Monday, June 27, 2011

You Might Think (I'm Crazy)

On Friday I was really fired up for my 12:00 basics class. My mouth was feeling nearly 100% better, and my energy was still (and remained until Saturday) boundless from that Summer Solstice infusion of overt, creative, doing sun-energy. I put The Cars: Greatest Hits on and proceeded to teach a good-sized, very active, playful class. I was having a great time, and though challenged, the students seemed to be, too. I made jokes to break them out of their yoga head-space, which is my wont, and offered challenging and gentler variations to keep everyone working at their own level. I was at the top of my game and felt amazing!

Half-way through the class, a gentleman in the front row came out of gorilla pose, and stood relaxed in Mountain Pose. Assuming he needed a break from that deep spinal opening, I thought nothing of it, but when I had made my way back up to the front of the room from observing and adjusting the rest of the group, he got my attention. "Could you play something a little more mellow than The Cars..?" he asked. It took me a second to register the question in my yoga zone, but I had already assured him that , 'Yes, sure!' whatever it was, I was ready to make this practice his best ever! I turned to walk to the sound system, and immediately felt a twinge of regret and annoyance. I found Broken Social Scene, and the sound quality of the space went from bordering-on-dance-party to sloooooow-meeeellooooow-cooonteeemplaaatiiive. My energy level dropped to the floor.

I invited everyone to take a few breaths in Down Dog, while I took a few breaths of my own. I had been riding high on the waves of energy from the music, from the students, from the practice, and my flow had just been broken sharply in half.

With Savasana only fifteen minutes away, it was a good time to downshift anyway. I took the class into some arm balances, hip openers, backbends, and hamstring opening poses before opening up the floor for Freedom and Inversion Practice.

After class everyone thanked me, including the music requester, and I took my time writing up my class in the binder, finishing my glass of water, collecting my belongings, contemplating the exchange that had just happened. Had I done the right thing?

The studio I did my teacher training in's only music rule was that it was the instructor's choice. I had loved doing yoga to "Africa" by Toto one minute, The Dixie Chicks, the next, with gangster rap, techno, and some "more mellow" stuff thrown in too, for good measure. The rule there was, if a student asked that the music be changed, or turned down for that matter, the request was politely declined. If the student didn't like the music, they were supposed to breathe through it and focus on their practice, just as they would if put into a pose that wasn't their favourite.

I responded intuitively, reacting to the moment, so I don't feel like I did the wrong thing, but I wonder, if it happens again, if I'll respond the same way. Would it be better to stand up for the integrity of the yoga I'm teaching in that moment and politely decline? I think, in some ways, yes, that's the best call. But I'm not prepared to stand by that decision if someone is driven to walk out of a class over my unorthodox music choices. Namaste Yoga and Tranquility Center does not have that "suck it up!" quality that, love it or hate it, Yoga to the People does. We're a nurturing space. When teaching at Namaste, if someone is so affected by the music that he or she feel the need to interrupt her or his practice and say something to me about it, I feel obliged to comply. Namaste only recently started allowing music with lyrics to be played in classes at all. Maybe for this student, 80's synth-pop was just too intense of a departure from Sanskrit chanting and instrumentals. Maybe they just happened to deeply dislike The Cars. Maybe playing the same band for sixty minutes set me up for a negative response.

I've run into a couple (seriously, two) other students who felt the same way, and as strongly, about my musical leanings. I've had a similar number express fondness for them, and the rest have been the silent majority. I can't say what they're feeling if they don't, but I know for me, whether practicing or teaching, though especially teaching since I'm talking so much, my awareness of the music drops to a background sense of the energy level and basic sound qualities, unless it's a favourite song, and then, though no, it's not good yoga in the sense of quieting my mind and tuning inward, I love keeping pace with the music, expressing the song through Asana. I think, though, there's a place, and an important one, for that kind of asana experience: letting loose and rejoicing in my body is a beautiful, and very yogic thing.

Are my opinions on this matter highly uncommon? Sacrilegious? Or am I the one voice of many too embarrassed to speak up and request Lady Gaga or Lil' Wayne in their yoga classes? If so, for the record, I have just the workshop for you brewing...keep your ear to the ground and your eye on my facebook page.

I won't know where you and your ilk fall on this continuum unless you tell me. Please do!

Live Omily, no matter what music beats match your heartbeats,


  1. Hey Omily!
    Boy, this is a tough one for sure! One time, back when I used to bartend, it was towards the end of the night and there was hardly anyone left there except me, my friends, and a few customers. After a long hard night, I put on one of my favorite bands (the Dandy Warhols) and decided to have a little dance break. A few songs into it, one of the only customers there started yelling from across the bar "I'm in Dandy Warhols Hell!" Oy vay!!!! I stopped dancing, threw them a dirty look, and changed the music. At Namaste, as you said, things are different. I love doing yoga to rock and roll and reggae, etc, and am so glad that Namaste is enjoying that too. It's also so hard when some students are into it and some are not. That's why I think mixes are so good. Or, as you did, play one artist for 2/3rds of the class, and something else at the end. But when someone makes a request part way through class, I think it's good to still kind of give them a face. Not a dirty look, of course! But more of an eyebrow lift, like, "oh so I ruffled your feathers did I???? Good! Always happy to challenge my students and push them beyond their boundaries. Good for you, for getting to that breaking point, for being honest. And know that whether it's so many vinyasa's and warriors in a row, or so many amazing tunes in your ear... I will push you to that limit, over and over again!" and then change the music... LOVE! Xxo~ dj bextasy

  2. Well, the energy of the instructor it would seem and her choice of the music are vital to her ability to work with the class. Tastes vary so widely as to what is helpful and what is not. So the rule about politely delclning any request to change the music makes sense to me. But from the perspective of the student paying for the class, they should be comfortable with the music too.

    This is a dilemma to be certain for yoga instructors. One solution would be for a private session for the person whose musical needs do not meet the rest of the class. Or take a vote before you start the class as to whether the music is thumbs up or down that you had chosen.

    It is a quandry, for sure, Emily, and I feel for you being in a position that is tugging at your heart. Will pray that the issue is resolved easily and see that happening!



  3. I think you did a really good job responding to the gentlemanstudent and expressing your commitment to their practice. In my own transition from YTTP, I've noticed that the "suck it up" ethic wasn't in line with the traditional teachings. "Just breathe through it" is applicable to many situations, but the deeper message of "Act, observe your actions, change them and act again" is just as, if not more important. So you taking the time to observe your thought process is the most important thing here.

    I think it speaks a lot to how comfortable your students are with you that they had the courage to speak up. I know that if I feel intimidated by a teacher, I would never ask to change the music. Only if I felt super, super, super safe would I do that. But that's just me.

    Love and with,

  4. Mona, I hadn't looked at it that way! I was feeling a little miffed, and was pretty sure this guy wasn't too fond of me as an instructor, but actually, I guess he paid me a huge compliment!

    Rebecca: I like the idea of giving them a challenging face, haha, maybe we should put that in the handbook!