Monday, February 22, 2010

Re-learning Namaste

Have I mentioned how much I love teaching yoga to beginners? I have never experienced anything like it.

Tonight I had a woman walk up to the desk and ask for help in choosing her first yoga class. She looked at me and said, "I am 53 years old, and I've never done a single athletic thing in my life," and she asked me to tell her everything I could to get her prepared for this big step. And it is a big step. If I put myself in her shoes, I wonder if I'd have the guts. It's truly remarkable.

I want so much for that woman to return to the studio and take that first class. I gave her all the information I could manage in a short amount of time, but we were interrupted constantly and then I had to leave the conversation to teach my class. I hope she heard what I was saying. I also have to be careful not to scare people away with my enthusiasm. I believe so fervently that yoga is life-changing and empowering; I want beginners to give it a real chance. I want them to take classes regularly for at least two or three weeks before they decide how they feel about yoga. I want them to try different styles, different teachers, different times of day. It all matters. It all helps.

I also had several brand new beginners in my class tonight. This is actually somewhat rare; I teach beginner-level classes, but it's not often I have more than one or two people there who have never taken a single yoga class. It's a challenge, but it's more rewarding than I'd ever expected. I was humbled tonight as I looked around the room and saw every student giving 100% effort during a difficult pose. And, despite having to crane their necks to watch demonstrations, the new students persevered and did their best to keep up.

I'm a new teacher, and I'm nervous when I walk into the yoga room to teach a class. But I've been in yoga rooms hundreds and hundreds of times. My anxiety must be a fraction of a brand new student's anxiety. The courage evident in the class I taught tonight was inspiring, as was the trust the students placed in me. They were listening to every word I said and trying to follow each instruction perfectly.

At one point (remember: very new teacher!), I accidentally got them all turned backwards on their mats (it was easier than you'd think, but my cues for bridge pose obviously need some work!). I stood there for a moment, rather confused, and wondered who on earth gave me permission to teach these amazing people anything. But then I laughed, turned them around, and moved on. None of them seemed to notice or care, and, if they did, they hid their frustration.

It's become quite interesting for me, as an instructor, to say "Namaste" at the end of class. Namaste, a Sanskrit word, means, "the teacher (or light) in me honors the teacher (or light) in you." In this context, "teacher" does not mean yoga instructor. Each of us is a teacher, a light, in the world. At the end of yoga practice, the instructor says "Namaste" to the class, and the class says "Namaste" in return.

I've never taken the word "Namaste" lightly. I've always tried to infuse it with meaning when responding to my yoga teachers at the end of class. But never before have I meant it with such force. I want so much to honor my students, to share with them how much I respect their courage, their trust, their compassion - but, again, I don't want to scare them or make them uncomfortable. Instead, I put all of my thoughts into that one word--Namaste--and hope at least some small message is conveyed.

[Photo taken at Denver Botanic Gardens.]


  1. Thank you for the wonderful enthusiasm. How often we find studios with limited beginner classes, teachers with "no time" and no patience for the beginner. All the students you have had must be deeply touched with your caring heart. They are so lucky! I am jealous!

  2. Wow...thank you for this enlightening post! I have been taking yoga on and off for quite sometime (still a beginner, though) and I never really know until now what "namaste" means. You are a wonderful teacher!