Hot Off the Mat:
Scary moments on the mat
About six years ago I was attempting to do the Camel, a posture I'd been trying to do for about a year. Every time I lifted my heart and tried to drop my head, overwhelming fear consumed me. But on this day, a voice inside me was saying "Go for it." I bravely called the teacher over and asked her to assist. Finally I had the courage. I lifted my heart, sent my head back, reached for my heels, and slowly accomplished my goal. I felt so open and joyful. That night, in rehearsal for a local community theater show of Sweet Charity, I found out an actor had dropped out and a part was open. I bravely went over to the director and suggested that I could play the part. She looked at me and said, "You can, and the dress will fit you. The part is yours!" I'll always remember my first Camel pose as the day I opened up and simultaneously a part opened up for me!
Carol Shwidock, Stamford, Connecticut
My most challenging moments as a full-time yoga teacher have come when a student is obviously unhappy with what I'm teaching. Some people don't come back, but others express their displeasure clearly! One student argued that he wanted to do things the way he had in his old teacher's class. A woman once stormed out of class because she found the restorative props distracting. I've had students get annoyed when I told them a pose they were trying to do was not appropriate for their bodies. Some students complain because they want a fast-paced vinyasa and my class is too "boring"or because they want a slow-paced, meditative class and my class isn't restful enough.
My many faithful, happy students who eagerly try whatever I suggest, who leave class smiling because they are so relaxedthese delightful people I tend to take for granted. When my feelings are hurt, my ego is bruised, or an uncomfortable or negative emotion rises up, I am fraught with fear, worry, and anxiety. My lesson, challenge, and gift is to allow things to be as they are without reactivity, and to allow each person who comes in my door to do the same.
Carol Ann Bauer, Midland, Texas
Several years ago, a student of mine, in her mid-fifties and in good health, became very dizzy during class. I instructed her to sit down and breathe, assuming it was a result of moving from sitting to standing. But even sitting was too much for her. She had to lie down on her back and couldn't even lift her head. I was a wreck. She assured me she just needed to rest. Reluctantly, I continued class, with most of my attention on her. After half an hour, when she still couldn't pick up her head, I called for an ambulance. Turns out she had a severe inner ear infection with no pain. It's not an easy task, even for a seasoned teacher, to care for an ailing student while maintaining enough composure to continue teaching. Now that's being present!
Kim Ranich, Port Jervis, New York
I had recently opened my studio, Beacon Light Yoga, and was teaching a new class of beginners. As I led them in a warmup, one of the men called out, "Is fire part of yoga?" He pointed to the window behind me. The curtain panel, too close to a lit candle, was going up in flames. "No, not part of yoga," I responded. "Help!" A student dashed up, tore the curtain from the rod, and ran with it into the hall. Following behind, I pushed open the fire escape next door. Now the curtain was no longer on firebut the hall was full of smoke. We pushed open a window to let out the smoke and the window fell out, shattering in the alley below. Uh, oh. ... Back into class. "Let us take a long deep slow breath, knowing all is well. Let us take a moment to give thanks for this yoga experience...learning by fire."
Angelena Craig, Newburyport, Massachusetts
In 1992, just after leaving my eight-year residency at Kripalu, I launched the idea of a joint venture, between Kripalu and a Japanese village, to create a wellness resort. I initiated the idea, created a proposal, and was responsible for communications with Kripalu and the Japanese. I educated both sides in cross-cultural business customs and served as go-between. The scariest moment was when I had to explain in Japanese the meaning of yoga and the concept of the resort at a meeting with 20 potential investors from Japan, local government officials, and the architectand I was the only woman. Then I led the group in a yoga experience, speaking Japanese of course, while they were still dressed in their business suits. They had never done yoga before; the whole venture was at stake. Would they like it? They did! It was a very successful trip.
Harriet Russell (Bhumi), Columbia Station, Ohio
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