I've never loved flying. When I was a kid I would pay close attention to the flight attendant's every word during the safety demonstration. I would even pull out the card in front of my seat to make sure I knew exactly how I would exit the plane in case of a water landing. The oxygen mask part was always the most terrifying. I'd create these crazy scenarios in my head. "We could lose oxygen while flying miles above Earth?!? My mom will have to put her mask on before mine?!?" Of course it makes perfect sense to place the oxygen mask on yourself first and then help others second. But why is it only glaringly obvious in the situation of a depressurized airplane cabin?
I teach a lot of yoga classes. In an average week I get the privilege to teach between 200 and 300 students. Each student comes for their own reasons and each has their own story. It's not my job to figure out why someone rolls out their mat. It's my job to create a space for students to explore their practice.
While creating a space for students to explore their asana practice, I also create a space for students to share their energy. Sure some students go further and share with me their stories of success, struggles, heartache, etc. before or after class, but even those who make zero verbal communication with me still share their energies. I may not come off as the most soft and touchy-feely yoga teacher, but I think of myself as a highly emotional person. I've been known to breakdown and cry while on my yoga mat during my own practice. I've also gotten into my car after teaching a yoga class and had to sit in silence for a good half hour because I needed the time to digest the energies I took on from a class. Even though I am the one facilitating the asana practice, the entire class is a give and receive of energies between students and me. And the more I teach the more I've realized how much these energies affect me.
Since the election it seems as though energies have been more extreme. In the last few months I have felt a general sense of sadness from my students. Although I hope students leave my classes feeling more hopeful, I have to acknowledge that I tend to take on some of that sadness as I guide them through practice. I've been told to put up better walls so that I'm less sensitive to others, but I don't believe that is a solution. I want to connect with my fellow humans. I want to be open to others and I want my experience as a yoga teacher to be a two-way street even if the energies that are being projected are perceived as negative.
I know this isn't the case for everyone, but my willingness to be open to others comes at a cost. I'm often exhausted at the end of the day and barely have the energy to connect with my husband before I crash. My own emotions are harder to manage and I tend to retreat into myself more. I take on heavy stuff that my students are carrying around, I hold onto it, I drag into my daily life, the heavy stuff permeates my classes, and the vicious cycle continues. If I put myself in such an open place for others' energies I've had to be real with myself. I have to take care of myself before I try to take on the energies of others. Just like the depressurized airplane cabin, I need to put my own oxygen mask on before I try to help my students' with theirs.
I don't always have the chance to fit a full asana practice into my day, but I'm learning that small things like foam rolling, pranayama exercises, or even just laying in a supported posture for a few breaths allows for me to unwind, decompress, and manage the extra energy in a healthier manner. When I care for myself it shows. I'm more present and committed to my students and I am able to maintain more meaningful relationships with those around me.
This isn't just something I'm doing for myself, but it's advice I hope to spread to others. With the current state of US politics a lot of my students are getting involved with protests and organizing more than ever. Parents are constantly caring for their tiny humans. Health care providers are taking on energies that I cannot even imagine. It might be hard to find some quiet time or to carve out an hour in the day to practice yoga, but it's essential. Take a break from your cell phone. Log out of the social media account. Stop multitasking (this one is especially meant for me). Even the smallest moments to collect your thoughts, breathe, and regroup will help you negotiate your life, especially if you, like me, find yourself taking on the energies of others.
It doesn't help that I'm guilty of constantly saying "I'm so busy". It's this dichotomous badge I wear out of pride and shame. When I do carve out solid time to slow down, practice yoga, and meditate I have a terrible time releasing my to-do lists. However, there's a mantra I've adopted that helps me let go of those lists. "Peace within, peace for all". Deep down I know the to-do lists don't matter. If I take care of myself, I am able to better serve those around me. It's that simple. So, friends, try it out. Be a tad selfish. Put your oxygen mask on first, find peace for yourself, and then spread that self love to others.