Teaching, Community, and Change

I love teaching yoga.  It is much more than teaching postures, even more than teaching breathing techniques.  While I love both of those aspects, what really fulfills me as a yoga teacher is the connection that we make with the students in the room.

I see so many new students every class.  It is a wonderful challenge every time.  It is also an opportunity to connect with more people, to look them in the eye, to share just one small bit of this journey we call life.

Most classes, I have a plan.  I practice the sequence that I will teach; and I research a topic that I would like to share.  Yesterday was no different.  I had a class planned.  I had worked on the sequence several days in advance.  And, I had listened to a podcast by Rick Hanson that inspired me to theme a class on his acronym HEAL — methods for beating the negativity bias.  (Check out his new podcast, Being Well:  https://soundcloud.com/being-well)

  • H:  Have a positive experience or call one to mind
  • E:  Enrich the experience.  Hanson suggests several ways to do this.  Those that stand out to me are lengthening your response to the experience as well as including as many senses in it as possible.
  • A:  Absorb the experience into your awareness.
  • L:  Link both positive and negative experiences in your awareness for a powerful mindfulness practice.  This one is tricky…because you want the positive experience to take precedence, but you also do not want to push away the negative.

An example of this in my own life:  My baby, Scarlett has learned how to ride her bicycle without training wheels.  She is so proud of herself and rides up and down the road by our house endlessly.  I join her in riding back and forth, and marvel at the beautiful, strong, willful being that she is.  And, sometimes, I am overcome by sadness, that this childhood is so fleeting.  I try to link the positive (riding bikes with my 4 year old is awesome) with the negative (knowing that she will not stay little forever) in my awareness to have the complete and linked experience of the present moment.

So, I was all set to share this wonderful practice with my students in my class.

But, on Sunday morning, we all woke with the news of the Orlando massacre.  Yet another act of violence in our country.  While the details of the event unfold, I am less concerned about the motivation or even the laws around gun control as I am saddened by the loss of life and the utter disconnect for our fellow human beings.  (Don’t be mistaken though… I am concerned about all of these things.)

Weighed by this sadness, I went into class on Monday night.  And I knew that I wanted to change my class theme, but I did not exactly know to what.  I knew that I wanted to support and uplift people rather than bring them down with the sadness that I was feeling.  Instead of using the HEAL methods as my theme, I used it to set my own mood.   Could I hold this sadness in my awareness along with the positive experience that I cherish from teaching yoga?

The answer came as a resounding YES!  I have been trying to introduce myself to the students as they come into the room.  And, one young gentleman, new to the studio and fairly new to the practice of yoga asana, came into class with a friend and they sat side by side on their mats.  As I walked over to say hello, he stood right away and instead of shaking my hand, offered a warm embrace.  My sadness was uplifted once again by the community with which I love to share this practice.

I didn’t speak of it specifically. I held the sadness and the love in my awareness at the same time, as I invited each person to set their own intention for their practice.   We started in silence…moving and breathing together.  I lead them through a heart-opening practice, with a playlist that I hadn’t intended to use but ended up being the perfect one.  The breath in the room was strong. The release and connection nourishing.  We ended in silence as we began.

I learn over and over again that leading this practice, it is not about me.  I set my own intention of love, peace, and acceptance.  This guides me, guides the class, and helps me to lead from a place of openness.  Yet, I am not the only teacher.  I learn from my students in all facets of my life.  It is this community that is important.  And, I am certain, that it is from this place of openness…this sense of community and connection… this is where the real change begins.

The tragedy in Orlando brings us together in deep sorrow and prayer.
May those suffering loss feel held in our love;
may those suffering from hatred be healed with compassion;
may yet more violence awaken our collective dedication to living from peaceful, open hearts.

~ Tara Brach

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