Coaching may seem a little controlling and something unnecessary when we’re talking about the behavior of independent adults, but in yoga space, coaching is not about independence; rather, it’s about cooperation.
Because cooperation is not a universal trait, many yoga studios resort to posting their rules and regulations in an obvious, public place. It’s not that people are trying to be nasty, but some simply are less aware of their behavior.
These rules are posted to help everyone sharing space cooperate with one another when there are a variety of simultaneous needs and norms. Rules and regulations help form a standard behavior that may not appeal to everyone, but aim to limit chaos and unbalanced inconvenience.
Listening to the way coaches talk, I’ve learned about the concept of “behavioral targets and performance targets.” I’m not interested in performance targets in relationship to yoga (because that seems a metric designed for competitive sports), but my curiosity about behavioral targets has led me to think about how I would coach newcomers to yoga.
Cooperation requires a different set of group skills than individualism, and the guidelines for studios will only work with cooperation.
Yoga and "Behavioral Targets"
In yoga, you might hear that nobody is there to judge you…and I think that’s true. But, people do evaluate you.
Your teachers evaluate you because they want to know where you are in your practice and figure out how best to help you. They evaluate me too, it’s just the way humans are.
There’s no need to worry about it because whether you’re a first-timer or a veteran, some advance coaching for your behavior will bring integrity and honor to yourself, and you will create good relationships with other yogis in the studio based on respect.
After all, they are just like you — doing yoga to jumpstart their own journey to wholeness and health.
Tips for Coaching Yoga Newbies
1. Respect yours and others' boundaries.
First, while the cosmic and essential philosophy of yoga may be a union with God and dissolution of all boundaries and borders, the people you meet will have boundaries and borders and you’re wise to respect them.
Furthermore, be mindful of your own boundaries. No matter the setting, all of us have a right to always – respectfully, yet firmly – speak and enforce our truth.
If there’s a sign somewhere in the yoga studio saying, “Staff Only,” that’s a boundary that must be respected. A yogi is mindful of and respectful all boundaries, both personal and corporate.
2. Change your mindset to learning, not 'displaying' talent.
No matter if you are highly skilled at asana or not skilled; show up with the intention to be a professional at learning, not to display your talent. Set your target behavior as one of learning.
This is a big difference in mind set. It doesn’t mean you can’t excel in your pose, but it means your mind is not focused on your talent but on your evolving student role.
3. Don't rush!
Don’t rush in, and then rush through, and then rush out of yoga. If we are given a great gift of time, in which we are lucky to experience the amazing life-long benefits of a life-transforming practice, don’t rush the practice or the result.
When you go to class, honor yourself and the practice by arriving early and taking time to truly settle in. When you go through the asana, take time to ground yourself through each posture intentionally and mindfully.
At the end of it all, don’t pack up and immediately rush out as if you’re escaping a fiery building, but take a few moments to let the refined learning you’ve just put into your mind/body/spirit truly register in you.
4. Honor every session you go through.
Each class is unique and can reveal many treasures even if they are not obvious at first. I’m reminded of the story of the first person to look into King Tut’s tomb and his surprise when he used a flashlight to see the treasures in the darkness.
Someone asked him as he emerged from the dark space, “What did you see?” His stunned response was, “Many wonderful things, many wonderful things.” This is the way it is for us too. There are many wonderful things happening in class each time, even if we can’t see them in the darkness of our present awareness. Honor and trust that wonderful things are happening.
5. Respect all the rules of your yoga studio.
If the studio has a sign on the door that says, “Please respect the stillness of the yoga room,” it’s probably there because some people in the room have attempted to meditate and prepare for class while other people have been talking and interrupting the need for silence.
Somehow it came to the attention of the yogi studio owner and they posted their guideline as a response. No matter how or why the rules of a studio are made public, my best coaching of behavior would underscore this point: follow the studio rules by respecting the space, the practice, other yogis, and yourself.
One Necessary Step
Sometimes there may be a mistake in communication about the yoga class schedule, assigned teacher, lockers or parking, etc. The necessary step for you is to communicate by asking questions and mentioning that you are new.
Nobody can provide you with information if you don’t ask questions or communicate your intentions. People are busy these days and sometimes – while this is no excuse for anyone – they get focused on tasks and may assume you already know what you need to know.
I’ve noticed though, that whenever I’ve been in any situations like what I’ve described, others are more than willing to talk, to engage, to give feedback and provide information once I started asking questions.
Sometimes we might forget that the world of yoga is still the world of people, and in the world of people, communication is necessary. More often than not, the one necessary step is that it starts with you just as it starts with me.