As I guided the Thursday morning mediation group and assisted their journey inward, I began to attend to my practice and an all too familiar uncomfortable feeling washed over me. It started at the pit of my belly and worked its way into my heart. I know it well, that hard knot of shame desperately trying to root its way into my soul. I haven’t done anything that would warrant this feeling, have I? My sitting practice has taught me to, well, sit. Sit with this feeling, not ignore it by chopping its ugly head in an attempt to displace it, but to acknowledge it as a way to understanding. Isn’t the acknowledgement of anything the way to seeing its truth?
The process of understanding this feeling as a way to freedom is still much like weeding a garden naturally, not spraying it with a chemical, but loosening its grip, working with it, digging around it, loosening its hold and withdrawing it. Weeds, much like shame, become protectors. They believe they are doing good work until they begin to kill everything around them.
I began to see the source of my shame, and I was paralyzed by my realization. I had placed a mile between myself and a student who sat 15 feet away from me, a student who needed my support. She had been coming to my class for a while. I was surprised that she continued to choose my classes and to be honest even more surprised when she began coming to meditation.
I was at first mortified at the realization that I could turn my back on this woman; that I was judging her. I have two decades of experience with addiction, yet I was looking down upon her from some imagined esoteric throne that was distancing me not only from being a teacher and a healer, but healing myself. My ego, again, got the best of me.
There was a time when I would have let this eat me up and begin acting out in the shame of my own insecurity, but I knew this was a lesson, a gift to continue the work, to expand the journey. What was it I was so afraid of? What was the disconnect? As is always the answer in spiritual life, just do the work and more will be revealed.
As a Reiki Master, I’ve worked for many years using my hands to help people in their personal healing. I am good at guiding people with the power of touch and it has been a great asset in my yoga teaching. As I sat in reflection, I realized I was afraid to touch her in my yoga class. I was denying this student, someone who really needed the healing power of touch.
My own shame began to dissolve through my newfound resolve to just begin to connect with her. She showed up the next day for yoga class, and I began to connect, first with a verbal greeting, then with my eyes and as we sat down for centering I began to open my heart to her. I intuitively knew I didn’t have to understand what she was going through, I just needed to be of service to her as a teacher, a healer. I walked to her in down dog and gently placed my hands upon her and could feel the healing begin, she relaxed under my touch and in that one touch seemed to dissolve the reflection of denial we both had been holding onto.
I don’t believe I have the power to heal anyone, none of us really do. We can only assist in the healing process through love and patience. Within a few weeks this student came to me and told me she would be going away. We didn’t have to speak of why, we both knew and recognized our connection to each other. She had taught me so much in this short period of time and I had learned that I have an aversion to eating disorders and body image. I didn’t want to look at this in myself. I have been mildly obsessive about my weight and shape and it has taken me years to just touch the cellulite on my thighs. I have this underlying worry about how the world views me from the outside and I didn’t want to admit it. I hid behind “I just want to be healthy and strong,” when really I was thinking I want the perfect body so that I can feel perfect, again feeding my addiction to some idea of perfection based on a level of comparison to something, some“body” else.
The Latin verb for the word educator is educere, which means to lead forth or draw out. My job is never to fix anyone; it is to help them find their way. During the time of this revelation, I was also part of a coaching group and one of the teachers/members of the group had recently done a training called Eat Breathe Thrive — a program specifically designed for yoga teachers and therapists to work with people struggling with eating disorders and distorted body image.
Call it Kismet, Karma or whatever you like, but because I opened myself up to this student at the very same time I was exposed to Eat Breathe Thrive I knew it was more than a coincidence and began the process of bringing this training to our home studio. Saraswati’s Yoga Joint will be hosting Eat Breathe Thrive’s weekend-long intensive at our New Canaan studio in October. My student and I will be side by side doing this training together, she as a therapist, me as a yoga teacher, and through our relationship, we are bringing this great program to the community at large. When the student is ready, the teacher does truly appear.
Eat Breathe Thrive: Yoga, Food & Body Image Intensive with Chelsea Roff
October 3-5, 2014 at Saraswati’s Yoga Joint, New Canaan
Early Bird Registration: $249 by September 19
Normal Registration: $299 after September 19
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