The Yoga Mat of Shame

By Renee’ Fulkerson

Let’s start off this blog by becoming familiar with the definition of shame by Merriam-Webster:

Shame – a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior.

Yikes! The thought of wrong or foolish behavior in some yoga classes could send chills down your spine. (lol) Especially in the thoughts of folks new to yoga or simply someone who tends to be a perfectionist. I agree going to a yoga class for the first time can be extremely intimidating and yet on the other hand it could feel like the perfect fit.

I recently had a conversation with a gentleman in regard to expectations. Expectations in a yoga class to expectations of going to get a massage. This guy did not consider himself a spiritual person, had never attended a yoga class and had received a gift certificate for a massage. He had concerns about feeling humiliated or distressed with the idea of attending a yoga class or using his massage gift certificate. Which then turned the conversation topic from expectation to participation.

I got the impression he felt he needed to be a spiritual person to participate in a yoga class. He started to then speak with an example (the what if):

What if a guy has no idea what he is getting himself into when he thinks of attending a yoga class?

I replied: This guy you speak of would have to have lived under a rock to not have any thoughts or ideas of what would be entailed in a yoga class or massage (he laughed).

At that point as a yoga teacher, mother and human being I knew he needed to have the yoga talk.

I could only speak for myself and the way I teach the YogAlign method. I do my very best to put new and existing students at ease. I let them know please stop me if you do not understand what I am saying or asking of them. I let them know this is their time and not mine to stand on my soapbox. He seemed intrigued and even his body shifted to a more receptive posture.

I continued by explaining that I did not take a spiritual approach to teaching YogAlign (I feel spirituality is very personal). That is not to say the student may or may not connect with something or someone outside themselves during their practice. My approach especially for a new student is purely physical. I know everyone can take one hand and touch their arm and it makes perfect sense however, not everyone can go into or believes in a meditative state. I explained when we move through the physical YogAlign practice we begin feeling more comfortable and relaxed in our breath and body. Feeling more joy physically allows us to then feel more joy mentally. Which in some cases can lead into a meditative place of peace without even realizing it is happening. At this point I could see the gentleman becoming even more at ease with the thought of participating in a yoga class. He was starting to loosen his grip on the idea he would do something foolish or wrong (shameful) on the mat.

I myself never want a student of any level to feel they are standing on the yoga mat of shame in my classes and yet it happens. I have seen the frustration in a long time YogAlign student when she could not do a properly aligned push up. I reminded her there are other postures that will give the same result we are looking for in the push up. My job is to support students in feeling empowered not shameful. I also see new students struggle with watching other students be able to move their arms more from their back and not from their shoulders (like they keep doing).

Everyone reacts different to stressful situations when they feel they may not measure up. When the shame starts to creep in I see students shut down, start giggling and get hot/ sweaty. These and others cues lets me know a student may feel they are standing on the yoga mat of shame. I want to shift that perception immediately or that could be the first and last time they ever try yoga again.

We all create a story about something we have never tried. Sometimes that narrative may even come from what we have heard or seen on television. Whatever the expectations we have created for ourselves or the experience once we decide to make that appointment and show up for that class shows we are willing to participate. A willingness to fall on your face however, you need not fall into the shame game.

Take some time and research what yoga class/ style would create favorable conditions for your success. I myself teach many mixed level classes meaning someone new to yoga who needs more of the class (to be taught) to long time students who need more of the practice (moving through the postures) not all teachers/ styles of yoga can accommodate that type of experience.

Remember falling on your face is not always a bad thing in fact that is one way we are able to build self confidence. Resist the temptation to compare and compete in a yoga class. After all we as teachers should be holding space for your yoga experience to unfold in a safe and supportive environment.

See you on the mat.

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