ten reasons I hate flow (and why i’m teaching it anyway)

Yoga flow is so popular it might be THE most popular type of yoga class in America.

However, I have my quibbles – which I’ll share here!

First: what is yoga flow?

Yoga “flow” isn’t very concretely or explicitly described in the mish-mash, hugley historied, highly varied body of yoga practice. But in general, most “flow” in yoga parlance means moving relatively fluidly from one asana (pose) to the next. This can be done slowly and in low-intensity poses or a class so vigorous and strenuous the practice begins to look like gymnastics. And of course – anything in between.

In America, yoga “flow” is often associated with vigorous, sweaty, aerobic movements. It tends toward aerobics. There can be a very fitnessy tone to all of this – some classes pump up the volume with 120 bps pop hits and lots of “push yourselves!” languaging from instructors. That kind of thing.

Here’s why I’ve hated flow – and then I’ll tell you why I’ve ended up offering it anyway:

One: yoga flow isn’t accessible.

I dislike the broad-stroke use of “accessible” these days but, the point applies here.

So let’s take students who want a very swift moving, sweaty class where they get up and get down and all that. Your average flow student.

Well, those activities are prohibitive to many, many practitioners.

You could INVITE anyone at all to such a class and tell them to rest when they need to – but they are likely going to feel left out, frustrated, or even embarassed.

I know what you’re thinking: “Oh, just design an accessible flow.” But no – you can’t just slap the word “accessible” on a class and make it so.

A sweaty, fast, athletic flow and a truly accessible class – where everyone has the time, care, and attention to succeed in each asana – are just diametrically opposed. End of story.

Two: flow sacrifices alignment.

This is deeper and more subtle than you might thinking. Let’s take pristhasana – lizard pose. In lizard pose we come into a deep lunge with our hands on the inside of the forward leg. Back leg can either be lifted, or knee-down.

In lizard many people think the goal is to get their forearms to the ground. So this means they will let the knee travel well past the foot to get that front thigh and hip lower, or they’ll let the forward leg fall open for the same effect.

Some teachers would call that “cheating” the pose but I think that’s a crummy thing to say.

It isn’t that it’s “wrong” to let the knee travel, or to let the hip open so you can get foreamrs closer to teh ground. It’s just a really different benefit and strength exercise than if you’re setting up pristhasana in a more traditional way. Keeping the knee in alignment and welding the front shin to the front arm is very hard work – but it’s beautiful work for the thighs and pelvic floor.

In a slower class, there are opportunities to gently remind students of these possible elements. In fact you can talk about it WHILE you’re in the pose!

In a flow class – there’s no time whatsoever.

Which means:

Three: flow lends itself to injury.

Understand: if you take any class whatsoever, you’ve signed a waiver, you’ve spoken with your trusted practitioner about the suitability of yoga practice. It is your right, responsibility – and freedom! – to care for your body during class. Even the most strenuous, ludicrously athletic class is not to blame for student injury – as long as there is not a nefarious power imbalance (which happens in some yoga guruship situations, sadly).

But.

The truth is, MOST people in a flow class will try to keep up. MOST people in a flow class will get tired and push themselves rather than taking a break. It’s not because they’re bad people or Try Hards. It’s wired into people to try to “keep up with the group”.

So while we risk injury any time we exercise – and we risk injury if we avoid mobility work, as well – I think a swift flow class is a bit more risky than a slow-moving one.

Four: flow classes are hard on the instructor.

There are certainly instructors who like talking nonstop and/or even shouting during class. Most of us however want to practice alongside our students and in concert with our students.

Flow classes generally mean we can’t really be with you the way we can, in a slower class. We have to focus more on what we’re doing as an instructor, rather than how all of us in the room are – well, one!

Five: flow curriculum takes more time to write.

If as an instructor I put together the same flows over and over, students become bored. If I make them too tricky, students become frustrated.

Not to mention I just have to do a lot more designing and writing, simply because a flow class has more asana in it than a slower-paced class.

Now keep in mind it is my job to write curriculum and do I know that. 🙂 However most yoga instructors are already being paid very little by hour. This is why a lot of instructors do the same flows over and over!

 

Six: flow encourages habituated movement – and that can be hard to revise.

I spent about a year in a flow class performing repetitive shoulder motions that ended up causing me relatively serious injury. I’m still recovering – a decade later.

I used to blame the instructor but a few years ago I realized that it wasn’t her fault. There’s no way my $20 tuition – in a room full of people! – could cover personalized, highly technical body mechanics expertise.

The truth is, it’s all well and good to tell someone to “listen to their body” but the me of all those years ago, didn’t know I was doing anything wrong.

It took quite a while for me to build better shoulder motion. I’d habituated myself to poor movement. That’s honestly no one’s “fault”! Not even my own. I didn’t know what I didn’t know.

But it takes a while to fix movement (or lack of movement!) that we’ve trained ourselves in. Flow class doesn’t give us time to refine. (So if you take flow… make sure you’re studying alignment as well!)

