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Yoga and Respect: It’s The Little Things

in Yogitorials

its-a-processby Charlotte Bell

I lived on the Big Island of Hawaii in 1990. During that year Aadil Palkhivala frequented the Big Island to teach workshops. I was fortunate to get to work with him a number of times and very much appreciated the depth of his practice and teachings, even way back then.

One of his workshops was held in a venue that usually accommodated tumbling and wrestling, so the floor was covered with gym mats. Aadil took the opportunity to have us all practice jumping across the floor in Chaturanga Dandasana. If we crashed, we’d be falling on a nice, soft surface, making the process a lot less risky and a lot more fun.

I knew I would need to be as unfettered as possible for the Chaturanga “race,” so I pulled off my hoodie, wadded it up and tossed it against the wall. Aadil abruptly stopped explaining what we were about to do and reprimanded me for so carelessly tossing my sweatshirt aside. “You’re a teacher,” he said. “You need to set an example for your students. When you carelessly toss your sweatshirt around you’re showing them that carelessness is okay.”

I picked up my hoodie, folded it neatly and set it carefully against the wall. “That’s much better!” he said. Since then I have treated my clothing and props—and now pretty much everything else in my daily life—with mindful care.

While I have sometimes chuckled at the memory of Aadil’s admonition, I actually took it quite seriously, and still do. If yoga practice doesn’t inspire me to move through my life with mindfulness, respect and care, then it’s not really working.

I’m very grateful for Aadil’s wake-up call. While I was a little embarrassed at the time to be called out on something I thought was trivial, it made an impression that has changed the way I live in the world.

Practicing, Teaching and Living Sustainably

Recently a friend told me about a teacher training she observed at the studio where she teaches. After their session, the trainees stuffed the blankets, bolsters and blocks they’d been using haphazardly into the shelves where they’re stored. My friend asked the teacher trainer if she could make the trainees aware of the importance of storing their props neatly so that the studio would be set up for the next teacher. The teacher trainer replied, “They’re focused on their practice.” My friend replied, “But that is the practice.”

She’s right. Many yoga practitioners endeavor to live sustainably. This includes not only being aware of what and how much we consume, but also whether we act responsibly. When we live carelessly, in a very real sense, we are ignoring the yamas of ahimsa (non-harming) and asteya (non-stealing). When others have to clean up the messes we leave, we are essentially “stealing” their time and energy.

It is likely that some of these teacher trainees will someday open their own studios. If they’d like for others to treat their studios with respect and care, they need to set an example. I doubt that most teacher trainers encourage their students to be careless in their instructions, demonstrations and physical assists. The same holds true with how we treat our physical surroundings and the tools we use for teaching and living. This is just as important as learning about poses and will likely have a more far-reaching impact on whether they simply become pose instructors or evolve someday into yoga teachers.

I learned a whole lot from Aadil back in my Hawaii days. But by far, the most important thing I learned was the importance of modeling what you want your students to learn—walking your talk. A teacher in the yoga tradition is not just a person who can talk you through a killer sequence; a yoga teacher is a person who is walking a path that leads in the direction of wisdom, kindness, respect, compassion, authenticity and peace of mind. The care with which you fold your hoodie, store your yoga props, assist your yoga students, care for your studio or living space, and treat your family and friends paves the path to peace.

~

Charlotte Bell is a yoga and meditation teacher, oboist and writer living in Salt Lake City. She writes for Hugger Mugger Yoga Products’s blog and Catalyst Magazine, and has published two books with Rodmell Press: Mindful Yoga, Mindful Life and Yoga for Meditators.

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7 comments… add one

  • Norma Desmond

    I agree!!!

    And please do not step on my mat, even if you ARE a guest speaker at yoga teacher training.

    Also, spraying your mat with scented cleaner before class starts is considered rude, even if you ARE the owner of the studio taking a class.

  • Thanks for your comment. I always take care not to step on other people’s mats. But that can only happen if the studio isn’t packed mat to mat. I don’t do that where I teach, but I know many studios tend to crowd students into the space.

    The mat cleaner issue is a conundrum. It’s best to do it after class, after people have used their mats so that they’re fresh for the next person. But when you use cleaner and then roll up the mat for storage, the mat is likely to stay moist with the mat cleaner. I’m not sure what the right answer is to this. I guess unscented mat cleaner is a start.

  • S.

    Wow Norma, you are really attached to your mat.

  • We never know how our behaviors (or words) will affect another.
    At YYT each of us took turns after lessons, practice, etc. to refold blankets, arrange blocks and straps. This way the equipment cabinet was ready for the next class. Think of it s part of your karma yoga!

  • I so agree. I taught at the First Unitarian Church in Salt Lake City for 25 years. They were very generous with me in that they allowed me to basically take over the closet in their public space. But I never knew what condition the floor would be in when I came to class. If there had been a party the previous evening, there would be cookie crumbs and coffee stains on the floor. I always had to come early to make sure I could clean sufficiently so that my students and I would feel comfortable being close to the floor. Now that I teach in a collective studio, we all take responsibility for leaving the studio pristine for the next teacher. I so appreciate coming in to a beautiful space, and I enjoy returning the favor to the next teacher!

  • I just reread my comment. Maybe I’m being a nitpicky copy editor, but it sounds as if I taught in the Unitarian Church’s closet for 25 years. I meant to say that they were very generous in letting me use their closet for all my props! But it is a very public space and even though it was a welcoming home to yoga classes for many years, lots of other groups used it too. I never knew what I’d find when I came to class!

  • inanna

    charlotte, i think nit-pickiness is a quality pointed to by several of the yamas and niyamas, myself…in balance, of course.

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