Learning to Become a Vessel

Name: Kim Stanley
Location: Fort Wayne, Indiana, USA
Occupation: Yoga Teacher

During teacher training we were taught that we need to be a vessel for our students. Our teacher guided us through this process and the group did quite a bit of self exploration and cleansing. These exercises were specifically designed to clear out some of our own baggage and free up some space. You can’t be a vessel when you are full of your own crap, right? Practicing forgiveness, laughing, crying, and maybe a little screaming are all great preparation for new teachers.

When we accept this immense responsibility to teach others the practice of yoga, we need to be prepared for our class to bring in anything and everything: failed relationships, body issues, past or present abuse, all the garbage that we humans try to compost into our darkest places and hope that it will slowly decompose. Instead, it usually simmers just under the surface and sometimes, an intense practice gives it just the extra heat it needs to boil over. With all of this barely contained energy in the room, teachers have to be ready to catch the overflow. If we are constantly spewing out our own drama, we may not be prepared to bring in and hold still, what our students may need to release.

Fortunately for me, my particular teacher felt very strongly about our role as vessel and I had tried to listen intently as she described to us what we might have to do. However, I had never actually experienced this phenomenon for myself until last week and I was not as prepared as I had thought…

One of our students, someone I have known for a couple of years, showed up at a class I was subbing and appeared to be a little out of sorts. When I asked her how she was doing before class I was totally unprepared for her answer. She very simply and quietly told me that they had lost their child the day before. As you can imagine my heart dropped to the floor; I felt dizzy; my hands went to my face; time stoppedall of the normal human reactions to horrifying news. Once the room stopped spinning and came back into focus I thought, “Hey, this is not your pain; buck up and be here for this person!”

I don’t know how but she managed to keep it together with just a small tremble in her lip. We hugged and while I was holding her I tried to will my energy to take on some magical power to just envelop her like an opiate. But unfortunately I don’t have that or any magical power.

During class I was consumed with how I should act with this student in the room. My heart was breaking for her and on top of queuing poses, I was concerned that I would say the wrong thing and cause her to burst into tears. About mid-way through our practice, that word “vessel” finally floated into my swirling thoughts and I tried to convince myself that I was being one. I knew I needed to empty out some space to allow her room to do what she needed but I was still holding on to my own junk. I had to get rid of the idea that I had to come up with the perfect words to soothe her, or bring in the perfect pose to somehow release her pain in a physical way. I just needed to be a vessel. A container. A safe place for her to do whatever it was she needed without my own dirt, my desire to be the hero, muddying up the water.

The good newswe made it through class with neither of us having a complete breakdown; maybe a few slowly released tears and some deeper than usual sighs. The bad newsI will still struggling with making this all about me. I wanted to come up with the gesture or words of wisdom after class that would fix the problem; as if it were something that could be fixed. As I am still far from enlightenment, I tend to manipulate every event to answer the question, “how does this affect me?” But I knew, in my thinking brain, that this was definitely not about me. How did I get my heart and my gut, the non-analytical parts, to get on board? This was about a fellow yogi, friend, human suffering an unbearable loss and if I was going to help at all I needed to stop trying to be the superstar. I do not posses mystical powers of healing or clever words that answer the mysteries of life. The only skill I possess is to hold some space free and clear for my students to feel safe. That role as vessel had to trump my thinking brain’s need to save the day.

I let the student divulge as many of the details as she wanted to and tried not to press her for facts. Again, be a vessel Kim, not a siphon… She told me her family had been at the hospital all week, apparently their ordeal had gone on for a few days. After so many hours of crying and sitting in a hospital waiting room feeling totally helpless to help the one person for whom she felt totally responsible, she needed to just come to yoga. She didn’t want to go home and sit anymore. She wanted to take some deep breaths and stretch her tired body. And she knew she could come here. She knew that she would find support, a few words to calm her spinning mind, maybe a few hugs, maybe a dimly lit room with quiet peaceful music. Whatever she was looking for, she felt she could get it here.

With that I started to think about what an amazing place this is! This studio, this larger vessel, is apparently so safe and so comforting that people who have had the worst thing in the world happen to them feel okay to enter and are even drawn to be here. How incredible that this studio, and others like it all around the world, have become a haven where you can take a few breaths even after your very worst day.

The yoga community is what makes this place sacred and inviting. We are doing our small part with our little lives, in our little town, to connect to the bigger world energy. For just a brief moment, every day, we move beyond the individuals that make up this group and became something larger, that thing that is closer to yoga. We make a tiny step toward getting rid of the duality that we insist is part of our human condition and instead, share ourselves through vulnerability; maybe, in this instance, vulnerability in the knowledge that one day this could very likely be us. Tragic things happen all the time. We don’t know what’s coming next but man, it feels a tiny bit better to think that we have a vessel; a safe comforting home-away-from-home to come to if we need it.

Life is beautiful picAfter the class, I was speaking to another teacher about what had happened to our friend and we were both amazed at the student’s poise and level of control. I mean, she was clearly shaken to her core but she was still, for the most part, keeping it together. As parents, we imagined we would both be sobbing, heaving messes unable to speak to anyone let alone attend a yoga class.

Later that week the student shared with me a phrase that someone had said to her at the showing. She said, “It will never be the same but it will get better.” She jokingly added, “I want it to get better now.” We chuckled and I knew that I was witness again to what a truly strong, brave, beautiful person she is and that as usual, the student had taught the teacher. I hoped that I could continue to grow and learn to work on becoming a true vessel and that in time, I too, will get better.

Kim StanleyAfter 12 years as a student, Kim finds the most beautiful thing about yoga to be its adaptability to everyone. No matter your age, physical ability or state of mind, you can be a part of something awesome. Kim completed her 200 RYT from Pranayoga School of Yoga and Holistic Health and is working towards her ERYT. In 2012 she took a leap of faith and left a well paying, but soul sucking job as a software project manager to follow her passion and teach full-time. Yin Yoga is her true love but she also really digs Heated Prana Flow classes. She has a B.S. in Organizational Leadership and lives in Fort Wayne with her very understanding husband, two gifted children, two old dogs and two crazy cats. You can find her teaching schedule at kimstanleyyoga.com or yap about yoga with her on facebook.com/KimStanleyYoga or twitter @kimstanleyyoga.

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