7 Confessions Of A Postpartum Yoga Teacher
I'm returning to class this coming Sunday. Teaching again for the first time in 3 months. Putting on leggings and painting my chipped toenails for the first time since February.
I can't wait! (What am I thinking?!?! This is ridiculous, I've never even left my kid for more than an hour and now I'll be away from him, not just across the room, but across a whole bridge for about FIVE, once you figure in the drive and parking and the closing-up the studio and all.)
What am I thinking!??
I am thinking that it's about goddamned time. That I've missed you all, and missed teaching, and missed the music and the sweat and the stretch. But also that I've had plenty of that and more right here at home with my newborn son since he was born. The music (chanting to him noon and night) and the sweat (dripping down me at the most inopportune of times — thanks, pregnant-lady hormones) and the stretch (the cosmic emotional and psychological stretch of transforming in one breathless instant from freewheeling hard-drinking 30-something chick to responsible tee-totalling parent of a small living creature who desperately loves and needs me in every way). Yes; I've sung and sweated and stretched, all right.
So I may not have had much (ok, any) time to do asana since the little guy arrived. But I've had a helluva lotta time to do yoga. The kind of yoga that means sitting with what's difficult, and choosing how to react, and remembering to breathe.
Over the weekend, I scrolled through Twitter and stumbled across this essay while my little guy slept in my lap. I didn't have the heart to wake him just then, so I stayed put and snuggled him and read with one hand holding my iPhone, there in the pre-dawn dark.
And I found this incredibly powerful, sobering, all-too-true story of a Sacramento yoga teacher who, unbeknownst to anyone, taught 2 Easter day yoga classes last week and then went home and shot herself.
We need to create a space where yoga teachers can be real, without shame or guilt that they're not enough. We need to do it for ourselves, and most certainly for our students. We need to teach them that yoga is not about exercise, or becoming perfect — or even becoming the best we can be. It's about looking in the mirror and seeing what you see, and if it's something you can change easily — great. If not — well, we sit with it and try not to react.....
What this means for us, is that in our rush to enlightenment, or peace, or whatever it is that we think yoga will give us, we're bypassing the experience. We're actually short-changing ourselves and our students. By not copping to our own struggles, we're telling our students that they should aspire to not be human. The work is not to shed the old self — it's to integrate it. And to integrate it means that you can't just get rid of it. Again, the lotus flower doesn't try to get rid of the mud from which it came — it simply reaches for the sun. If its roots were pulled out of the mud, it would die. I'm not saying that we need to unload all our troubles onto our students. Not at all — save that for your therapist. But we do need to let them know that this practice is not all about puppies and rainbows and peace signs and feeling good. We need them to know that feeling bad is part of the process — an important part actually — and it's part of being human....
I don't know whether our friend and colleague suffered from depression or not. I have to think that maybe she did. She didn't let on. She didn't tell her best friend. She didn't tell her teacher training community. She didn't tell anyone. I have to think that we didn't create a safe place for her to be real; to cop to "un-yogic" thoughts or actions. In the competition to be the best teacher, have the most fun classes, offer the most awesome sequences, we've boxed ourselves into a lie. We put our best faces forward — and not just in the classroom, but on facebook and other social media outlets. We are bombarded by people with exciting lives, doing fun things, with amazing families who love them. No one posts anything when they're not on the top of their game — well, maybe a couple of people do, but largely, it's a world where we're never enough. We're bombarded with posts to think positively, create our own happiness and reality. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but if you're low, and maybe have been for a while, you tend to think that you're doing something wrong, because everyone else seems to have it all wrapped up. We're constantly comparing ourselves to others — on the mat and off the mat. We do it — we're human. And we usually find that we come up short. We need to let our students know that we're just like them. We're not super-human. We struggle, we suffer — it's probably partly why we teach! And sometimes yoga doesn't work. Or at least we think it's not working, because we're not seeing the results we want to see. I'd argue that it is working, and has been all along. The fullness of the practice includes the darkness. We are darkness and light in equal measure....Wow.
