November 12, 2013

When Did I Stop Breathing? ~ Melissa Petty

When I finished yoga teacher training, I got a lot of advice.

As we tend to do with advice (especially the kind that is unsolicited), I ignored a great deal of it. I’ll admit now, it was stupid of me to do so.

But, as with most experiences in life, I had to learn from my mistakes, because I am that stubborn. And so, here I am a year and a half into teaching yoga and I find myself stretched thin. I would love to say that I “love every minute of it,” but that would be a lie; and thus, pointless.

The truth is that I do love teaching yoga, more than I thought I ever would. Every time I make a connection with a student, or feel the room really “get” it, I can’t help but smile. That’s the reason I do it, for my students, for their experience.

I had this habit when I first started teaching where as I circulated around the room, giving adjustments and observing, I would breathe. A sweet, easy, powerful ujjayi breath. It was a reminder, a form of encouragement—an urging.

I would stumble through sequences, laughing when I said left instead of right (knee instead of hand, front instead of back, inhale instead of exhale). But my students didn’t seem to mind, and I didn’t either. I was a human, so were they—we were sharing an experience.

I reached a peak in my personal confidence where everything seemed to come together. I didn’t feel as though I was stumbling as much, everyone was on the same page, breath filled all of the open spaces…everything worked.

That peak was a blessing and a curse. When I felt that click, I wanted more of it. I loaded my schedule, and cut back hours at my day job. Never realizing for a minute what I was doing to myself until it was far too late.

In the past several months, I’ve been feeling disconnected, stale, unfocused. Much less present than I’d like to be. I find myself thinking back to my training. Our teacher looked squarely at us and said, “There are still days where I just feel like I suck.”

I thought she was pandering. She seemed so “with it,” her anatomy references, cues, sequencing and readings seemed so organized. I now know in painful detail what she meant.

There are some classes that just don’t feel right. I began to outwardly judge myself based on numbers. I found evidence to support my claim to suck-y-ness (but, only because I was looking for it).

Blame it on the “energy,” blame it on the class time, blame it on the heat (too much or lack thereof)—when really it is simply that I am not completely there.

I was told, warned even, by my mentor that I would burn myself out. She knew me well enough to know that it was an inevitability.

So here I am: teaching all over my beautiful city, spending most of my time in my car, scarcely any of my time on my mat, run down and exhausted.

It had been months since I had been on my mat with any regularity. I was on a trip back home (masquerading as a vacation), trying to squeeze in as many classes as I possibly could. I rolled out my mat in the front row at Strala, Tara Stiles (sliding across the floor on her socks) took the front of the room. The next hour was the most frustrating experience I had had in a long time. I was physically with it, but mentally I was somewhere else.

I grew madder at myself that I wasn’t fully present for the beautiful practice Tara offered. I came to the blinding realization halfway through class that I wasn’t breathing.

I had forgotten how to breathe.

In my attempts to share more, give more and do more, I had forgotten to hold space for myself. It became entirely about their experience, rather than about our experience. I removed myself from the equation. I became an outsider—a non-participant.

Upon arriving back home I began to reorganize my life. I left my job. I returned to the “basics”; trading out the 12 pose sequences for simpler combinations. I found that as I reminded my students to breathe, I was reminding myself as well.

There are still moments where I feel like I suck, but I let them wash over me. I take the lessons that I can from those challenges and keep moving forward.

Again, I would be lying if I said that the realization I had immediately changed me for the better. It was what it was—a realization. The arduous task of reconnection is an ongoing practice. The kind of path where you take one step forward and eight steps back. The only thing I can do is be a witness to those moments where I am removed from myself and my students.

My intention was always right, but my delivery became misguided somewhere along the way. Because really how can I help my students connect to their bodies when I am detached from my own? How can I teach mindfulness when I am always somewhere else? How can I help them discover their breath when I can’t find mine?

Like elephant yoga on Facebook.

Editor: Bryonie Wise

{photo: Jessie Photographie}

Leave a Thoughtful Comment

Read 0 comments and reply

Top Contributors Latest

Melissa Petty