Last week I was sitting at the front desk with one of our new teachers, waiting for our students to come in, and she said, "Oh my god, look at this." It was a picture of crying children from the school shooting in Connecticut. She was looking at the news reports online. She started to tell me about what was happening. Meanwhile, our students started to come in. Without even thinking about it, I told her, "Don't look at it right now and don't tell me about it." I didn't look at the news reports until the end of the day, after all our classes were finished. Then I went home, had dinner, and sat at my kitchen table in shock.
I was glad that I waited until I got home.
The great thing about the yoga studio is that it's a sanctuary, a place where you can go to escape, at least for 90 minutes. We don't need to talk about the news there. Anytime a horrible tragedy happens, the news media is saturated with information. It's all over the TV, the papers, Facebook, the radio - you can't get away from it! But at yoga, you can breathe and clear your mind.
As yoga teachers, sometimes we feel like it's part of our job to "say something" during tough times. We want to find the magic words, we want to help our students. It's a strong instinct. But the beauty of the Bikram class is its simplicity. We don't need to say anything - except the dialogue. We just need to take the class through the postures and allow the students to meditate, so that they can find clarity in their own way, in their own time.
Back in 2010, there was a memorial service for Jason Winn just outside the city where I was teaching. Jason was an amazing yoga teacher and a huge presence in the yoga community. (I only had the chance to take his class once, but I'm glad I met him.) Because of the memorial, there were lots of yoga teachers coming into town. I had been out of teacher training for exactly one week - I think I had taught seven classes at that point - and on the morning of the service, a couple of senior studio owners showed up in my class.
I thought, "Oh god, what do I say for them?" because obviously this was a really sad day for these people - they were mourning their friend. And then I thought, "Don't be crazy, Juliana, just teach the class." And that is what I did. Just the dialogue and nothing else, because hey, it was my eighth class, that was all I knew anyway.
Afterwards they both thanked me, and they specifically thanked me for giving them such a clean and simple class. They were so relieved that they didn't get some kind of hokey spiritual "woo-woo" class. A simple dialogue class was "just what they needed," because it allowed them to meditate and relax.
This really proved a point to me, and years later, I still think of it often. When students are going through a tough time - whether it's a personal tragedy or a national one - they're not in class to hear my opinion. They're not like, "My god, I just buried my mother, I'd better go take Juliana's class so that she can say something profound to make me feel better." Absolutely not! And it's a good thing, because I'm not really good at that stuff! I'm not a therapist. I just know yoga. The students come to the yoga studio for the yoga. They have other people who they will talk to for reassurance and sympathy. I will certainly give as much sympathy and support as possible, if I'm given the opportunity, but I will not make the mistake of thinking that it's my job.
Simplicity is amazing. For me, the Bikram class is a powerful form of meditation, especially when the teacher sticks close to Bikram's words. I've been taking classes from our new teachers lately, who both teach wonderful clean dialogue because it's so fresh for them, and it's amazing how much it sharpens my focus. It helps me forget about the outside world for a while. Sometimes the key to solving a problem or healing a wound is to stop thinking about it. When you have a problem, and you keep thinking and thinking and thinking about it, you just dig yourself into a deeper and deeper hole. You're picking at the wound, so it never has a chance to heal. But when you go to class, and focus on moving your body for 90 minutes, you come out feeling better - less angry, less hurt. Sometimes the solution to your problem just pops into your mind. That is the power of the meditation.
It's easy to invent new and complicated ways of describing the postures; it's a challenge to keep the class simple and clean. That's why I always come back to the dialogue. It's simple and it works.
The world is a crazy place. Sometimes it's wonderful and sometimes it's terrible. But at least we have yoga, this beautiful gift, that allows us to find clarity, time after time. As Bikram says - "When nothing else works - come to me, let me see what I can do." So simple. Just do yoga, and breathe. If more people could learn this, I think it would make the world better.