And why you might want to give it a try at your next yoga class, if you haven’t already.
“I’ve got a rockin’ yoga body. Unfortunately, it’s hidden under my donut body.”
I try this joke on Ryan as he checks me into class.
“Mmm, that’s enough of that,” he says. He looks around as if the owner could hear us. “We shouldn’t even be talking like that in here.”
This studio, The Grinning Yogi in Seattle, was started by a former Olympic skater who struggled with an eating disorder, in part as a response to a weight-loss centered yoga class.
“Now go choose your row based on your body image,” Ryan tells me.
Of course, he doesn’t say that to me. No one would say something like that out loud. Yet for so many years, that’s what I did. And I practiced in front of the fewest number of people possible.
But today, as I have for about the last year, I take my mat to my now-usual place in the front row.
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How I Became a Front-Row Yogi
No, I am not one of those yogis—the ones who do a Handstand on the way to Chaturanga in a sports bra. The ones like the bendy French ballerina who practiced in the front row of the studio I went to when I was still a newbie, almost a decade ago.
I am the frequent child poser. The one who panics if her shirt comes untucked in Down Dog. A block user, a barely toe-toucher, a less than 90-degree “wide-angle” forward folder.
And yes, while this studio is an oasis of body positivity, I live most of my life in the desert of body acceptance that is Instamerica, 2019. Even while I practice, I think things that I know: I shouldn’t even be thinking about that in here.
I actually ended up in front by way of the back row.
I’d been doing yoga steadily for years when I took a three-month break to travel. Upon my return, I sent myself directly to the back, in my shame corner, next to the bathroom door and the clock. The way the exposed ductwork runs along the ceiling, between the light and the back wall, I was literally in the shadows. It was just me, my atrophied triceps, and my thoughts.
I can’t believe I let myself slack off so much. Ugh, I suck at Dolphin Pose. Why can’t I ever get my hair to look messy yet pleasing? I wish I had a dinosaur tattoo. I miss the armpits of my twenties. Great, I can’t do Crow Pose anymore. I wonder what brand those yoga pants are. Can I just lie down yet? How much time is left? How much time is left? How much time is left?
Because I was hiding, I wasn’t doing my best. Because I wasn’t doing my best, I felt like hiding. It took me a few months of this to realize just how much it was not working.
Back when I was a little slacker failing in middle school, my mom had called all my teachers and made them move me to the front row, where I would have an easier time paying attention.
So, I pulled the same move on myself, slapping my mat down in the front where I could sit there and think about my intention. My only protection was a pole behind me, just wider than the light switch that was on it but enough to prevent anyone from being right behind me.
And I had a great class. Focused, integrated, and challenging. With nothing in front of me but an aqua-painted wall, my monkey mind had less to feed on. With the accountability of being in the light and seen, I owned my effort.
So I stayed. I stayed because practicing in the front is better for me, even if it doesn’t feel great imagining people viewing the widescreen of my tail end. I don’t practice yoga at home because without anybody seeing me, I’ll be laying on my mat scrolling through Twitter ten minutes into my “practice.” I need a some social pressure not to quit.
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Dispatches From the Front Row: Lessons I’ve Learned
Truthfully though, when you’re in the front row, you are on display. People can see me, and do see me, and sometimes follow what I do. Once, I lifted the wrong arm, and like dominoes, the person behind me, then the person behind her lifted the same arm I had. I had to do that “Sorry!” glance back in their direction.
But by now, aside from the occasional right vs.left mishap, I know yoga as well as anyone would know anything they’ve done at least weekly for the last decade. My yoga mat has been worn of its rubber where my feet have dug in a thousand Down Dogs, I’ve been around long enough to know my Utkatasana from my Virabhadrasana, and, after all this time, (can I say it?) I do have things that are worth being seen—and even followed.
I know the pose modifications available when my leg doesn’t bend that way. I know I can just lie down whenever I want to, and sometimes, I do. But mostly, I know how to fail. After a decade of failing experienced, I am well-failed.
When I was a novice failer, every time I fell I would shake my head, huff, and grab a drink, as if conveying, “Yes, everyone, I’m disappointed in myself, too!” Now that I am an expert failer, I respond to a fall by pausing, regaining balance, and trying again. I know enough to know that the failure is the only thing that gets you to those moments of joy, where you can suddenly do something you always figured would be out of reach. I have enough experience to see the failing and the succeeding as parts of one thing, the very thing we’re all here to do.
