In September, I thought I'd had a big breakthrough. And... in a way, I had.
I closed the Body Positivity Yoga studio in July of last year, for a great many reasons. The majority of those reasons were practical, financial, and logical. But, I also wasn't happy. It was hard to pin down exactly why, except that I knew that turning something I loved so much into a business - at least a business I needed to rely on to keep a roof over my family's head - wasn't working. It was pulling my attention away from the things that excited me about teaching Yoga, about helping people discover their self worth and putting it all on numbers and profitability and fighting an uphill battle in a neighbourhood that was really struggling.
And, as I talked about in my last post, after I closed the doors, I also stuck my head in the sand. I hid. And, if I'm being honest, I'm still hiding. But why?
There were some things I knew deep in my heart as I closed the studio and haven't lost sight of since. I didn't regret opening the studio. Not at all. It was the big adventure. It was also the big "what if" that I may have held onto forever had I never tried. The part of owning the studio that I loved was the ways I got to help people. I love teaching. I started to feel that love slip when I was teaching too much near the end, yes. But the satisfaction of seeing a student TRY a pose they never thought they would never ebbed. The joy I felt when someone did something they didn't know their body could do never abated. I never lost the feeling of satisfaction when I could sense people's bodies and minds and spirits ACTUALLY resting in Savasana.
When I closed the studio, I kept telling people who would ask, myself, and students I ran into at the grocery store of all my plans.
But they weren't plans at all. They were the things I thought I should say and do. They felt false. "I'm going to start teaching again soon, I just don't know where!" and "I am going to open the virtual studio, I just need to get to work on it!". But was I saying that because it's what I really wanted or because it's what I thought others wanted of me?
By September, I knew I had been hiding, avoiding... not sure where to go next or what I was supposed to be doing. I knew I'd been avoiding the very topic of teaching again. My personal yoga practice had essentially disappeared. The only class I've taught since I closed the doors of the studio is the class I've taught since the very beginning - the class I teach to my Bears.
I thought I hit some big realizations in September when I made my last post. I felt... re energized... sure I wanted to continue in some fashion, even if I didn't know what that was. That is still true.
But then I dove back into hiding full force all over again.
I don't remember when Peggy first told me I felt guilty, but I do remember that the moment she said it, the conversation that followed was full of tears and hurt and big feelings that I wasn't sure what to do with.
I also knew she was right. I knew she had uncovered the very root of what was going on in my head and my heart. I did. I did feel guilty. I do. I do feel guilty.
Peggy insists that the sacrifices she and our children made to make the studio a reality were ones they didn't regret, that she didn't regret. The stress she went through staying at a job that was all wrong and making her miserable so that we could keep the doors open, the financial pressure of knowing that all the bills and our grocery money had to come out of her income because the studio didn't provide one and cost us extra most months, the emotional strain of some of my personal dysfunctions around control and triggers from my past rearing their ugly heads.... She says she doesn't regret any of it.
I don't regret it either. But I was aware, perhaps more aware than I even realized, of the sacrifices she made and the lack of benefit she received. I was aware of the ways it impacted our social life and our ability to spend time together, her working during the day and most of my prime time work being in the evenings and weekends.
And to find out, at the end, that it was closing, made me feel like I'd put her through all of that.... for nothing.
Of course, logically I know it wasn't for nothing. And I believe her when she says she would do it the same all over again (or at least mostly the same). But guilt, yes. Lots of guilt.
And what about abandoning my students? What about the feeling that I couldn't serve the need that I saw was so great? What about feeling like I was letting all of them down, many of whom had become friends and allies and cheerleaders? Yeah, more guilt.
Peggy would ask me, without any pressure, "do you WANT to still teach yoga?" and I wasn't sure. Not even a little bit sure. My personal practice nonexistent, it's like I was avoiding the topic of yoga.
Except, once a week, on Monday nights, when I teach the Bear class.
So she would ask me if I still liked teaching the Bears.
"Oh yes!" I would reply. I do love teaching the Bears. But, I rationalized to myself, maybe that's because they're all such dear friends and I'm so close with them. Maybe that's more about nostalgia.
But is that all it is?
No. It's not.
I've been convinced that the piece I wish I could have spent more time on when I was at the studio focusing on trying to get the business to be profitable and thinking about marketing..... was body image. I wish I had been able to do more workshops and classes focused specifically on body image. That's where my passion is!! Right?
Several things have been happening recently that have been bringing all of this to a head for me.
The local Provincial Eating Disorder Awareness Week begins on Sunday. And this signals two important events I am involved with are coming up.
First, I am speaking at an event I have known about for many months, the How To Love Our Bodies, Love Ourselves Pinwheel Educational Event on Thursday. I'll be telling my story and sharing my tools for a more harmonious relationship with your self and your body.
