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The Hardest Class You Ever Took?
These Answers Will Surprise You

As many of us have experienced, yoga can make us feel more open, connected, and relaxed. Let’s admit it, though—yoga practice challenge all students, both beginners and advanced practitioners alike, in surprising ways that continue to teach us about ourselves and each other.

As many of us have experienced, yoga can make us feel more open, connected, and relaxed. Let’s admit it, though—yoga is not for the faint of heart. Yoga practices challenge all students, both beginners and advanced practitioners alike, in surprising ways that continue to teach us about ourselves and each other. 
But what is it, exactly, that makes yoga challenging? To learn more, YogaCity NYC's Lauren Krauze asked four senior NYC-based yoga teachers the following question: what was the hardest yoga class you’ve ever taken?
Abbie Galvin, teaches at Katonah Yoga
The hardest yoga classes I have taken are the classes taught without any soul. These classes, while they might not be physically demanding, tax every fiber of my being emotionally. Classes taught by teachers who simply call out the poses, rather than offer thoughtful instruction, seem to betray what yoga can offer. 
I am always hopeful for a rich metaphor, a lovely physical adjustment, or a winning physical insight. I want a nugget I can chew on for while, rather than a thoughtless litany of poses. Instead of receiving instructions to “open up,” “stretch more” and “count my blessings,” it would be heaven to be asked to fill myself up, or to fold into my joints rather than push my flexibility. I want to move into a pose well. That, in itself, would be a blessing.
Isaac Pena teaches at Exhale, House of Jai, Pure
I took a class last year that challenged me deeply. Since I have a regular home practice, I'm used to moving in a certain way. While I'm usually open to what the teacher is offering in public classes, that particular day I was expecting one thing and I got something completely different. It reminded me that I must always practice being available for anything. Yoga is not about creating preferences, and I believe all students can learn something from every class, especially classes they think aren’t meant for them. That's what that one moment at the beginning of class is for: in that stillness, we can close the eyes, breathe, and prepare to receive anything that may be offered to us.
Jyll Hubbard-Salk, founded Urban Asanas where she teaches
The hardest class was one I took at Kula with Nikki Costello. I was attending her "The Practice" teacher training. She usually picked a person to guide the opening of the class, but one day, for some reason, I volunteered. I sat in the front of that space and began to guide the sound of OM. She had me do it again and added a few suggestions. I sat there and cried, and cried and cried! I am not a crier. My soul lifted, though, and my heart opened wider than ever. I can't pinpoint why it happened, but it was one of the most challenging moments on my mat. It surely changed my life.
Carrie Owerko teaches at the Iyengar Institute of New York
Many years ago, I took a class with a teacher who often reminded us to respect and listen to our bodies. In this class, while we were executing a long series of standing asanas, we were asked to keep our arms out to the side while our teacher continued talking. His talk was not about our arms, though, and it felt as though my teacher forgot about us. I could feel my arms not only becoming fatigued, but also becoming dull and insensitive. The effort to stay was greater than my ability to perceive myself with clarity and accuracy whilst in the pose. I decided to do what I felt was the needful thing and brought my arms down to my hips for a brief respite. My teacher asked why I did that. I replied, "Because I was becoming insensitive." The teacher then asked me, "Where is your tapas?" 
For me, the hardest thing about the class was to know that taking my arms down was in fact a form of tapas. I needed the inner heat of tapas to burn away that part of me that felt the need to please my teacher, even when it was not good for me. I needed the inner light of viveka, or discernment, to shine a light on that part of me that needed approval, or affirmation, from an external source. I needed to let go of that desire to please. There was no reward for this letting go save the feeling that, in that moment, I had in some small way transcended a much deeper pattern of behavior—one that had actually been a destructive energy in my life. It was time to change, even if it was just in that one small way.
It was interesting talking to these top-level teachers, While there are many inherent challenges in the asana practice, personally I find that the most challenging moments occur during pranayama and meditation. Like the asana practice, these classes ask us to work with deeply ingrained physiological patterns in our bodies and minds, but with very little movement. In pranayama, I often struggle to regulate and restrain my breathing, which has been fraught since childhood. During meditation, guiding myself out of whirlwinds of anxious thoughts and overwhelming emotions is a practice I still find very difficult.
What is not surprising is that all yoga practitioners struggle with different elements of the eight limbs. Perhaps inherent in this reality is yoga’s golden promise: no matter what’s happening in and around us, we can always discover something to practice.
-- Lauren Krauze, teaches at JivamuktiAs many of us have experienced, yoga can make us feel more open, connected, and relaxed. Let’s admit it, though—yoga practices challenge all students, both beginners and advanced practitioners alike, in surprising ways that continue to teach us about ourselves and each other. 

