A few months ago, the members of a fitness centre for older people auditioned and chose me to teach a weekly yoga class. All swotted up on information about working with injuries and the positive effects of yoga on aging bodies I was all set to ‘instruct’ and completely naïve to the real life-lessons that were in store for me. Here is what I have learned from those who have learned how to live.
1. How to ‘say it like it is’
As a general rule, I hate those people – the ‘say it like it is’ brigade. The phrase often comes just before someone stomps all over your finer feelings. It’s their subjective opinion disguised as a fact – not empathetic or objective.
Saying it like it is for you, however, is something completely different, I’ve discovered.
From the moment I entered my very first and unexpectedly full over 60s yoga class, I was surrounded by yogis keen to inform me about what they wanted and did not want from their yoga sessions. And they’ve kept me up to speed ever since, providing me with a running commentary of likes and dislikes before, during and after the session, in fact.
This vocal approach to yoga participation felt really odd to me at first. Apart from the Darth Vader style surround sound of ujjayi breath and closing ‘namaste’, I find most classes to be pretty quiet, both when I’m teaching and when I’m practicing. Often, the only gauge I have about what a person thinks about the session is whether or not they come back.
I admire my older yogis for their ability to recognise what’s going on for them right there in that moment and to communicate their needs, just as they come up. They have confidence in their voice and in their value, which I think is something that many of us moving silently through our yoga class are still learning.
At first, I took too much to heart their ongoing requests and feedback. I heard their critiques as evidence of my failings as a teacher and of me personally. It was only when I let go of the teacher ego I had built up that I realised their comments weren’t criticism, but signs of wholehearted participation in their practice.
Thankfully, they’re as quick to tell me that they’re walking better without a stick or that their knee pain has been eased as they are to tell me when they’ve had enough of downward facing dog. Nowadays, I listen actively and respond to feedback from the group as we go. By expressing themselves without inhibition, they have created an environment in which we move together, collaboratively through the yoga practice.
They have taught me a valuable lesson about the freedom and the togetherness created when you say what’s going on for you and feel free to be just who you are.
You can read the rest of my blog at The Counsellor’s Cafe