A few days ago, I opened the door to my studio’s yoga room and greeted the yogis who had come to get their flow on with me. I asked my usual questions—is anyone new to yoga, and does anyone have any injuries? No one confessed to being new to yoga or having any restrictive injuries, but only one person had set up their mat near the front of the room. The rest of the class was pressed up against the back wall, as far away from my mat and the “head of the class” as they could possibly be.
I happen to know that the yogis at the back of the room had a good amount of experience and just regard themselves as “bad at yoga.” I personally believe there’s no such thing as good or bad at yoga; people just have different bodies, ranges of motion, ability level, etcetera. I try to make sure the people who come to my classes know this: No one is judging your practice, and this is not a competition. I offer modifications to everyone and what I call “add-ons” for the more daring yogis, but always make sure to say that your practice is no better or worse if you take them or don’t.
Still, there’s invariably a group of yogis who try to hide out in the back of the room. On this particular day, it actually ended up working to their disadvantage. Their mat positioning created a huge physical divide in the middle of the room, so that when I had to be in front and demonstrating so everyone could see a transition, it was much harder for them to see what I was doing. I was constantly bopping around the room, trying to make sure that I was always in a place where I could teach effectively to the entire class—even when they were on literal opposite ends of the room.
It got me thinking about why people fear the front of the room. I suppose it can feel like the spotlight is on you when there’s anyone behind you and able to see what you’re doing. You can feel self-conscious when forward bending, or simply safer with nothing to your back but the wall. But trust me: hiding in the back won’t help your practice, and there’s truly nothing to fear at the front of the room, so long as you feel safe in the studio in general.
Here are a few more reasons to let go of your fear of the front of the yoga room and scoot your mat away from the wall and join me at the top of the class:
You’ll be able to hear better.
Many yoga poses have us changing up our positioning, moving our gaze around, even closing our eyes. (In fact, I cue yogis to close their eyes in certain poses like malasana and chair pose quite a lot!) You can’t always see the instructor, so you need to be able to hear them. Sometimes so that they can instruct you to the next pose or transition, and other times because they’ll offer verbal adjustment cues, tips for making the pose feel better, or (in my and Erin’s cases) a
cheesy quality joke you won’t want to miss! 😉
I can see YOU better.
Since I teach the majority of my classes in heated studios, I choose my hands-on adjustments carefully. Some people hate being touched when they’re sweaty; some people don’t mind. I love being adjusted, so I offer physical adjustments as much as I come to know my yogis are comfortable with. However, if someone is aligning incorrectly in a way where they might hurt themselves, I’m coming RIGHT over and adjusting. Unless, of course, I can’t get to you, or can’t get to a free block and then to you.
The second to last thing I want to do is call you out by name and possibly embarrass you, but the very last thing I want is to have you hurt yourself or aggravate an injury. The closer you are to me, the better I can help you get the most out of your practice, whether that means sliding a block under your palm in half moon pose or helping to support your backbend.
Mirrored studios have mirrors for a reason, and it’s not to make you feel bad about your wardrobe choice.
I totally understand why some studios elect not to have mirrors, but I personally prefer when I can see what I’m doing while I practice. In fact, even when I practiced exclusively at home, I video record my practice so I could look back and see whether my alignment was correct. That’s why studios have mirrors: to help you self-correct and take your practice to a safe and fulfilling place.
Many of us have trouble looking in a mirror without zeroing in on our flaws or fixing our hair, but when you have a mirror help you realize what you thought was perfect warrior II alignment is actually all out of whack, you might start to think differently about getting up close and personal with your reflection.
No one is watching.
Hopefully you’ve found a studio that feels like a safe and respectful place, where you’re free from judgement and commentary about your practice. (If your studio doesn’t sound like this, it may be time to start looking for a new one.) Everyone is just there to do their own thing. You might see eyes move around here and there because someone missed a cue or didn’t catch the English translation of “trikonasana” when the instructor said it, but “glancing at” or “noticing for a moment” is not the same as “watching.”
Consider where your attention is during class: hopefully it’s on your mat, or your thumb, or your big toe, or the ceiling, or wherever your instructor directs your gaze. If you’re not watching other yogis practice, why let yourself be convinced they’re watching you?
And let’s be honest: with all the shifting and moving around and forward bending, you’re not exactly safe from the eyes of your fellow yogis in downward dog when you’re at the back of the room anyway!
Yoga shouldn’t be about hiding.
Be present in the studio, be present in your practice, and unabashedly take up space in the universe because you deserve to be here as much as anyone else.
Let me know, Bad Yogis: where do you gravitate to in the yoga room? Are you feeling emboldened to come a bit away from the back wall in your next class?