The Real View from the Podium: Bikram Yoga instructors share their thoughts on leading this 90-minute class

Each week I hear the same thing from a wide range of my students.  It doesn’t matter whether it’s your first week of classes or you’ve been practicing for a decade.  At some point most yoga students have uttered one of the following:

That was my worst class ever.”

I’m sorry I disappointed you.”

I was a mess in there.

Was it hotter than normal?

I just couldn’t do what I wanted to do today.”

And each week I tell them the same thing.

“I had no idea you were struggling today.”

“You actually had a great class.”

“You’re being too hard on yourself.”

“The main thing is you showed up and gave it what you had today. Whatever that is. You did great!”

They look at me like I’m crazy. They look at every teacher like that teacher is crazy. How could less than perfect be anywhere near good? How could having to take multiple breaks to get through the class be acceptable work? Did that teacher see how many chugs from the water bottle I took? How many swipes with the hand towel?

What they don’t understand is that  the Bikram Yoga instructor sees something much different than what the student is experiencing. We see what could be taken as good and what could be perceived as bad and acknowledge that it’s all just…happening. We think that you already did the good work – you showed up. That’s it. Everything that happens after that has to be met with acceptance, love, and detachment. Yes, there will be classes in which you will struggle, but there will also be classes in which you will feel beyond great, almost superhuman. They are both great classes.

So, this week I thought I’d enlist some of my favorite teachers and friends to enlighten us on what their “view from the podium” is. What do they see, feel, or think when leading a group through the 90-minute class? I found the response fascinating. The teacher’s view is far different than the student’s perception.  We can be a loud, chatty, fast-talking bunch.  We talk with command verbs, such as, grab, pull, stretch, sit and lift that can make us appear bossy. We might come off as being hard on you, but at the heart of it all we really just want the best for you.

The quotes below come from a wide variety of teachers.  Some of these teachers I see every week.  Some of them I haven’t seen in years.  Some of them I’ve never even met face to face. Their response is inspiring and reaffirms why I love the Bikram Yoga community and am proud to be a part of it. I hope you enjoy reading these views as much as I did:

“My view from the podium is amazing – what an awesome view, what an amazing experience – witnessing. Being part of the journey for so many, being a flashlight through the woods as others create a path to move forward. Our feet point forward for a reason and all we can do is try to keep going forward!, and watching others embark on this journey is exciting and rewarding and humbling as any could be. I feel blessed to assist people, neighbors, friends, families to awakening to the bright light that shines within themselves- that’s where the path leads right… Where me as a flashlight seems dim to the bright powerful glow that is within each of us and becomes the ultimate all knowing guide, how could we ever forget we have this in us I don’t know, but I am so happy grateful to be on my path as a reminder on that there is a way back. There is something to go to, it will always be there, it is us- yolked, united, part of, one with, yoga.” Jaclyn Hoffman, Prana Bodhi Bikram Yoga, Studio Owner

“I feel everybody’s energy – happy, sad, exhausted. No single class is the same. I definitely can feel and see everybody’s reaction to my words.” – Yui Cham, Tokyo, Japan

“When I get on the podium I like to look around the room before starting and give a little motivational speech and some words of wisdom for class. It’s always on a whim nothing ever scripted! It comes right from the heart, from the true self, based on the energy I feel in the room when I step onto the podium.  I always like to look into the students eyes while they are looking into the mirror at themselves and try to connect with them via my words and see if I can get a visual queue that they heard my general correction and applied it to themselves.” Pedro Luna, 26Hot, Bikram Yoga South Naperville

“When I teach a Bikram Yoga I feel like a teacher of many things other than just yoga. I like to think I am teaching these people about themselves and how they can push themselves past their comfort zones and realize they are stronger than they think. I typically see people struggling, but in a positive way and I always feel empowered by the students. I love how I feel when I am teaching a group of focused, strong students because I can really feel their energy even just standing on the podium. While teaching a class I think about what this yoga is doing for these bodies and how I can make each posture do the best that it can do to that particular body in the moment.” – Taryn Hilch, Bikram Yoga St. Louis

