A few days ago, I felt annoyed by a yoga teacher. I mean, deeply irritated. The kind of irritation that stings in the moment, but then broods in the mind for hours. Hours. This feels strange to admit, and some part of me wants to defend myself—“But, but I never brood for hours! You have to believe me!” Yet some other part of me also wants to tell you that I brood more often than I do so that you will find me relatable.
Those voices are both a bit delusional. So I’ll tell you the truth. I do brood sometimes. Not a lot, but when I do, it usually turns into a transformative experience. When a thought will not let go, I know there’s something I can learn from it.
And I did.
Let me rewind to this yoga class story. I’ve been knee-deep in editing The Art of Talking to Yourself. Editing is interesting work, and by “interesting,” I mean soul sucking. I am only half-joking.
When I edit, I let my inner Perfectionist out and tell her, calmly and sternly, “Okay, there’s something important that you can help me with. I know I don’t let you take control of many situations, so here’s your chance. Do your best to find mistakes and correct them. But don’t go too wild, and listen when Creativity speaks because you’re working together.”
This works surprisingly well. The trouble lies in wrapping it up. Saying, “Okay, it’s time for you to go back to …wherever mental tendencies go when they’re unused!”
Not as easy as letting her out, I’ll tell you. It doesn’t help that editing requires sitting all day (I’m not much of a sitter!)
My greatest resources in these kinds of situations are running and yoga. Moving my body calms me down, balances me, and centers me. I chose to go to yoga.
The only class available that day was a Yang/Yin class that advertised itself as one half challenging, heart-pumping poses and one half restorative work. I would have preferred a full challenging class that day, but this was the only one. I figured that I could push myself as hard as I wanted in the first half, and then simmer down. This sounded incredible. Until I actually got there.
The Yang part was not challenging at all, and incredibly short. While the class description said it would be half-half, it was more like one-third.
At this point, I knew I had a choice to make. For years, I went to yoga classes and followed the teachers verbatim. Then, I found myself feeling unsatisfied because I had wanted to go deeper or feeling exhausted because I’d pushed myself too hard. Over time, I learned that I could make my yoga practice my own—even in classes. By pushing a little harder when I needed to and backing off when I needed to, I could make each practice into a deep conversation with my own body. I didn’t need to feel unsatisfied.
This attitude is the cornerstone of yoga, and it also takes a lot of pressure off the teachers. If students take charge of their practice and listen to their bodies, then they become responsible for their experience.
Anyway, that’s just me justifying myself now. You can just guess what I did. She told us to lie down for a minute before beginning the second part, and instead, I did a few more flows. I was quiet, not bothering anyone, and going to switch to the next part when she gave the instruction.
That was when she came over and whispered, “Lie down so we can begin the second part of the series.”
This was genuinely surprising. I don’t go out of teachers’ sequences most of the time, but when I have, they’ve never asked me to stop! I already felt like the class was not meeting my needs for the day, and now that feeling had doubled.
As I lay there, I felt a building annoyance. I felt like she’d violated the safe space that I felt in not only that room, but in yoga itself. I tried to build some compassion towards her by trying to see her point of view. Yet, this just enraged me further. Maybe she assumed that I was being purposefully disobedient to her guidance or that I was trying to show off in front of others in the class. Whatever she thought, it made my choices wrong and her choices right.
I managed to settle my thoughts during the class, but the negative energy remained in my body, swimming underneath my skin. Then, it got worse.
At the end of a class, a teacher typically says something like, “You can stay here as long as you want.” In many classes, people will meditate in that time or take a few extra poses that they feel their bodies need. This teacher, instead, said, “You can stay here as long as you need, as long as you do not do any other poses. You can only do this pose that you’re in right now.”
As I left the studio, I actually felt like its walls were not safe—the way I used to feel walking through the halls of my high school. Waiting to exhale.
I knew I had some tough emotions to work through. I took the long way home.
I could write her a letter, I thought. I planned what I could say to her. I could explain how she made me feel. I imagined her reaction being judgmental. I imagined myself saying different words that communicated my feelings in a way that didn’t trigger her. I couldn’t find such words.
Then, I started wondering why I had reacted so strongly to her. She’d misunderstood me. She had told me what to do. She had interfered with my self-care process. But, most of all, she assumed that she knew—better than I did—what my body needed in that moment.
My heart lurched. There was something there. Hmmm, I thought, do I assume that I know what other people need?
A stubborn voice said: No, that’s the point. I work so hard to make sure I don’t assume what people need.
In some cases, I would believe this. I have learned that annoyance does not always mean that someone mirrors an unseen part of me. Annoyance can mean many things. For example, a relationship dynamic might remind me of an unhealthy past relationship. Or, sometimes annoyance means I’m looking at a past version of myself—taking a taste of medicine I used to give.
Both of those applied here. I definitely saw my past self and past relationships in this situation. But I knew there was something more. Mostly because of how I’d said “No” to the question “Do I assume I know what other people need?” The answer was too stubborn to be self-aware. I persisted a bit further.
Do I assume that I know what people need? No. Okay, maybe not so much in my work, but in my home life, do I? Silence. Then, the realization came.
Slowly, I realized that not only do I make such assumptions, but I actually make the exact assumption that the yoga teacher made. I assume I know what people’s bodies need.
As an active person, I feel concerned about the people in my life who aren’t as active. I assume that a lack of activity means people are not taking care of themselves. And sometimes, I push this idea on them. And sometimes, they tell me to back off.
I knew this was my lesson to learn when, just after I had this realization, the stubborn voice came back saying: But it does mean that! Not working out causes high blood pressure and stress and disease and…
Interesting, I thought. I really do think I know what people’s bodies need! How embarrassing.
I started to question these convictions. I used to be very active while I was also a high-functioning drug addict. Clearly, cardio isn’t everything. I also started doing yoga 5 years before I even realized that I hated myself. Clearly, yoga isn’t everything.
I also thought of scenarios when not being active is actually helpful—sickness, injury, or just because the body says “rest” (which definitely happens to me too!) Then, I realized that other people might feel different energy levels throughout the day than I do. I realized that, even if a person needs the same amount of exercise, they might be on a different leg of their journey. They might be fighting another battle which, when resolved, will allow them to explore a deeper level of self-care.
I felt relieved. I had drawn a lesson from the situation. I forgave the teacher. I embraced my one-hour-in-the-past self and told her it was okay to do what she felt was right. I embraced my embarrassed present self and told her it was okay to discover some unsavoury convictions—life is a process of learning and awareness!
As the veil of negative emotions lifted, I felt like I had gone through a deep, cleansing process. Through irritation, brooding, and discomfort, I saw a part of myself that I needed to see.
I have written, in the past, about learning to allow people’s journeys, and I am glad that I have been humbled yet again. I am always learning to do this better, and now I’ve found yet another way that I can improve.
As for that teacher, I don’t think I’ll be going to her classes again anytime soon. She has taught me enough of a lesson for now. I’ll wait for this one to digest before I think of going back for another!