Lately, I have been considering how my approach to leading a class is informed through my embodied experiences of the teachers I have encountered. As someone who still is challenged by a mistrust in my body, it's abilities and strengths, I aim to lead classes that are a compassionate enquiry into the Self. Rather than focusing on achieving perfect alignment, or mastering the hard poses, I hope that my classes invite students to go inwards and feel. To experience the sensations of the body with curiosity and self-compassion. Doing this means that my classes tend to be slower, tend to rely on verbal cues rather than physical adjustments, and it often means that I don't leave my mat. These fundamentals to my teaching are informed by trauma sensitive yoga theories and my belief that students know their bodies best and therefore can engage with yoga in ways that are safe to them so long as I invite deepness, rather than demand it.
There have been classes where instructors have physically moved my body in ways that felt unsafe - both due to their touch as well as my inability to find the strength or focus for the pose. I have felt shamed in classes, felt weak, negative, and sad when leaving because in what I thought was a beginners class we went into poses that were much more advanced than I expected. I believe that my safety as student is more important than the instructors desire to lead a full class into shoulder stand. When I have honoured my body and slowed down in class, I have had instructors point me out and ask me if I am okay, not quietly beside me, but from the front of the room. Times when I have felt this I have found that my yoga practice has slowed and I have felt like maybe my body isn't made for yoga.
I hold the fundamental beliefs that the practice should be informed by each person on their mat, that it should bring awareness inside and that it should be safe and welcoming. I have the bias that yoga today, in the area that I live, tends to focus on the physical aspects of the practice, the desire to sweat, be challenged, and achieve the perfect yoga body. At times I feel doubt that my teaching methodology, the desire to slow down, breathe and experience, will allow me to create financial stability for myself through leading. When these doubts arise though, I remind myself to look at the faces of my students at the end of class. To see their muscles relaxed, the gentle smiles. This makes all effort worthwhile and important.
Thinking about my past experiences with yoga has led me to explore more in-depth teachings on trauma sensitive yoga, and the ways that body image and yoga intersect. Simple adjustments to my language as an instructor, such as saying "I invite you to" rather than "bring your hands" can make a big difference in the power dynamics that inherently exist between teacher and student. It means that I am getting off my mat less and inviting students to cultivate their inner awareness to adjust, use props or come out of poses. I am also inviting people to go in deeper. I hope that these styles I am adopting, that I am hoping to cultivate, creates a safe space for my students to feel and experience their body. I hope that by moving intuitively, by inviting in awareness and feeling, by focusing more on breath than skill, that my students feel safe to create a loving relationship with their bodies. Because maybe they are a little like me, maybe they have doubt in their bodies, maybe they too are using yoga as a way to love themselves, scars, giggly bits, stretch marks and all.
May your time on your mat bring you love for yourself, with all your perfect imperfections. May your mat be a safe space for you to experience the amazingness of your life. May your mat be where you can arrive, show up for yourself, and heal all those little parts that need extra love, care and support. May you be exactly as you are, in each and every moment, and know that is exactly who you are meant to be.