Celebrate good times, c’mon!

Of course, after the 60 day challenge comes the 60 day challenge PARTY! We gather, we eat, we share stories, we take goofy pictures. What’s not to love?

One of several aforementioned goofy photos: group shot from the end of the night

One of several aforementioned goofy photos: group shot from the end of the night

Regardless of whether or not I did the challenge, I love going to the challenge parties. They are the rare chance for us to come together and share. As a teacher, I have the friends, the time, and the spaces to talk about and reflect on my yoga practice a lot. But for most students, this may be the only time the whole year (or ever) that they share the journey of their practice, and that, as a teacher, I get to peek inside their world from their eyes. On the podium and in the studio I see glimpses: when they have a tough day, when they can finally grab both feet in Bow Pose–but rarely will I be able to know why it happens or what it means to them.

At these parties, I finally get to hear their story. And there were SO MANY GREAT STORIES. One student shared how, having watched past challenges, this was the first time she found the courage and did it herself, and how much it has helped her running. Another made his speech, carrying his young son in one arm and with his wife and young daughter beaming with pride nearby. One student even wrote a rap song about what this yoga means for her and performed it with her daughter, with lyrics that were both hilarious and touchingly honest and vulnerable. One Challenger’s husband– not a yogi–came up and made a speech about how her yoga practice had inspired him to take better care of himself and be more active. Hilariously, one student admitted to not telling her husband when she had finished her challenge, all so that she could keep coming every day. Over and over, people shared how much better they felt– but even more, they shared how much it had affected their relationship with their family, their loved ones.

Me and one of my frequent students, Reema, who shared her new personal mantra

Me and one of my frequent students, Reema, who shared her new personal mantra

Caught up in the mundanities, it’s easy to forget sometimes how much impact we have as teachers. One student I didn’t even know mentioned me and how much my classes had helped her. Another student said that she took on a new mantra based on something I had said off-hand one day while students were really struggling in class:

LESS DRAMA, MORE PRANA. In other words, think less, breathe more. Although I had appropriated this from one time another teacher said this while I was practicing in a class over a year ago at a different studio (I did give her credit), these words were given a whole new life as they took on meaning and power for more students.

Just like the yoga: it’s a ripple effect, one drop repeating over, growing and widening. We may not know, or see, or be aware of what it’s doing– all the same, it is happening.

I did it! Fourth challenge (if BYTT counts), second time at BYSJ

I did it! Fourth challenge (if BYTT counts), second time at BYSJ

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the good, the bad, and the trust

I think I may finally be able to articulate the difference between two very different types of classes:

The class that feels incredibly frustrating and draining. I feel no rapport with my students–I speak, but it’s awfully hard to tell based on their bodies OR their faces if anyone’s listening. I run behind on time, and yet everyone moves more and more slowly. No one responds to corrections. I pour more and more of my energy into the class, but it’s a black hole. Over the course of 90 minutes, I work to stay cheerful and positive, to not get distracted by my perceived ‘failure’, to try and try and try again. After, I feel exhausted and demoralized and somewhat incompetent.

In case you can’t tell, emotional resiliency is not my strongest character trait.

VERSUS

That class that feels absolutely incredible to teach–I feel connected to each student, everything flows well, I can tell a few students are even enjoying themselves, and I get the rest to at least occasionally remember that smiling is not against the rules. I make jokes, individual corrections, no one tries to flee and everyone works hard according to their individual abilities. Afterwards, these are the classes where students come up after and really sincerely thank me for class, and I get to go home feeling great about having had a really positive impact on my students. It’s like bouncing around on a cloud. Ah, these rarefied moments!

I call them Unicorn classes, because they are magical and elusive. (Thankfully not mythical, only rarer than I would like.)

But here’s the rub:
You can neither predict nor force a certain class to be what you want it to be. First of all, that’s an ego race the teacher is doomed to lose every. single. time. Secondly, I know that the only successful way to have a great class is to let go of the IDEA of having a great class–both in the judgement about how the class is going (Oy!) and this attachment to “results”. Whether or not a student sits down on their butt through the whole of the Balancing series is not a reflection of me, or even about me at all. No matter how much I think it is. Clearly, this sort of “letting go” is something I’m working on… ok, let’s be honest, we’re all working on it.

THIS is how you visualize how these classes feel. Just. like. this.

THIS is how you visualize how these classes feel. Just. like. this.

At the same time, there IS a certain extent to which a teacher’s energy (mine included) greatly impacts the quality and tone of the students’ attitude and effort.

I think the difference is trust.

How much the students trust the teacher correlates to how hard the students try. Based on my personal practice, it makes sense–how much harder is Triangle pose once you’re convinced the teacher is never going to get you out of it and you start thinking, ‘OMG I’M GOING TO DIE!’? When I practice, but don’t trust the teacher because of the heat, their personality, their dialogue–whatever reason my mind has fixed on, class becomes a whole new level of hellish and challenging.

Well, I think the reverse holds: perhaps my students only do as well as much as I trust them to do well. When class starts going south–whether in reality or merely in my perception, which for these types of cases are indistinguishable–I have a harder time trusting that the students will respond to the dialogue. Then they don’t respond to the dialogue. And then we begin a vicious descending spiral of mistrust.

Of course, to stop that cycle, I have to trust again. Which means being vulnerable. (Sidenote: If you haven’t watched this video on vulnerability by Brene Brown, you need to watch it because it will blow your mind. If you watch it and don’t have that reaction, we’ll need to check your vitals and make sure you’re human.) I feel vulnerable each and every single class I teach, and although teaching has thus definitely made me a stronger person as a result, it’s not a particularly fun or easy process.

Trust is definitely not an overt theme teachers discuss, but it’ll definitely be in my mind as I teach two more classes tonight (this morning was a Unicorn!). Happy yoga-ing, everybody!