A teacher who recently took my class, posted a long diatribe on Facebook to express her disappointment in her experience.  Okay…valid.  Everyone has their own perspectives on a class and it’s always good to know how the class landed.  In her post, she lamented that the room was not following my instructions.  She felt that those moving in their own manner were being disrespectful to the rest of the room and me.  For the record, she was talking about two people.  But what if I didn’t feel disrespected?  And what if the only person in the room disturbed by the anomalies was that teacher?  She also stated that they were creating a disservice to themselves, which is an interesting take from someone who knows absolutely nothing about these two students.

I wouldn’t have revisited this subject if this teacher was one of those hard ass souls who think that there is only one proper way to do every pose in yoga…Bless their little souls…you could write a book on what they don’t get.  However, this particular teacher is all about posting her thoughts finding balance, patience, the process…etc., etc.

So, returning to these two students that caused the teacher to blow a gasket.  One has been on their own journey for a while, which means testing their limits, taking chances, and generally exploring…which means that their practice can sometimes seem chaotic.  It’s not.  If you take a chance to explore the limits within your practice, it means that you are willing to take a chance that you might fall out of the pose.  That’s how you learn.  Falling out of a pose is not a silent event especially on an old squeaky floor.  And so what if you fall out of a pose?  The other student was having an extremely bad day and wasn’t able to concentrate on my instructions.  Their life has been falling apart and the fact that they show up in the space to practice yoga, simply increases my admiration for their resolve and fortitude.

So, let’s examine the teacher’s determination that the students were being unkind and creating a disservice to themselves.  That’s pretty rich from someone who doesn’t know these people, doesn’t know anything about their physical abilities, and doesn’t herself follow all of my instructions to the letter…which I applaud!  It’s great that she has developed the self-awareness needed to practice yoga safely, but how dare she think that her uninformed view is superior to that of anyone else’s?  I am comfortable with people making their own decisions when it comes to their own bodies.  My job is to help people develop that fine-tuned self-perception of their body’s mechanics which is a melding of their physical and mental states.  And my job is to empower people to accept that their own perception of their physical body is superior to that of every single teacher in the world.  Absolutely no one knows how your body feels except you, and if you feel strong and you feel safe, you are okay.  

For the record, tolerance comes from accepting things that make us uncomfortable and challenged…not from things that fit into our sphere of comfort.  

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When life gives you lemons

In March of 2020 when my city shut down because of the Covid pandemic, I had the best sleep of my life. That might seem like an odd reaction to a global crisis but for me, it was the first time in years that I had no responsibilities and no choice in the matter.  My grandmother used to describe herself as a workhorse and as the years have gone by, I find that I am very much like her: an “A” personality, obsessed with organization, full of matter-of-fact opinions, biased, insecure, driven to succeed and most importantly… unable to be idle.  I am definitely not a show pony.  I am a workhorse.  I’m the one that will get the job done, no matter what.

When the shutdown began, I found myself with no work to get ready for and no work to do.  I could simply get off the never-ending treadmill.  Wow.  I went to sleep for a few days, getting up occasionally to eat something or watch the news.  Eventually the workhorse mentality kicked back in, and I began to move ahead.  I organized the entire house, paring it down to either essentials (I need it) or treasures (I love it).  I studied books that I had picked up on my world travels about acupuncture and fascia.  I knitted shawls and hats and scarves and baby sweaters.  I developed a series of free yoga and dance classes that I posted on Vimeo.  I established a regular house cleaning routine that I’m still using today.  Basically, I used the first six months of the pandemic to organize my life to its most efficient point.

The next year and a half was an uncertain tango between the varying restrictions within the schools and yoga studios that I worked in…opening, closing, reopening, reclosing, etc., etc.  Life became more about being fluid, adaptable and forgiving.  I weathered the uncertainty by working on things that I could control.  I learned to enjoy walking (a long story for another day), I biked more, I spent two months exploring soup recipes from around the world, etc.  Luckily vaccinations, vaccine passports, mask mandates and public health measures started to add some stability to the life in the city and yet at the same time, it brought some insanity into the yoga studios.