But what is it, exactly, that makes yoga challenging? To learn more, YogaCity NYC's Lauren Krauze asked four senior NYC-based yoga teachers the following question: what was the hardest yoga class you’ve ever taken?

Abbie Galvin, teaches at Katonah Yoga

The hardest yoga classes I have taken are the classes taught without any soul. These classes, while they might not be physically demanding, tax every fiber of my being emotionally. Classes taught by teachers who simply call out the poses, rather than offer thoughtful instruction, seem to betray what yoga can offer. 
I am always hopeful for a rich metaphor, a lovely physical adjustment, or a winning physical insight. I want a nugget I can chew on for while, rather than a thoughtless litany of poses. Instead of receiving instructions to “open up,” “stretch more” and “count my blessings,” it would be heaven to be asked to fill myself up, or to fold into my joints rather than push my flexibility. I want to move into a pose well. That, in itself, would be a blessing.

Isaac Pena teaches at Exhale, House of Jai, and Pure
I took a class last year that challenged me deeply. Since I have a regular home practice, I'm used to moving in a certain way. While I'm usually open to what the teacher is offering in public classes, that particular day I was expecting one thing and I got something completely different. It reminded me that I must always practice being available for anything. Yoga is not about creating preferences, and I believe all students can learn something from every class, especially classes they think aren’t meant for them. That's what that one moment at the beginning of class is for: in that stillness, we can close the eyes, breathe, and prepare to receive anything that may be offered to us.

Jyll Hubbard-Salk, founder of Urban Asanas and teacher 
The hardest class was one I took at Kula with Nikki Costello. I was attending her "The Practice" teacher training. She usually picked a person to guide the opening of the class, but one day, for some reason, I volunteered. I sat in the front of that space and began to guide the sound of OM. She had me do it again and added a few suggestions. I sat there and cried, and cried and cried! I am not a crier. My soul lifted, though, and my heart opened wider than ever. I can't pinpoint why it happened, but it was one of the most challenging moments on my mat. It surely changed my life.

Carrie Owerko teaches at the Iyengar Institute of New York

Many years ago, I took a class with a teacher who often reminded us to respect and listen to our bodies. In this class, while we were executing a long series of standing asanas, we were asked to keep our arms out to the side while our teacher continued talking. His talk was not about our arms, though, and it felt as though my teacher forgot about us. I could feel my arms not only becoming fatigued, but also becoming dull and insensitive. The effort to stay was greater than my ability to perceive myself with clarity and accuracy whilst in the pose. I decided to do what I felt was the needful thing and brought my arms down to my hips for a brief respite. My teacher asked why I did that. I replied, "Because I was becoming insensitive." The teacher then asked me, "Where is your tapas?" 
For me, the hardest thing about the class was to know that taking my arms down was in fact a form of tapas. I needed the inner heat of tapas to burn away that part of me that felt the need to please my teacher, even when it was not good for me. I needed the inner light of viveka, or discernment, to shine a light on that part of me that needed approval, or affirmation, from an external source. I needed to let go of that desire to please. There was no reward for this letting go save the feeling that, in that moment, I had in some small way transcended a much deeper pattern of behavior—one that had actually been a destructive energy in my life. It was time to change, even if it was just in that one small way.

It was interesting talking to these top-level teachers, While there are many inherent challenges in the asana practice, personally I find that the most challenging moments occur during pranayama and meditation. Like the asana practice, these classes ask us to work with deeply ingrained physiological patterns in our bodies and minds, but with very little movement. In pranayama, I often struggle to regulate and restrain my breathing, which has been fraught since childhood. During meditation, guiding myself out of whirlwinds of anxious thoughts and overwhelming emotions is a practice I still find very difficult.What is not surprising is that all yoga practitioners struggle with different elements of the eight limbs. Perhaps inherent in this reality is yoga’s golden promise: no matter what’s happening in and around us, we can always discover something to practice.  


-- author Lauren Krauze, teaches at Jivamukti



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