Seven: flow foments the fitness hierarchy that so quickly takes hold in many yoga studios.

Most yoga studios aren’t that great to hang out in because you quickly realize there’s kind of the “in crowd” – you know they are young, fit, slim, strong, and wearing the right clothes. Everyone else is a sort of “lesser” practitioner, crumpling into the “easy” yin yoga class in their cheap sweatpants.

It’s not that flow is inherently snobby, it’s that WHEN YOU DESIGN A FLOW CLASS, the jocks are going to show up. That’s cool! I love jocks. Just be careful as some of them have attendant ideas that work against yoga as a whole.

Yoga cliques are interesting. I’ve written about them before!  Of ALL the yoga classes generally offered, flow classes are the ones that lend themselves to cliqueishness – which is why I am wary of them.

***

So if that’s how I feel about it… why am I teaching a flow series?

First and foremost: my Members asked me to! I adore them. They are the REASON we have this beautiful space!

Secondly.

After I thought through my own education and my feelings on the matter – those things I’ve been writing about there –

I realized that I am smart and resourced enough to design a flow class that disrupts or at least ameliorates the harm so often done, in fitspo yoga.

I also realized that by offering a more liberated flow class – I offered healing in more than one auspice!

After all, I’m often bitching and complaining elucidating on the harms in perpetrated in ableist and fitness culture. Why wouldn’t students show up with all kinds of f’d up ideas? Why not engage with these harmful modalities, since they’re already in the room?

I don’t need to avoid the toxicity of some yoga spaces and classes.

I can confront that stuff head on!

(And this post, is a part of that!)

So once again: great big huge booming thanks to my students – who above all, are helping me grow.

I appreciate you –

and I look forward to sweating on the mat with you!

fitspo has gotta go. here’s why:

Toxic fitness culture or “fitspo”, contrary to popular belief, doesn’t inspire us to do better, be better, or even to take care of ourselves.

It instead invites us into harmful hierarchies.

Fitspo encourages us to constantly measure ourselves against the “ideal” – thin, athletic (or strong), white (or aligned with Whiteness), young, able-bodied, depoliticized – and affluent or wealth-adjacent.

Fitspo can be seductive, because who doesn’t want to be part of the in-crowd? This is all the true if you’re in one or more of the classes invited into the (temporary) rewards – if you’re young, thin, athletic/strong, wealth-adjacent, etc. If you fit into the fitspo metric at any time of your life, it’s hard to voluntarily relinquish it’s hold.

Fitspo does more harm than can be summed up in a blog post. One of the worst things fitspo does, is encourage us to purchase experiences rather than commit to constructive personal and communal health practices. We become self-absorbed by our own bodies, our own abilities, our CrossFit identity – what-have-you. We lose sight that we are interconnected. We stop looking around the room to ask – Who isn’t here, and why? Who is not feeling welcome – and why?

Fitspo is one reason people and other marginalized individuals stay away from gyms and exercise classes – whether they want to attend or not, they feel distinctly unwelcome. And why wouldn’t they? They’ve been told their whole lives they are less-than, lacking – or even disgusting.

This has to change.

More harmful still, fitspo is the reason that even if people allow themselves a movement or physical practice – they strain, push themselves, and try to “get the most out of it”.

That striving becomes habituated and soon people come to loathe physical exercise.

***

I once saw an influencer ask, “Would you be so excited about ‘clean eating’ and your workouts if you weren’t allowed to publicly post about them?”

Because fitspo is not just hierarchal – it is performative.

That is some weak shit. It will let you down.

Fitspo is everywhere around us – and enforced by white supremacy and capitalism – but it’s also astonishingly easy to dismantle.

You can invest in something a lot deeper. Over time, fitspo becomes more and more irrelevant in your day-to-day. You are then far more likely to take even better care of your mind, your body – and start doing deeper work in your community.

Each of us has the power – and the responsibility – to overthrow fitspo. You can start small, if it’s too scary to start big!

It’s a wonderful upgrade!

I believe in you.

***

More: “fitspo: what is it, and why does it matter?”

"fitspo culture has gotta go - here's why" on toxic fitness and wellness spaces by Agni Hogaboom of Little Switch Yoga | Grays Harbor Hoquiam Aberdeen Washington
"fitspo culture has gotta go - here's why" on toxic fitness and wellness spaces by Agni Hogaboom of Little Switch Yoga | Grays Harbor Hoquiam Aberdeen Washington

(also note the tag “yoga” yields almost all physical/asana work – no mention of ethics, social observances, pranayama, philosophy, or history. But those are topics for another day!)

Who is welcome, in the fitspo world?

Youthful, slim, athletic (strong), racially and socioeconomically statused individuals are seen as more worthy and more desirable than their counterparts.

Fitspo ties in with our race, our age, our body shape and size, our socioeconomic class. You can’t really separate fitspo from patriarchal and white supremacist constructs.

