Twenty is the classroom size limit that we voted for in Berkeley public elementary schools for K-3. approving an increase in property taxes to keep classrooms small. People move here from all over the Bay Area so that their kids can benefit from smaller classrooms. Why then do we adults not apply that same standard to our yoga? Why is it so often that the classes that have the most people in them are considered the “best” or that large size somehow equals teacher quality when in fact it ‘s mostly a study in crowd control and should be seen as a drawback to learning.
The late great yogi Sri Krishnamacharya ( teacher of my teachers) taught his students one -on-one. Sri K Pattabhi Jois (who studied briefly with Krishnamacharya when K.P.Jois was very young) taught his students with 1-12 people in his original Mysore Yoga Shala. I benefitted greatly from his personal tracking of my progress through the Ashtanga series, and often trembled at the prospect of his hands-on assists. I was often alone in the room with him receiving instruction as others had finished their practice. T.K.V. Desikachar continues his father’s tradition of individually tailoring the teaching to each student. In international workshop settings this model does go out the window.
But just when did Hatha yoga become a group activity, and why are so many bodies thronging to group sweat-ins? It seems to me that we hatha yogis have somehow co-opted the format of exercise classes, gym class, or might I say, religious practices of communal gathering and have imposed on these communal structures the timeless practice of yoga. When did that image of the yogi practicing alone in the forest or cave turn into the image of a modern yoga studio thronging with gals and guys in styling yoga wear?
I used to practice yoga alone on my childhood living room rug using poses of a dancing Shiva that I found in a musuem catagogue called the “Manifestations of Shiva,” curated by the late art historian Stella Kramish for my guide. No joke. I was so taken with these dancing icons that I imitated them. The idea of publicly sharing these poses with any other bodies seemed to my teenage mind somehow a form of desecration. Those dancing Shivas were my secret. It wasn’t until I was an acting student in London, and a bit later when I was acting in off off ( falling off) Broadway in New York, when we used yoga as part of our movement training, that I discovered that yoga could be a group activity. Be was it meant for this?
I don’t know if it is age, or motherhood, ( now that I am hardly ever alone) but the idea of practicing my personal spirit practice in a room packed with (often shirtless) bodies just doesn’t dig deep for me. Practicing with someone else’s sweat on my mat is not appealing. I have been ambivilent about attending such classes. But lately my ambivlance has turned closer towards avoidance. And if I don’t want to attend such a class, then why would I attenpt to teach one- say one with more than twenty bodies in it? That’s why I love teaching one-on-one and small semi-private classes out of my home studio.
So go to your yoga classes, but do your hOMe practice too, and “all will be coming” to you.