New yoga students make me so angry. Well, maybe not all new students, just a lot of them, like the two newbies who came to my class last night. These girls repeated a predictable pattern I’ve seen countless times before. What’s the pattern? They were nervous, arrived about 25 minutes early because of that nervousness, and set up their mats in the back corner of the room. And they were determined to make me understand just how unworthy they were to be there. So they approached me and began apologizing for being inflexible and no good at “doing” yoga. They were certain they were no good and just wanted me to know.
I understand this nervous strategy for dealing with something new, and I’ve used it myself on certain occasions. But what I wanted them and all newbies to understand is the actual truth of the situation. The truth is they are giving me a gift when they come into any of my classes. If there were a debt here (which there isn’t), it would be on my end–I would be beholden to them for sharing their yoga, even their nervous beginner yoga, with me and the rest of the class. So it’s absolute nonsense for new students to apologize or try to explain themselves away when they’re giving us the gift of their presence and participation.
I’d like to think I quickly put their fears to rest and we were able to move into the powerful experiences that a true yoga practice brings. But as I thought about this common “intimidation” problem in modern yoga, it made me angry. I’m angry at how yoga has been portrayed through idealized images and industries. I’m angry that so many nervous people who could benefit from yoga won’t show up–not even 25 minutes early–simply because the ideas circulating in today’s yoga have strayed so far from its beautiful origins. I’m angry that earnest teachers are earnestly presenting distorted methods and mindsets that support the intimidation.
All of that upsets me, but what really gets my goat is this idea that so many of us feel we need to apologize or be nervous about who we are — and not just in yoga classes but everywhere we go. Just like those newbies entering the class, so many of us go into the social world with our heads held low, using our meek thoughts and actions as apologies for not measuring up to whatever invented standards are in place. Some of this low esteem is surely created in our own minds, but there’s an awful lot of collective ideology floating around out there as well that tells us we’re not pretty enough, young enough, smart enough, rich enough and on and on.
What I want all of us to understand is that life is just like that yoga class. If there is a debt, it’s most certainly on the world’s side of the equation. Each one of us is quite literally a jumble of beautiful gifts walking around in this world. It’s in the way you see the color green, and the sound of your laughter, and the God-like ability you have to bring love and caring into this world and on and on. You are an infinitely complex collection of living and breathing miracles. The idea that you should apologize or feel unworthy in the midst of that beautiful truth is such an unnecessary and painful response to life.
One of the lessons of yoga is to see beyond all the created social fictions. To allow ourselves — our true selves — to be present in the world, without holding back or hiding away: to be present without apologizing. We are capable of bringing love and light into the world in so many unique ways, but only if we truly show up. That’s our literally-awesome gift to our own selves and our world, and it’s time to stop apologizing to anyone who can’t understand that beautiful truth.