But perhaps more than anything else, fitspo incorporates and supports ableism.

What is ableism?

Ableism places “well” bodies, “healthy” bodies, and able-bodied individuals as morally, ethically, and pedagogically superior to sick, unhealthy, or disabled individuals.

I don’t need to be a disabilities scholar to spell this one out.

We all know ableism is real, if we are honest.

If we haven’t felt ableism’s sting – well, that is probably because we’ve been operating from our own little bubble. If we haven’t been excluded or maligned, that’s because we fit in, in some way or other.

For instance I’m white; most fitness influencers you see out there, certainly the ones who get acclaim and book deals et cetera – most of them are white. So my entire life, I’ve been in the “in crowd” – at least with regards to race – in the fitness and fitspo world.

I am also able-bodied (at this time in my life) – so again, experiences like mine are spotlighted and held up as the “norm”.

In other ways, I don’t fit in so much. I’m old (at least according to the fitness world) and I’m fat, so in that sense I’m definitely sidelined. (I happen to currently be very strong and bendy – but most people don’t expect that, just by looking at me). I’m nonbinary, and boy oh boy are we excluded from discourse – everywhere!

It should go without saying: we shouldn’t have to be young, fit, thin – any of those things – to be included, welcomed, and supported in the physical movements space.

Aren’t you making a big deal of nothing? Isn’t it a good thing, to want to be in shape?

Sure! Kinda.

There is nothing wrong with working to be stronger, more mobile, and have more energy reserves. There is nothing inherently wrong with a workout!

In fact for the vast majority of human bodies, movement practice is recommended. 

But be careful.

Fitspo can still sidetrack you – even if you have the best of intentions!

Because remember: fitspo is above all about hierarchy, and trying to scramble into a place of cultural acceptance.

Fitspo tells us: we aren’t good enough, unless we’re better than other people.

And if we aren’t worthy, we should be TRYING to get more worthy.

In the fitspo world it is okay to be old, or fat, or not-white, or poor – as long as you’re putting in work to “better yourself”.

So when I say “be careful” I really mean it – because to the extent you buy into fitspo culture, you will suffer. Unfortunately, when we seek to “better ourselves” from a place of loathing, self-hatred, or even a sense of “less than”, lots of crummy things happen:

1. We won’t experience true joy in the process – because we are more focussed on the ends than the means;

2. We have a low tolerance for failure, injury, mishaps or slow progress;

3. We may end up aspiring to something that may not actually be appropriate or even achievable for us;

4. We are hyper-sensitive to what our fitness instructor thinks and/or the sleights (real or imagined) from our fitness community; 

5. After suffering from all the above ^^^ we usually give up on our movement practice, and blame *ourselves* for failing. This perpetuates a cycle of shame, sadness, and even apathy.

***

Trends in fitspo come and go – a few years ago there was a huge emphasis on being STRONG (mostly through weight lifting and so-called “clean” eating) but I’m reliably told that “heroin chic” is going to come back again (particularly with the skyrocketing popularity of Ozempic and other weight loss modalities).

So this month I invite you to look around the yoga space. Who isn’t there? And why are they missing?

Are we doing all we can, to let them know they are welcome?

(My Code of Conduct addresses that, at least in large part!)

I want something better than fitspo for myself, for my yoga space – and for the world at large.

The rest of this month, I’ll talk more about some antidotes to toxic fitness culture – and some constructive action we can take.

Resources:

“yoga” tag search on Instagram

“Understanding toxic fitness culture”, Ninjathlete at Medium.com

“How to talk about disability sensibly and avoid ableist tropes” , Shruti Rajkumar, NPR.org

Jonny Landels, male body image and strength coach

fitspo: what is it, and why does it matter?

This month I’m going to be writing about toxic fitness culture – what I call fitspo. 

It’s important, and hopefully by the end of the post you’ll agree with me.

What is fitspo?

The moniker “fitspo” comes from the instagram tag for “fitness inspiration”. Another interchangeable phrase: toxic fitness culture.

“Fitness” and even “wellness” in America generally means:

  1. slim
  2. able-bodied (or “inspirationally” disabled)
  3. youthful
  4. athletic/strong
  5. white and/or light-skinned
  6. a “positive mindset”
  7. affluent or giving the appearance of wealth and ease

A simple “yoga” tag search for on Instagram, currently our largest social media platform, is illuminating (notice – even the illustrations are skinny!):

"fitspo culture has gotta go - here's why" on toxic fitness and wellness spaces by Agni Hogaboom of Little Switch Yoga | Grays Harbor Hoquiam Aberdeen Washington
"fitspo culture has gotta go - here's why" on toxic fitness and wellness spaces by Agni Hogaboom of Little Switch Yoga | Grays Harbor Hoquiam Aberdeen Washington

(also note the tag “yoga” yields almost all physical/asana work – no mention of ethics, social observances, pranayama, philosophy, or history. But those are topics for another day!)