I have never claimed to know everything, but I do feel that some people in the yoga industry (with the support of the government) made an egregious mistake when it came to ensuring the safety of their workers and clients.  During the period when mask mandates were mandatory for all indoor settings, yoga studios (like gyms and restaurants) were given an exception.  You had to wear your mask at all times within the studio until you stepped onto your socially distanced yoga mat where you were allowed to remove it.  I’m not even going to start with the yoga studios that interpreted six feet apart as being six feet from the head of your mat to the head of the mat in front of you, or eyeballed the distances, but my question is this…does air stop moving at six feet?

I’m an ex-smoker and I cannot begin to count how often I would watch a cigarette smoke cloud float across an entire room during a boring rehearsal (from back in the days when smoking was everywhere).  Okay, so if we can agree that air travels wherever it wants, why not just get everyone to wear a mask when they practice?  I cannot begin to count how many times someone coming into the yoga studio has told me how impossible it would be to breath with a mask on.  I disagree.  Uncomfortable?  Yes.  Inconvenient?  Yes.  Something to adapt to?  Yes.  However, dance companies and dance schools across the globe continued working while masked throughout the entire pandemic, and you know what?  Dancing is way harder than a vinyasa class.  There’s a reason why as a sixty-seven-year-old lady, I can do a vinyasa class pretty much every single day of my life.  It uses different muscles; it does take physical effort but It’s not even a fraction of the effort I had to use in my dance career.

I have been double vaccinated and have had one of the booster shots, and yet, I got Covid.  Luckily it was a very mild case but the fact that I got it does not surprise me in the least.  Going to work throughout the pandemic has been kind of like playing a non-ending game of Russian Roulette.  Eventually your number is up, and I work in an industry and live in a province that puts profit (and on one level financial security) over safety.  I get it.  There was no perfect answer to the problem, and I am grateful that some of the yoga studios I work for managed to survive the pandemic and provided me with some financial security.   But wouldn’t it be nice if we could all just stop lying to ourselves and had real conversations about assessing risk?  

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What’s in a name?

Someone recently apologized to me for calling me “Deb”.  I, for one have never been overly attached to my name, simply because I’ve always disliked it.  “Deb” is what my mother calls me, “Debbie” is my professional name, “Deborah” is on my birth certificate, “Debsa” is what one of my dancers used to call me, “Debbeleeinskichuck” is what one colleague calls me, “Deebee” is how one director pronounced my name and for several months I answered to the name of “Susan”.  One dance teacher just couldn’t remember my name and somehow settled on “Susan”.  He was mortified when he found out he had been using the wrong name but as I told him, I knew who he was talking to…so all was good.

So much emphasis is paid to using people’s names.  When you use someone’s name, it tells that person that they are important enough to remember.  Plus, using a person’s name in a positive environment imprints on their brain, thereby associating you and the activity involved with contentment.  Although that also applies to negative environments.  My mother using my birth name plus my middle name meant I was in BIG trouble.  Even now, hearing those two names together makes me wary. 

All of us have been conditioned since childhood, upon hearing our names, to stop and listen to what is being said.  In a classroom setting, that’s powerful thing.  I once worked in a yoga studio where the director wanted all of his teachers to use the students’ names during the class.  While I understood his logic for the reasons I just stated, I didn’t comply with his rule for several reasons.

I personally do not like it when teachers use my name in a class.  I am known in some professional circles of the city, and while it’s nice to be recognized for the value that you bring to a group, I also value my privacy.  I practice yoga for my physical and mental health.  For me, it is a private time within a community setting where my place in the world is simply one small cog among many.  A reflection of the big picture.  I have also had a few stalkers in my life, one of which is still active.  Hearing my name called out in a public setting always makes my breath catch and who wants a panic attack in a yoga class, even if it only lasts a few seconds?  

Using people’s names in a classroom setting shifts the dynamics of a room.  When you call out a person’s name in a class, other students notice.  They notice who gets attention, and who is not getting attention which leads to self-doubt and dissatisfaction.  So, unless you prepared to say the name of every single student in the room, don’t use any of them.  That’s what creates a truly equitable environment.

