The Yoga Teacher Diaries: Holding Space While Falling Apart

Being a yoga teacher holds this kind of weight where you are sometimes nervously aware, in the back of your head, that your class may be someone’s reset button or self-care for the day. You are there to “hold space” for the students in class - a yoga term that refers to being present for yourself and others in the room. Holding space involves being open to accepting what is present in the room without judgement or evaluation. Though you want your class to be energetic and invigorating, it all starts with you setting a tone of mindfulness and non-judgement. But what do you do when you, as the instructor, are having a day where you yourself don’t feel safe and secure; where you feel vulnerable, emotional, and incapable of being that strong, stable presence for others?

Today I wake up feeling heavy. School has started at 100 miles an hour, along with work, extracurriculars, and the great summer internship search. Like many busy college students, I’ve been holding it together pretty well, or at least enough to get everything done and get through the day. I put on a smile, hang out with friends as much as possible, and teach my classes with as much pep as I can muster (the positive and lively energy at the studio every day definitely helps!). But today, I get up after sleeping through my 8 AM discussion section, mentally sequence the rest of the seemingly never ending day ahead of me, and feel like I wanted to break the fuck down.

Maybe it’s because I’m hormonal, or maybe it’s because I’m a 20-year-old who spends every free moment I have planning ways to figure my life out... Either way it feels like too much today. Nonetheless, I gulp it all down with my daily shots of espresso and foamed oat milk. I know I need to make 10 AM yoga if I'm going to be sane enough to teach my 12 PM "blend vinyasa" class.

Turns out, the 10 AM class is exactly what I need: slow, juicy transitions, gorgeous music, and of course heart wrenching words of wisdom from the instructor that lodge my caged emotions into my throat. As soon as I push open the heavy studio door, the sticky heat of the yoga room and all of my suppressed anxieties rush into the lobby. I cry like I've probably needed to for weeks. I always tell my students that it is okay to not be okay, but somehow in all the preaching, I'd forgotten to practice that myself.  This release of pent up emotion and the realization that I have been pushing myself too hard are profound enough that they prompt the theme for my 12 PM vinyasa class.

Holding space as an instructor also means cultivating that safe and welcoming space for yourself. Sometimes I forget that this acceptance and state of just non-judgemental ‘being’ has to apply to my own personal crap, too. Something as real as being comfortable enough to expose your vulnerabilities in front of your students is enough to "hold space," even if it means acknowledging that you’re not perfect and that everyone in the room is probably experiencing - to some degree - similar anxieties that you are. That is why we come to yoga. 

It is okay to fall apart and talk about it, or to silently fall apart and non-verbally establish that mutual trust and support with the community around you. No, I didn’t hold space in class today by having an audible teaching meltdown while I overshare my troubles. Instead, I openly acknowledge that today wasa somewhat dark and heavy day for me and that that is just where I am today. It isn’t good or bad; it just is.

Demonstrating that sometimes I am not okay and am allowed to acknowledge this fact and be present with it creates that space in which students feel they can do the same.

Whether you’re an instructor, a student, or neither, it’s important to hold space for yourself as you would for others. You would never tell a loved one, a friend- or anyone else for that matter - that they aren’t allowed to be stressed and take a breather; that they aren’t allowed to take a minute just to breakdown; that they can’t afford to not be okay. So, why hold yourself to that standard? Hold that safe and accepting space for yourself in your day to day life. Accept that shit happens, you are human and will probably feel things, and that is okay.