Who is welcome, in the fitspo world?

Youthful, slim, athletic (strong), racially and socioeconomically statused individuals are seen as more worthy and more desirable than their counterparts.

Fitspo ties in with our race, our age, our body shape and size, our socioeconomic class. You can’t really separate fitspo from patriarchal and white supremacist constructs.

But perhaps more than anything else, fitspo incorporates and supports ableism.

What is ableism?

Ableism places “well” bodies, “healthy” bodies, and able-bodied individuals as morally, ethically, and pedagogically superior to sick, unhealthy, or disabled individuals.

I don’t need to be a disabilities scholar to spell this one out.

We all know ableism is real, if we are honest.

If we haven’t felt ableism’s sting – well, that is probably because we’ve been operating from our own little bubble. If we haven’t been excluded or maligned, that’s because we fit in, in some way or other.

For instance I’m white; most fitness influencers you see out there, certainly the ones who get acclaim and book deals et cetera – most of them are white. So my entire life, I’ve been in the “in crowd” – at least with regards to race – in the fitness and fitspo world.

I am also able-bodied (at this time in my life) – so again, experiences like mine are spotlighted and held up as the “norm”.

In other ways, I don’t fit in so much. I’m old (at least according to the fitness world) and I’m fat, so in that sense I’m definitely sidelined. (I happen to currently be very strong and bendy – but most people don’t expect that, just by looking at me). I’m nonbinary, and boy oh boy are we excluded from discourse – everywhere!

It should go without saying: we shouldn’t have to be young, fit, thin – any of those things – to be included, welcomed, and supported in the physical movements space.

Aren’t you making a big deal of nothing? Isn’t it a good thing, to want to be in shape?

Sure! Kinda.

There is nothing wrong with working to be stronger, more mobile, and have more energy reserves. There is nothing inherently wrong with a workout!

In fact for the vast majority of human bodies, movement practice is recommended. 

But be careful.

Fitspo can still sidetrack you – even if you have the best of intentions!

Because remember: fitspo is above all about hierarchy, and trying to scramble into a place of cultural acceptance.

Fitspo tells us: we aren’t good enough, unless we’re better than other people.

And if we aren’t worthy, we should be TRYING to get more worthy.

In the fitspo world it is okay to be old, or fat, or not-white, or poor – as long as you’re putting in work to “better yourself”.

So when I say “be careful” I really mean it – because to the extent you buy into fitspo culture, you will suffer. Unfortunately, when we seek to “better ourselves” from a place of loathing, self-hatred, or even a sense of “less than”, lots of crummy things happen:

1. We won’t experience true joy in the process – because we are more focussed on the ends than the means;

2. We have a low tolerance for failure, injury, mishaps or slow progress;

3. We may end up aspiring to something that may not actually be appropriate or even achievable for us;

4. We are hyper-sensitive to what our fitness instructor thinks and/or the sleights (real or imagined) from our fitness community; 

5. After suffering from all the above ^^^ we usually give up on our movement practice, and blame *ourselves* for failing. This perpetuates a cycle of shame, sadness, and even apathy.

***

Trends in fitspo come and go – a few years ago there was a huge emphasis on being STRONG (mostly through weight lifting and so-called “clean” eating) but I’m reliably told that “heroin chic” is going to come back again (particularly with the skyrocketing popularity of Ozempic and other weight loss modalities).

So this month I invite you to look around the yoga space. Who isn’t there? And why are they missing?

Are we doing all we can, to let them know they are welcome?

(My Code of Conduct addresses that, at least in large part!)

I want something better than fitspo for myself, for my yoga space – and for the world at large.

The rest of this month, I’ll talk more about some antidotes to toxic fitness culture – and some constructive action we can take.

Resources:

“yoga” tag search on Instagram

“Understanding toxic fitness culture”, Ninjathlete at Medium.com

“How to talk about disability sensibly and avoid ableist tropes” , Shruti Rajkumar, NPR.org

Jonny Landels, male body image and strength coach

profit & loss, little switch yoga 2023

I am so proud to say – and so glad to UNIQUELY say it! – that I am sharing my Profit & Loss report for little switch yoga here at year end.

To be honest, I have never seen another yoga teacher or studio do this.

As usual, I’m a bit of a trailblazer!

Now.

I am not sharing this to receive business or financial advice.

I am sharing this, to give you further insights as to what I’m building!

Little Switch will turn one year old, in about a month and a half.

Even though I’m not yet making a living wage, I am very happy with how it’s going.

Please do read on, as this will orient you well to my vision!

***

2023

REVENUE for little switch yoga:
$2,674.00

YOGA EXPENSES
Rent, props (including a large investment for blankets and blocks), insurance, registration, print materials, and professional development:
$1,850.96

TIPS
$117.00

NET PROFIT BEFORE TAXES (my wages including tips): $940.04

# of classes taught for little switch (57)
+
# admin hours (85.5)
=

hours worked: 142.5
number of student-hours served: 250

—————

$ per hour: $6.60


(I did not include gas, my yoga clothes, tea and food in my Expenses this year)

I know what some of you might be thinking.

