Lessons from Yoga: Why Kindness is Key

This week I had a lady come up to me at the end of a yoga class to complain about another student. The student in question was a middle-aged gentleman who had never practised yoga before. Like most beginners, particularly of his age, he struggled with finding a smooth even breath, with flexibility and alignment in certain postures, and with balance.

What the lady wanted to complain about was that he had disturbed her practice, and it was my fault because I had let him in the class even though he turned up a few minutes late. She said her day had been ruined, that she didn't come to yoga to feel worse than when she arrived and that I should have turned him away from the class. I apologised to her, took her abuse for fear of her complaining to the studio where I was teaching, and left feeling miserable, blaming myself and wondering what on earth I should have done. Should I have turned him away? Was she right?

The more I thought, and stewed, and berated myself for not having pleased my student the more I kept coming back to it: why should I have turned away a beginner for the benefit of someone with a strong practice? Doesn't her unkindness towards me, and the gentleman in question, reflect more on her than me?

I realised that I was right: as a yoga teacher it is my responsibility and indeed, my personal mission, to allow everyone access to yoga if they desire it. Classes should not just be for those who can do all the poses; everyone, including this lady, was a beginner once. I also realised that she was blaming me for letting the man in when he was late, but if he had been early he still would have disturbed her with his practice, he still would have struggled through as he did, and she still would have left feeling annoyed.

So how to rectify this situation? For me it comes down, simply, to kindness and acceptance.

"Yoga is a work-in, not a work-out"

If there's one thing I have learned on my yoga journey it is this: some days you'll have an amazing practice, other days there'll be something to annoy you; a siren blaring outside, a lady with a cough next to you, a pose which eludes you, a beginner falling out of tree pose causing you to lose your concentration too. How you react to that annoyance is down to you. It is not down to your teacher, or the other people in the room, or outside of the room to make life easier for you. It is down to you to turn your attention inward, and carry on through. Release yourself from the attachment of having a 'perfect practice' and instead practise focus, acceptance and kindness, with yourself and others; in a yoga class, and outside it. Yoga, like life, isn't always pretty. Sometimes it's messy, or sweaty, or someone farts next to you. It is within you to either react or not react.

It is within you to be kind to yourself, and to those around you, and not get worked up about the smaller things.

Studies show that being kind to someone actually improves your mood, relieves stress and could even help you live longer - so why do we find it so hard to be kind, and so easy to be unkind; to lay blame or pass off our own irritations onto someone else, belittling them, or making them feel bad about themselves?

The more we practice kindness to others, the more predisposed to being kind to ourselves we will be. And I don't know if you've heard, but being kind to yourself feels pretty damn good, and is good for your health and your happiness.

So here it is, my plea to you: next time someone annoys you, instead of blaming or belittling or reacting, instead turn your attention inwards. Why are you reacting? Can you change your perspective, put yourself in their shoes and understand them?

It takes immense bravery to walk into a full yoga studio, having never practised before, and struggle through a class. Maybe you've been there? Or maybe you've been a beginner, or an outsider, in another area of your life before? How did it feel? How would it have felt if someone were kind, accepting and welcoming to you?

Do yourself a favour, and be kind to someone this weekend. Because we all know that the greatness of Maya Angelou's words ring true:

"I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."