The Realest Feedback a Yoga Instructor Can Get
I recently gave a yoga lesson to my uncle, who is in his fifties and had never done yoga before.
He has extremely tight shoulders from his job, so we focused a lot on that.
When we were done, I asked him how he felt. I was expecting him to give me the usual feedback: I feel more awake, I liked X pose, but not Y pose…
“Usually I feel like I’m just caving in, like the hand of life is coming down on me. Now I feel like I’ve pushed it back a little bit.”
All right then.
That’s a pretty odd thing to put on my website or business card, but it’s probably the best and realest thing a yoga teacher (or any teacher, really) could hear.
So…what do I do with this feedback?
It’s easy when the feedback is something you can fix in class. This was an awkward transition, or the practitioner needed more props, or maybe they needed a harder variation of the pose.
His feedback made sense on a physical level, not just a spiritual one…he’s constantly hunched over, with his shoulders rounded. So the psychological feeling of shrinking and then expanding makes sense.
The next day, he was flipping through my book of yoga poses and trying to say the Sanskrit names. He started practicing them on his own. I tried not to let on that I was excited (lest I scare him away), but I was elated.
How do I duplicate this? How do I remember this in every class I teach…to not just phone it in and do the poses, but to get my practitioners to push back on the crushing hand of life?
Because I’m not doing that work, they are.
How do I expand the focus of the practice to include that?
Or do I have to do that at all? Will it just happen naturally, as it did with my uncle?
Do I simply have to share what I have to know, and hope their world expands against oppressive forces?
How many people feel this crushing hand of life?
My uncle is a pretty regular American man…a stereotype of middle class, if you will. He has a house in the suburbs, a wife, two kids, two old cars in the garage that work, and one that doesn’t that no one wants to get rid of. He has a job that doesn’t require overtime, so he has a pretty average, 40-hour workweek.
This seems like a pretty good life.
However, feelings don’t necessarily match circumstances. You can be completely safe, and still feel like you’re in danger. You can have all your physical needs met, and still feel like you’re being crushed by a giant hand.
And just because you have a house and a car…doesn’t mean the crushing stops.
Although I believe in the power of movement, of yoga, of connecting with your body, it’s still amazing when someone says something like this. My uncle just wanted to do yoga to stretch his shoulders. And the result was that he felt like he had more room to live…after one hour.
If someone like him feels oppressed by life, then there must be so many more.
How many people are resigned to this crushing hand?
Beyond how many feel this pressure, how many people have just accepted that this pressure is natural, normal…a part of being an adult, a part of being alive, a part of being modern or antiquated, a part of being American or not an American, a part of being middle class or not middle class, a part of being poor or wealthy, a part of being old or young?
How many people pick up this weight almost as a reflex, and don’t realize it can be put down, or pushed back on?
As I continue to teach and learn, I am constantly surprised with people’s reactions to yoga. They may think I’m teaching them, but they are teaching me. . . about the human condition, psychology, sociology, and how these burdens can (and must be) be overcome inside a single human being.