Glancing around the studio during rest pose in a recent yoga class, I felt so grateful. It was a good day, attendance-wise, and there was a quite a variety of people in the room. Some were family, some were friends; some were students of mine from way back, some were new to class, or returning after a long absence. With each and every person, I felt some sort of connection.
When I first began teaching, fifteen years ago, most of my students were strangers. My mother has attended class at least weekly since the beginning – and occasionally friends do as well – but for the most part the people who roll out their mats and pay me money to lead them through a series of stretches are simply “students.” They are there for the yoga, plain and simple.
But then a strange thing happens. In those semi-awkward minutes before class, when we’re waiting for the hour to strike; in those more-languorous minutes after class when we’re putting away our props and waiting in line for the bathroom; through the occasional offhand comment or question amidst our posture flow, we get to know each other. Week after week, we share our stories, as well as our yoga practice. How does your granddaughter like her new school? Where did you go on your latest vacation? How is your husband’s recovery from hip replacement surgery coming along? We celebrate each other’s joys, provide support in the tough times, offer solace for the sorrows. We may not interact at all outside the yoga studio, but over time, through our brief weekly conversations, we become invested in each other’s lives.
One student recently referred to it as “chat pose.” I like that.
I’ve seen so many people pass through the doorway to my studio – through the doorways to the ten-or-so studios in which I’ve taught over the years – and with anyone who’s stuck around for a while, inevitably I’ve formed some kind of bond. I care about what happens in their lives. I feel compelled to share a little bit about what’s happening in mine. And with the students who eventually pass out of my life for whatever reason – relocation, injury, perhaps just-plain losing their yoga mojo – I wonder where life took them next.
When I began teaching, at age 25, few of my friends were interested in yoga, or in “my” style of yoga, which seems to appeal in large part to the over-fifty set. But now as I head into my forties, I’m finding a lot more of my contemporaries are inquiring about my teaching schedule. Most of us have young children at home and when we can manage to squeeze in an hour to nurture ourselves, the serenity of the yoga studio beckons.
Teaching yoga can humble you. I advise my new students all the time: make an effort to find the “right” teacher. If I’m not a good fit for you, that doesn’t mean you don’t like yoga. Keep looking ‘til you find the right fit. So many students come and go that way – and I have to accept that – for whatever reason -- I just wasn’t what they were looking for.
So when a student decides to stick with me, when he or she shows up for class, week after week, for a year, and then two and then five. When it’s been so many years that we have to calculate the span of time “It was just after my divorce, so that's . . . OMG, that’s twelve years ago now!” I feel such gratitude.
“You’re not bored with me?”
“My class works for you?”
“You start to relax as soon as you hear my voice?”
I can’t tell you how good this feels.
I find such satisfaction in teaching yoga -- the stretching and breathing, the slowing down, the opportunities for perspective and insight. I love how being focused on the words and movements required to lead a class will tune out all the chatter in my head and leave me with a sense of peace. I love that people show up, week after week, to share this with me. I love that I can (to some extent) support myself and my son with this work. It’s rewarding, it replenishes me, and it feels good.
This past Valentine’s Day marked the fifteenth anniversary of my first class. On February 14, 1997, Mary Norton – who runs the Cohasset Yoga Center and had been my own teacher for four years at that point – had enough faith in me to let me lead my own class at her studio. I’ve been teaching consistently ever since. First one class a week, then three, four, five. . . and at one point twelve. I’m down to a comfortable seven now. I’ve endured injury, pregnancy, post-partum depression, anxiety disorder, exhaustion, divorce . . . but I’ve kept teaching throughout it all (except for the month I took off after Abel was born). I would not continue to do this if you weren’t showing up for class week after week.
So, dear students, I have this to say to you: Thank you.
Thank you for your consistency, your stories, your willingness to share, and your support. Thank you for laughing at my dumb jokes, for not noticing when I fall asleep during rest pose, for getting me back on track when I forget what I’ve just said. Thank you for bringing cookies and chocolate, newspaper clippings and family photos, or the occasional gift from some far-off land. Thank you for giving me a job, a purpose, and a compelling reason to unroll my mat each day.