Published in elephant journal, 31 July 2105
I left work on a stormy Tuesday night last week, going home in tears.
It happened quite a lot in my previous career—the pressure and politics and disappointment became too much and I’d collapse tearfully into an after-work yoga class and hope for answers.
Sometimes I’d notice my teacher looking at me with an unreadable expression and didn’t quite know what that look meant.
Now, I do.
Last Tuesday however there was no salvation in the studio, no funny look from the teacher. Because now the studio is my workplace and I’m the teacher. Salvation was not required.
I was weepy because as I closed up after class, I found a simple anonymous note on reception thanking me for the teaching. Normally I’m more collected (I’m British after all) but this came at the end of a tough day and made my heart open up like a sunflower. I am still trying to get used to living a life where so much kindness is present. So much goodness, love and thoughtfulness.
Sometimes you tell me at the end of class how much you needed it.
How much better you feel.
The true response would be to throw my arms around you and tell you how much I needed it too — how much better you’ve made me feel. Not just that evening but by collectively and cumulatively and constantly helping me become a better version of myself through this shared experience.
But we live in polite society, so I smile and say I’m glad. But you deserve more.
You deserve to know that teaching is not our gift to you. It is your gift to us.
When I thank you at the end of class, you think it’s just the natural way to close the session, some words I spill out as part of the routine.
But when I say thank you, what I truly am saying is this:
You are such an important part of the journey I too am going through. For helping me to recognise more clearly who I want to be and what I need to work on to get there. For feeling like a family to me.
I want to tell you that I love it when you come into the studio. Out of all the things you could do with your sparse free time, I deeply respect you for using it in this practice to become a kinder and nicer person for others. Because the world needs more people like you.
Sometimes you come in and apologise that you’re feeling stiff or tired—an apology! As though I would feel anything but an extraordinary privilege that you came. Maybe you will gain more range of motion and feel more free and light in yourself. Maybe you won’t, but you’ll start to recognise the loveliness of who you are and never again introduce yourself with an apology.
Either way, I am thrilled you had the courage to come. Thank you for trusting me and seeing what we can do together.
Sometimes when I adjust you I can feel how much stress you are holding and it aches my heart. I try to match your breath, convey to you that you are in a space where you are safe and not alone and hope that a little bit of that tension softens. But it’s not one-way. When you trust me to be part of your personal space, you let me grow from that connection too. Touch is one of the most compassionate and comforting forms of communication. It is no wonder that yoga teachers are often so happy.
You give us far more than you realise.
Sometimes, over regular sessions, I see a transition in you as you begin to shed the physical aims of the practice and open up to what more it can be. I notice a mindfulness settle in, an acceptance of yourself—a meditative calm as you begin to connect with who you really are. To be in your presence in those moments is a profound inspiration and some of the ways my own path has developed has been influenced by seeing you on yours.
Finally, sometimes I realise I am looking at you the way my teacher used to look at me.
What does it mean, that look? It isn’t pity when you are down, because I know that what you are going through will pass. Although I am sorry you are experiencing it today. It isn’t judgement of what you think are your weaknesses, because it is your strength and goodness and your wholeness in all its human complexity that shines through.
It isn’t sympathy, because you are in a better place than you think—you know what you need to do to heal and grow and you are doing it. It may take time and there may be rocks on the path, but you are doing what you need to do. That look is so difficult to define because it combines many things: pride, gratitude, admiration and a sense of protection but with a trust in you to flourish. A joy in sharing this practice with you and inspiration in what you are teaching to me. It is recognition of what we have in common and a celebration of the diversity we bring.
So when I thank you, I am not just closing the class. I am thanking you for bringing these gifts, this form of love, into my life.