Being upfront or staying at the back — where is my place in class?

A friend was recently telling me about a novel she read where the protagonist’s inner self appeared as a character, a literary device to explore how hard we are on ourselves and dramatise the effect our self-criticism has by making it visible to the character in the book. We agreed that we often say things to ourselves in censure and judgement that we’d never dream of saying to anyone else. We are really hard on ourselves.

I think this is a widespread habit, rather than my friend and I being uniquely self-critical.

Oddly this is the opposite to the Golden Rule, the tenet common to several faiths often rendered in Biblical English as “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. More appropriate for me at least is remembering to treat myself the way I habitually treat others, show the care and compassion to myself that I regularly show to those dear to me.

I talked about this a little in a recent post where I mentioned my reaction to watching my husband’s yoga practice compared to my own. My reaction was very hypocritical, and therefore unhelpful for either of us. I shouldn’t judge his practice by different standards to my own. How arrogant of me!

body balance
Body Balance advertising

And truly I have deep respect for what he’s doing. His main practice is at a Body Balance class at his gym. He’s being doing this for years now, starting purely as a physical workout. But more recently, possibly under my influence (I talk a lot of yoga at home, poor him!) but also because he has his own injuries and physical restrictions to work with, he’s started handling his practice differently and exploring how better to look after himself in class. Although he probably wouldn’t think of it this way, I see him employing satya and ahimsa in his practice.

He now uses his yoga brick regularly in class (the gym doesn’t supply them) to help his body go places it’s not quite ready for, and he is more and more dialling back each pose to its simplest form and trying to wring as much out of that, rather than pushing into the more difficult variations regardless of whether his body can or should tackle them. And remember because this is essentially a fitness class in a gym setting, the underlying ethos of the participants collectively at least is about burning more calories, pushing harder, and looking cool. I have attended this class, so I hope I’m not way off on my judgements here.

Hubby in balasana

And the really cool thing? — it sounds as though my husband’s simple and more honest practice is having an effect on the collective approach. He frequently reports to me that classmates covertly watch his poses and sometimes self-correct as they compare themselves to him, or modify their pose to the simpler form that he’s adopted. Is it his imagination or is the teacher also putting more emphasis on honesty, urging the class to ‘go advanced in the option you’re in, rather than going for the advanced option’? I like to think that Hubby’s approach is benefitting not only him but the rest of the class.

On my side, more than ever recently I tend to hide in the back row in my yoga class. I don’t feel confident enough to move further forward where the more advanced students tend to be. The classes I attend are often fast-moving vinyasa flows where I feel likely to go wrong and I feel too responsible for any newbies behind who might be copying me (the teacher doesn’t usually model the asanas). Plus Operation Happy Hamstring means I sometimes deviate from, or rest during, particular poses.

In my workplace I’m used to being the focus of a meeting, the leader others follow, the voice that speaks reason and calm through countless upsets and setbacks. In yoga class I like to be more anonymous and less responsible. It’s something of a relief. And I tell myself this is for the good of all.

But is there another way of looking at it? Should I move further forward trusting that I too have something to offer those around and behind me? I might not be the role model in flowing sequences, but maybe I offer some inspiration in looking after oneself in asana practice? Perhaps my practice would give someone else the confidence to rest, take a lighter option, focus more on regularity of breath than depth of pose? I fear bringing the energy of the class down but actually I guess it’s the teacher’s job to manage the room as a whole, and I’m extremely arrogant to think that I could single-handedly sabotage his control! If I need to behave slightly contrary to the collective vibe or sequence, maybe someone else in the room does too. I could be their passport into greater self-acceptance, I could model how to adapt an asana for a less intense physical experience, my ujjayi breath could be the metronomic focus for the person next to me. Just maybe.

What do you think?

Calling my teacher-readers: how do you feel about the maverick practitioners in your class, the ones who modify and can be out of sequence, the ones who rest, the ones who listen to their own inner calling and therefore seem to wilfully ignore you? Good, bad, or just ugly? Do you want them up front being strong and true to themselves or should they stay at the back causing least upset to the collective?

Which is the selfish route: not sharing my practice at the back or moving forward and exposing my individuality and its potential to disrupt?

3 thoughts on “Being upfront or staying at the back — where is my place in class?

Add yours

  1. Personally, I encourage students to modify poses in order to accommodate their particular context. I try and introduce modifications, and model them as we move through the sequence (I teach an astanga-inspired class, so it is a more-or-less fixed sequence practice). Sometimes I actually suggest that we all try a pose modification together – then everyone gets to experience the modification without the judgement of “I’m too, or not enough, advanced for the “real” pose”. I was reading recently that an asana cannot exist apart from a body performing it. I like this! So asana manifests in a unique way in each practitioner.


  2. I would choose the back of the class! Initially it was because I was all out of sync but later it was to watch how all bodies did the asanas. Being at the back of the class is great to see how I might look at the back. I see how someone might need to shift and adjust myself as I sense the same issue. However I guess I got too comfortable there and the teacher would sometimes get me to move up front. 🙂


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