Front row fear

So I want to talk about the fear of the front row. And what the front row represents for me.

I remember in my very first class being asked (encouragingly) to set myself up towards the back so I could copy people in front and avoid any pressure being in the front row. This seemed, to me, logical and so I set up 3 rows back. I then spent the whole of my first class watching the front in awe and deciding that I would never, ever be good enough to practice right up in front of the mirror.

About 2 months later, in class, 3rd row (same exact spot actually- I clinged to that spot like it was the thing that determined the quality of my class) the teacher said to me, ‘Harriet- you are ready for front row, it’s time you shared your practice’ now this threw me 2 fold.

1. Whaaaaat? Me?? Ready for front row? I think not.

2. Whaaaaaat on earth does she mean ‘share’ my practice

So I plucked up a bit of courage and waited to speak to her about it after class. She explained that, although my half moon looked more like a full moon than a half one or that I couldn’t kick out on standing head to knee, couldn’t straighten my arms or get my forehead anywhere near the floor in half tortoise, couldn’t let go of my back in camel I could focus. I could concentrate and (and this is an important bit) I moved with her, with her words, on the words, not before, not after..  I worked with precision, determination and grace (wow! Yeah she actually said that) and that new students could really benefit from seeing that. I could help others by sharing that just by practicing in the front row.

So I tried it. The very next day. And it was a practice changer for me. Right up in front of the mirror, in front of myself, no choice but to look, to let go, to truly connect with my body and more importantly my perception of it. I occasionally worried about what people behind me thought of me or that I might be perceived as showing off but I kept coming back to those words that I was sharing my practice, sharing my focus, sharing my energy and I figured that it didn’t really matter how that was perceived, I was/am comfortable with my reasons for practicing up front. 

Sure I do it for me- I find I get more out of my practice, no distractions, just me and the mirror. But I do it for all the newbies in the room too, for all the people who have been practicing for months or years, I do it because I am happy to share my energy and understanding of the practice with others.

Some years later I graduated teacher training with Bikram himself in LA. I think I managed to practice in the front row maybe once or twice- there were about 400 of us in that room and the front row was always the first part of the room to fill up. It was almost the opposite to what I was used to at my home studio- everyone wanted to be in the front row, to find that magic connection between them and themselves, to be able to find their focus in the mirror as oppose to fighting for space in the back row. I found myself having to let go all over again and to be ok with practicing without being able to see even a tiny part of myself in the mirror- it was a whole new journey of self discovery, but that’s another story.. 

As a teacher, though, I love to have students in the front row. Doesn’t matter if you  can’t bend yourself into a pretzel or straighten your legs in padahastasana, as long as you are focused, move right on the words and listen to the instruction you are welcome, no scratch that, encouraged to practice in the front row and share your practice with your fellow yogis.

Ultimately it doesn’t matter where you practice. Next time you do practice though, just consider your reasoning for where you place yourself. Ask yourself if it’s to serve your practice because that’s why you’re there right? To do your yoga. 

 pclinic head to knee cropped

One comment

  • Kat Martell

    Dear Harriet, Thank you for sharing these insights with us. There is a large part of ego for many people’s avoidance of the front row. The logic is, if I can’t do postures to their full expression, I’m not entitled to be there. I think the realization that it has more to do with focus and following the instructions comes after a few years of practice.

    I started practicing in Vancouver and it took about 3 years before I allowed myself to be in the front row. The experience is like no other in authenticity, humility and focus. However, since my injuries and surgeries, my practice has regressed considerably but, as soon as I regain some of my focus and confidence, I plan on practicing in the front row at least once in a while. Maybe the front row is the express line to greater self-acceptance and self-compassion.

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