Why I teach – and yoga as a tool for empowerment

You may have noticed that I haven’t written in a while. A few weeks ago I had a family emergency that knocked me off my feet. After the initial stages of worry and premature grief came the panic of having to travel to another country in the middle of a pandemic and strict lockdowns, followed by the anxiety of quarantine and powerlessness. It wasn’t easy. I had no interest in my yoga practice – my friends remarked at how they thought I would be practicing a lot given that I was stuck quarantining in a tiny flat and had a bit of a compassionate pass from work.

But I didn’t.

What I did stick to, however, was my breathing practice. I knew that I couldn’t arrive and be a wreck – I was there to be supportive to my family. Every day, a few times a day, I spent 5–10 minutes just working with my breath, using it to feel more grounded, to work through the anxiety and panic, to get some sleep, to relieve my probably-anxiety-induced cough, to generally stay sane.

And slowly, as things got better, I craved my physical practice again. Through gentle movement to begin, I could feel things shift and release. And slowly, I started feeling good, or at least a bit better, in my body again.

Why am I telling you this?

I wasn’t just in the mood for sharing – there is a reason behind this more-personal-than-usual post.

I attended a talk recently as part of my 300hr teacher training that aimed to help us teachers understand why we teach, what we want to teach and who our target ‘tribe’ is. Essentially to find our voice. I was almost embarrassed by how simple mine was:

Help people feel good in their bodies

I could reference all the science behind why yoga and other mind–body practices make us feel good – this is what this blog is supposed to be about after all. (ok, ok, you must know how much I love references by now, remember this, this, this and this, to name a few?)

But science aside, I know from my own experience what yoga can offer, and I want others to have that too, so that they too can feel things shift and release, and they too can start feeling good in their bodies. And, importantly, so they too know what works for them when life is too much, when they need some support and grounding, when they need a pause to work through stuff. Which brings us to the second point…

Empower people with tools for wellbeing

Breathing, meditation, gentle (or not so gentle) movement are all tools. They are tools we all have access to and can use whenever we want, with or without a teacher. Yours might be different – some people run, some people walk (I’m one of those too), some people cold-water swim (if I lived by the water, I would probably be one of those too). It doesn’t really matter.

Like I said to my sister, what’s important is to:

Find what works for you, and do it

Because there’s nothing more empowering than feeling that you can do something

There’s nothing more empowering that feeling that you can be an active participant in your wellbeing. That you can have an active role in how you feel, and through that, perhaps, have a more active role in your health more broadly. That, even when life is spinning out of control, you have something to help you feel good, or at least less bad.

And this is, I think, one of the reasons that yoga has been shown to improve patient activation, a concept I introduced in my last blog post; because, among other benefits, it’s a tool that people know they can use to support their health and wellbeing.

And this is why, sometimes, I think about training as a yoga therapist and maybe playing a tiny little role in empowering people living with chronic conditions; so that they too have these tools, so that they too feel that they can do something, so that they too can feel a little better in their bodies and minds. (or perhaps this is some deep-seated regret of picking biology over medicine 20+ years ago, maybe a conversation for another time)

So, yes, this is why I teach.

I have a well-paid non-yoga job and a long list of hobbies and other life ambitions. But I still love teaching (and I really, really miss it these days). Because I know from my own personal experience that yoga practices can help you feel good in your body, no matter what shape or size, or how many fucked up thoughts you have in your head about life and the future and who you are and what you are worth. And because I hope that, when I teach, I empower people with tools that they, themselves, can use to feel good in their minds and bodies.

(Oh, and to be clear: yoga is not a magic bullet. I know that more than anyone. But it may help.)

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