I had spent hours agonising over the contents of my first ever class. So many decisions.
Pranayama? Yes. Something short, but essential.
Music? Yes. A carefully crafted playlist to enhance the yoga journey.
Chanting? Yes. 1 short mantra, 3 OMs, and 3 Shantis.
As soon as I was allowed to teach yoga (half-way through my 200-hour course), I set up a 6-week beginner yoga course in my local, damp and dark village hall. Ready with my matching purple mats and yoga blocks, incense to mask the fumes, and a few electric candles (think health and safety) for ambience. I had genuinely thought of everything; even a selection of herbal teas should people mingle after class and create the epic yoga community I envisaged. I had invited a few work colleagues and friends to join me for free. I might not make a whopping profit, but at least the class wouldn’t be empty and the real punters would feel this was an actual pukka yoga class.
Nerves = Gas
Nerves are a funny thing. You’re fine one minute, the next you’re performing unwanted Nauli Kriya. That churning stomach, the contents of which keeps threatening to make an appearance one way or another, forewarns me that the big nerves have kicked in and are here to stay.
But I am a yogi-in-training. I know how to help myself. I know anatomy. I know all about the parasympathetic nervous system, the effects of diaphragmatic breathing and the Vagus nerve… Well, I know these terms, but that’s about it. Though, I’m pretty sure that the mantra ‘Breath Girl, Breath’ will stop me from passing out in fear.
To Chant or Not to Chant, That is The Question
I knew the class would be of mixed ability and so figured that a ‘bird of paradise’ pose was only an optional extra for those who felt they were easily able to balance in a standing split. It was my secret pose to pull out if needed. It was ‘beginners’ after all.
I had planned the whole 6-week course to the very last detail. The aim: serve a buffet of yoga practises to appeal to all tastes. Next week, inversions and special cleansing techniques to relieve piles and sexual frustration. I just needed to make sure I hooked them this week. Everything was decided.
Wait. Change of plan. No mantra, it’s lesson 1, we’ll save it for lesson 2.
3 OMs and 3 Shantis.
Death by Chocolate
Why is everyone so quiet at the start of a class? I press play on the music. It is gentle ambience music, nothing too intrusive. I guide people to their mats, which has a little welcome chocolate next to the electric candle. They don’t know whether to sit, lie or stand. Can’t they just relax? Someone hands me the chocolate back and says he is allergic to chocolate, but thanks anyway.
“It’s ok, it’s dairy-free’’, I reassure.
“I’m allergic to chocolate”, he replies.
“Yes, but it’s vegan”. I continue.
“Yes, but I’m to allergic to chocolate”.
“But it’s yummy…”
He looks confused and slightly worried. The nerves have affected my brain function. I turn puce.
I’m saved by Doris, who saw my advert in the post office (note to self, that £1.50 was well spent). She hands me her medical history, but I don’t get a chance to read it.
Finally, everyone is settled. I begin.
Barry White Can’t Help Himself
I am coaxing the students to relax with my high pitched nervous voice…“Lie on the floor. Find your breath. Listen to your body.” And Barry White with his deep, velvety soulful voice booming through the speakers is telling students “I am gonna lie here babe. Run my hand through your hair. Give it up babe- it ain’t no use, I can’t help myself”.
The music for this grounding section was meant to be gentle whale sounds. However, the class is running late, which means the music is out of sync with my class plan. Barry White is, for the first time ever, out of sync.
The stereo is on the other side of the room and the lights are off. There is no way I could find my way there to turn it off. So we just linger here in what feels like a dodgy 1960’s film with these disturbing lyrics lurking in the ether.
It seems to go on forever. A sweaty mustache begins to glisten highlighting my discomfort. What on earth must they be thinking?
Wait. 3 Oms and 3 Shanti’s – I think we’ll need it.
I Can Help with that Knee Replacement
The sun salute section is going well. Everyone is holding downward facing dog, for the traditional 5 breaths. I finally have a moment to look up at the class for the first time. I am stunned. This isn’t what it is meant to look like. These shapes are all higgledy-piggledy. It’s ugly. I am about to go over to Donald, who seems to come with the village hall as part of the package, to tell him to take his shoes and socks off, but then I wonder whether it’s his choice seeing he is wearing a shirt and tie, burgundy corduroy trousers, and a knitted green waistcoat. I leave him be.
I notice that Doris is struggling. I ask if she is ok. She can’t put weight on her hands or on her knee or bend. It’s all in the medical form I didn’t read, together with the double hip replacement and lower back issues. I don’t know what to do. How will she cope with the rest of the class? We need knees. How can you not bend a knee? My brain is in overdrive. The class is now in down-dog for the ‘not-so-traditional’ 15 breaths. They’re no longer breathing, but rather panting with a few deep groans. “Don’t give up” sing Kate Bush & Peter Gabriel. I need Doris to have knees. I can’t think of a sun salute without knees. My brain goes blank and slowly implodes. Eventually, I smile at Doris, “Do what you can”. Yes, that is my solution. I have no idea how to help her. I actually want to cry.
After 30 breaths in down-dog, I think most of the class has passed out. I need to move the class forward as I am already running 25 minutes behind my plan. I dash back to the mat to demo a harder version of what we have just done. In case the previous down-dog wasn’t enough for Doris, this really should speed up her need for a knee replacement.
The Mighty White Sandwich
I hear a strange rustling noise. I look up and see Donald in the centre of the room on his mat. He has opened his plastic Tupperware box, pulled out a sandwich, and is happily munching away. What am I meant to do? Surely everyone knows you can’t have a picnic in the middle of a yoga class? I wait for the class to go into downdog for the traditional 5 breaths, before I gently ask him.
“Is everything alright?”
“Yes. I am a tad hungry.”
He clarifies, “I cut the crusts off.”
What else is there to say?
My conversation with Donald took another 30 breaths in downdog. I can see tomorrow’s headline ‘Yoga teacher kills students with a 45-min downward facing dog in local village hall’.
1 OM. Less pressure.
We only managed to do 4 of the 36 poses planned. And yet, somehow it’s time for the final relaxation. I turn the lights off. The room is lit up with my multicoloured tea lights and it looks magical. (Though to be honest, everyone has their eyes closed, so, only I can see this) There is total silence. I adjust everybody in the room to aid their relaxation. I desperately want to give people a taste of the magic of yoga. Suddenly, the energy changes and there is a deep sense of peace. Yipee, I got this bit right.
Then I step on one of my plastic candles, piercing right through the flesh of the arch of my foot. I violently whisper the most offensive expletives as the pain sears through my foot and blood gushes over the floor. Stumbling to my mat, I gently guide my students to come to a seated position and open their eyes, pretending as though nothing had happened.
I bottled the OM. It ain’t happening.
They all leave thanking me for an amazing class, promising to come back the next week. No one mentions my potty mouth, maybe they didn’t hear it? No one notices the blood on the floor. Even Doris makes a point to say she’s coming back, though I think she’s hobbling. Donald says he will eat before class next week. Maybe it wasn’t that bad. Whilst limping, I tidy up the room, realising that although it was a bit of a car crash, I survived and more importantly so did my students. Next week I will do better.
In the car park, my friend hugs me, tells me she is proud of me. Wow, I was actually terrific! Perhaps I’m just a natural?? I was born to be a yoga teacher?
She then gently suggests that I a) revise my playlist, b) change my vocabulary, c) do a few more poses, and d) most importantly, have a chant to end the class. It is yoga after all.