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I experienced two of my favorite teaching moments last weekend.

On Friday night, Bob F. was set up next to Polly S. right smack in front of the podium. Prime real estate.

Class began as usual, and we worked our way through the standing series. It was a strong class, everyone working hard.

When we got to the right side of  Toe Stand, I noticed that Polly had lifted both hands into Namaskar, and was well-balanced with her eyes on the floor in front of her. I suggested that she move to the next step and make eye contact with herself in the mirror. She looked up, lost her balance, and laughed, and then pushed herself back up to prepare for the left side.

I was focused on another student when I saw Polly’s hand gesturing excitedly in my peripheral vision. I turned to look, and there was Polly smiling, eyes twinkling and index finger excitedly pointing at Bob, right next to her, and wow, Bob had put his hands on the floor!

He had put his hands on the floor!

Almost every Toe Stand, almost every class, I’ve seen Bob lean forward during, seeing how close he can get his hands to the floor. It is not easy to be in that halfway position, lowering yourself down while still holding yourself up, keeping your lifted foot close to your hip, but Bob sticks with it, and his hands have, indeed, been getting closer and closer.

Friday night’s “touchdown” wasn’t Bob’s very first, but it is a new enough breakthrough that it’s still impressive to him and to everyone around him.

And it turns out that it was Polly herself who had recently encouraged Bob after class to just try to reach forward and trust himself enough to get his hands down, to move his body through those last couple of inches.

“You can do it,” Polly had told him.

And when Bob did it, when his hands hit the floor, it was clear that Polly was just as happy about that victory as Bob was.

Two days later, in the Sunday 9:30 am class, Bob had set up next to Marie L.

Marie was taking a break during Toe Stand, which allowed her to watch Bob’s every move as he lowered himself, inch by inch by inch, fingers reaching for his mat. As soon as his hands touched, an ear-to-ear grin flashed across Marie’s face, and we made eye contact, which meant that I was instantly grinning too.

I don’t think I taught that side of Toe Stand to the rest of the room as precisely as I like to, but I suspect that all the students who were in my class will understand and forgive me. Watching Bob make this breakthrough, and seeing how delighted his mat-neighbor Marie was to see his progress, made my heart swell in that way that sometimes interferes with rational thought and clear speech.

This is one of my favorite things about this practice and this studio.

We are all in it together. We all do the same 26 postures, the same 2 breathing exercises. We all learn from one another. And we all cheer each other on.

I sometimes hear from people that they don’t want to come to yoga because they’ve had an experience taking a yoga class where they feel judged for whatever they do or don’t look like, for whatever they can or cannot yet do. I get it. I’ve been in classes like that too. It can feel terrible and terribly unmotivating.

But my experience at The Hot Yoga Factory has been the opposite of that.

Every class, there’s a room full of yogis doing their own yoga and also cheering for their neighbors. Yes, we’re aware of each other’s practices, even as we focus on our own. We observe. We notice. We learn.

And we support. We cheer. We grin.

And then we let it go, and get back to our yoga.

THYF is one of the most nonjudgmental places I’ve ever had the pleasure to call home, and we’re all lucky to share it with each other.

–Ellen Olson-Brown, The Hot Yoga Factory Chelmsford

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