3 Things I Learned When I Had to Stand in the Front Row in Yoga Class
by Dana Gornall
I am not usually an early bird when it comes to showing up for yoga class. But on this particular day, I made sure that I arrived way before class was scheduled to begin. It was my first time attending a workshop, even though I had been practicing yoga for a number of years. Workshops always intimidated me. In fact, yoga itself could make me apprehensive. I worry that I can never quite measure up to the other students in class. Even with years of practice under my belt, I still look around the room and see all that I cannot do, rather than zoning in on all that I now can do. While I realize that comparing myself to others in class is not the point of yoga, I still like to secure a spot in the back of the room where I can hide (preferably near a wall, lest I topple over).
So when I walked in early to an already-crowded yoga studio filled with unfamiliar people in familiar yoga-studio garb with images of elephants and lotus flowers, I scanned the back of the room for a friendly face that might allow me to squeeze in alongside. I eventually managed to catch the eye of someone I knew, and she smiled and indicated where I could place my mat, scooting her mat over a little to make room for me. I was relieved. I could hide back here, maybe even be a little invisible, and take my time through the poses.
Plopping my mat down and grabbing the standard props, I chatted with the other people in my row. I attempted to be a bit sarcastic and funny, maybe feeling a little overconfident after snagging the spot I wanted. I even pulled out my phone and texted a friend: I scored a spot in the back!
I watched as a line formed near the instructor (a well-known yoga teacher from out of state), most likely to inform him of previous injuries or ask questions about the practice. I leaned toward the woman next to me and commented that the only thing I could tell him was that while I had no injuries, I did suck at yoga. We laughed, sharing stories of mishaps, badly shaped poses, and the nervousness we felt about being there. Then the room began to quiet as the instructor took his place at the front of the room.
Feeling somewhat confident in my “spot,” I settled into the excitement of challenging myself at my first yoga workshop.
Here I was, with a renowned yoga instructor and among some extremely accomplished yogis, and I was in the front row. Crap.
And then the instructor announced that we would all be turning to face the other side of the room. He wanted our mats to be horizontal, not lined up vertically as they had been, and the easiest way to accomplish this was for us all to turn—leaving me now at the very front of the room. I felt my insides drop. Here I was, with a renowned yoga instructor and among some extremely accomplished yogis, and I was in the front row. Crap.
When I first began practicing yoga, I learned a lot about myself. I learned where my body needed more movement, what poses needed extra attention, and how my mind sometimes fluctuated back and forth like a ping-pong ball. This was the beginning of more awareness of everything about myself—from my posture and how I stood, to how I responded to others (both outwardly and inwardly). And now, years after beginning my practice, I am still learning. Learning that I get flustered over a simple thing like not being able to practice in my coveted spot at the back of the room. Fumbling through the first pose, sighing and feeling my face grow a little hot, it occurred to me that I was going to get some unexpected bonus lessons at this workshop. And I did. Three, in particular.
Lesson 1: It’s good to step out of comfort zones.
Don’t we all cherish our favorite spots in class? Who among us has not felt a little disconcerted when we show up for class and find that the spot where we most often lay our mat is now occupied by some new person? It’s frustrating, to say the least, but that alone holds probably a thousand things to be aware of. Isn’t it good to step out of our comfort zones just a little? And, honestly, who am I to claim a “spot” on the floor in yoga. Hello, ego.
So I can’t stand in my favorite spot. Maybe I can't be near a wall as I usually like either—which may mean challenging myself to balance better, give myself permission to come out of a pose a little sooner, or even try a different version of the pose (dearest ego).
And maybe, just maybe, I will like this new spot even better.
Lesson 2: Life throws curveballs, and we find ways to adapt.
I wanted to be in the back—to be invisible and free to “mess up”—but instead I wound up right in the front. So something happened that I wasn’t expecting, and I let myself get a bit bent out of shape over the whole thing. Like unexpected things never happen in life. Let’s face it, life is constantly in flux—always changing and shifting, and we are always in need of finding ways to adapt. I know this. I should be used to the fact that a curveball can be thrown at you when you least expect it, as so often happens in life. Apparently, I needed reminding. And by getting out of my own head and focusing instead on the poses being taught, I was able to drop the monkey-mind chatter that was occupying my thoughts. And by freeing my mind, I could focus on the task at hand and simply be present. That opportunity to practice awareness and presence was in itself a golden ticket to learning to adapt.
Lesson 3: We are each here to learn at our own pace.
Finding a friend, getting comfortable, gloating a little that I found a good spot, and cracking jokes about sucking at yoga were all signs of my ego rearing its lovely head. Honestly, we were all there to learn, and we were all in different places physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. While we were all practicing yoga in class, no one really cared what I was doing or how advanced I was or wasn't. And even if someone did notice or care whether or not I could reach my toes or balance in tree pose, that shouldn’t matter to me. I came to this workshop to learn something new and approach yoga with different eyes, and whether or not my hands could reach the floor in uttanasana really wasn’t the point. It's likely the case that everyone in class is focused on their own body and poses and couldn't care less about what anyone else is doing.
When the workshop was over and I was rolling up my mat, my regular instructor asked me if I had enjoyed the class. I nodded, telling her that I did. I said that I was surprised I was able to keep up—expecting that a class with a well-known instructor with such experience and reputation would be difficult. She smiled at me, saying that he knew he had a mixed class and adjusted accordingly.
I found my jacket and bag, and leaving the crowded room of mostly unfamiliar people in yoga garb with images of elephants and lotus flowers, I headed out into the cold November night. I felt a bit more balanced—ego and all.