Recently I had an powerful experience, like nothing I’ve ever experienced teaching yoga.
To back up, one of the things I learned a lot about in my Forrest Yoga teacher training and the subsequent process of getting my certification was learning how to see energy and empath. As you breath and bring your focus on feeling, you attempt to see energy and empath (i.e. get a feeling sense of where your students are at; what their energy is like). Sometimes this is just sensing when the class is struggling or if the energy is sluggish and you need to adjust the poses you are teaching (or how you are teaching them) accordingly. The next layer of seeing is noticing what kind of energy you feel from individual students and what that might mean for their lives. Sometimes what you hit on is your own projections but other times it can be surprisingly accurate.
If this sounds a bit out there, trust me, I wondered about that too when I started to learn about it and practice it in the training. Sure, Ana is amazing at reading the energy of a class and sensing right when you need that supportive assist, but Ana’s kind of expertise is a rarity. Yet Ana continually reiterates that everyone has the ability to empath and see energy–it’s just a matter of tuning into it and it’s a skill that can be honed.
Despite her insistence though, I struggle in this area as a teacher and find myself uncertain on what I’m sensing from students. I question whether or not I’d ever get to the level of expertise I find with the Forrest Yoga senior teachers I’ve experienced.
So I was amazed at what happened the other day while I was teaching at juvenile hall. My colleague, Sandy, and I were teaching the maximum security unit. There was a kid there who was reluctant to do any of the poses we were doing. It took constant coaxing on our part to get him to at least try the poses. Initially I just felt frustrated with him, but tried to focus on the small successes when he’d attempt a pose.
At the end of class, we gave the boys a neck assist, which is an adjustment to help release the neck in savasana (final relaxation pose). As I was giving this boy an adjustment, I felt this deep wave of energy from him. It was a rush of both apathy and deep remorse. Certainly this boy had committed a major crime to warrant being in maximum security, but I couldn’t believe the level of sorrow and shame I sensed from him. I kept breathing and took my time giving him a long assist and gradually I could sense him relaxing more in the pose. At the end of class there was a noticeable shift in his energy and a little more lightness to the way he carried himself.
I could still feel fiery energy pulsing through my hands after class and grounded myself by pressing into the concrete wall for a few breaths to release it. I truly sensed, “Hey, I made a difference, however small, in this kid’s life.”
So when I’m doubting myself as a teacher or wondering whether anything I’m teaching kids is sinking in, this profound experience is something I can draw on. I am capable of empathing and making a difference (again, however small) through teaching yoga. And that matters.
Image credit: CHE