‘Hardcore’ instructors: “Are you in your own class?”

It seems there’s a new trend: Make it through my class, without quitting, and you’re good. And no, this time we’re not talking about hot yoga.

We’re talking about a new trend coming from London: Hardcore yoga instructors. It’s people who ask you things like “Are you in your own class?” if your flow doesn’t look quite right.

Stewart Gilchrist, spearheading a new trend: 'hardcore instructors'

Stewart Gilchrist, spearheading a new trend: ‘hardcore instructors’

When we lived in London we could witness a weekly event (Saturday, 7am to be precise) called British Military Fitness. It involves people who are working (or have worked) for the army and are lowering themselves to tell people like you and me how to move. You don’t have a name, you have a number (think: “Run faster, number 10!!!”). They even shout at you from up there when you’re down here, trying to complete the number of push ups required. Not that I know any of this from own experience. My husband and I were watching what was going on in the park across the road – from our living room, while sipping coffee.

The curious thing is that there’s a huge waiting list. People pull all strings to get a place at BMF.

Reading about the new trend of ‘hardcore’ yoga instructors left me with a similar feeling of bewilderment. Apparently the waiting lists are veery long, and people like Pippa Middleton and Kate Moss swear by these instructors and their style of teaching.

Mercedes Ngoh, also known for her videos showing inversions just before and after birth.

Mercedes Ngoh, also known for her videos showing inversions just before and after birth.

Encouragement sounds like this: “Carry on, it gets easier, so you will be able to do it by the time you are 64.”

This is what Stewart Gilchrist may say to you in class. Another famous instructor is Mercedes Ngoh who astonished the world by posting a yoga video of herself just before birth (and just after!), including fancy inversions. I felt dizzy watching – but was intrigued nonetheless.

Now here’s the funny bit: I practised with Stewart Gilchrist back in 2006 when he was teaching at my local gym in London (imagine!). I loved his determined way of teaching, I loved being challenged, and I liked how he would get you to do anything he had set his mind on for today’s class. It felt like I was making lots of progress. But then – this was ten years ago, and my life and my body have been quite different back then.

What’s your take on this?

Do you like being pushed to give your best or do you prefer a calmer, soothing class setting?

I’d love to hear your comments!


Image credit here, herehere and here.

Read an article about the trend here.

18 replies »

  1. There needs to be a balance, from my teacher I need encouragement to try new or challenging asanas but also an understanding that people have different physiological make ups. I’ve been shouted at by a certified Mysore teacher not to rest in child’s pose even though I was near to passing out. I kept going back (against my better judgement) to that class and ended up injuring myself, all the aggression made the class about ego and physical accomplishment.

    Might work for some people, but for most it seems alienating and potentially harmful.


    • I’ve been there – kept going back to classes that weren’t good for me and actually gave me physical pain. But I wanted to be a “good” student and just fit in. It took me a long time to figure out which style of yoga did me good (and that’s still a concept that’s evolving as I grow older…). Thank you for your comment!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Really interesting blog – thank you. I think for me, the challenge should always come from the student, and their listening to what their practice needs to be that day. For me as a student, sometimes it is more “challenging” actually to pull back a little and not push so hard. Working out where I need to be is a really important part of my practice. If someone else is setting the standard that won’t work. That said, with very good teachers I have found that sometimes they have given me the nudge I need to go further into my practice, when they knew I was there, for instance encouraging me to move away from the wall in headstand. Definitely worth more discussion 🙂


  3. Great questions your raise Andrea. Is Yoga about pushing yourself or finding yourself? If your samskaras are such, maybe you need to attend cirque-du-soleil type classes to feel better about yourself. For others it does not take as much effort to find Purusha.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I guess it raises the question (which not everyone asks) of what one believes yoga to be. Whatever the answer, it is fair to say that the practice requires attention to effort. If there is great intensity in hatha yoga, I would wonder whether there is an equal emphasis on the other yogas – karma, for example – in a way that promotes integration of the whole person. If all we are looking at is a competition with winners and losers, then that’s not interesting to me.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Good point! If there’s so much emphasis on the physical aspects, is there time to devote enough attention to yoga’s other aspects? Your comment reminded me of what Gurmukh Gurmukh once said in an interview: “Of course I do yoga every day. But I don’t do asanas every day.”

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts!


      Liked by 1 person

  5. A bit of both…I do like to be pushed a bit in a class, because most of the yoga I do is home practice, and it’s easy to stay in my comfort zone…that being said, I also really like to be adjusted and taught the subtle aspects of each pose just as much as being pushed. It’s a fine line, because if I was pushed too much, I wouldn’t go back

    Liked by 1 person

  6. When teaching a class, I am THE advocate for taking it easy, resting often, relaxing, and not worrying at all about whether or not you can do a handstand, or even downward-facing dog! But I LOVE taking a class and pushing myself to try challenging poses, am happy (in that peculiar sense) to hold planks, and even do crunches (what?!)… My own Practice can get a little bit serious (I’m the guy who isn’t smiling or appearing to have any fun), yet when teaching all I do is preach the light-hearted side of things! My running joke is that I desperately need to attend my own class, but probably wouldn’t like the teacher! LOL!!! I’m learning to find the balance, both as an Instructor and as a Student.

    I think it’s ultimately a question of the Participant’s objectives. If you want to use YogaPractice to lose weight, it will likely become necessary to push and EmbraceTheGrind of a more strenuous practice, but if you just want to decompress from your day, or do something like lower blood-pressure, the meditative aspects of Yoga, or a restorative class, is more likely to serve your needs.

    Whatever it is folks are after, there ain’t nothing to it but to do it! #PracticeMakesPossible! Can’t do a handstand if you never try! But if you don’t want to do a handstand, why put in all the effort to do one?!

    There is a similar discussion to be had in TaiChi circles…


    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m right there with you – my teaching was different from my own practice but for me it started being an issue at one point (my teaching felt out of sync with my personality). There wasn’t really a way to fix it – apart from simply getting older and slowing down in my own practice 🙂

      And you’re right, the first thing is to figure out what is the purpose of practising. But then there’s also the question: What IS the traditional purpose of yoga practice?

      Thanks for this, much appreciated food for thought!


      Liked by 1 person

      • And to what extent does the traditional purpose serve the modern practitioner?! So many worms in the can, I’ll leave it closed for now 😉 I enjoy your posts! Thanks!


  7. If gets people moving and active, good for them!
    But I think that’s the kind of trend that keeps some people outside yoga, because they think they are not flexible, or thin, or strong enough to keep up with class.
    I like the inclusive yoga kind, where everyone feels welcome and respected on their bodies and level of fitness!

    Liked by 1 person

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