Just by being there up front, I’m showing that I’m not ashamed of my yoga practice because it doesn’t look perfect or I don’t look perfect doing it. I’m showing that we don’t have to sort ourselves by row as a judgement of the bodies we walk around in or the advancement of our attempts, but by where our practice is right then and there.
People practice in the back for many reasons, but I know mine was along the lines of this: This does not deserve to be seen.
Now, I practice in the front row because it’s what works for me to get the best out of myself. Whatever I do up there, I know it registers and is known. Sometimes, that’s starting my Savasana 15 minutes early with a pleased little grin on my face. Sometimes, it’s going for that Side Crow and feeling a little bit like a bad ass.
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My goal in yoga is not to get to Handstand or a Split or the weight of my college years. I mean, those are my ego’s goals—but my deeper self’s deeper goal is to create an integrated mental, emotional, and physical experience that feels closest to real me, real life. Sometimes, I’m right there. Other times, I’m like, “Oh my god, think it’s time for a pedicure at least if you’re going to humiliate yourself in so many other ways?”
It’s all good, worthy of the light.
Fuel Your Digestive Fire with This 3-Ingredient Ayurvedic Tonic
Sip on it before meals to help your gut process what you eat and leave no toxins behind.
Craving change but feeling too stuck, sluggish, or restless to take aim? Join John Douillard, founder of LifeSpa.com, and Larissa Hall Carlson, Ayurveda Yoga Specialist, for Ayurveda 201: Six Weeks to Transformation and Bliss Through Ayurvedic Psychology. In this new online course, you’ll experience: unique yoga practices; inspiring discussions backed by science; and recipes, herbs, and a short, gentle cleanse. The results? Clarity, brilliance, and balance, so you can create lasting shifts in your life and well-being. Learn more and sign up today!
In Ayurveda, agni, which means digestive fire, is an important aspect of good health. When your digestion and metabolism are properly functioning, you reap the nutrients of what you eat. You also expel toxins that otherwise accumulate into ama, or toxic sludge, that slows down your mind and body. Here, John Douillard, who co-teaches our upcoming course, Ayurveda 201, with Larissa Hall Carlson, shares a simple tonic you can sip on before your meals to rev up that digestive fire. Bonus: Eating out? Restaurants will always have these three ingredients…
Watch also These Are The Signs You May Have to Detox ASAP, According to Ayurveda
5 Mindful YouTube Channels Every Yogi Should Follow
By seeking inspiration, you may find that others are seeking it as well. Here are five channels that provide perspective and insight on how to stay true to yourself.
Not so long ago, during one of my winter slumps, I began looking for some unexpected sources of inspiration. I knew that this sense of enthusiasm could be found anywhere: in nature, in books, or in my day to day yoga practice and meditation. Still, as a yoga teacher and student of almost a decade, keeping my “inspiration tank” full is, as I see it, just as important as asana practice.
A vital part of practicing and sharing yoga is being able to guide from a place of love and insight about what it means to be human. There are so many beautiful and unfolding parts to what that means, but in today’s world of constant sense stimulation and technological clicking; things are only getting more complex and less mindful.
We are addicted to the noise of cultural and personal expectations, to the beeps on our phones and to the nonstop commentary of our thoughts. But, the irony is hidden in how all of these things make us even more tuned out, disconnected and unsatisfied. That is where, for many of us, yoga moves in with its special moments of silence and stillness, able to offer true peace and connection to a larger, conscious way of being.
See also 11 Best Yoga Podcasts Every Yogi Needs to Download Right Now
More than any of our technologies, our bodies are the smartest machines in the world; and they are constantly absorbing and filtering out live and technological information. Perhaps, I thought to myself this past winter; these machines could have a more meaningful presence? Similar to how a mantra practice stimulates positive thinking; could mindful use of noisy technologies be an inspiring, off-the-mat practice bringing us back to our true selves, to a positive outlook and a broadened perspective?
Once we bring awareness to everyday noise, a new landscape of possibilities opens up. We start to notice what words, philosophies, outlooks, tones, voices, and images enrich our lives and lead it towards beauty rather than the easy choice of laziness, negativity, or boredom.
