Every Thursday morning as the crew of high school seniors and I get together for our weekly yoga class, I’d share this:
‘you are the teacher’
They’d look at me a bit puzzled, like ‘hey lady, aren’t you here to teach US yoga?’
But slowly, week by week, they began to see, or I guess the better word here is feel, they began to feel in themselves the slow rise of their strong voices.
When I met with them last week, I walked in thinking about one million things, it had been a week of personal ends and beginnings, and I was very much in my head. A lot of my fears came to surface last week…and so I did what felt honest.
‘What are the fears you have that hold you back in your life?’
I tried again.
‘What are the things that you hear so loudly that they stop you from doing what you really want to do, from saying what you really want to say’
One of the girls: ‘spiders. Is that what you mean?’
Me: ‘um, well, kinda….’
One of the boys: ‘ Oh I know, for me? I’m afraid that I’ll screw it up. Like even if I know the answer to a question, I’ll keep my hand down, just in case I’m wrong. And then someone will say the answer and I’ll wish I had raised my hand.’
The spider girl: I’m afraid that I’ll look stupid. Or that no one will believe me. So most of the time, I just don’t say anything.
We started to talk then about the impact these fears have on their lives. We talked about what could be possible if we let these fears go, what our lives could look like. I shared with them my fears, and they nodded their heads and understood.
We are all the same.
As we moved into the physical practice that morning, I asked them to see the places where they are fearless here in their practice (crow into handstand is just another day). How fearless it was to come even do yoga at all when most of their friends were hanging out in the cafeteria (yoga is not mandatory for these kids) and how their willingness to fall out of all these poses is a beautiful, strong will to take into their everyday lives.
It’s my hope that any yoga teacher would ever say, it’s the students that are the teachers.
And then on this Thursday morning that was exactly right.
I’ve had this vision that by the end of the school year, these seniors would be able to teach a class together. And today we got our start.
There’s a young man that comes each week, he’s 6 foot 5, plays every sport you can imagine, and when he rolls out his mat, the game face on this kid is just amazing. Like he is in it to win it. He doesn’t take himself so seriously that he doesn’t laugh, or smile, or get upset when he comes out of a pose. But it’s sports and academics that have prepared this kid to take on life in a much different way then the one he was brought into. I don’t know the entire backstory, but he, like the majority of the kids at this school are low-income, inner-city, with many family dynamics that could challenge a kid to choose a much different path. And here they are in yoga. Every week.
One of the regular girls who comes week by week shared that the night before her house was shot-at. A random act of violence that was likely gang-related, as several bullets entered their home, one went right into her closet door, she was just a few feet away.
They have all found out recently about the colleges they are attending next year, and they are ALL attending. For the majority, they are the first ones in their families to go to college. They are so proud of this, and they have every right to brag. But they don’t, so humble, yet so focused. They are the teachers.
This morning, coming in at 6 foot 5, I turned to him smiled, and said ‘today. you’re teaching’
And without hesitation, he claps and rubs his hands together, smiles and says, ‘let’s do this!’
With very very little coaching from me, this young man took us through the first part of class, all the way through sun salutation B’s. A total natural.
I shared with him, what my teachers have shared with me. To speak from a place that is authentic, to not worry if it’s right or if it’s wrong, to share, to teach and lead in a way where students feel there is no judgement that they are free to be exactly as they are.
Being on the other side of the mat this morning, I couldn’t stop smiling. What joy it is to realize that just by sharing what you love…what an impact this has. Joy is contagious.
He looked at me at the end of class today after we said Namaste. The look on his face, the giant smile, the pride and exhilaration of trying something new.
‘You’re right, he said, I am a teacher’ I seriously coulda cried, slash maybe I cried just a little : )
And that is why sharing what you love matters. It will always always come back to you so don’t be afraid to let go, look stupid, risk saying the wrong answer out loud. Do it anyway.