us want out of yoga, along with a killer workout and some time to call our own, right? So yoga instructors, make people say hello! They might appear awkward/confused/uncomfortable at first (I definitely did), but they will thank you later.

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