Sunday, May 10, 2015

Overcoming Obstacles

This week it felt like something was missing without having one of the Yamas or Niyamas to focus my energy on. I have really enjoyed the process of exploring how those key principles of yoga can translate into every day life.

Ultimately, the goal is to integrate them into your life to the point that you can practice all ten of them without having to think about it. I am a long way from having that level of balance and discipline in my life, but it is certainly something to work toward. In the meantime, I would like to periodically revisit them to see if I can reach a deeper level of understanding.

This week's reading focused on the concept of obstacles, which have been described as rocks lying on the path traveled by someone who has set off on the yoga journey. There are nine obstacles within the yoga practice. These obstacles can extend to other areas of your life as well.  They are:
  1. Illness, which could be physical or mental
  2. Lethargy, lacking energy to do things
  3. Doubt, a regular and persistent feeling of uncertainty
  4. Acting with haste, carelessly
  5. Exhaustion, lack of enthusiasm
  6. Distraction of the mind or the senses
  7. Arrogance, a feeling that we have reached the highest point in our practice
  8. Feeling overwhelmed, recognizing that no matter how much progress we have made, there is still so much left to learn
  9. Stamina, reaching a high point but not being able to maintain it
A person may experience some or all of these obstacles along the way. Right now, I think the most common obstacle for me is doubt. Even though I have chosen this path and I am excited about the potential that yoga brings to my life, I still find myself wondering whether I am good enough to succeed at this practice. 

Every time I start to have a certain degree of confidence in my abilities as a yoga teacher, I learn more information that causes me to question everything. Today in class we talked a lot about teaching to special populations. Many of the girls in my class are planning to teach yoga as therapy for victims of trauma or people recovering from addiction. There are even opportunities to teach yoga in homeless shelters. 

While all of these experiences can provide an opportunity for people to heal through the practice of yoga, they also bring with them great responsibility as a teacher. While the idea of teaching yoga in a studio environment can be daunting enough, there are even more things to consider when teaching to special populations. 

We learned today that many people who have been through trauma in their life have a heightened sense of awareness of their surroundings. Even the lighting or noise level in the room can affect their experience in class. We also learned to be very careful of the language we use in class, as well as giving any physical adjustments to students. Some of the students may have no prior experience in an exercise class so they may not be aware of the basic structure and common courtesy, such as not talking during class.  

In some cases, we would be going into a teaching situation where we know in advance that there are special needs. If you were teaching in a domestic violence shelter, for example, you might have at least some idea about the background and experiences of the students.

But our teachers also reminded us that many special needs students could come to our classes at the studio. In that case, we may or may not even know that the student has special needs. While some people come to yoga class for exercise, there are a lot of students who are coming for other reasons, even on the recommendation of a therapist.

Apparently, it is very common for people with eating disorders to come to yoga classes. This could be because they are addicted to exercise as part of their disease or it could be a way to reconnect with their body as part of their recovery. While that makes perfect sense, it is probably not something I would have been prepared for if my teacher had not mentioned it.

After the discussion today, I started to feel a little intimidated about teaching yoga. The students in my class are vulnerable and they are placing their trust in me. The last thing I would want to do is offend a student, or even worse to cause them harm by something that I said during class.

I could easily convince myself that it is too risky to even try teaching and it would be easier just to remain a student of yoga. After all, if I never teach a real yoga class then I will know for certain that I will never say the wrong thing to a student. 

Or I can just recognize that there is always a risk of saying the wrong thing to someone, whether it is in a yoga class or in an elevator at the mall. People come from a variety of backgrounds and everyone has a different life experience. You never know how another person may react.

All I can do is try to be alert to the potential needs of my students, teach my class to the best of my ability and learn from any mistakes that I make along the way. That is the only way to grow and become a better yoga teacher. And a better person. 

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