“If you aren’t yet making a living wage yet, why are you offering free yoga*?”

First you should know: in my work for Ompractice, I DO in fact get paid a living wage. The numbers above, are reflective of my LOCAL yoga group. What this means is, my total yoga earnings are helping keep my spirits up as I try to build something self-sustaining here in the Harbor.

But it’s true, when it comes to my local practice I’m not paying myself first. 

Not yet!

I am giving yoga scholarships, and it is also true that I am purchasing props as well (rather than paying myself).

You may have also noticed I am not purchasing the cheapest props out there.

For instance, instead of buying polyester blankets (like you’ll find in most studios), I bought 100% cotton. I am using cloths I made myself, instead of disposable wipes. That kind of thing.

THIS IS ALL BY DESIGN, BY INTENTION.

I am creating a sustainable, joyful community.

It takes money and time but it really, REALLY takes a lot of thinking, designing, and polling of my students, that kind of thing.

I’m proud of myself (and grateful to my partner) for keeping these records through 2023.

And I am REALLY proud of what I’ve built for the funds I’ve had.

In fact, most entrepreneurs don’t make ANY hourly wage in their first year!

I’ve done this WHILE building something fantastic. You only have to come to class – or share tea afterwards – to see what I mean.

I have a stellar reputation, a wonderful community, and in 2023 I always have had at least one student in my class (whew!) – 

and I have carefully created an amazing prop library, WHILE paying rent to a local, independent business owner!

That said –

It’s time to move into 2024!

How you can help:

At this time, I don’t need advice on how to market, or how to price, or what types of yoga to host and when.

I could use THREE things from you – and all three will help me a great deal!

1. Please sign up for my emails (and make sure to opt in)! This is one of the best ways you can help me. (Make sure to READ your emails, too!)

2. Share about me to local press and in local Facebook groups!

3. keep your eye out for a space for me to rent. I am looking for a large room (NOT looking to build a whole studio). I love the space I am in, but the hours available to me are very limited.

***

Thank you – so much – for reading!

And thank you for supporting Little Switch Yoga!

***

* Just so you know – I call classes either no-cost, or scholarship. I do not like the use of “free” because unfortunately, this tends to devalue the practitioner and the expertise. Nothing against anyone who uses that word “free” – it certainly is far, far more eye-catching! – but I just don’t. Thank you for understanding!

mean girls (or boys, etc) don’t belong in yoga

I’ve been practicing yoga about twenty-one years. I’m an old hat.

I’ve been to lots of classes – hundreds. And I’ve seen all kinds of behaviors from students and teachers alike!

But two of the worst behaviors I’ve seen, I re-experienced rather recently:

Snobbery and exclusion.

Yes, I attended a class where the instructor and the regulars didn’t make eye contact, ignored my presence, and rebuffed my general friendliness.

As practiced as I am – and as good as I am at finding joy on the mat – I left feeling dispirited and unwelcome.

So.

Here’s the thing!

Social engagements are tricky. What someone might experience as snobbery from a class regular could be a regular who is shy, uncomfortable with new people – that kind of thing. So even with my recent unsavory experience, I’m keeping an open mind. Gee I sure FELT unwelcomed, but perhaps I misread the vibe.

But yes – it goes without saying there ARE people – including instructors – who are simply unwelcoming. They’re not likely to be reading this post and they’re not likely wanting to change.

I’m not here trying to change THEM.

I’m trying to help US build a better yoga community!

So here are some actions we can take to make sure we aren’t a yoga “mean girl” (/boy/genderqueer person, etc).

Learn about the specific purpose (and/or level) of the class.

Even terms like “beginner”, “intermediate” and “advanced” are hard for a new practitioner to interpret. So as a class regular, your job is to understand and, when you represent the class (for instance, sharing on social media) to describe the class accurately.

If you’re a student in a class, take note of the class itself – which starts with the instructor. What is the instructor’s vibe, attitude? Are they hushed and reverent? Are they feathery and New Agey? Are they athletic and aggressive? Are they strong, gorgeous, witty, urbane and playful? (that last one’s me!)

As an example: my Sunday group class is listed as “for all bodies”. This means ALL bodies are welcome as I can accommodate anyone who shows up with a pulse. (And if I have trouble, you know I will research and do better next time!). So for instance in my class if a student can’t or doesn’t want to attempt an asana, I include them verbally, with optional instruction, and I include them physically by mirroring their body.

Take note of the class accommodations and setting. Is the environment a calm one (private and peaceful), or a fairly active one (say, in a gym)? Are yoga props not only used but encouraged? Does the instructor have a plan – or do they wing it? Is the class an active, strengthening one – or more down-regulating? Does the class include meditations, chanting, or readings?

