My favorite yoga classes have been absolutely packed lately, probably because it’s the start of the year and people are feeling super motivated to go to yoga. Actually, crowded yoga classes are nothing unusual for January, and it’s something I’ve more or less come to expect at the beginning of every new year. Nonetheless, I still find myself frustrated and annoyed at times when the class gets so full that I don’t even have room to extend my arms out to the side for Surya Namaskara A. I hear quite a few other students complaining as well, because they hate being packed in like sardines and having some sweaty stranger breathing down their neck for 90 minutes.
But what’s so bad about being mat-to-mat? Why do we become so territorial and agitated when we have to practice yoga close to others? One thing I try to remind myself is that this negative response is probably rooted in my own attachment to what I perceive to be my “personal space”. And this boundary is being challenged when someone’s hand or foot is in my face in the middle of yoga class. Instead of reacting with anger or irritation, though, I am trying to respond to this disturbance in just the same way I respond to other difficult challenges in yoga class: I breathe deeply, observe what’s happening without judgment, and breathe some more.
One of my teachers used to talk about tolerance in his classes. He was not talking about religious or cultural tolerance, at least not directly. What he was talking about was learning how to tolerate that which is immediately and unavoidably “in your face”. This might be the traffic jam you’re sitting in. This might be the sweaty guy in yoga class who’s dripping all over your mat. This might be doing your taxes at midnight on April 14th. Whatever the unpleasant or challenging thing might be, instead of running from it or hating it, the yogi learns to tolerate it. And, plausibly, other forms of tolerance, like religious and cultural tolerance, will come easier to us as we develop tolerance of these more superficial and immediate things.
So, tonight I’m going to go to yoga class with a revised attitude. It’ll almost certainly be a packed class again, and if it is, I’ll try my best to just breathe and enjoy the practice with all its nuances, even if that means I have to take a foot in my face or a thumb in my eye from time to time.