Today's Daily Tip
Teaching Through Tough Times
Challenge as Opportunity
"Yoga actually is the process of skillfully turning challenges, failures, hurts, and mistakes into opportunities," Ippoliti says. "As bad as it was is how good it can be.".
Ippoliti has felt that in times of sadness, she was in such pain in order to gain insight into how to soothe someone else in need.
"The challenges I lived through fuel my fire to teach others to apply yoga to their lives. I let each of the betrayals, the hurts, the losses, and the crimes light me on fire, and then I set every yoga mat in the room on fire."
Weave Your Challenges into Your Teaching
Once you have been able to see the lesson in your challenge, you can begin to integrate these lessons into your classes.
For Girasek, this means encouraging each student to meet his or her own needs and to acknowledge the perfection of their present experience.
She speaks openly of her circumstances, limitations, and the modifications that she needs in order to experience her body and mind fully. This inspires her students to share their own needs either with the class, if they feel comfortable, or silently to themselves.
"I bring forth my disabilities as a tool to move forward, to experiment, to develop creative solutions, and to develop strength and power," Girasek says. Sometimes this means using the wall to demonstrate balancing poses such as Vrksasana (Tree Pose) or having a partner help her up into Sirsasana (Headstand).
Weaving the lessons you have learned from your struggles into a class theme can also help create a sense of community in your class. Ippoliti finds this to be particularly effective.
"Sharing how I am using yoga to get through a crisis has helped me teach with more passion, spirit, and vigor," she says, "and this has been far more compelling than hiding or trying to merely cover up what is really going on."
Maintain Boundaries and Ask for Help
While sharing your humanity through the stories of your struggles can connect you with your students, there is a fine line between sharing just enough and sharing too much.
Sanford believes it is only appropriate to share brief glimpses into his personal life, as he wants his students to focus on their yoga, not on his private details.
"When I do share," he says, "I emphasize the stabilizing role that yoga can play when one is living through difficulty. I share the way that yoga helps me through adversity in hopes that they might find similar strength."
In general, share only after you have reached some objective clarity and awareness of your struggle. "Otherwise, you are sharing something you have not figured out how to cope with yet, and the students will naturally want to help, take care of you, and offer solutions," Ippoliti says. "This crosses a boundary."
When you are still finding ways to cope, remember to reach out to friends, colleagues, teachers, or mentors for support and guidance. Just because you are a teacher and a role model doesn't mean that you can't ask for help from others. Don't be afraid to reveal your own uncertainty and vulnerability during dark times.
Sanford learned to ask for help through trial and error.
"When I began teaching yoga, the ego's desire to perform well and the fear of my physical disabilities and limitations caused me to teach from a place of uncertainty and unsteadiness," he says. "I have come to accept the fear I experience when I need to ask others for assistance."
In addition to seeking help from others, remember to take refuge in your practice. For some this could mean becoming more devoted to your time on the mat or meditation cushion. For others, it could mean taking some time off from your practice, and possibly your teaching, in order to recover.
"My advice to teachers undergoing challenges is to trust their practice and remember that it is sacred and cannot be touched by events of their lives," says Sanford.
However, if you determine that what you need is to take a rest, trust that and don't beat yourself up for it.
"Interruptions to one's practice or teaching are not necessarily bad things," assures Sanford. "They are opportunities to realize that yoga never leaves you. Yoga waits. Returning from a hiatus also allows you to start fresh, to revisit old ground and discover new things. Often it has been briefly starting over that has made me love yoga all the more."