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Celebrating Uniqueness

One of my core values is that I celebrate the uniqueness of every individual who I work with. Let me illustrate the point with a story from class today…

After teaching the Subtle Practice class online, a student stayed behind to chat. She shared a really cool learning that came from her experience in practice.

Let me give some background context: to run my classes online, we meet via Zoom. Participants are welcome to keep their cameras on or off. Having the camera on, gives a sense of being “seen” — you can see yourself and other students can also see you. It can feel a bit vulnerable at times but also encouraging — we can see on gallery view that we’re all doing this practice together and none of us is alone, although yes, we are practicing from the privacy of our own home.

When the camera is left off, we have a sense of being on our own while also a part of the group experience. Students often report feeling free to wear whatever they want, hair undone, just showing up as they are. The draw back of course can be that they feel perhaps less a part of the group experience because no one can witness their experience.

This particular student had chosen to keep her camera off which, she shared, gave her a sense of privacy in her own domain — she felt this to be a positive thing; to be a part of the group experience and also feel as though she was simultaneously on her own.

Between long holds of low lunges, I offered the group the opportunity to listen to their own body as to what kind of a counter-movement they might feel that they need. In case anyone felt at a loss for what to do, I offered a long list of options… child’s pose, down dog, move through a flow, cat/cow, roll your hips around, be still, lay on your belly… the list went on. This student needed no suggestions! She shared that what she did was something that she never really felt comfortable doing in a group class setting for fear of standing out too much. What she did was to stand up and swirl her hips around like she was swirling a hoola-hoop. “I usually go for either Downdog or Child’s pose,” she shared. “Because that’s what I’ve been trained to do. But the truth is that I’m a really wiggly person and I’ve never let myself just do that!”

This was the one of the best examples I’ve heard from a students’ experience of honouring their uniqueness in a long time.

She felt like she had the space and the authority over her experience to do what she wanted to do which was something as free and unstructured as loose hip swirls. This may sound like a little thing to do but to my ears it’s very significant. When a student can listen in to their own needs in a yoga class and feel as though they have choices and the agency to act on those choices that can radically change their experience of being in a group setting. The balance point here of course is that at the same time, we must respect the group’s energy and in this particular context, that was easy to do as her camera was off.

When I hear stories like this, I get an extra burst of joy for them — in Buddhism this is referred to a quality of Mudita, or joy; especially sympathetic or vicarious joy, or the pleasure that comes from delighting in other people's well-being — because they stepped one bit closer to living life in their body as they want to not as anyone says/thinks/believes is the “right way” to do it. When we have freedom of choice as to how we treat ourselves in a yoga class, separate from group-think, while respecting others’ needs and the environment we’re in, this has the potential to radically change how we are in our relationships outside of the classroom and in Life.

I’m all for the rule breakers and the critical thinkers and the urge-followers.

Ten hundred high fives!!!


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