I started practicing yoga around six years ago after suffering a mental break down at 24 years of age. I friend told me that yoga maybe a great way of relieving some stress, so I booked into a vinyasa class. If I’m honest at first I didn’t like it. I thought it was fancy stretching and I felt awkward all the way through, but I stuck at it and slowly it became apart of my life. 2 years ago I looked into doing a teachers training because I wanted to learn more about anatomy, philosophy and yoga history and I completely fell in love and decided to make it my main focus.
I think if you talk to a lot of yoga teachers or practitioners, a lot of us are on the path of healing and are trying to understand a larger meaning. This is why I believe a open dialogue around mental health is important. You never know what trauma someone maybe carrying when they walk into a class. I think its important for teachers to understand that we are not fixers, but its important to cultivate a space were people can feel safe enough to face and work through what ever they maybe going through. I myself understand how important this space is for people because I was and am one of those people.
I also think its important, especially now the practice of yoga is becoming more mainstream, not to forget that yoga is more than pretty shapes and luxury leggings. The capitalisation is a concern to myself and many yoga teachers because it gives the illusion that yoga is only reserved for the skinny, young and flexible and this simply isn’t true. Its a wonderful tool to become familiar with the inner landscapes of our mind.
The most transformative moments haven’t been learning headstand. It’s been the moments I’ve been able to see patterns in my behaviour that no longer serve me and over come them. I’ve also gained a deeper understanding of what it is to love and show compassion and thats filtered into self love and love for others. Anyone thats been touched by the power of yoga will want to share this gift and it’s for anyone and everyone.
My three tips for promoting inclusion in classes are:
Pay attention to your cues.
The language we use in a class can make all the difference. Peoples bodies are different, and whilst alignment can be important for safety, not all bodes move or look the same. Now I tend to avoid alignment cues and use them only when necessary and try to cue for feeling instead. I want my students to own and intergrade with their bodies and energies, not to worry about the shapes.
We are all great at giving advice but how many of us are really good at listening. I also think that unintentionally we minimalise other peoples problems in a attempt to be positive about a situation. Sometimes the kindest thing we can do is offer someone who’s going through a hard time a open ear with out trying to offer advice or a opinion. I experienced this when I was diagnosed with Autism last September. When I spoke about the news with friends and associates I was met with comments like “Well it can’t be that bad because you seem/look fine”, “You don’t look Autistic” or “Well, everyone is a little on the spectrum”. Whilst these comments are designed to bring comfort, they just make the recipient feel unheard. They may look fine but inside they can be struggling. Some problems are visible but not all, and its important not to minimalise peoples personal battles but create a space where they can share and be wholly themselves.
Look at your own shadows.
We are all eager to help others, but sometimes we need to help ourselves too. Teaching asana requires some level of experience from the teacher in order to understand how the pose works and I really believe that this is the same for the mind. Yoga has a funny way of shining a spotlight on all your personal stuff, as humans do we tend to skirt around the edges or put it in a mental box for another day. A large part of yoga is allowing these fluctuations of the mind to arise and to be able to sit with them till they pass. Chances are if your students have had problems in the past they might surface in a class. Its handy to know how that might feel. You may not know what their issue is, and to be honest it’s none of our business, but sometimes it makes the journey less scary when we’ve had a companion thats been there before.
I’ve always tried to avoid being a victim of spiritual bypass for the sake of positive vibes. Yoga isn’t about being a god, it’s about being ok with being human, and a big part of that is finding compassion for the harder days.