The sooner you as a student begin to pay attention to the different types of yoga classes, the better you can represent and (if need be) orient new attendees.

Remember: new people are intimidated.

If you’ve been practicing a while you probably know that yoga is not all that intimidating. The teacher could be up front in some kind of obscenely difficult one-finger handstand wearing posh yoga fashion and heck who gives a shit, you’re allowed to chill out in child’s pose in your tattered sweatpants. (If you’ve learned this lesson… you’ve mastered a BIG part of yoga!)

But… remember, newbies have probably been conditioned their whole lives to compare: to think of someone else as “better” or “more fit” or “advanced”.

In fact newbies – and not-so-newbies – are often straining to copy an instructor’s shape rather than really FEEL into the asana. I have to work to deprogram this behavior, all the time! And I am sad to say some people never stop straining – even in yoga class. It’s a sad reality.

Now realistically, we can’t change fitspo attitudes in a single hour together – no matter how welcoming we are and no matter what we say. But we can stay mindful that there are some in the room who are experiencing frustration, intimidation, confusion – even shame. Hold space for them by BEING on your mat and doing your best to stay connected to your breath and body, moment by moment.

Greet people!

After your first class with a new instructor or location you are now charged to be a greeter. When new people show up – simply look at them and say, “Hello!” That’s it. That’s the job. 

It makes a huge difference!

If you can: remember names – and use them.

I try VERY hard to remember names, and I try to use them. Greeting a student with “It’s good to see you, Clark” on his second class – it makes a huge impression. I know EXACTLY how it feels to have been noticed, and named, and welcomed. It’s wonderful.

Smiling works too, if you’re feeling it. Don’t force a smile but if you find one arriving – let it fly!

Avoid cliqueish behavior.

This is something we should remind ourselves of regularly.

It is natural that as we come to know one another we look forward to seeing one another weekly (or daily, or whatever). It can be REALLY easy for the student regular AND the instructor to lapse into social chit-chat at the beginning of class, either vivacious or heated or animated or simply, in-depth in some way not accessible to a new person. This is NATURAL and this means we are feeling connected to one another.

However I guarantee that ninety percent of new attendees won’t appreciate this. If they walk in and feel like everyone knows eachother already (even if that’s not true), this can create a chilling effect.

Remember this too at the end of class: gently returning to social conversation is fine. But cannonballing into an animated, complex or highly-involved insider discussion is less than welcoming for new students.

Yoga is a social activity but it’s not a social club. Engage cautiously with studios and instructors that try to create a social club over a welcoming and grounded yoga practice.

Most important: invest in your own practice

Are YOU still comparing, pushing yourself, trying to get “fit” or get toned abs or lose weight on the mat?

Let’s dismantle that!

Listen I’m not the boss but I can tell you: all the above, THAT’S NOT YOGA.

What is yoga? Well I am neither qualified nor educated enough to give you a definitive answer (spoiler alert: no single human being could!) – BUT I can tell you one thing: yoga isn’t about abs, fitness, mastering a cool pose and taking a slick picture. One thing yoga IS about is unifying breath and body, learning to love and cherish the breath and body, finding more stability and peace, and finding a lot more playfulness and joy. Life is very very beautiful and a dedicated yoga practice can help you find this.

So invest in your OWN practice. Find that breath, and body, and joy and playfulness! If you want other people to invest in yoga, make sure you’re investing your best self.

Community comes and goes, waxes and wanes. If you find yourself fortunate to have a good leader, instructor or student – do your part to create an inclusive community.

You’ll miss it if it disappears!

Read more about the article i am not a “good vibes only” yoga teacher
Agni Hogaboom of Little Switch Yoga, Grays Harbor Aberdeen, WA

i am not a “good vibes only” yoga teacher

Agni Hogaboom of Little Switch Yoga, Grays Harbor Aberdeen, WA

I’ve been wading through the Americanized versions of yoga and there’s something that bugs me.

Okay there’s more than one thing.

But here’s a start:

The “good vibes only” yoga messaging is just terrible.

And it really, really is EVERYWHERE.

First of all – the “no negative energy, please” messaging is not based on yoga’s history.

There’s nothing in the 5,000 year old practices of yoga emphasizing “good vibes only” enough to where you’d sloganize it on a t-shirt.

The Eight Limbs of Yoga start us with the Yamas and Niyamas – that is, spiritual practices and personal observances respectively.

These are as follows:

The Yamas
Ahimsa (non-violence)
Satya (truthfulness)
Asteya (non-stealing)
Brahmacharya (moderation of the senses/our energy), and
Aparigraha (non-greed) – 

The yamas teach us how to behave in an ethical framing – how to conduct ourselves in the world.

The Niyamas
Saucha 
(cleanliness or purity)
Santosa
 (contentment)
Tapas
 (discipline)
Svadhyaya
 (self-study)
Ishvara Pranidhana
 (surrender to the Higher Self)

The niyamas invite us to find joy and strength in our personal practices – our inner disciplines.

