December 12, 2013

A Yogi in Disguise. ~ Paula Shames

I have been teaching yoga for a long time.

Some days I love it, some days I struggle with it, but I cannot think of anything else I would prefer to do with my time. Regardless of what life presents me, even if I turn my back on the practice, inevitably it always lures me back.

One of my personal challenges as a teacher is the question,“Is anybody listening? Does anybody care about what I am saying?”

Or are we all here just hoping to get that yoga butt?

Often as yoga teachers, we do not receive feedback from the students. I yearn for it. I want to know if all this good stuff I am sharing is changing us in any way.

Do we ever think of anything that’s shared in class when we are driving in our cars, slouching at our desks, or drifting off to sleep?

I realize this is my ego. I, in no way, claim that I have resolved my big, fat ego. I want to be validated. I want to make a difference in someone’s life. I really do not care if we ever get that oh so desirable yoga butt that may have initially got us into class. I want to hear, “Paula, your words, your practice, your life has changed me forever.”

Yet, week after week, month after month, I often look out and see a bunch of blank eyes staring back at me  when I pour out my heart and expose my vulnerabilities and strengths.

Sometimes I want to scream, “are you hearing me?!? This is deep stuff here. Life changing stuff!! Pay attention!”

But I don’t. Instead, I maintain that yoga teacher calm and continue on with the class as if my desire to be heard doesn’t exist.

Last week, I received a powerful lesson from one of my students. Twice a week at  seven in the morning, I do yoga privates with a 14 year old basketball player, Jamie, and his father, George. Taking yoga was George’s idea to help Jaime develop better flexibility and balance for his basketball game.

On more than a dozen occasions, Jamie let me and his dad know that he wasn’t digging getting up at seven to do yoga. George kept telling me that Jamie was really rebellious.

I told him that Jamie is not all that rebellious. Even though he complains and falls asleep half the time we are practicing, I cannot think of many 14 year old boys who would even crawl out of bed at seven in the morning to do anything, especially yoga.

Even though Jamie puts on his “I’m too cool for yoga” face, he’s a good kid and still goes along with it. How many truly rebellious teenage boys would even unroll the mat?

Over time, I realized that Jamie’s father needed yoga just as much, if not more, than his son. He doesn’t sleep well at night, has lower back pain and constantly worries about everything and everybody.

I started to mention meditation and pranayama to his father to see if he was open to it at all. I never try to push this on people because I never know how they will react. I have a good gig going and don’t want to mess it up.

George seemed truly interested, so during one session, I decided to teach them a very simple breathing technique recommended for reducing stress and anxiety. We started with only a five minutes practice and I recommended that George should practice this twice per day for five minutes each session.

George was intrigued and asked me to send him written instructions for the practice. Happily, I complied.

Last week, I visited their house to find only Jaime’s father there. “Where’s Jaime?” I asked.

Immediately, George pulled out his iPhone and started showing me pictures of Jamie. First, of his back all cut up, then of him lying in a hospital bed hooked up to IV’s, and finally an X-ray of Jamie’s shoulder, where there was an obvious break of his collarbone.

“Oh my God, what happened?” I exclaimed. George went on to tell me that Jaime was riding his mountain bike and flew over his handlebars and landed on his side. He was going to be out of all exercise for the next eight weeks. “He’s really upset as basketball tryouts are next week. He was lucky though since he wasn’t wearing a helmet” said George.

Then George shared this story with me and it changed my perspective on the importance of what we do as yoga teachers.

He said that as he was driving Jaime to the hospital and was in severe pain, Jaime looked at his father and said, “What was that breath that Paula taught us?”

My eyes got watery.

George said he didn’t suggest it to Jaime. Jaime asked him to share it. So as they drove to the hospital, Jaime, with his eyes closed, was breathing deeply, focusing on the exhale as his father led him through the pranayama practice.

Of all my students, Jaime would have been the last one that I thought was listening. When I initially taught the pranayama to them, I was thinking it was for his father.

And to be honest, I am not even sure if I had just broken my collarbone that I would have even thought of using this breath. Knowing my disposition and lack of pain tolerance, I would probably be screaming and asking for some Vicodin.

I was so touched and humbled by Jaime. He taught me a valuable lesson—we don’t know how we are affecting those around us. We don’t know who is really listening. Yet what we say and how we live is important and is noticed by those around us.

My desire for acknowledgement and validation is just my ego wanting to be appreciated. What truly matters is being honest and vulnerable and sharing oneself because even if no one ever tells us, we are touching people in the most unexpected ways.

Thank you, Jamie for being a beautiful yogi disguised as a rebellious teenager. You have taught me so much.

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Assistant Editor: Karissa Kneeland / Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo via flickr


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