In the time, I have been a yoga teacher, I have received many emails and have had conversations with students and teachers alike that when they started practicing yoga they were very intimidated to go to a class. There were many reasons why, but the one that stood out most to me-was time and time again someone would say, they didn’t know what they were doing and didn’t want to look like a fool.
These same people finally gussied up the courage to go to a class only to have their fears confirmed. Either the teacher didn’t have enough knowledge to see there was a new student in their class, or they just didn’t notice. I hear this a lot and I too was one of these students when I began my practice years ago. Granted now that I teach, it became my passion to teach to those students that wanted to discover a practice so I teach beginner yoga, as well as gentle and restorative so I make it a point to see if there is someone new in my class and help them to feel accepted without drawing too much attention. It is our job as yoga teachers to make everyone who attends classes to feel accepted so they will come back. I am not sure if you know this but the more people you have in your classes the more money you will make. If that isn’t incentive, I don’t know what is. I am not getting rich off of teaching yoga but I still have mouths to feed at home including my own.
It upsets me to hear that teachers aren’t taking time to nurture new students. In western medicine this is called bed side manner. If you have a doctor that isn’t kind to you and solely focused on the diagnosis or opinion without taking the time to nurture their patients, then more than likely you will seek out someone who is nicer, or you get turned off and feel that all doctors are the same. We as yoga teachers have a responsibility to nurture, and help create an environment where all students are created equally. Now-some teachers could say- “well if I have a student in my class that is new to yoga and I am teaching a more advanced practice, than they shouldn’t be there. “Well my response is- it doesn’t matter. If you are a good teacher than you are creating a safe space for everyone to feel welcome no matter their experience level.
So please, as a new student, or a well experienced one, it is your job to speak up. If an instructor isn’t teaching the style of class that was described or your fears of not wanting to go back are confirmed, because the teacher isn’t noticing, then please write or call your studio, and tell them. It only makes us better teachers when we can hear and be open to this feedback. Our yoga practice is here to serve our bodies and minds and honesty is the foundation of the relationships that we build in our lives on and off the mat.
The Panicked Yogi seems counter intuitive, doesn’t it? Well, I am coming to learn that suffering from panic attacks in the yoga world is more common than I thought. As yogi’s or more specifically yoga teachers-we are looked at sometimes as more than your average human. We are looked at as though we are constantly strong and spiritual enough to hold space for others that are suffering. But silently some of us, including me- suffer silently.
I have experienced bouts of anxiety on and off since my mid 20’s. When I had my first panic attack I thought I was dying. I was sitting in a restaurant with my then 8-month-old son, and my ex-husband when the room started spinning. I quickly got outside and sat on a curb and hyperventilated. The sensations I was experiencing eventually passed but without the worry that something was seriously wrong with me. We later boarded a plane to head home from California where we were visiting, and it happened again! Only this time I was on an airplane and 30,000 feet in the air. The flight attendants quickly cleared a row for me to lay down and they called for a doctor on board. He looked me over, my heart rate was high and blood pressure low. We eventually landed the plane with EMT’s waiting. After them giving me an assessment and taking vitals they told me I was fine and hyperventilated. I thought they were crazy! But they weren’t, I learned that what I was going through was adrenaline rushing through my body created by stress. Which, caused me to sweat, hyperventilate, and my heart to race- among other things. I took the necessary steps to heal with individual therapy, breath work, and acupuncture. That healing didn’t happen overnight. It took a couple of years. That’s right, a couple of years.
Fast forward, here I am 12 years later and silently suffering again. Except this time, I am super self-aware. I have 15 years of a yoga practice under my belt, yoga teacher training and other modalities that give me the ability to examine and express. Except being super self-aware as I am can be daunting because, even a yogi’s mind can over think. I have learned this time around my anxiety stems back to my childhood and there are places in me that have never healed. You may say well how come it has taken this long for it to come up? My reasoning has been this-there are some of us who have had messed up childhoods or an area in our early lives that wasn’t perfect so we chalk that up to being normal. But the reality is, if we don’t heal from those past hurts they become a part of us in ways when we are grown. Like, why we are afraid of being alone, fear of abandonment, scared of something bad happening-all symptoms of anxiety by the way.
