a blog by Ellen Davies

3 Ways to help you teach during a crisis

3 Ways to help you teach during a crisis

Yoga teachers are people too, and stuff happens to us just like it does everyone else. A family crisis, a death, a health scare, a financial mess, whatever — yet you still have to teach your yoga class. What do you do? How do you teach a class when you’re stressed, anxious, grieving, or hurt?


Here are three hints to help get you through this rough patch.


1. Get a sub. While yoga teachers are human, we have to be professional, and bringing your personal issues into class is a bad idea. It will make students uncomfortable at best and drive them away at worst. If you think you can’t get through a class without breaking down, then call for a sub. This answer seems to obvious, but how often do we give ourselves a break? I tend to think I can power through, and it’s hard for me to acknowledge when I need to step away, but I’m always glad I did.


The other side of this advice is this: it is okay, at times, to admit to your students that you’ve going through a rough patch. A couple of years ago, I said something like, “If you’ve had a stressful week like me, this pose should feel really good.” One of my students came up to me afterwards and said, “I never knew you had stress in your life!” That made me laugh. But the bottom line is that it’s okay to share, but don’t make it all about you.


2. Call on your mentors. Sometimes when we are in the midst of troubles, we neglect our own practice. But if you aren’t filling your own vessel, you will have nothing to offer your students. Seek out the best classes and your favorite teachers. Read your favorite yoga books. Listen to your favorite meditations. In times of crisis, we need to be soothed and comforted.


After my youngest went to college, and I was face to face with the empty nest, I went to my friend Cara’s class. I expected to feel comforted, but unexpectedly I had an emotional reaction, and I started crying and couldn’t stop. And during the time I was sobbing uncontrollably, I remembered being so glad I was in Cara’s class. Because she handled it so well — she didn’t make a big deal about it, she didn’t draw attention to it. I laugh now when I remember how she came over and said, “Ellen, would you like a bolster for Pigeon?” and my answer was a teary, “Yuh-yuh-yuh-yes.” For someone like me, who doesn’t cry easily, it was a huge emotional release. I was able to leave all my grief on the mat that day. When I taught my class the next day, I had my confidence back.


3. Lean on the wisdom of yoga. I had to teach a class the morning after the school massacre in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, in December 2012. I felt so empty that day. I felt like I had nothing to offer — what does anyone say after such a shocking, heartbreaking event? I decided to focus on love, and I taught a class centered on heart-opening poses. As I taught, I felt comforted by my own cueing, and the reminders to open our hearts and let them shine up eased my own pain. People came up to me after class and told me how much they appreciated the message.


Similarly, I remember teaching during the financial crisis of 2008. I had observed my own behavior of wanting to hunker down and hide (as well as stuff cash into the mattress in case all the banks failed, but that’s another story). I could see it in the hunched shoulders of my students, too. I decided to teach a class based around shoulder stretches and heart openers, in order to help us let go of our fear.


What strategies have you used to get through a crisis? Leave me a note in the comments section — I’d love to hear from you!


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