“Even though I’m not a young person, I’m a fairly young teacher – I’ve only been teaching a few years. Right after I graduated from yoga teacher training, I received a phone call from a friend asking me to take over several chair yoga classes at a senior center. When I was called to do that, even though it was something that was sort of on my radar, it wasn’t immediately on it! My friend reassured me saying, ‘you have the perfect disposition for this’ and I was thinking, ‘oh crap I better get on YouTube, and I better get some books, and call my yoga-teacher friends for some guidance!’
So, one group was assisted living, so, what does yoga look like for them? I hadn’t seen it. I hadn’t ever done chair yoga other than maybe sitting down and moving my arms back and forth. I didn’t know what I had gotten myself into. The second class was an Alzheimer’s group, and that was completely nerve-wracking and scary thinking how I was going to interact with these students. I just did a lot of research on my own leading up to my first class, and I found it really cool doing that. I was just diving all in to this exploratory phase.
The Alzheimer’s class was pretty cool because there was a lot of me realizing that these people are still out doing life. I wasn’t going to break them, and it’s enough just to be playful and be able to bring that in. With this population, what’s important is, what we always talk about in yoga – connection: to your own story, connection to the people around you, and just like this conversation we’re having. That’s all that matters. Whether or not things or conversations register with my students, we’re making a connection and that’s what’s so important.
I’ve learned, if there are multiple things that happen in a yoga class, yoga is the least important. It’s about the interpersonal connection and that’s all yoga is about for me. Also, it’s important that it helps people interact with their body in a way that’s non-judgmental.
I teach a back care class too. Students often come in with some sort of pain, disgust, or frustration with their body. They come to just move without needing to fix anything, or needing to get something perfect without the thought that they must to push past something. Their ability to simply move their body is a gift; to connect with their breath, and have awareness without judgment.
Yoga’s never really been about the postures, it’s about connections. Whether it’s interpersonal or intrapersonal – we are all connected. If yoga means ‘union’ and it’s an intense link, what are we linking? Not only just with our intention and story, but with the space around us. It’s in a room when I’m working with a group of seniors and they’re in a community, and somebody laughs because they all realize that it doesn’t have it be perfect. That right there creates a playful connection with everyone around feeling safe and seen. It’s just the perfect thing.
The connection isn’t just about the student feeling connected – I’m definitely getting as much as I’m giving. I don’t feel drained when I teach; I feel privileged.
Connection is also about my practice as a teacher- being more than just on that 3×5 piece of rubber. I’ll ask, ‘Where can I take this out in the world?’ And with everything that’s going on in today’s world, if we don’t sit around and hold space for people to have difference, then we aren’t doing the work. The work isn’t for me to change anything; the work is for me to sit with you and allow you to speak.
I know we’re not all going to end up in this Kumbaya moment where we see eye-to-eye, but to feel safe enough to speak and be heard is all we want as human beings. I believe we all want somebody to see us – not just that you’re here, but to see us and to be able to put out what we feel and believe without being shot down for it.
We all need to move, we all need to breathe, and we all get stressed no matter how young or old we are. We all have a story. I wrecked a motorcycle in my 20’s and it led me to yoga. There are important connections to that event and story that I’ve embodied in my existence, but it’s not the only way I define myself. When people hurt, or they tweak their shoulder, and you get them to sit with that discomfort in the same way they can sit with the comfort, surprising things can happen. It’s in the exploration that even in that space where their body doesn’t feel good, to see and be open to that, ‘this is just your body doing its best’.
Our bodies sew us back together and keep us doing life. It’s pretty amazing to reframe it that way, and look at it like, ‘wow, this is my body working as hard as it can, and keeping it all together.’ I try to teach my students to see it from this view, and to let some of the crap go, and be in this non-judgmental activity with the body.
When I wrecked my motorcycle, I just pushed through it and did all the things. I was imbalanced and I recklessly powered through life. It wasn’t ‘till I got to my late 30’s that I was like, ‘wow; I’m hurting a lot. This sucks!’ I needed to find a way to interact with my body that wasn’t just slamming right into my pain. It’s kinda cool, cause I’m 48, and my practice is a bit more clunky than it used to be. I’m getting less and less into the deep shapes, but my body feels so much better.
I think as humans we believe that we aren’t feeling anything unless we feel it in the most intense way. That’s why we normally don’t pay attention to the small things. That was the thing for me – to interact with my body in a way that was serving me. I’m the one in class who’s always using a chair or blocks and always trying things to constantly switch up my relationship to my practice and relationship with my body. Those are the things that I encourage in my teaching, and it’s what my body teaches me in my own practice.”
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