Recently I had the opportunity to teach Yoga in a studio. Like, in a room that’s made for Yoga…where the floors are clean…the blankets are folded and plenty…the temperature is relatively under control…the lighting can be dimmed…the doors close and no one else comes in. Because I teach in offices, I felt like a kid in a candy store, being able to turn the fan on when we started to heat up in the studio. Turning down the lights when it was time for Savasana. Leading a silent meditation and it was actually silent in the room.
This is not the norm for me. Most often, we are holding Yoga classes in conference rooms, where the participants have just had meetings at a giant oak table minutes before class. The temperature is set by some other department and cannot be adjusted. The lights are usually fluorescent and unchangeable. Sounds from the office find their way into these rooms – phones ringing, people gossiping. At some locations where we practice in the cafeteria, there are sounds and smells of people making their lunches.
I smile when I think on the first chapter of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, that states “the yogi should practice Hatha Yoga in a small room, situated in a solitary place, being 4 cubits square, free from stones, fire, water, disturbances of all kinds…the room should have a small door, be free from holes, hollows, neither be too high nor too low, well plastered with cow dung, clean, bug free. The grounds enclosed by a wall and beautified by an arbor, a raised platform and a well.” In these modern times, I think we can amend that verse to say “…or, um, practice wherever possible.”
And for us, that’s in whatever space we can find in the office. So, it’s partly my job to transform the space as much as I can. To have the tables/chairs moved before people show up for class (whenever possible) so when they enter, it’s no longer the conference room where they may have just had a difficult meeting, but rather it’s the place where they practice Yoga. Soft music. The “Yoga in Session” sign on the door so that other folks from the office know to be respectful and quiet in the surrounding areas. Eye pillows at the ready for places with particularly harsh lighting. Although I’m not a fan of strong incense or oils, sometimes I’ll just open a bottle of lavender so there is a subtle scent in the air. We do what we can with the physical space to make it seem like a room meant for Yoga.
But in my instruction, there are other ways I can set the space as well. Bringing awareness to the distractions, cultivating gratitude for the extra challenge to focus. Mentally welcoming the sounds, smells, light, temperature as part of the practice. Learning pratyahara (the systematic acknowledgment and withdrawal of sensory information). I think of how strong my students are becoming because of this, by learning to center amidst distractions. Maybe the yogis who had a 4×4 room for Yoga had it easy and maybe they went deeper, but office yogis have to focus that much more to be able to practice surrounded by that which is not within their control, to be able to practice tolerance inside of discomfort. And, this is how the Yoga can be carried beyond the mat. My students have already practiced in a not-so-ideal place. My hope is when they return to their loud cubicle where their phone is ringing off the hook, they will have had the practice breathing. They will have practiced approaching just one thing at a time. Even amidst distracting stimuli, they will have had the experience being present and focused and may be able to find there are even more opportunities to practice Yoga “wherever possible.”
Alison Wesley is a Certified Yoga Therapist, Franklin Method Educator and owner of Working with Yoga. She lives in Portland, OR and teaches yoga classes at offices in the area, working for companies such as Intel, Adidas, Harsch, Guide Dogs for the Blind, The TrailBlazers staff, G Diapers and Clackamas County.
“Dedicated to supporting others and their journey into Yoga, I communicate the importance of physical alignment in asana (postures) but I also encourage students to experiment and discover what works best for them. It is my intention in my classes to share the love I have for Yoga and to offer a thoughtful, supportive, light-hearted sequence with enough space for students to turn inward and learn more.” – Alison Wesley
This post is the third installment in the 4-part series about teaching yoga in office settings. Don’t miss the rest of the series!
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