Mr. Know-it-All was absent from school that day and the overly-animated substitute teacher hit a button on his keyboard as the screen went blank on the wall.
Next, the image of JFK speaking in Berlin, circa 1962, flickered in and out of existence until its shadow was obliterated by the excited fluorescent gases that came back to life overhead.
“Ich bin ein Berliner!” echoed the teacher who stood in front of the crowd of nail-biting adolescents unsure of what they had just seen. The class slowly rose back from the dark of the windowless room and their gaze followed the teacher who was now pacing back and forth.
Asking, “Yes or no, did JFK speak a language other than English in the speech? Did the crowd understand? Did he invite people to come to Berlin to have their own experience?” The class collectively nods. “What if I told you that learning another language has so many nuances that in his speech, JFK made an error, a grammatical mistake in German? What if I told you that one word can make a world of difference in what you mean versus what you say?” Their heads turned to the side in disbelief as he continued, “Did it make a difference to the crowd that he made an error? What do you think he wanted to say in German?” Side-glances and nervousness permeated to become the tacit understanding that no one would participate because they were afraid of making a mistake, an error, a fault or were simply still asleep from the dose of melatonin that came with every in-class video presentation.
A student in the middle of the crowd doodling in her book raised an eyebrow and blurted, “Well, that the world stood with the people of Berlin and to feel the spirit of that time, you had to take a chance and experience it for yourself, right?” And she was right, the only way to experience something new is to take chances and do the things you’ve never done before, even if it’s imperfect.
Flash-forward to when my yoga teacher training finished, I felt so inspired and at the same time so lost. I had just completed this course in a foreign language (Sanskrit), anatomy and asanas, and I was reminded of my first day substitute teaching. Oh, how my mind raced with nervousness as I paced in front of that class and took this chance to do something for the first time. What if I mispronounced a posture name? What if I stumbled over my words during my dharma talk with all those people staring at me? What if…?!
Then I flipped the script and asked what if I stretch my limits to be the fool, to be the wanderer, the one to go out on a limb regardless of my fear, cynicism or judgement? What if I stand in front of a group of people and conduct a group fitness class? How could I then do this in a foreign language? The answer—life begins at the edge of our comfort zone.
My life these days is filled with exhilarating moments like these where to truly experience the spirit of it, you have to be there. I was reminded of this memory as a coordinator, facilitator, teacher and participant of a bilingual yoga teacher internship program in Medellin, Colombia with so much excitement and mystery.
Flashback to that day substitute teaching with an audience of blank stares and crickets. Realizing their reluctance to answer my peppering of questions, I broke the silence:
“You got it! What if I told you that grammatical errors matter very little because how you say something is just as important, if not more, as to what is said. The audience members will still enjoy the performance without noticing when the musician hits a wrong note and keeps playing, when a comedian stumbles on stage only to recover and make it part of the show or when any of us say something wrong in another language and keep going with the conversation. Why? Because we did it with enthusiasm.”
The same student retorted, “Come on, what did he say?”
With my best JFK Massachusetts accent and hand held high I proclaimed with authority, “I am a jelly doughnut!”
I’ve done many random classes in my exploration of yoga in the world, both teaching and participating. My favorite has been guiding flash-mob-guerrilla-impromptu-style yoga classes in city parks of Medellin, Colombia and where better than a place of passionate, smiling and curious people to experiment with yoga teaching. It was so exhilarating to be able to share some of life’s little joys through the practice of yoga, and some of life’s awkwardness like people partying, chatting and staring next to you with dogs running around while you and your group do it in a park on a Sunday afternoon. I landed at the right place at the right time; I was at another edge to my comfort zone.
I found myself in a space where someone took a chance on me, in addition to giving the chance to others, to experiment and play with their teaching practice as well as many other healing modalities that we are sharing. Whenever my nervousness or anxiety would kick in, I would remind myself, “I am a jelly doughnut!”
The Flying Tree Yoga Community with Sierra Melcher and Yoga Internships with Andrew Singer asked the same question of “What if..?” What if we can create and hold space for yoga teachers to add a language component? What if we hold the necessary space for teachers to grow the branches of their practice while rooting down in Colombian culture? Let them come to Medellin. What if we can create a customizable course that fills in many of the gaps left from the majority of yoga teacher trainings? What if we hold space to experiment with them, sequencing and synchronizing classes with music? What if we hold space for people to share, practice, and lead meditations and mind-body workshops? Let them come to Medellin. The question of ‘What if…?’ brought me to the edge of my comfort zone and so many doors have opened in my world of inner and outer wisdom to realize that I know nothing. I know so little that my only option is to continue learning and teaching.
Why a yoga internship? We are constantly reminded as yogis that it is called yoga practice, not yoga perfect. Good teachers became great teachers when someone held the space and time necessary for them to continue their path of expansion and contraction. For me, I got the opportunity to experiment, learn, and teach in my way with small to medium-sized groups in a variety of settings rather than the overly-competitive nature of doing tryouts for the possibility of teaching one class a week at a popular yoga studio. I was in a comfortable space of a co-creation, co-living, co-teaching house. It is a community dedicated to the improvement of the health, wellness and mindfulness. Let them come to Medellin.
Once I let go of resistance and popped out the other side, what I had feared the most ended up being one of my greatest therapies. My gratefulness for this experience is only the beginning as I continue creating a cohesive life of optimal wellness for myself and others. Nowadays life gets better at the edge of my comfort zone.
Author: Jamie Suss
Editor: Travis May
Image: Flickr/Luz Adriana Villa