Going “undercover” as a yoga student

Visiting San Francisco last summer, I took a few classes at the Iyengar Yoga Institute of San Francisco, within walking distance from my friend’s house. “Have you done Iyengar yoga before?” a front-desk staffer asked me when I arrived. “Yes,” I nodded and smiled, but said nothing more.

IYISF ShrineAway from home, I look for yoga classes not only to boost my practice, but to get to know a place. If I’m a repeat visitor (or if I return to Berkeley), teachers recognize me. But, if not, I might reveal only the bare minimum about myself. “I’m visiting from Vancouver,” I said that day.

Entering the studio, I recognized nobody. Yet it was an altogether familiar scene. Shoes at the door. Hardwood floors and walls lined with ropes. Shelves of matching bolsters, blankets, blocks, and mats. Students stretching or gathering props in silence.

While I enjoy chatting with my classmates back home, it can be a relief to be anonymous. To an introvert like me, the social aspect of yoga class is both gift and distraction.

There, people knew me only by what was observable: my expression, my handling of props, my yoga poses. It crossed my mind: Does my yoga practice speak for itself?

IYISF StoreIt got me thinking about how people immediately define themselves. I’m from _____. I’m a _____. I graduated from _____. In Japan, people hand out business cards to establish social hierarchy. Where I grew up in Hawaii, people are curious to know who is kama‘aina or local.

If I had walked in and immediately mentioned that I’m certified or that I’ve studied with so-and-so, wouldn’t that somehow have affected the dynamics? The human mind is quick to categorize.

Of course, sometimes credentials matter. If I were practicing law, I wouldn’t hesitate to name my law school to my advantage. That by itself would give me instant credibility. Likewise, connections can get you that special discount or prompt medical consult.

What about yoga? As a teacher, it makes sense to provide details on my training and experience. As a student, however, why should I advertise my background?

If I end up talking with the teacher after class, my background, including my own teaching, does emerge. It might further connect us. Nice. But I can also appreciate that pure, fleeting moment of anonymity.



  1. You would have been a dead ringer in my class! I’d see your correct height block placement for standing lateral poses and how well you fold your blankets with crisp edges. At least Junior 1.


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