December 9, 2013

“This Sucks!” One Student’s Response to My Yoga Class. ~ Susan Kraft

In the last class of the four week Yoga for Beginners series that I taught recently, I set the students up for a supported Shoulder Stand.

I was careful. I was methodical. I felt reasonably confident that each practitioner would, with some guidance, be able to find their way up into the pose. One particularly Tall Young Man (I mention his height just to point out that he had a lot of limb to deal with), repeatedly came crashing down from the pose. He would bang the back of his pelvis on the yoga block that we had set up nearby.

Before I had a chance to intervene, he came down for the third time and loudly proclaimed, “This sucks!”

The quiet studio became even quieter. I was kind of mortified. He seemed angry.  “Wow,” I thought, “not a yoga guy.”  I also thought other useful things like, “Do I suck? Maybe I suck. Maybe yoga sucks. Shoulder Stand certainly sucks.”

(I’ve often secretly felt this. However, I confess to presenting the pose quite cheerfully to this group of innocent yogis.)

The Tall Young Man (TYM) sat there dazed for a few minutes and opted out of the next pose. TYM was also visibly angry, either at himself or me or yoga or the universe, I wasn’t really sure. He later re-joined us for the last few poses of the class. Afterwards, I noticed that he had the yoga glow, and he told me what a great time he’d had and that he looked forward to studying with me in the future.

The next day I recounted the story to Jennifer Brilliant. She is a teacher with great insights into the art of teaching. Jennifer burst into laughter and said, “Great, he got it then! He was seeing things as they really are.”

The first noble truth of Buddhism is: Life contains Dukkha. Dukkha is often translated as Suffering. One teacher I met at Spirit Rock Meditation Center, Nikki Mirghafori, offered Dukkha as, the things in life that we can identify as “bummers.” It seems then that Dukkha can also reasonably be translated as, “that which sucks.” Jennifer’s laughter reminded me that recognizing suffering when it arises, knowing when something is a bummer, or that it pretty much sucks, is in fact a big step on the spiritual path.

The TYM had offered me an important lesson that day. Thinking back on it I see that I somehow had wanted to turn away from the apparent challenge of his observation. I was looking for truth to be polite and well-behaved. When it wasn’t (it rarely is!), I jumped right into judging him, me, and the practice itself.

Even for experienced yoga teachers, it sometimes takes time for lessons to be understood.  Sometimes it also takes a gentle reminder from our own wise teachers.

Next time I hope to be much more skillful when a student recognizes their own suffering—maybe together we will see that the suffering of that moment is not the end of the story.


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Assistant Editor: Rheba Estante/Editor: Bryonie Wise

Photo: Flickr

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