So right away we have our first two limbs of yoga and TEN practices we can study –

and there’s no mention of or tone implying “good vibes only”.

If anything, the yamas and niyamas indicate disciplines and practices to employ – regardless of whether we’re feeling groovy about it or not.

So to be honest I am not sure where all the “good vibes only” came form, but I’ll tell you one thing:

Your bad vibes are welcome in your practice.

Your bad vibes are welcome in my studio space!

I don’t want you to avoid class – or practice at home – because you’re in a “bad vibes’ place, and can’t snap out of it.

I want you to practice regularly and learn to let your “bad vibes” show up too – maybe you can start to (gasp!) make friends with those bad vibes!

The thing is…

If we only practice yoga when we feel good, then we’re going to skip a lot of practice.

And if we only practice yoga to instantly get some kind of result – we’ll give up when we don’t get what we want.

If we only practice yoga to change how our body looks or what impressive bendy shapes we can make – we’ll give up there, too, when progress doesn’t happen the way we want to, or as fast as we want to.

If we only practice yoga to lose weight or get those toned abs – 

we are not only being a fair-weather friend to yoga,

we are being a fair-weather friend to ourselves.

I invite you to be a best friend to yourself.

It’s a really smart investment, relationship-wise!

why I don’t say “namaste” at the end of class

I don’t say “namaste” at the close of class. 

This is a deliberate choice on my part, and here are some reasons why:

1. Many South Asians object to this, or at the very least find it annoying; because:

2. “Namaste” doesn’t mean what many white American yoga teachers say it means: The Light Within Me Honors The Light Within You“. It actually means something more like, “greetings to you”, or even “‘sup?”

3. “Namaste” has been over-commercialized and, frankly, bastardized. You may have noticed all the t-shirts and yoga bags out there – MANUFACTURED IN THE GLOBAL SOUTH IN SWEATSHOPS, MIND YOU – cultivating a “spiritual gangster” or a groovy “yoga chic” message. That is not for me.

4. If I’m going to teach yoga, all eight limbs of yoga, and lead my students through this learning journey then I think we owe it to the practice to deepen our understanding wherever we can.

I don’t say “namaste” at the close of class.

I do say “Om Namah Shivaya” and I invite you to join me!

But you can say anything you like at the end of class – for instance, you could simply say “thank you!” – or you can refrain from speaking and bowing.

Please do what feels comfortable.

Remember, I am here to provide space, safety, nurture and care!

(and of course, share some of my yoga education!)

Thank you for listening!

yoga didn’t heal my body image, but teaching yoga did

Goddess pose, Little Switch Yoga Aberdeen Washington

I didn’t want to write a post about my body image – ever, really! – but here we are.

My terms of reluctance are legion: first, the cultural conversation seems over-saturated, often surface-level, full of the same platitudes and (increasingly) commercialized languaging.

Secondly, as a white American voices like mine are over-represented in health and wellness spaces. Why should I add my thoughts? Who would be interested in hearing them, anyway?

But it goes deeper than that.

I’m tired of the body image conversation. 

A conversation I haven’t even dipped my toe in!

I’m tired.

Let’s be real: I’m exhausted from watching the Diet and Wellness Industrial Complex shoehorn the sacred constructs of self-care and self-love into programs selling weight-loss subscriptions, quack remedies, diet programs and foodstuffs, and flat tummy teas.

In fact the other day Facebook so kindly showed me a fat loss ad using the phraseology: “I’ve learned my inability to release weight is a trauma response.”

Reader, that headline alone made me feel D-O-N-E.

Nothing more disgusting than telling a trauma victim it’s their own fault they can’t be smaller.

***

But here’s the thing.

Under Capitalism – and its little red rover buddies White Supremacy and the Patriarchy – all our bodies are under assault, being sold and sold to, up for grabs. All human and non-human animals are served up, sliced and diced (for billions, literally), commodified in every way and marketed to relentlessly.

Now: I didn’t set that up.

But I have to survive it.

And so do you!

And just because I’m Tired –

Doesn’t mean I have nothing of value to add.

I deserve to have my say, in the chance maybe – just maybe – I could help someone reading here.

Because I know my interests and my goals are far more wholesome than those of Capitalism.

***

Some day I’ll tell my story of what I am up against.

What it was like growing up in my maternal family lineage – surrounded by the women who sang duets and trios with one another about how they needed to lose weight, or how they were “bad” for eating that cheesecake, or how their asses were too fat and their features too unlovely –

and the men who encouraged these women to care about this stuff. The men (including my beloved Grandfather) who wanted these women to make themselves smaller, the men who took pains to compliment women when they shrank (physically or socially).