At that particular studio, I watched how the use of names in the practice room had led to a sense of privilege among some of the students, and while I was glad that the queen bees created a close sense of community and belonging with the studio and with the studio director, I also became very aware of the state of exclusion that was created for others.  They were the students who left the practice room feeling isolated and ignored.  They were the students who changed their clothes silently in the corner of the dressing room.  They were the students who silently took their coats and slid out the door without looking back.  They were the students who never returned to the studio.  I do recognize that using people’s names is an incredible asset and I do recognize that it leads to easier communication, but it still does not change my positions on inclusion or respect for privacy.  To make sure that everyone feels welcomed into the studio means you have to create a level playing field.  I use no one’s name in the room (unless I am right next to them, and only they can hear me).

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Aging is a fascinating process.  I feel like I’m in a constant state of surprise.  No matter what I had thought that it was going to be like… it somehow shows up as something completely different.  

Although the aging process is continuous, the signs of aging seem to appear in stages.  My first encounter with the body’s decline was in my late thirties when as a professional dancer I noticed that my ankles joints were feeling fragile, especially when landing jumps.  That meant that it was time to retire from stage and focus on directing and teaching.  It was also time to develop a physical training routine that could support the life of a dance teacher.  You’d be surprised (or not) on how easy it is to injure yourself while teaching dance.  There’s not always enough time to warm up our own bodies properly beforehand in order to execute clear physical demonstrations of the steps.  I personally was no longer interested in the judgemental environment of the dance studio, so my physical routine shifted to the gym and eventually I entered the world of yoga to supplement that training.  

Aging is to be put into the constant state of a beginner.  How do you overcome this body weakness logically and safely, what can help this new ache, how do I reconnect this apparent physical disconnect?  There is no end to the avenues of research, and I love that I am continuing to learn new things.  Sometimes I wish that I knew then what I know now, but that’s how life goes and I’m happy that I can teach the next generation to be better than I was.  I’m also aware that in terms of the big picture, I know absolutely nothing and I’m okay with that.  

Now, not everything is roses in aging.  I’m not thrilled with the wrinkles and thinning hair that bruise my ego and I do wish I could continue to wear my favourite earrings that no longer fit because the holes in my ears have collapsed due to disappearing collagen.  But many years ago, I promised myself that I would age as authentically as I could as an example to the kids I work with.  I find it sad that people feel the need to resort to surgery and invasive procedures to maintain a positive sense of self.  Wouldn’t it be amazing if wrinkles and sags were embraced as the badges of honor that they are?  They say, “I’ve lived a long life” and that in itself is a remarkable achievement.  Many in my life haven’t made it this far and I still find that incredibly sad.  I would have loved to have seen how they would have evolved as they aged.  Would they have been just as outgoing and as crazy?  What new interests would they have pursued?  What adventures could we have embarked on together?  Our lives are enriched by the people around us and each one that leaves, takes an irreplaceable part of our hearts. 

The discrimination of the elderly is a real problem.  There was a teacher/receptionist at one of the studios that I worked at who always treated me like a five-year-old child.  If any of the other (and younger) teachers had told her there was a problem with the front desk computer, she would immediately have investigated it.  If I told her, she would ask me if I had turned on the machine.  She slowed down her speech and enunciated her words.  I was given lessons on how to turn on the computer, how to turn up the lights in the practice room, how to use the credit card machine, how to turn on the sound system, etc.  No matter was too trivial for her to school me in.  It honestly took every bit of patience that I could muster, not to take her out.  Think about it for a minute.  How much stuff is in the head of a twenty-year-old versus a sixty-year-old?  Yeah…exactly.  

I have discovered a superpower in aging…invisibility.  People either don’t see or they don’t take any notice of the elderly, which is fabulous!  I can now slip through a crowded group of people hassle-free.  What I wouldn’t have given to have that power when I was in my twenties and every outing was a running of the gauntlet through men’s obscene comments, gestures and touching.  I no longer have to worry about being groped on public transit or having some man follow me down the street while shouting obscenities. Even the crazies on public transit leave me alone!  On one afternoon trip, I got passed over by two men who stopped next to every single passenger in the train car.  One was demanding money from everyone, and the other was describing in detail how great it felt to squeeze the life out of someone.  They didn’t see me…hurray!  

Why are so many people afraid of aging?  I know that for me it’s the fear of being helpless and unable to care for myself.  Do I have any solutions?  Not yet, but I’m working on it…and one of those solutions might have to be acceptance.