I was struck breathless. So struck by the reminder, the imperative, the responsibility for us yoga teachers, us spiritual guides, us leaders of any kind, to embrace our shadows, to live in them and be fearless enough to own them.
That in mind, I feel more committed than ever to keeping it real. To resisting the urge to package my yoga-teacher-life as one that's all shellacked grace and ease and happy shiny people holding hands, one that never feels cold or pain or ache or indigestion. And to offering my own humanity as proof of why this transformational practice works.
So, that said, I give you
7 Confessions of a Postpartum Yoga Teacher
1. I have back fat. It used to be belly, and it's for real. I feel it scrunching on my left side every time I pick up my kid and burp him over my right shoulder. And I hope to create the kind of environment where you feel safe letting yours fly free, too. A good teacher is not necessarily the skinniest, most muscle-y one. Some of my best teachers have been far from nubile or svelte or ripped. And some of my, ahem, "less-best" teachers have been super mad fit. And their fitness didn't mean a damn thing. Their muscles didn't give them the words to change my life, or or the wisdom to slow my racing mind. I want you to feel free and confident to take up space. To own your bodies, to own your stories. To own your size. (It's powerful, you know. It's the most formidable tool you wield as you move through the world.) And to own your scars. And your back fat. 'Cause you've earned 'em.
3. I don't want you to be perfect, either. In fact, I've never had more sympathy for you or your body. (Especially during core work!) Sympathy for every moment of weakness, every soft spot, every source of pain or struggle. (You should see how shitty my sit-ups are these days. And I love them. Navasana, too.) So take Child's Pose. Take it over and over if you'd like. Modify. Skip. Take a breath. Sneak out to pee during the standing series. Do what you need to do in order to take care of yourself. There is no prize for the most Chaturangas. So screw 'em and skip a vinyasa if you need to. Your breath is the whole point, anyway, you know.
4. I don't give a shit what your fancy asana tricks look like. I mean, don't get me wrong; I'm sure they're amazing. And I give you mad credit for putting in the time and effort to practice them until you achieved them to the degree of ease that you can show them off in class while everyone else is in a reclining twist. I don't give a shit because I know they are temporary. I used to be able to rock all kinds of cool things, too. (Sure wish I'd thought to take a few pictures for proof for my grandkids someday. D'oh!) And I can do a few of them already again now, and I may well be able to do them all again some day. Or I may not. Either way, those fancy poses are not me, and never were. And they're not you, either. So don't get too attached. They're impermanent, just like everything else. And someday, one way or another, they'll go.
5. I'm tired, too. I get hopeless and scared, too. I get fearful and obsessive and my mind runs off the rails like a runaway train and I have to rein it in over and over from dwelling on the things that frighten me. And I know anyone who's human has that same experience because hey, duh: we're human. That's why this practice has been such a godsend. And that's why I want to share it with you. Not for the workout or the ego boost or the perpetual gooey talk of love 'n light.
6. I respect your time. Before I had a child I had endless hours to practice. Man, did I take that free time for granted! Man, do I wish I'd known to appreciate it when I had it. Now, just two months into being a parent, I know how rare it is to get even 20 minutes for a jumbled incomplete practice. (I was torn as to whether I should even write this blog today, because I knew that in choosing to use precious naptime to write I'd be sacrificing my asana time for the day.) So I promise not to waste your time. I will do my best to start and end class on time, and to pack the class with a well-rounded flow, a quiet meditation, a soothing savasana, and as much mindful content as I possibly can. Because I know this might be the only time you get for yourself all week. And that being here, just showing up and staying with it all, easy and not, will make you a better mother and partner and person.
7. I want you to know how inherently lovable you are. How beautiful you are. How magnificent you are. That you are a bodhisattva; an awakened one; a beloved Child of God. Looking at my kid while he sleeps (and I can't help doing it all the time, I mean, geez, he's so damn precious it just melts my heart), all of that goodness becomes abundantly clear. It breaks my heart to think that he might ever have even a moment in his life when he forgets his fundamental goodness, his unchanging lovability, his intrinsic sacred being. That deep knowing is all that matters. And that goes for you, too.