I have been teaching yoga for a few years now and for some reason it took me a while to pinpoint what I love most about teaching. It’s the intimacy. We spend so much time isolating ourselves, walking by each other in the store, yelling at each other from inside our cars, putting up fences between our house and our neighbors’, making idle conversation at work, but when do we really get to know someone and be honest about who we are? Most of us have a handful of good friends and family members who know us well, but why do we hold back so much of ourselves from the rest of the world? It’s as if we all have created an unspoken agreement that problems and emotional vulnerability make us unlikable people. In this Facebook culture, we strive to make our lives look as fabulous as possible from behind a screen and we forget what truly opening up to other people feels like.
On Fridays I teach a morning Power Yoga class and have a handful of regulars. One of those women came in recently and looked visibly shaken. Her eyes were glossy with emotion, her posture that of someone in pain. She walked up to me and said, “If I seem off today it’s because my husband died yesterday, but I needed to come in. I needed to move and I needed your light.” Her words shook me to the core. In that moment I realized how much I affect people as a teacher and how much they put trust in me. My job becomes to create a space where people come to feel good and to feel safe. There is really not much beyond that. Will they be physically challenged, will they sweat, will they grow stronger or more flexible, will they calm their mind? Sure, but none of that could happen if they did not feel safe with me and if they did not walk away feeling good. It also reminded me of how much can be happening in someone’s life without them talking to you about it. Sure she said something to me, but what if she hadn’t? I would have known something was different, but I never would have guessed that the woman in Child’s Pose in front of me had lost her husband to a battle with cancer just one day earlier.
That experience has stuck with me through all my classes since then. I am more aware, more open, and in turn more alive because of that moment. I’ve also noticed so much more about my students. A woman who I know as a very put together woman who stays very busy as a consultant, has scars from wrist to elbow… scars that can only be self inflicted. Another woman came in directly after finding that her boyfriend of nine years had been cheating on her for over a year. I have seen people battle insecurity, injury, and fear all because they trusted me to be their teacher and because they made the choice to connect with me as a person. Yoga is truly one of the most intimate ways two near strangers could ever interact, and for that I will be endlessly grateful to call myself a yoga instructor.
By Anna Hanson