“What I love the most about teaching Bikram Yoga is when I see the students start to learn the importance of breath control. It doesn’t matter if our students have come to the class to heal themselves physically, emotionally or spiritually. I know that with time and patience they will eventually come to learn that when they learn to control their breath, they will control their class and most importantly learn to control their mind, both inside and outside of the classroom. Of course I love watching students improve their strength and flexibility – that’s great fun. But when I see someone who used to fidget, wipe their sweat, let their eyes wander around the room, or express frustration when falling out of a posture, start to be still in class, to me that is the best part. Because I know the outward stillness is a reflection of the inner stillness and peace they are creating for themselves and will then take with them throughout the rest of their day.” Kris D’Orazio, 26Hot, Studio Owner

I carefully watch each student…but it’s not their face or expression. When I look at them, it’s the movement of their rib cage, the contraction of the ab muscles, and the scapula stretching out of the body. It’s incredible to give a specific direction and watch the command come to life in the body. See the student take your words and apply them to the body. See them proud of the application of your direction and how it improves their posture; to see them “get it”. It’s so powerful to experience and know you made that happen for them.  I just came back after being on maternity leave for 8 weeks and the first time I got on the podium I was so nervous. Halfway thru the first set of breathing I could not believe the emotion. The students listen to me, they trust me. How lucky am I?” – Heidi Bernover, Bikram Yoga North Shore, Studio Owner

“When I went to training, Letitia Watts, owner of Bikram Yoga Santa Fe, told me my job as a teacher is to see the potential in every student and to hold on to that vision until each student realizes their own potential. Every time I step on to the podium, I see the potential for growth, understanding, and compassion. I see the potential of letting go of the past, embracing the future and existing, contently, in the present, together, sharing our collective potential for growth.” Linda Fanning, 26Hot, Bikram Yoga South Naperville, Bikram Yoga Aurora

“I see people trying so hard to improve there bodies physically which is amazing. However what makes me so happy & excited is that I know they are receiving so much more than physical. There is a mind body connection in the Bikram series that is so gratifying and can really open an individual up. When I say mind body connection I don’t mean the, “I think of something delicious and my mouth waters”.  What I mean by mind body connection is when the mind, body & breath are so connected that all the stress, fears worries of life are outside the room and your mind is clear in practice. When I see someone experience this and use the 90 min as a moving meditation with real connection to themselves my heart is full beyond words. Attitudes, emotional responses and ability to have more positive experiences outside the room are an amazing reward when we experience this. You can’t teach the mind body connection it happens with discipline and dedication to yourself and to the yoga.” Colleen Schofield, Bikram Yoga South Naperville

“I see people looking in the mirror working hard, trying to find stillness but that stillness comes easier to some over others. You can see anxious minds, people who are distracted (wandering eyes) or those who are really in the zone that day. It’s really interesting to see how your personality really does show through the mat. How you are on the mat is how you are off the mat. Every day is different which is a beautiful thing. It’s a difficult thing to do – the mirror doesn’t hide you, you have to look head on at yourself. It’s a frightening thing sometimes! But everyone comes to the hot room for a reason. We come to the hot room to be better people.” Diane Kucharczyk, 26Hot

All the time I hear people apologizing for their practice. The apology could be for having to sit down in class, falling out of standing bow, and sometimes for not having practiced before. I also see people make annoyed faces at themselves in the mirror when the postures are not what they want them to be. What I want these students to know is that they have nothing to apologize for and nothing to be upset with themselves for. We teachers are not there to judge, but to share love and yoga with anyone gutsy enough to show up. We are all human and we are all there to grow.” – Lyndsey, Bikram Yoga River North, Bikram Yoga Andersonville

“I feel great compassion. I didn’t always possess this quality. However, as a student then as a teacher, it has grown tremendously. Watching the 1st timers or newer beginners’ struggle, especially with shortness of breath, really hits home for me. It brings me right back to my beginnings of this practice where I struggled just to control my breath. Being a smoker when I first started yoga, I died during the standing series so to see others suffer, I always remind them to breathe and how and take a slower pace, not to overdo it. And I have absolute admiration. No matter why a student is there, taking a Bikram Yoga class, they have decided to get healthy. All different shapes, sizes, medical conditions, diseases, defects, addictions, problems, etc. come to practice and I admire each of them wanting greater health and happiness.

