The gift of yoga

I love all of my yoga students, I truly do. Even on those days when I really, really don’t feel like teaching, they remind me again and again why I became a teacher in the first place, and continually inspire me to challenge myself both as a teacher at the front of the room, and as a student within my own practice.

But I have to admit, there is a group of students who are particularly dear to my heart, who inspire and teach me more about the true meaning of yoga, and what it means to be a kind and compassionate being, than anyone ever could.

They are the students to whom I offer a weekly, free yoga class as part of my day job as a social worker. They are the students who, despite acute and/or enduring mental illness, despite the debilitating side-effects of medication, and despite the potential anxiety of being within a social setting, turn up each week (okay, most weeks) seeking to challenge themselves physically and mentally, learn some new techniques for managing stress and perhaps even have some fun in the process.

It’s like no other yoga class I’ve ever taught. For a start, it’s predominantly chair-based, with most poses heavily modified to cater to all ability levels. Questions and dialogue throughout the hour-long session are welcomed and encouraged. Bare feet are optional, and everyone is free to sit out any poses they choose.

As my fellow social workers will know, to have had any students returning regularly is close to a miracle. To have had the majority of my students attend most classes FOR AN ENTIRE YEAR is beyond anything I could have imagined!

Only a very small handful had ever done yoga before. For others, it was basically the first time they had ever heard of ‘yoga’. And there was a large group who had thought about trying yoga in past, but either couldn’t afford it; were too unwell; felt uncomfortable going to a studio or gym; were anxious about being around groups of strangers; didn’t feel physically capable; or some combination of the above. Together, we’ve managed to create a safe space that anyone, no matter where they are on their road to recovery, may enter.

I am regularly thanked for teaching the class, but honestly? The feedback I get from my students, in terms of what yoga has done for them, is all the thanks I need. They tell me how much more relaxed they are. That they feel more able to manage the ongoing stressors in their lives. That they feel stronger or more flexible. That it gives them a meaningful focus for their day, somewhere to go, to be with others and feel less isolated.

We had our last class of the year yesterday, and so I am writing this post as a public acknowledgement and thank you to my clients/students, for allowing me to do what I love so much, for teaching me what courage and compassion truly look like, and, this Christmas, for both giving and receiving the gift of yoga.