It is only now that I can confront these things that are standing in my way of reaching my full potential. It is with my breath, my inner work, and telling that young girl that is still a part of me that she is loved. I have learned throughout this process that I am not alone. There is an average of 40 million Americans who suffer with anxiety and panic attacks and that is just what is recorded. I hope that through my expression we can unite and come together and start to have open conversations about what it is that we need mentally and emotionally.
The wisdom I have on this besides sharing my story, is that if you are reading this, and are one of those people who suffer from anxiety and or panic attacks, you are not alone. I am here for you if you feel no one else is. When we feel, we don’t have a lifeline, know that there is always someone rooting for you in your corner.
I have been in Colorado for close to a month now and this week I have acknowledged that I have been taking false refuge in distractions because I have lost my purpose. Now before you say, Seriously, she’s lost her purpose? Let me explain. When I started teaching yoga I found a purpose that I never knew I had. I was helping people through posture and breath. Through teaching I connected to women and men of all ages and I gave meaning to the human experience by helping students realize their potential and uncover their true selves.
During that time, I was still a wife, and a mama, and continued with the daily tasks and responsibilities as such. But I lost my self through the work I was bringing to others. My personal practice suffered. I started to get burnt out from teaching all the while still trying to hold myself to the highest standard for my students. Because they depended on me to guide them. But who was guiding me? Where did I go? I am sure there are yoga teachers who have had similar experiences. When I discovered yoga 15 years ago it gave me meaning and uncovered all the layers that were holding me from who I really am. That is what yoga does. That is why I wanted to teach.
And now that I am not teaching, I have realized I need to repurpose. I need to find myself again. To be more than a wife and a mother, (even though I know that is enough in itself) I want to be a friend to myself-to be forgiving, and again uncover the layers that I put back into a cocoon because I wanted to be there to help others. I don’t think that will ever go away-my wanting to help, but I also need to help myself when I need it. I need to let go of the distractions and be on my mat to define my purpose. Yoga has always taught me to accept where I am in the moment. As of late, I have been sad, and lonely. I am navigating a new world and place where I am trying to find belonging. I don’t want to distract myself any longer. I want to feel all of it. Every emotion of sadness, happiness and everything in between. It makes the transition and transformation worth it. I truly believe that we are like butterflies coming out of a cocoon many times over in one lifetime. It’s up to me to stay awake and confront the fear and scariness because when I reach the other side and see how far I’ve come, it makes it all worth it.
Here we go! Last day of school is tomorrow. Teachers stopped giving out homework two weeks ago. Our pool that we belong to opened on Memorial Day and the kids get in the water even though its 50 degrees. Where am I going with this? Well, every year around this time, I fight the slowness until I raise my white flag and surrender to the season. That said, that has not always been a good thing. I become more lenient as a parent by letting my kids eat more popsicles, and ice cream. They stay up later, and get a little lazy at times. Our schedules change in the summer and our routines have an "Eff it" attitude. Every year, I say, NO! This summer is going to be different, and then its not. So this year, I am putting an end to all of that and allowing myself to surrender to what is.
Yoga teaches us to surrender. It teaches us that these moments of slow-ness instead of busy-ness are
alright to have. It allows us to appreciate time moving a slower pace. I for one used to be the person that would get a little scared every time I knew summer was around the corner. Because I knew what this meant for my work, my family, the change in our every day life. I used to look at that with fear. My mind becoming busy with "what if's" and so on. Now, I embrace it. I surrender to the season. I enjoy my kids, because they are only kids once. Ice cream for breakfast? Sure why not?! YOLO right?
Tiffany (RYT 200®) is a student and teacher of yoga living in Baltimore, Maryland.
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