Pratyahara club-style


There is more to the craft of teaching yoga than standing up in a room in front of a group of students and cycling them through a sequence of yoga practices.  I’m learning these things as I charge head-first into the deeper matters involved in running a successful class.  There are practicalities, alas.  Dastardly ones.

Finding a suitable yoga venue is high on the list.  We all have our ideals. 

It’s a lovely idea to teach yoga on the beach at dawn but at high-tide striking a cobra can result in a mouthful of seaweed.  And sand feels nice under-foot but not inside underpants. 

One of the first classes I established this year took place in a big open hall by the sea.  It would’ve been quite a nice space for yoga, resplendent with the soothing background sounds of the ocean and the cleansing aroma of fresh salt air.  Unfortunately, it was so cold inside one couldn’t stand in eka pada pranamasana for more than thirty seconds without developing hypothermia. There was a blow heater mounted on the wall to take the sting off the air but trying to instruct above it was like trying to out-scream the concorde.

Another venue I teach in resides in a lovely quiet area (except for the odd Tuesday when the lawn-mower man comes) but the ceilings are so low that taller students have to squat to raise their arms.  Turning the fans on makes this doubly perilous.  It’s bye-bye tadasana or bye-bye hands.

Typically, every venue you come across has redeeming and not-so-redeeming features.  You might find a lovely, quiet, warm space but it will be off-set by a lack of parking.  Or you’ll find a big, beautiful, light, carpeted space but the walls tremble every time the trucks fly past.  Or you’ll find a glorious, peaceful, ambient room but the only option for toileting is out the back behind a shrub. 

Mostly it’s a matter of finding a workable relationship between the pros and cons because finding the perfect space is a very tall order.  The ideal room has warmth in winter and ventilation in summer.  It is relatively quiet.  It is spacious enough that students aren’t poking each other in the eye or smelling each other’s bottoms during asana.  It is either close to public transport or has free public car parking.  It is affordable.  It has a nice feeling to it, or is in a pleasant location.  It is carpeted.  It is safe.

The best yoga space facilitates pratyahara, especially for students who are new to yoga and haven’t yet developed the formidable skill of detachment as mastered by more practised yogis.  Pratyahara refers to withdrawing the senses from outside stimuli so that the mind can turn within.  Pratyahara is everything in yoga.  If you can’t internalise your awareness, you can’t access subtler levels of experience – which is the whole point.  So it makes sense that a small, cold, hot or noisy room is going to make this process of sense withdrawal especially challenging.  And not very relaxing.

When I sensibly abandoned the freezing seaside hall (not one student turned up for hypothermia on the last day) it was for a venue that has everything.  Except one thing.  Wednesday nights are meat raffle, nine dollar snitty, and club jackpot nights.  I teach in a lovely big room in a bowling club.  On Wednesday nights we do Yoga Nidra Club-Style.  It goes a little something like this…

Settle into the position of shavasana… take a deep breath into the belly… exhale the breath… soften and relax all the muscles…


Relax all the bruces, I mean, muscles, into the floor… sense the touch of clothing on the skin…

{Intermittent beeping of patrons’ meal buzzers – snitties ready for consumption}.

Listen for sounds in the external environment… listen for subtle sounds behind the more obvious…

{Two drunk blokes engage in loud, obnoxious discussion about shit that doesn’t matter right outside door to yoga room}.

Bring the awareness into the right hand, thumb, index finger, middle finger, ring finger…


Watch the breath moving in and out of the body at the nostrils…keep the awareness trained on each and every breath…

{Group of squealing children sans parental supervision run up and down outside corridor while one particular child screams and writhes around on floor presumably due to Snitty indigestion}.

Now bring the awareness to the dark space in front of the closed eyes, observe the space without analysing…

{Old bloke pokes head into room, sees blanketed people lying on floor, turns to leave, allows door to slam loudly on his departure}.

Recall your sankalpa.  Mentally repeat it to yourself with absolute will and determination three times.


Well folks, I could bring you back out but if that cacophony hasn’t externalised you already then nothing bloody will.

I always give students the option to leave or stay for yoga nidra and am delightfully surprised that I still have bodies on the floor on Wednesday nights.  In fact, last night one of my students fell asleep during the practice.  Lord knows how.  And even more surprisingly, the students are coming back.  With few venue options in this area yet a demand for the yoga, I’m sticking with it.  Hell, if the students can stick with it, then I can.

As summer approaches, I have decided to move from the low-ceilinged fan-attack venue to a more open room in a surf club right beside the beach.  Will this one be a winner?  Time will tell.  The only downside I can see at this stage?  No courtesy bus.

© The Yoga Experiment, 2012