Thoughts for Yoga Teachers
Thoughts for Yoga Teachers
If you teach Yin Yoga, you've probably had more than a few pregnant women come to your class in search of some stretching, support, or salvation from the hotter than Hades classes offered in most yoga studios.
“Why me?” you may have asked yourself. You may have felt some self-pity, some anxiety, or started to frantically google what to do and not to do.
Pregnancy is a normal condition of the adult human female. It's not an illness or an injury – it is a phase of life. Believe it or not, everyone walking around was born.
Most. Normal. Thing. Ever.
WHY ARE YOU HERE?
- Pregnancy can be uncomfortable.
Sure, pregnant women glow and radiate, their hair shines, but their hips and knees might need some TLC, particularly if they sit in chairs or wear high heels as their bodies adapt to the rapid changes required to accommodate a growing baby. Both of these things can affect the way they bear the added weight on the front of the body, and yoga can help with this. People have told them this. The internet – the very same internet you're reading from right now – has told them this.
- Some kinds of yoga are the wrong yoga.
Heated yoga really isn't ideal for a pregnant woman. Her blood volume increases through pregnancy, and the baby has no way of cooling itself off (come see me for a refresher on elementary physics, if you have any question). Most pregnant women aren't thrilled with the idea of added heat, and ACOG, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says no to both saunas and hot yoga. So other teachers send pregnant women to your Yin class because (hopefully) it is not heated.
- There is a monkey in my mind
You may know and embrace the idea that pregnancy is normal, but American culture sure would rather everyone think that pregnancy is a CRISIS. Not surprisingly, not all women feel 100% ready to be mothers, and this can bring up some reasonable concerns about readiness for the biggest life change ever. And if a woman was prone to anxiety or depression before pregnancy, sometimes the hormonal changes that accompany pregnancy can amplify these experiences, and she – like all of us – is simply looking for peace.
WHAT DO I DO WITH YOU?
- Pregnant women should not practice Yin yoga, in the classical sense. Bernie Clark describes the edge of sensation in his indispensable book The Complete Guide of Yin Yoga, and this edge of sensation is the place where connective tissue receives good stress. Even though pregnancy is a normal condition, part of this normalcy includes an increase in the production of the hormone relaxin, which softens this connective tissue in a way that makes it more vulnerable. I describe the edge like the edge of the Grand Canyon – you can curl your toes over the edge, or dangle in by your fingertips. Most of us are seeking the toe curling edge. Pregnant women should stay back in the van, many feet away from the edge of sensation.
- Avoid pressure on the belly, twists, and lying flat on the back. Offer alternative poses with bolsters and blankets, like a supported reclined butterfly pose, side-lying options, or creative uses of stable chairs to permit some gentle, supported muscle stretching and relaxation. You have ample time, so help her get cozy.
- Tell her to practice being nurtured – like Restorative Yoga. Rather than seeking an edge, a pregnant woman might benefit from feeling nurtured. Mothering involves nurturing, and not all of us know or remember what that feels like. Rest fully. Fall asleep. Practice mindful breathing techniques.
HOW ELSE CAN I HELP?
- I'm glad you asked. Everyone gives pregnant woman advice, especially old ladies in the grocery store. Unsolicited advice is also known as “being an asshole,” so start any inclination of unsolicited advice by saying, “Are you asking for my opinion?” If not, then stop there. Or say, “I know a few things about pregnancy and Yin, please let me know if you would like to hear any of them.” Then stop.
- Touch her. Seriously. Just not her belly. Like in any class, if you offer hands-on support, give her the opportunity to opt out. If she doesn't opt out, rub her neck, shoulders, hands, or feet. This will not break her. If it were that easy to start her labor, the induction rate in our country would be zero.
- Make no comments about her appearance (feel free to apply this to everyone). She does not look tired, big, small, or whatever. She looks amazing, and you're glad to see her. That's it. Ever.
"I want to be Insta-Famous"
This is the mantra of many new yoga teachers out there.
Because while I don't post half naked photos of me "doing yoga" or dangling from a sex-trapeze, or rolling over some ridiculous object to "support my practice," I do get off on some external validation. I'd secretly love to know that you think I'm pretty, but I'll settle for you thinking I'm smart.
I'm here to show you the nakedness of my soul, the rawness of my emotion. The real work that there is to do, once you realize that the exact location of your toes in ANY yoga posture is a complete distraction from the point.
I don't care one iota where your left heel is in ANY yoga pose, if you treat your postal worker or cat like garbage. Align your actions. Your life will improve if your share your bananas, operate from compassion, apologize when you were wrong or reactive or spiteful.
In my short and absurdly cushy little life, I've learned a whole heaping helping of lessons, and I aim to share what I've learned so you don't have to fly head-first into the brick wall of addiction. So you can ask for help sooner when you find yourself in the deep end of life. So you can say, honestly, and with reverence for yourself, "HELP ME I'M DROWNING."
I've wrestled myself close in to some fabulous teachers - those who earn the seat on the daily through their honesty, humility, and gratitude. It is not easy in the front row, and it's not because of the spotlight.
Fuck the spotlight. The spotlight is easy. Formulaic.
The real work of being a Teacher is taking the headwind. Solid enough in what you have to teach that you will fly directly into the storm.
I miss the days when my life was so easy that I could obsess about my headstand, or the nuances that change between Warrior 1 and Warrior 2. As life has gotten harder for me - the practice has gone inwards.
And I've found my voice, my purpose, my song.
Second star to the right, and straight on 'til morning.
An instructor gives you what you ask for, what you want. A teacher gives you what you need, whether you want it or not.
A guru shoves your shadow into the spotlight, illuminates what you've tried to conceal beneath layers of makeup and social constructs.
And they may not even know they've done it.
I question anyone who calls themself a guru, truly. We choose our teachers, they do not choose us. We stalk them by soaking up their words, their classes, their very essence and then - if we're lucky and we've done a bit of work, maybe with their help - we graduate. We transcend that relationship and move along.
Sometimes kicking and screaming, and sometimes, without a thought.
When I teach teachers, I'm often asked how people can teach things they can't do - and I like to answer out of both sides of my mouth.
On the right: If you are instructing asana, you can easily instruct someone through the contortions of the body without asking your body to do that very thing. And earnestly, I believe that performing an asana for someone to replicate is often mistaken for "teaching" by both the teacher and the student. We believe that those whose poses look sexy or perfect or accomplished on Instagram to be great teachers, simply because they can lick their elbows or dangle precariously over the edge of a cliff wearing incredibly tight pants.
(It helps to have a tight a$s).
This is not teaching. It may be art - either performance or photography - and it has some merit in that sense. But it is not teaching, and it is not yoga.
On the left: You cannot ask a student to meditate if you do not. You cannot teach lessons you have not learned. You cannot remove darkness when you remain in shadows. Teaching involves having been there - as in, the place where the ego roams, or the sadness stews, or the desperation runs free.
This is not a double standard. Let me tell you why.
You can be skilled at teaching and know only a small number of things. This can make you a great teacher.
You can be terrible at teaching and know ALL of the things. This will never make you a great teacher.
I have learned this lately, as I realize that what I teach has evolved from the basic asana, the rudimentary anatomy into the synthesis of material and integration of everything I've experienced so far.
A guru is a person who shoves you into the spotlight - often by accident - and never, ever, because it will make you bow down to them and call them a guru.
My guru was a boy who only spoke one word, and never took a step. My guru was a ridiculously amicable divorce. My guru was a 6cm polyp named Polly.
What is yours?