What I love to see is smiles. Often, I see smiles – all different smiles. Smiles, when a student grabs heels in Camel or ankles in Floor Bow. Smiles because I cracked a joke or quoted Bikram. Or a smile that’s not because I said a joke, but because the student genuinely is enjoying their practice. I like all smiles, it’s fun to see this as a teacher; it reminds me that the student isn’t taking the practice too seriously, that they can have fun while killing themselves! “– Carol Edwards, Bikram Yoga Aurora, Studio Owner

“The biggest reward of being a yoga teacher is to see my students improve their postures, their bodies, quite often, even their lives. To be able to stand on the podium and teach a class was one of the greatest challenges of my life. Teaching is just like practicing – a process of evolving into something better, bigger, brighter.”  – Indre Kamuntaviciute, Bikram Yoga South Naperville, Bikram Yoga Aurora

“On the podium I see and feel so much.  I see what someone may be feeling – physically or emotionally.  It is my job to help people see into themselves – to see what they want to and what they don’t want to.  Eventually learning a bit at a time that they are good, really good.  They are loved.  With learning to love themselves they can only be good to themselves and to those around them.  This love is infectious.  It’s not easy though.  It’s not easy to really see into yourself all the time.  Sometimes we see some things we don’t like.  That is why we practice.  It’s not to disguise anything.  It’s to see who we are, to chip away at things little by little, to strengthen and stretch – and to let things go.  As a teacher, I am humbled but also inspired, by all these experiences.  I love the exchange between everyone in the room.  The teacher does so much talking, but there is so much that is unspoken that’s not easy to describe in words.  It’s unlike anything else in this world.”  – Beth Ngo, Bikram Yoga Rancho Bernardo, Bikram Yoga Temecula

“My view from the podium is a mass of people trying to effect great change. This change is not only in the body, but also in the mind and the spirit. I don’t see the yoga outfit, but shoulders and hips and the energy of a soul putting forth its truest essence. I get to witness the release of the past, the stretch for the future, and the acceptance of the present. For that I will always be humbled and thankful – to be even the smallest part of my student’s journey is a great gift.” Tori Hicks-Glogowski, Bikram Yoga South Naperville, Bikram Yoga Aurora, 26Hot

So I got to teach this morning while visiting from out of town, the Saturday 10:30 am, and my view from the podium was from the this simple perspective, a simple perspective of Gratitude. Gratitude for my practice, gratitude for my teaching, gratitude for never being alone and remembering that wherever I go we all suffer from this human condition of terminal uniqueness. But once the lights come up and we hear or say the words… toes and heels together… we all get to come together. What other profession do you get to just show up, take class to improve you physical emotional and spiritual condition in one 90-minute shot and then the next day show up and give it all back.

There was one thing that Trudy from Bikram Yoga Greensboro said from the podium that I absolutely had to steal and say in this mornings class as well…, 3 very simple little words she said after each posture…, “Look at you.” I told the class how much those 3 little words resonated with me and affected me on a very deep level…, “Look at you,” I said. “Look at you. Look at you, there in the mirror. Look at you showing up today, and doing this for yourself when you could have stayed in bed and under the covers never to see the light of day. Look at you. Look at how strong you are. Look at how beautiful you are. Look at you. Look at how you always underestimate yourself and forget to see the beautiful amazing simple truth of you and who you truly are and who you forgot to be. Look at YOU!” And so my view from the podium from Greensboro is “Look at you.” 3 simple words I will take with me and give back from the podium everywhere I go. “ Jeanne Heaton, Bikram Yoga Soho and the non-profit organization One Posture at a Time

I hope these views and thoughts from these teachers inspire you to release the negative thoughts about your practice. You are there. You are doing what you can on this day. And that is enough. You are enough.

Bikram Yoga teachers out there join the discussion!  What is your “view from the podium”?  Leave your thoughts in the comment section below or on the Views from the Podium Facebook Page.

(photo credit: George Logemann)

If you enjoyed this post you may also enjoy reading:

What I Wish You Knew…Things you never realized about your yoga teacher

Getting Rid of the Fuzz:  4 Tips to Clean Up Your Yoga Practice

7 Traits of Highly Effective Yoga Teachers

10 thoughts on “The Real View from the Podium: Bikram Yoga instructors share their thoughts on leading this 90-minute class

  1. Thank you! After a “bad” class I have wondered if the teacher thought “what the heck was up with her today!?” I should have known there is no judgement.

    • I’m so glad you liked Mellie! We’re there to support you, not judge you. There’s only one kind of “bad” class – the one you didn’t show up to… Thanks for reading!!

    • I know – Jeanne Heaton is amazing! I was so glad she was able to share her thoughts with us and be part of this post. Hope all is well Mike – I’m sure we’ll run into each other soon!

  2. Just in time. I finished this one just in time to not give up…….”look at who you truly are and who you forgot to be.” Thank you.

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