In every man there is something wherein I may learn of him; and in that I am his pupil. –Ralph Waldo Emerson
Last week, I returned to my regular night of yoga after two weeks off. During my absence, the previous instructor had left and a new instructor had taken her place. The previous instructor was inspirational in her practice of yoga. Her classes were theme based and varied. She had an incredible memory for the positions both in Sanskrit and English; she led us through sequences gradually, building up to more advanced poses; she continually reminded us to listen to our bodies, take breaks if needed or challenge ourselves with more advanced poses if they were a part of our practice. She had an uncanny ability to know where we were out of alignment or tense, allowing us to self-adjust simply by listening to her suggestions. She respected us as adults and yoga practitioners, never giving too little or asking too much. She valued the silence we could cultivate within our minds as we flowed continually, one pose, one breath, at a time.
Over the years, I have practiced with a variety of different yoga instructors and have learned something from each of them; yet I have practiced enough to appreciate the difference between a class with an experienced instructor and one with a beginning instructor, so it was with a little trepidation that I returned to class with a new instructor.
Just as I arrived, the class began slowly. And continued slowly. At times, the instructor repeated sequences as though she was buying time to think of her next move. Other times she left us in restorative poses for what seemed like great lengths of time when we hadn’t, in my critical mind, done anything to merit restoration. She forgot steps sequences; called out the wrong names for poses. My thoughts went from my breathing and postures to a critical stream of judgement. “Does she know this is a mixed level class? Or did it change to a beginning class? Am I really going to drive all the way out here for this?” And on and on in the same vein.
Yoga promotes peace, humility, understanding and equality. Yet throughout my practice that evening, my thoughts were negative, judgmental and unkind. Even as I noticed the tone of my thoughts and tried to return them to my breath, the flow of negativity continued with each pose. Before I knew it, the class was almost over.
As we were preparing for the final, resting pose, the new instructor offered us each a temple massage.Because I felt that I hadn’t gotten much out of the class, I was pleased at the idea of a brief massage to help me relax and finally quiet my thoughts.
I tried to relax and focus on my breathing as the instructor made her way around the class. Finally, I felt her fingers on my temples…
… and they were trembling.
In an instant, all of my negativity and judgement drained from my body. At her touch, I was at once reminded of our shared humanity and of her courage to be at the front of the class, sharing her love of yoga with us, while I grumbled from my mat. Maybe these were her first classes and she was still honing her skills. Even the most seasoned teacher was once in her shoes. I was ashamed of my judgement and lack of humility.
After class, I made sure to welcome her to the studio and thank her for the massage. In part, I did what I did to assuage my own guilt, but also, in the hope that I could pass along a little of the kindness and encouragement that I withheld throughout the class. I am grateful to her, and the experience, for reminding me that everyone has something to teach us, if only we allow ourselves to be open and receptive to what they have to share.
Thank you for reading!
What about you? Is there anyone you have come across lately that you may have judged too harshly? Is there any way you could re-frame the experience to be a learning experience or a reminder of our shared humanity?