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I recently had a receptionist scream at me at the top of her lungs to stop giving her attitude.  Uh…what?  That was her response to my request for better diligence on some recent covid protocols that included checking the vaccine status of students.  Luckily there were no clients in the space when this child lost her control and started frothing at the mouth.

Wow.  From zero to one hundred in less than a second.  Unfortunately, she is not the only person I have encountered who missed that important lesson towards adulthood which is learning to control your emotions and behave in a civilized manner.  Violence begets violence.  If someone attacks you, your reaction is usually to either fight back or to run.  And yet neither reaction helps in solving the conflict.  That is only achieved in calm, rational dialogue.

For all those people yelling at their fellow human beings.  Ask yourself, when is that last time that you felt motivated and happy to do something after being yelled at.  Did you feel good about yourself or were you simply shamed?  Yelling at someone doesn’t work, unless you’re in the “beaten dog” camp, where you think that beating, starving, and torturing an animal into fearful submission is a good way to go.  For the record, that’s called animal abuse and when you apply those same tactics to humans, that’s a human rights violation.

Now I know that it’s a large leap from a screaming twenty-year-old receptionist to the horrors inflicted on humans around the world, but I would argue that it’s not such a big leap.  Once you allow yourself to cross that line, where’s to say you won’t cross the next line, then the next line, and then the next line?  Simply look at the out-of-control actions of the people who overran the USA Capital on January 6th.  Demonstrations are by nature about dissatisfaction, anger and about taking action against something, however somewhere in that movement on January 6th a line was crossed where physical violence was acceptable.  Responsible adults do not inflict physical violence on other adults.  Period.  I can already hear the argument, but what if they’re threatening you?  I would hate to live my life in fear of what someone else might do to me and I would never arm myself for fear of physical harm.  No wonder all these people are on edge.  They are living in a constant state of fear and that takes an enormous toll on the mind.  

I am no saint.  I am blunt, self-centered, undiplomatic, and opinionated.  I’m sure my friends could help me add a few more adjectives to that list, which is why I love them.  They have no fear about telling me when I’m being an ass and trust me, all of us have those days.  One of the side effects of controlling your emotions as a rational adult is that you have days when it’s like a pressure cooker…you’ve dealt with a nonending litany of idiots and stupid ideas and along comes one problem too many.  The pressure cooker was full and now it’s going to explode!  Exploding is fine…we all need it but learn how to explode safely without causing others harm.

I used to use a method for angry and anxious dancers back when I was touring which was this:  We would go off into a place where we couldn’t be heard by others.  I would take out my watch and say “go”.  The dancer would just yell and say the most awful things that you would never imagine could come out of their mouths.  I would nod “yes” and say things like “wow” and “unbelievable”.  At the end of five minutes (and sometimes they would stop beforehand), it would be over.  They felt better for having let it go, and we never talked about what was said.  My function in this exercise was to simply be a witness and validator to their distress.

I live with my best friend, and we have found that after so many years of knowing each other, that we can generally pick up on the warning signals of the other’s moments of being overwhelmed by life.  And we’re both pretty good at helping each other diffuse the anxiety either by talking it out or finding the humour in the situation.  I do know that when I’m feeling overtaxed by life that the first person that I’m going to be snippy with is the person in front of me.  Isn’t that always the way?  There’s some truth to the saying that you only hurt the ones you love.  Again, friends are the ones who can tell you when you’ve crossed a line and are acting like an ass.  It’s important to keep those people close to you, to trust them and to let them pull you back from the edge.  That’s what best friends do.

Back to the twenty-year-old screamer.  My first reaction was to walk out of the studio and let her explain to management and the students why I wasn’t teaching.  But I’ve been trained to act like an adult.  I apologized for the delivery of my request and if I hurt her feelings, I asked her about herself and found some common ground.  The report of this incident to the manager was that there was a conflict and that we made up and all was perfect.   Oh, please child…I’m an old lady who used to travel the world with a bunch of high maintenance prima donnas.  In what world do you think that I can’t talk a temper tantrum diva off the wall and make them do exactly what I want…and get them to think that it was their idea?  Yep.

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