Monday, August 31, 2009

Sometimes Just Being Is Enough

The feminist writer bell hooks has noted that “teaching is a performative act.” Years of working as a Women’s Studies professor has taught me the truth of that observation. Not only is one in front of a group of people as a professor—or as a yoga teacher—but one’s job is to engage them in an active learning process. For me, it brings out a performative nature that I did not know I had growing up as a shy, bookish, only child.

But “being on” also takes its toll, especially if one is as introverted as I am. I can relish, excel, and enjoy the performative nature of my work, but sometimes I hit a wall and I just don’t feel like “being on.” And yet, as they say, the “show must go on.”

Yoga has taught me how to just be in those moments. Each week when we enter our yoga class, we are in different moods with different states of energy and different distractions. The self-reflection we develop through our practice helps us learn how to access deeper layers, regardless of the circumstances. The result is often an intensely transformative educational moment.

Once, when I was first learning to be a yoga teacher, I had a vibrant and witty lesson planned. Then I walked into the yoga studio to teach my first mini-class to a group of other yoga teachers while being observed by a senior yoga teacher, and all my anxiety arose. What if I wasn’t any good? These were experienced teachers, I thought; they would all be so much more talented than I. Who did I think I was?! My heart started racing.

Normally, I would have just bluffed and put on the performance. But the self-awareness and mindfulness that yoga has taught me has opened a deeper possibility: turning inward and offering a teaching from where I am at that moment.

In this case, I scrapped my plan. Instead, I delved into the fears and anxieties I was feeling, and created a class plan from what I learned through that exploration. I used my fears as a way to open and connect with students, instead of a way to shut them out. My theme for that day was how to witness anxieties without clinging to them or pushing them away, a theme which I wove throughout our poses. We were then all—students and teacher alike—able to practice how to meet our responses with skillful acceptance, compassion, and humor.

This ability to turn inward and teach the material from where I am has often produced a profoundly authentic and transformative experience, both in the yoga studio and in my academic classrooms. I have entered feminist classes with the same philosophy of allowing what is. Those classes have often become turning points in the semester for students to own the material for themselves in new ways.

What yoga has offered, then, is this simple but powerful understanding: Often, just being authentically present and self-aware is more than enough.

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