Secondly, the Love Your Body Summit is coming up - a project I am beyond excited for. A day of body love where I will be both speaking and teaching yoga. In preparation for this event, I participated in a photo shoot. By the way, the photo shoot was something else I spent a good amount of time avoiding. When trying to explain why to the very talented photographer, Michelle, I verbalized that I wasn't sure the work I wanted to do in the world was all about yoga. That I wasn't sure what to SHOW in the photo shoot because I didn't want to just be boxed in as a yoga teacher. But I didn't really know WHAT I wanted to do, so I was having a hard time expressing that. She let me off the hook when she explained the photo shoot was about how I like to feel in my body. What's important to me. Not, she implied, what others expected of me or the work I was going to do.
And so the photoshoot unfolded with some yoga, yes, but with some puppy play and coloring and Hello Kitty and suddenly I saw myself again. But when thinking of things that make me feel good in my body, practicing and teaching yoga is there. How can it not be? So maybe I wasn't as 'done' with yoga as I was starting to worry I was.
Coming up in just a few short days, I'm speaking at this event. I'm speaking about my journey to loving myself. And at the heart of this journey are two things.. .vulnerability and authenticity. Yes, yoga has a role to play. But how could I speak at that event and then again at the Love Your Body Summit this coming weekend if I still wasn't facing what I was feeling?
And then, something else happened.
A dear friend and student called me up late one weeknight to share with me some insight about the way I teach. And I remembered something I'd forgotten.
I don't teach yoga the way other people teach yoga. I made it up. The way I teach is completely different than the 'regular' way, or maybe more accurately, the 'common' way. Many of the ways I teach, I literally made up. And for a long time, that was something I didn't want to talk about. Wasn't that, after all, proof I wasn't a "real" yoga teacher?
Yes, the way I teach helps people. Yes, the way I teach is designed to make the practice work for, literally, everybody. No, I do not practice or teach advanced poses and probably never will. No, I don't really like a hardcore, sweaty practice. But all of these things have always been things I've felt somewhat self-conscious about: both the fact that I teach and practice gently and the fact that I make up yoga poses. Yes. I make them up.
But here's what I forgot, and what this student reminded me of - I teach what I teach and the way I teach and I make things up from a place of sound anatomical understanding. In other words... if I make something up it's because I KNOW that it will help my students or myself access a sensation in the body I'm after. Maybe what I am trying to get is a stretch across the quadriceps - an area that I've always found very difficult to access. Maybe the reason I made something up on the fly is because I see that a stretch I've offered is causing a student in the room to get frustrated because something about their body isn't cooperating. THAT is actually the part I get most excited to share with other yoga teachers. That's the part that hits all of my EXCITEMENT buttons.
One of the reasons I've felt so discouraged is it seems like there are these high profile body image activist yoga teacher personalities crawling out of the woodwork and I see them doing headstands and full wheels and crazy poses and think to myself, oh... that's what I could have been.
But that's because I forgot.
I forgot that I'm not them. I teach from a place that is unique. Because, I am unique. I don't have to be them. I don't have to do the work they do. I don't have to live up to a standard I've imposed on myself in order to offer something valuable to the world.
I've been overlooking, this whole time, that the very thing I felt self-conscious about, the way I make things up... is the very reason that my method of teaching is helpful to people who don't feel like they can do yoga... especially the yoga they see in most studios.
I have something valuable to offer the world that I forgot about. That I, in fact, was hiding.
I get excited about discussions around self-worth and body image, yes. This is a passionate part of my work, a part that I will never shut up about. Except that isn't an experience exclusive to larger bodies, something I also spoke passionately about. Something that also sometimes gets forgotten when I get tunnel visioned about the work I thought I was supposed to be doing.
But, I forgot that I get just as excited about anatomy and redesigning this practice of yoga. I get excited about the fact that I can share a particular experience with five different students in five different ways and prep their bodies for a later pose knowing I've given them what they need to BE prepped for that pose.
I forgot that what I have to offer is about MORE than showing larger bodied people that yes, they too can do yoga.
What I have to offer is showing ALL people that yes.. you can do yoga.
When I woke up this morning, I remembered that I get to do this thing I do any way I want to do it and that it's okay and it doesn't make me less of a teacher.
The most profound thing about this realization is that I literally am the last to figure it out. I can almost guarantee that anyone who has taken my classes or workshops, teachers I've trained or people who have recognized how different my style of teaching is already knows this is what makes it so helpful.
And here I am, just now figuring out that it's not about me being in a larger body. It's about how I used my experience in a larger body to relate to any body, any student's frustration with their body when it comes to accessing 'classical' yoga poses.
By focusing only on the idea that what made me special as a teacher was my larger bodied experience with yoga, I have been selling myself short. Very short.
To borrow a word my dear friend and student used in that conversation....
Perhaps what I teach isn't so much yoga for larger bodies, as it is accessible yoga. Which, of course... includes larger bodies, but isn't exclusive to larger bodies.
With this realization, I think I finally have an image in my mind of what I want to do next.
And all it took was letting go of what I thought I should be doing.....
I'm not saying when this will all unfold. But now I understand why I want it to. And that is what has been eluding me for so many months. I finally understand where my desire rests.
I can't wait to see where this takes me.