Author: Tiffany Cruikshank
There’s nothing worse than being shamed in a yoga class…
It’s the end of a good class and the end of a long week, and after a lot of traveling, I found myself skipping shoulder stand only to be called out by the teacher.
Now this is a large class in the heart of LA, where people regularly branch off and modify the poses to suit their needs. However, in my case, the teacher quickly approached and with a tinge of disapproval asked why I was skipping shoulder stand.
Truth be told, I’d been traveling a lot and had a somewhat emotional day. I wanted to finish my practice with a simple pose to ease off my stiff post-plane back, but like a kid caught with their hand in the cookie jar, I was startled and found myself grasping for words.
So when the teacher said, “Why aren’t you doing shoulder stand?” there I was reclining in supta virasana on a block with something like, “I just wanted a chest opener” coming out of my mouth in a scared, defensive whisper. It was the strangest thing. This did not please the teacher and well, she continued to reprimand me by stating to the entire class that shoulder stand is the best chest opener there is. And there I was like a scorned child, wishing I could crawl away so no one would see me.
As unpleasant as this experience was, I have to say it was a reminder that as teachers, we hold a lot of power. With this power we have the potential to use it in a myriad of ways. I’m not even saying that what this teacher did was wrong, because it drives me nuts when students show up and just do their own thing. It’s a fine line to draw between just doing whatever you please and taking care of yourself though.
As a teacher, it can be difficult to distinguish between the two, and a class setting isn’t always appropriate for a full discussion to find out which it is. It’s a tricky thing as a teacher—knowing when to motivate our students to progress and when to encourage them to back off. This is a common question I get at my 500-hour teacher trainings and there’s not always a simple answer.
However, I think the most important thing to remember is that each person in your yoga class is like a little walking story book. Within this class it’s impossible to know every story unless you have a very intimate relationship with your students and you spend the first hour as a therapy session checking in with everyone, which obviously wouldn’t be appropriate.
Some days we come to our mat eager to go and other days we show up an emotional wreck. That’s what I love about this practice. We show up day in and day out, bruised, battered and scarred by life to do the work. To look at our sh*t and as a teacher, our job is simply to make suggestions and support our students in finding what works for them. Without letting our own agenda get in the way, without getting attached to what we think they need and knowing that they bring a lot more than meets the eye to their mat. Often times our need to push or not push our students come from our own agenda and as a teacher, it’s important to clear that out of the picture before teaching. My point here is that, as a teacher, you can never know whether that person you’re trying to help into an advanced pose just had a miscarriage, whether the person you’re reprimanding just got diagnosed with cancer, or whether the person you’re continually correcting was just abandoned by their wife.
If you’re a teacher, the next time you teach, consider this. At any given time you may have several people in your class who have or have had cancer. At any given time you may have several people in your class with loved ones on the verge of death. At any given time you may have several people in your class who have been raped, abused, divorced, beaten, abandoned and mistreated —and yet, they still show up because they believe there’s something better. With sickness and disaster all around us, it’s important to keep in mind and remember that every time we show up to our mat we’re showing up for not only ourselves but for each other.
To me, that’s the power of yoga. It’s the strength in numbers that a community creates.
So the next time you show up to teach or take a class, consider who might be sitting next to you. You might say hello and connect to them as a result, or you may just breathe a little deeper in an effort to support each other with that formless connection to the breath. Either way, your purpose for being there has changed and what you’ll notice is that the effect at the end will be completely different as well.
Dedicated to the international, borderless yoga community of the world—unite!
Also, check out her website: http://www.tiffanyyoga.com/