Over the course of my career (outside of the yoga-ing), I’ve gone through a lot of safety training. CPR, first aid, etc. I train people how to evacuate burning buildings and respond to medical emergencies during performances. If you’ve done any of this training, you know the drill: check the scene, call for help, and then provide care – in that order. Check. Call. Care.
Why check first? Though the person needing assistance may be in a safe location, there could be dangling live wires or falling debris between the two of you. You don’t go through those wires or risk the falling debris, you call for help because you could die or be badly injured. You cannot help someone if you are dead or injured.
I was thinking about this during my commute this morning, reflecting on how I totally flubbed part of my class last night. Don’t worry, nobody died or lost a limb. I had it sketched out, practiced, and rehearsed. Then in the moment, I mixed up some inhales/exhales, called some wrong hands to be lifted. I ended up laughing at myself and vowing to teach it some more and moved on to the next part of class. The person who always gives me great feedback laughed with me after class and said, “I really liked that flow. Just rehearse the body cues some more.”
(Yoga teachers, I know we have all done this. Remember how I wrote myself a letter giving myself permission to suck?)
Several months ago, I would have been in tears in the middle of class instead of laughing. I realized after class that I was able to laugh and move on because I was teaching in a safe space.
As teachers, we focus a lot on creating a safe place for students to practice being themselves. We must establish trust. We must teach what we know, guide with safe body cues and sequences, use non-judgmental language (verbal and non-verbal), and give our students permission to feel whatever is coming up and own their practice.
Teachers must find that same safe place to give ourselves the freedom to teach. In that earlier situation, I would have spent the rest of class dreading the 45-minute to hour-long feedback from a person offering to mentor me that usually went like this: “Your students will not trust you. You obviously don’t know what you are teaching or why. I mean, what was that?” I would show up to each class with my stomach in knots, catching eye rolls (or worse, scowls) throughout the class from someone offering to help me.* I lost sight during that time of what I learn on the mat and why I teach: It is okay to not be perfect. Let go of whatever is not serving you. Go to the mat to find a place of non-judgment.
Teachers are people, too.
In order to truly teach and be in the room for the students, we must be teaching in a safe place. I am so grateful for the two studios that gave me a safe place to teach and heal from that experience. I remember my first audition after that first heavy gig was over – I looked around the room and felt an incredible freedom. I had fun, taught from my heart, and have been doing it over and over again ever since.
Each class is a blank slate. You teach an awesome class, you move on. You teach a not-so-awesome class, you move on. Just like in practice, you move on to the next pose, sometimes fall on your face, get up, laugh it off, lighten up, learn.
I can’t wait to get up and teach again.
*Maybe someday I’ll share more, maybe some day I won’t. I don’t share this to spread political ill-will, take sides, or talk sh*t. I share this because it happened. The overall experience really messed with my head (I hope unintentionally) and hit home an important lesson: teachers are people and we can learn equally from their flaws. We can learn from completely losing trust in someone and be grateful for that lesson.