“Emotions are energy in motion. If they are not expressed, the energy is repressed. As energy it has to go somewhere. Emotional energy moves us, as does all energy...To deny energy is to deny the ground and vital energy of our life.” - John Bradshaw
Yoga teachers don’t always know when you’re having a bad day. Sometimes it's hectic before class. We don’t often know how you look in different emotional states. We’re pretty good and telling when you’re relaxed in savasana. We don’t care if you cry for sixty minutes. In fact, we think it’s brave.
But yesterday everyone was having a bad day. I spent the morning thinking about the three classes I would teach that night. By 11am, an above average amount of people signed up for all three classes.
What would I tell my own students to do when faced with uncertainty and fear? The answer is clear - practice, whatever that means to you. Asana, pranayama, meditation. Practice. Even if the answer remains unclear, you will be clearer. But yesterday I could not bring myself to practice, I could not even close my eyes. By 1140am I made the call that it was time to surrender and turn myself into the capable hands of a yoga teacher and take a public noon class. Self practice is beautiful, but sometimes you need someone to hold your head up when you’re too broken to do it yourself.
We sat silently as the teacher locked the door and took her seat at the front of class. Before she could speak, someone in the back shouted, “What the fuck, Abby?!” He said what everyone in the packed room was feeling. People were looking for something, and they wanted her to guide them.
I’ve never felt so much empathy for another yoga teacher. These were her dedicated and loving students and she was about to do what I was too sad and too helpless to do. She showed herself; she was raw, thoughtful, and present. I doubt I’ll ever forget that class - her words, where my mat was, that I hadn’t showered, that I could barely sit up, that moving from down dog to warrior pose was exhausting and there were times I didn’t think I would make it up, viloma pranayama, the crying. We’re more likely to remember things in highly emotional states, and the entire room was palpably emotional.
After class, I told her she was a first responder. I’ve talked to other yoga teachers about what it meant and felt like to teach on November 9th. Energy workers will always remember this day similarly. It’s the same for massage therapists, personal trainers, coaches, psychotherapists, etc. Imagine massaging crying clients all day while feeling your own burden of sadness, or motivating someone to lift weights when you can’t even lift your own head.
I am so thankful for that class and admire that she held space when things were at their rawest. I felt selfish for moving to Australia, because I knew I’d be needed in DC more than ever (I’m still going).
The task of teaching a triple header seemed less like Everest and more like Kilimanjaro. Leading a class about Lord Shiva floated around in the back of my mind, but I felt it was “too soon” to explain why the destruction of the universe is actually a good thing.
I began class by with the five stages of grief: denial, anger, depression, bargaining, and acceptance. They aren’t necessarily linear and you can move in and out them. When I didn’t have words, I brought out my book of quotes so that others could speak for me. Anne Lamott, Melissa Gilbert, and Pema Chodron showed up, and so did Sutra 2.33.
"When disturbed by negative thoughts, opposite (positive) ones should be thought of. This is pratipaksha bhavana." (translated by Sw. Satchidananda)
The space was a container for tears, anger, fear. We did lots of lion’s breath, audible exhales, sighing. They were to bravely feel what is in the heart, and after learning from it, cultivate the opposite.
The 5pm class had the most years, and as I watched over them in savasana, many were twitching, fidgeting, and visibly uncomfortable. I thought I failed.
The next class at 630 was meant to be an alignment class, but I taught a steady flow. Nobody needed to be staring at their toes and shortening the outer ankle while contemplating the end of the world. There were less tears, and the savasana was sweeter and stiller.
By 8pm, the numbers dwindled, we moved more slowly, no tears, and we shared tender hugs after drinking the nectar of savasana. As the arc of the day went on, students were collectively processing in tandem. The shellshock was wearing off.
The journey ahead is long, and there will be many who step forward and answer the call of duty. But today, I say thank you to all the first responders out there (Thank you, Abby). If you have a first responder in your life that held space for you, show your gratitude. You can nourish the body (food, massage), the heart (a note, a hug), the mind (a book, run an errand).
Through all of this, I received a brutally delivered and expected gift. Having dove into sadness, I swam out with the capacity to love the entire human race. My chest is lighter, wider, longer, and my arms swing effortlessly as they are balanced in my midline. Tuesday’s sledgehammer crashed down onto my armored heart, and after the shock wore off, a new ray of light shown through.