Teaching Yoga In Times Of Tragedy

I live in Las Vegas, Nevada. Today is the first anniversary of the fatal, tragic mass shooting that took place on The Vegas Strip and even people who weren’t directly effected by the shooting will be feeling all sorts of emotions throughout this week. When I remember the shooting and the moments of not knowing if my husband was okay because he was performing in a nearby show and was very late coming home, my shoulders tense up, my eyes well up with tears, my breath gets tight. I can still feel it in my body almost as intensely as I did that night.

I was one of the fortunate people whose loved one did come home — the next morning after a whole night of being on lockdown in his theatre with his cast, crew and audience. And I was one of the people who — even though I get emotional and still feel confusion, fear and deep sadness when I think back on October 1, 2017 — ended up deepening her understanding and visceral feeling of gratitude as a response to the shooting. I can honestly say I’ve never felt the same level of gratitude than I did when I heard my husband whisper in my ear, “I’m home” just before 6am. I had spent the night working with my thoughts to choose love over fear while occupying myself, keeping myself from checking media as much as possible, listening to sirens, feeling anxious, scared and sad, and eventually tossing and turning in bed.

Just minutes after my husband came home and crawled into bed, our daughter woke oddly early. I believe she sensed something in our energy field. As my husband slept a few hours, I spent a quiet morning with her and my gratitude grew as I thought about the children, families and friends who'd be learning of loss that morning.

There are so many people who I could direct energetic attention on today in light of this sad memorial. I find myself thinking of all the yoga teachers and other “keepers of light” / “space holders” like therapists and healers. Those of us who have the job of showing up and allowing those suffering to just be and to guide them to a more calm, peaceful, fearless mindset and open heart space.

So, if you are a keeper and sharer of yogic light, this is a little love note especially for you…

Butterfly Garden ©Magareeshi.jpg

“Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly.”

(I don’t know who originally said that, but it’s one of my all time favorite quotes and puts me at ease in times of panic, sadness or confusion every time!)

I know what it’s like to teach in times of tragedy. I know what it’s like to teach when I’ve been suffering, and to hold space for others who are suffering personally or in the face of catastrophe and scary world events.

In 2004 I had to teach ongoing yoga classes in my newly established studio during the aftermath of being forced by social services to put a child family member who my husband and I had been caring for, for a year and a half up for adoption. I expressed to a friend that I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t walk in the room and be the face of calm contentment when I was an emotional wreck. He said these wise words that have stuck with me through numerous ebbs and flows of life and teaching: “Then don’t. Nobody expects you to be un-rocked by this. But nobody, including you, needs you to be a wreck all day, every day. Just show up and teach the stretches. You’re the one who is always saying yoga works regardless, so now’s your chance to let it do the work for you. It’ll all come back in time. Your connection to the deeper meaning of it all. Your ability to convey that. But for now, just stretch with people. Just go there and show up because you can and by just being there, things will change. You’ll be doing enough for your students and you’ll all be healing in some way together. So, just teach the stretches and let the rest be.”

I did, and he was right. It was like, “Do your practice and all is coming.” I set intention not to shower negativity on my students and to trust that there was light in me and in the situation somewhere. Eventually I healed that hurt and the confusion subsided and everything worked out for all of us for the better.

On September 11, 2001, feeling rocked and confused and worried and like everything I knew was now part of a greater “unknown”, I taught my regular Tuesday evening yoga class. I was a new teacher and I had no idea what to do with myself and I figured no one would come, but they did come. They came in droves. To a random little room in a chiropractor’s office where I started teaching. They came because they, too, didn’t know what else to do with themselves. They were so grateful I was there, holding space. Every student said they expected to see a sign on the door saying class was cancelled. I had no real reason to cancel class and I knew my own practice served me well that day, so, even though I didn’t know how I could teach and I figured no one would come, I went. I lit candles, I took deep breaths, I set intention, I cried, I thought I was crazy for showing up. And then the door opened again and again and I simply rolled my shoulders back, lifted my heart, and held space as best as I could for each person who walked in. Everyone hugged everyone else and we all had a deeply connective experience together. When we left, we were still in the unknown, but we were in it together, and together, through the light and union of yoga, we knew we’d find a way and we’d support those who were suffering more than us. 

Reflecting back through those especially challenging times to teach had me wanting to put pen to paper (er, words to blog) and hold space for you guides out there who are holding space for others with your teaching. I know you’re taking on some their sadness so that their load may be a little lighter. I know you may be feeling like you don’t have what it takes to guide others through their suffering or like you may be unworthy of doing so. My grey hairs lead me to realize I’m getting to veteran status as a yoga teacher, and I’m here to tell you that you do have what it takes, and you can guide well, and you are enough… simply because you have made the choice to be the one. Don’t pretend to know what to say. Instead, step into the light of teaching and trust the golden lineage of teachers who stand behind you to guide you. Trust that by you just showing up to teach your classes and maintain a calm, peaceful state, you are demonstrating that it is possible to breathe and flow through life again, no matter how great the suffering.

In my hometown of Las Vegas, we all encounter students, fellow teachers, colleagues, baristas, postal carriers, first responders, doctors and nurses, neighbors, service workers, friends, family, and more who were effected deeply by October 1, 2017. I know it is possible for us to hold each other up in light and love, and I know the light of love often starts shining for people on their yoga mats.

My simple prayer for us teachers is this:

May we all be in peace and presence of mind. 

May we find it within ourselves to create calm connection, to hold space for those suffering, to bring about more gratitude, positive energy and joy. 

May we know we’ve got the light of a teacher — and the golden light of all good teachers before us — in us for everyone who just needs to be in our space of union during hard times. 

May we lift ourselves and those who are down through yogic teachings and high vibrational connections. 

And so it is. And so it shall be.

Namaste!