I prepare to teach class the day before Thanksgiving after more nightmares and very little sleep. I’m so tired and anguished I can barely think straight, the drive to the studio is brutal, and I go to the door full with dread and precariously low on self-confidence. There are out of town guests and students I’ve never seen before among faces I’ve known for years. I get busy attending to them as they arrive, noticing who tells me they’re newer to yoga with an air of anxious insecurity and who is eager to move. I store away as much information as I can retain.
I start by asking them to greet their neighbors. I smile, feeling the spirit of kindness and openness among them. Next I ask what they need and take in their requests as well as their energy. I am totally captivated by the task of attuning to a room full of people. They’re interesting, they’re important, and I’m grateful for each of them. I ask them to sit or lie down and to close their eyes if that helps them.
I close my eyes to focus briefly on myself. I feel my delight with my class alongside my pain and grief, the way my body holds my loneliness and fear. I notice how easy it is to drift away into hopelessness in an instant, to retreat into a well of misery with a room full of people who are quietly waiting for me to speak. I can feel, with certainty, that mine is not the only grief in the room.
I begin to speak, encouraging them to notice their bodies with all the ease and all the challenge that’s showing up today. I ask if they might observe themselves with kindness, and try not to turn away from their own discomforts and afflictions. I follow my own directions and listen for breathing, mine and theirs. I ask them to observe their emotions, urging them to allow whatever they notice. I remind them that humanity can hold hope and fear, joy and outrage, love and sorrow and grief within the same consciousness at the same time. My voice breaks slightly saying it–after all, I am naming my own emotions for them. It’s all right there at the surface as I sit before them and implore them not to turn away from their own tender human hearts. I tell them that they are welcome and perfect exactly as they are showing up in this moment. I ask them to hold with reverent care every part of themselves. I wait and listen. Someone takes a shallow, gasping breath. I ask them to take one breath together, and I feel relief as we do. We start with “Om.” They sound like an angel choir.
We start with simple spinal mobilizations and playful shoulder movements. I scoot myself around to make room for the front row and move with them for some time. This is what I have to do when I am suffering. My body doesn’t feel good yet, and I am not engaged enough to support them in their space so I stay in my own and attend to myself. My head and neck and chest hurt, my hips are tight, my hamstrings are short. I remind them and myself to release our necks in uttanasana. After a few rounds of Surya Namaskar A I feel a shift–the energy in the room feels stable and active, and I am feeling less concern for myself and more curiosity about the bodies in my class.
I stand in the front corner and watch them move, and then I get in there. I know which students enthusiastically welcome touch every time and I go to them first. I check in with people I haven’t seen in a while, kneeling beside them to see their faces when I work with them for the first time. I’m gentle and sparing with people I know less well. I walk steadily down the front row and then go to the second. One of my students gets my attention–the sun is streaming in and she’s in a hot spot. I move the shade, check in with my whole class, and struggle with opening the windows as I cue. Moments like these make me happy–as far as I’m concerned, being available to meet my students’ needs is at least as important as explaining how to do the forms.
I move to the second row and find a knot in the shoulder of a long time student while he stands in trikonasana–he sighs as I work it loose. I’m standing between two mats when a memory of Kevin* strikes me suddenly; he’s in one of my classes, t-shirt sliding up his back as he looks toward me. I stiffen and my chest hurts suddenly and intensely; I walk away from my students and stand alone, closing my eyes, struggling with my pain. I take a breath and give the next cue, open my eyes and look around. With the room full of people, I am folded easily back into the energy of the present moment. I feel myself pulled as though into a firm, loving embrace. It strikes me how my own love and connection with others is more captivating than my sorrow, and I am grateful.
I cue uttitha parsvokonasana and approach a woman who is new to me. Her shoulder is tense and pinched, and in her reaction to my approach I feel her concern that she might be doing it wrong. I murmur softly to her, “Hey, you’re doing it exactly right but may I try something with your shoulder?” Her face softens and she nods. Very softly, I guide her upper arm. “How does that feel?”
“Oh, god. Much better,” she beams.
I cue them into savasana with ten minutes left. They complete their practices readily and the room is very quiet. I walk between peacefully resting adults and I’m struck, as I often am, by how perfect and childlike they are now. I think about the clamor of the holidays and how some of them will be without loved ones while others struggle with familial toxicity. I know that one new student goes to a gym where the trainers push people to overdo, and I saw the uneasiness in her face as she described it. I feel love and sadness–for me and for them. I think about my own absent loved one and my intuition that there was shame behind a recent communication. I wish I could keep us all here resting in serenity.
I sit at the front of the room in silence and take a deep breath. “While you’re lying here and things are simple,” I begin, “I’d like to remind you of the truth of who you are: you are perfect.”
I can feel that at least one person is skeptical. I pause and regard them. “And I understand that you might not believe me, but I’m telling you the truth so I’ll repeat it again; you are perfect.” I speak slowly and clearly.
“So in case over the next days or weeks or your lifetime, someone who wants to sell you something or make you sweat more or convince you of their viewpoint tries to make you feel unworthy I’m telling you now that you are enough just as you are now, lying on the floor with nothing to prove. You are absolutely good enough. You have worth. You are divine; you are perfect.” My eyes fill with tears and there is silence for another moment as I compose myself and then talk them out of savasana. When I bow to them I stay there a long while, my head close to the floor, reverent.