Some day I’ll tell my story what it was like growing up, crammed into the wrong gender. Because if you think you know how it feels to have your body shape and size policed, growing up trans is a whole ‘nother Level. My whole childhood it was “girls” or “boys” and which one was I, har har. I was complimented for any “femininity” of figure and form – I was never given space for my own gender autonomy. “Look at you here,” my mother says to me, jabbing a finger at a photo of me on the dock, at the lake. I’m thirteen, here. “You’ve a wasp waist,” she flushes, beaming with pride.

No, I didn’t.

I did not, and have never, had a wasp waist.

Nor did I want or need one.

This was my mother’s jam: she wanted to eat up my mind, my body to serve her own dreams.

I grew up in this battlefield, to say nothing of the larger culture in which I was indoctrinated.

It wasn’t healthy – to put it mildly.

***

I’ve practiced yoga twenty one years.

And practicing yoga didn’t change my mind about my body very much.

I didn’t suddenly start experiencing an empowered nonbinary state. I didn’t lose weight – or any of those weight loss-attendant dreams so many chase! I didn’t achieve that body, those accomplishments that had been sold to me my whole life.

None of that happened.

Now yoga didn’t change my MIND about my body –

but it certainly changed my body itself!

Because it’s impossible to practice yoga regularly and properly (properly: don’t push yourself and listen to your body!) without change.

When you practice, you get stronger.

And so did I.

So in those early years I was creaky. I felt a pain behind my knee when I’d practice trikonasana, shortness of breath when I held ananda balasana. I couldn’t hold myself up in a plank for more than a few breath cycles – trembling and (silently) cursing the teacher! And headstand, handstand? No way!

That pain is long gone. That body is stronger, more flexible, more mobile.

I really do feel better!

I can do things today (at forty-six) I couldn’t even do as a child.

And it wasn’t just my body that began to change.

I also began to experience more peace of mind, more honest endorphins, an hour at least of less self-absorption, less anxiety, less obsession.

I’ve always felt better after getting off the mat. Always!

***

Oddly though, my changing body and mind didn’t make me love my body more.

I still felt the same – really, as I had all my life.

And while I’d rejected the more harmful familial and cultural narratives – I still hadn’t formed my own.

Until.

***

Teaching gave me a breakthrough.

Now listen: teaching yoga is an impressive skillset. And while I’m pretty new, I take it seriously.

First, I had to acquire (and continue to deepen) a yoga education – we’re talking about studying a multitude of traditions 5,000 years old!

Second, I had to learn how to actually practice asana – as well as the other seven limbs of yoga: the yamas, niyamas, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, and samadhi – and begin to transmit this knowledge to students.

Then I had to get in front of a class and demonstrate how to move through practice. I have to run physical practice and provide verbal cues all while watching my students and adjusting my teaching style and aims depending on what I observe.

I’ve gotta deal with the practical aspects of running a business. Even though I’m not yet making a wage – I still have to show up as a professional (and that’s fair)!

Now: there are plenty of yoga teachers who get to a degree of competency here, and can end up on autopilot pretty fast.

But if you know me, you know I’ve never been on autopilot a moment of my life!

***

In my first few weeks of teaching regularly, I had the benefit of a huge studio mirror in the space we worked.

I had the privilege of seeing my body – clear as day! – in a multitude of asana, contortions, silly little sweaty shapes.

I got to see my body how it really is, and WHILE my body was being observed by others.

We’re talking: trembling limbs, shaky voice (at times), saying “left” when I meant “right”. We’re talking having my physical form on display for an hour straight to a room of people – sometimes, complete strangers!

I lost the anonymity of the mat – because all eyes were now on me!

And it didn’t take long for what remained of my reservations about my body, to burn right out of my body.

In a deep revolved lunge, to see my t-shirt cling to every fat roll on my back and to my sweaty face in the mirror and – to be forced to see it, and to know everyone else was looking too.

But –

Honestly, it was only a little bit jarring at first. 

In fact I felt a great friendliness with myself, in a way I hadn’t ever before!

I had work to do, after all. And I was doing it!

Because just like my students look beautiful when they’re exerting Right Effort in asana

So do I!

Because Right Effort is beautiful.

Always.

And Right Effort almost never, ever looks like the heavily-doctored, artfully posed moments in a glossy yoga magazine or brochure.

Since I see yoga as beautiful, I see myself in practice – not my idea or imaginings of self, but my actual Self – as beautiful.

And since I see myself that way on the regular now,

I’ve changed.

The way I feel about myself, has changed.

***

Listen, I’m as surprised as anyone that this developed out of teaching.

Like I said: I practiced two decades without my body image budging an inch.

So I’d long ago given up the idea I could really change it.

But: it changed.

And it continues to change!

I love teaching. So much!

The practice is also neither a competition, or a series of pretty shapes to make or strain towards.

The Practice is there for us every minute of every day. 

If you can breathe, you can do yoga!

And I sincerely hope to get more people to see it the way I do.

They might be surprised to discover how they see themselves, over time.

End of content

No more pages to load