I’ve been inspired to start a blog because my frustration with hearing “I can’t do yoga”, “I’m not flexible”, and other doubtful phrases has hit a boiling point. Yes, that’s right yoga teachers feel anger. In these recent weeks where a focus on what we don’t have or at risk of losing has challenged me to focus on what I do have and what I have the opportunity to win. I have a voice and a belief that yoga is a practice opposite of the sexy images that flood the media. I have witnessed various ages and body types practice yoga without even or sometimes ever stepping on a mat. What do I have to win? I have the opportunity to win a renewed practice, faith, and service that will inevitability be translated into right again towards others. My intention is not to have a new students come marching into my classes chanting, “I can do yoga!” or to speak in metaphors about building the flexibility of the mind to transcend spiritual kale into your body. My intention is to share my own doubt and challenge the doubtful phrases; with the most concerning one being, “I can’t afford yoga”.
Last week I lead a one-hour mindfulness/yoga techniques class at a North Philadelphia drug and alcohol recovery center. The individuals attending have little to no income, therefore the objectives were to make the techniques relatable, believable and possible.
The first lesson I share with anyone interested in teaching in non-yoga studios is to be prepared for anything, such as lateness, lack of materials or space, interruptions, etc. In my opinion this is the best space for practice as it provides the challenge; can you remain present despite distractions or barriers? Lateness was the barrier for this class, scheduled for 2pm but didn’t begin until 2:15-20pm.
Individuals sat around tables, head in their hands or staring into space. I asked a few individuals to help position the chairs in a circle without tables. Maybe people were feeling bored, tired, or annoyed, either way we had to get moving. After introductions from volunteers (women from the residential program I work at as a therapist) and I, the planned group dialogue was skipped and I started with grounding. I asked a volunteer to name 5 things they can see, 4 things they can feel (and actually feel them), 2 things they can hear, 3 things that tasted today or yesterday that they enjoyed, and 1 thing they enjoy the smell of and with eyes opened or closed allow themselves to smell it. Then the group was encouraged to find a partner and try out the exercise. People were talking, laughing, asking questions, smiling…the room was alive! We reflected and individuals shared, “I felt comfortable”, “I had something frustrating on my mind but I’m leaving it at the door”, and “I do this already when I’m on the bus, I didn’t know it was mindfulness”
I shared aromatherapy with provided peppermint candy, peppermint oil, and lavender oil. We discussed the benefits of these scents such as skin care, relaxation, and alertness, decongest, stress relief, decrease nausea, headaches, cramps, etc. We discussed ways to use these scents, i.e. provided tissue or cotton ball, hands, hair, mixing in soaps, lotions, shampoo, or the crowd pleaser – peppermint candy! My favorite comments were, “Hey you can get these mints at the dollar store”, “I always carry mints with me”, and “I just walked in this room and it feels fresh and alive”
We concluded with yoga and progressive muscle relaxation. I began with chair yoga postures and then shifted to standing poses. Everyone was participating! If you’ve only taught in a studio this may seem like an obvious observation, but another challenge to teaching in non-yoga studios is that sometimes everyone or just a few individuals won’t participate at all. Since I perceived an active audience, I taught downward facing dog. There were maybe 15 people…only 2 people tried downward facing dog and then I saw a look of defeat on the remaining participants. I took a risk, it didn’t work so I went right back to standing poses and added some balance work. Everyone participated and even laughed when falling out of poses.
Progressive muscle relaxation shifted the participants from the quiet, boredom that was present at the start of class to a quiet, peace and willingness to let go. Everyone closed their eyes – again may be an odd comment to a studio teacher but this is a true sense of individual and group trust. In addiction recovery there may also be trauma recovery from abuse and violence inflicted on them and/or witnessed.
Although there was no time for concluding dialogue, afterwards a few individuals shared their enjoyment for the class and it provided reflection for the objectives.
*Relatable – YES! Many shared existing use of mints and now realize that mindfulness was there all along.
*Believable – YES! I loved how one gentleman shared that he uses the grounding through the five senses while on the bus.
*Possible – YES! Those interested in the oils, I encouraged going to local drug stores for purchase. And those interested in yoga I listed free and $10 yoga classes in the city, as well encouragement to find an empty floor space and make it up or YouTube a video.
So because I taught 15 people last week affordable techniques, the doubt has disappeared? No. But maybe this reflection will provide you as it provided me the awareness that peace, stillness, or whatever you’re striving for is right in your pocket like a peppermint or that empty floor space in your bedroom.