See also Want to Start a Yoga Podcast? Here’s How
I now return to these beautiful (and free) online sources as a reminder that inspiration is always out there and that so many others are seeking it as well. These channels support my mindfulness practice in a noisy world that seems only to be getting louder. I hope that when you’re in need of a gentle reminder, you remember that these guides are available to you, too.
Psst! Follow Yoga Journal on YouTube!
5 Mindful YouTube Channels
One Yoga Teacher's 3 Lessons We Could All Learn About Making Money
Yoga and abundance don’t always feel like they belong together. One yoga teacher shares the lessons she learned about accepting wealth and tearing down financial barriers that weren’t serving her.
As I watched the snow fall into the hot tub at the retreat center I was visiting, nestled in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, I found myself thinking, How did I get this luxury?! Taking four days off to indulge at a hot springs in the mountains while learning from my yoga mentor seemed like a far cry from my start as a yoga teacher. Being underpaid was a regular occurrence when I first started teaching. Struggling to buy groceries, trips to the gas station hoping that I didn’t go over the twenty dollars I had in my wallet, and not being able to afford health care (gulp) were discomforts I grew strangely accustomed to.
I was extremely passionate about teaching yoga and I loved doing it, but my bank account did not match my passion as an instructor. As much as I would like to blame corporations, point my finger at capitalism, and gnash my teeth at the unfair nature of my soulful work being so undervalued, the truth is that my value as a teacher was already at a deficit before I even stepped foot into a yoga studio.
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When I followed the thread that led me to being a “poor yoga teacher,” I could trace it all the way back to the old sayings that were instilled in my absorbent young brain as a child: “Money doesn’t grow on trees.” “You have to work hard for money.” Or the most insidious, “Good people don’t need money.”
These seeds grew in my subconscious at a slow and steady rate. Over time, they became my reality, and as my yoga career developed, so did my belief that money meant struggle.
See also A 5-Minute Meditation To Relieve Financial Stress
I said “yes” to unpaid yoga gigs. I constantly bustled across town from one teaching job to the next. And I watched as my own practice fell to the wayside because teaching at a high volume was siphoning all my time and energy.
Finally I hit a bottom. I was fed up with scraping by, and I knew something had to change. I realized that if I wanted abundance, I needed to make a choice. That choice was to start shifting my perspective around money so that that I could not only heal my relationship with money, but also welcome prosperity into my life.
See also A Katonah Yoga Sequence To Live A More Abundant Life
There were three critical things that shifted the tide for me, and I know they can help any teacher looking to give themselves a raise.
1. Realize that spirituality means abundance
When you go into class and speak the word “abundance,” can you honestly say that you are feeling it in all areas of your life? Chaining yourself to the idea that being spiritual means financially struggling can disrupt the abundance that is waiting for you. When you accept that financial abundance and spirituality can have a thriving working relationship, it will reflect in your spirit—and your bank account! Take it from visionary Maya Angelou, who said, “My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive”.
See also The Yoga of Money: Take Wisdom from the Mat to Your Finances
2. Get crystal clear on your teaching intention
For some people, teaching a full load of 15 classes a week can strain your health and your capacity to serve. As in any other business, it can take time to build a network and establish a presence in the yoga space. Figure out a teaching strategy that will fulfill you and help maintain your sanity—not detract from it. Do you see yourself teaching full time? Does having a full-time job while teaching two to three classes sound fulfilling? Get clear on what is right for YOU. The way I figured this out was by getting support from a business coach and community I trusted so that I could navigate how to market myself and speak effectively about my services.
See also Live + Practice From the Heart: Identify True Intention
3. Seek great mentorship
One of the most pivotal steps you can take to open to financial abundance is to seek guidance from other successful yogis. Learning from others who gained wisdom and experience from walking a path before me allowed me to understand the paths available to me. Just like your daily local teacher, learning from someone who knows the ropes is so much easier than trying to figure it out yourself. I also sought guidance from business mentors and like minded women who were committed to living on purpose that could teach me how to offer my gifts, live my purpose, and get the structure I needed to financially sustain myself. Look for local clubs, meetups, and other networking opportunities in which you’ll be able to make valuable connections in the community.
See also A Yoga Teacher’s Guide to Social Networking
Just like yoga, stretching your financial container can cause some discomfort. Just like the journey of yoga, the path to feeling ease and grace with our money values starts from within. With a clear vision and the right tools and support, knowing and claiming your worth as a yoga teacher is totally possible!
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