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Teaching Yoga

10 Ways to Hold Space for Difficult Emotions in Your Yoga Classes

This post-election period offers yoga teachers a unique opportunity to find their authentic teaching voice. Yoga teacher Desi Bartlett offers some tips to guide you.

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The 2016 presidential election was turbulent to say the least. A deep divide in this country has been exposed in a way that is both heartbreaking and necessary. If we are to move forward into unity, shedding light on the vast difference in our values is step one. As a yoga teacher, it can be challenging to find the formula for sharing our personal views while also offering students a respite from the political atmosphere.

Now that there is a new president-elect, some are celebrating and some are mourning. As a Mexican-American, the racism and anger has been something I’ve experienced on a personal level. I’ve cried with deep sadness over the kids in Michigan chanting “build that wall,” while the Latino kids were hiding in the bathroom. I’ve realized that the way that I see the world is a bit naive and quite idealistic. My idealism and deep sense of hope for the country and the world come from my work. I have the privilege of teaching pre- and postnatal yoga to mothers from around the world. During any given week I have mommies from Poland, Italy, Brazil, Israel, Vietnam, and of course the USA. It is not lost on me that I’m holding space for so many immigrant mothers and families during this time when my lineage also dividing us on immigration issues.

See also 10 Yogis’ Election Reactions to Restore Our Faith in Love

I’ve had to sit and go within and create some guidelines for myself for teaching right now. I wanted to share this list as a way of encouraging other teachers to find their most authentic teaching voice to inspire joy and action without inviting turbulent energy or anger into the teaching space. Here are my 10 tips for walking this fine line:

1. Leave your politics at the door.

Whether you are pro-Trump or still posting on Pantsuit Nation, remember that the teaching space is meant to be both safe and sacred for everyone.

2. Let your feelings guide your teaching.

If you’re mad as hell and want to call folks to action, you can use that energy to create one hell of a Warrior dance that lets people get in touch with the fire of transformation.

3. Be honest.

If you’re sad and scared, let your students know that you’ve been having some moments of fear recently (you don’t have to refer to politics), and offer them the tools that have been effective for you in soothing that fear.

4. Hold space for joy.

Even if you are not joyous about the outcome of the election, there’s always something to celebrate—the new day, the gift of community, the sacred practice that we all share.

5. Ask your students’ permission if you are called to do something unusual.

For example on the day after the election, I asked my class if we could take a moment to pray for peace. They all shouted “yes, please.” You know your community and what creates safe space for them, trust yourself.

See also What All Yoga Teachers Need to Know About Teaching Trauma Survivors

6. Be sensitive to immigrants.

I teach in LA, which has a very global community. I reminded my students that in my class we are all mothers and that our love and hope for our children unites us and transcends differences in culture.

7. Practice self-care.

If your emotions are all over the place, you might have a visceral reaction to a student’s emotional or physical release. Remember to get rest and take time for your own practice so that you can offer your guidance in a centered way.

8. Stay away from the word “should.”

No one likes to be preached to about what they are doing wrong. If you are noticing that the whole room has shallow or restricted breathing, instead of the incessant reminder to breathe deeper or the “you should” vibe, be the example. Let your breath be audible and invite students to join you in the audible ocean of breath.

9. Set an intention for your teachings.

Phrases like “be the light” are not just awesome on tank tops, they are pearls of wisdom that can help guide us on our teaching journey.

10. Love.

Not just in an airy-fairy kumbaya kind of way, but love with a real respect. Love with the kind of love that sees beyond differences in opinion, the kind of love that allows for respect for differences, the kind of love that you probably remember feeling in your first yoga class.

See also 5 Ways to Create a Safe Yoga Space for Trauma Survivors

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About Our Writer

Desi Bartlett, MS, CPT, E-RYT, is a pre- and post-natal yoga and fitness expert. She has starred in eight Yoga and Fitness DVDs, most recently Gaiam’s “Prenatal Yoga Workout.” For more information, visit