yoga students who hate mantrasBy Jenny Park 

Have you ever had students who hate mantras? If you decided to become a yoga instructor, did you think your students would embrace every yogic aspect? For many, the use of a mantra during yoga practice is elemental; but to others, mantras are straight up scary – some even find them offensive.  Hey – some people think clowns are creepy, while others love them.

Now, those of you who teach in more secular-minded areas may be cocking your head to right and thinking, “Huh?” If, however, the community in which you teach is heavily influenced by one faith or another, then there’s a good chance you’ve encountered students who hate mantras on more than one occasion.

Mantras come to us via ancient Indian teachings. And while their purpose has changed over the centuries, many people still associate mantras with mystical Vedic teachings; as such, many believers within Abrahamic religions perceive mantras as contrary to their views.

Since yoga training, in many ways, is about opening up, it can be discouraging to work with students unwilling to explore the spiritually rooted aspects of practice – like mantra work. As yoga teachers, we must also understand that a big part of yoga is identifying limits. Everybody has a different tipping point – for some it’s the upward facing two-foot staff pose, and for others, it’s chanting in a foreign language.

OK, I can hear your objections as I type, “But mantras aren’t evil or bad. They’re actually fairly generic.” While this is true, mantras are meant to be transformational – both physically and spiritually – which is a rather supernatural concept. After all, if you’ve been raised to avoid all things otherworldly – including Harry Potter – you’d probably feel that chanting a transformational religious mantra is just a bit too much.

Simply put, if your students are only interested in the exercise benefits of yoga; it’s probably best to leave the ancient Sanskrit at home. Or, if you feel strongly about incorporating mantras, why not make an English-to-Sanskrit vocabulary chart so your students can see that they’re not summoning someone from the dark side. Better yet, why not chant the mantras in English? I could sing them in Korean, but I doubt that’s going to help my English-speaking students. If your class is largely comprised of conservative Christians, why not use a Bible verse as the class mantra? This will stop the “I hate mantras” chant.

The old saying goes, “different strokes, for different folks.” In many ways, the sentiment perfectly encapsulates one of the core yogic foundations – compassion. As yoga instructors, we can be examples of this tenant by respecting our student’s religious viewpoints. At times, that involves leaving some of the more esoteric aspects of yoga on the shelf. Good luck, and as always, Namaste.

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