by Jay Fields
I only have one memory from the first few dozen yoga classes I taught, and it’s incredibly vivid. I remember looking up at the hands on the clock on the wall and realizing I still had 35 minutes left to go and I had already gone through everything in carefully crafted class plan. Oh. Shit.
Even today I can remember how it felt like time stood still as I felt the tightness in my chest choke out my breath. How badly I wanted to run out of the room. The brick in my stomach when I realized that I had to stay, and that no one could help me but me.
“You got this. Breathe,” I said to myself in the same way I did when I was a kid and was competing in a big gymnastics event. But what stands out so clearly in my mind all these years later is the industrial blue of the tile floor in the rec department and it’s cool temperature on my feet as I tried to feel them under me. More than the words of encouragement to myself, it was this felt sense of being grounded that allowed me to dig deep and call my strength back to my center and get my wits about me enough to finish the class.
In the AHEM teacher training that I co-lead with Hala Khouri and Julian Walker, we teach this technique to our trainees. It’s called self-regulation or resourcing yourself. The idea is that you meet an uncomfortable situation with a felt resource in your body in order to be able to stay present enough to allow your capabilities to be bigger than your fear.
Because the reality was, I knew a good deal about the body and about the yoga postures even that early on in my teaching. I just didn’t trust I could access my knowledge with any confidence if I was in front of a group of people. But I found that if I could feel my feet on the floor, feel my center, feel myself being the one behind my own eyes in the room full of people on their mats, I could totally wing those 35 minutes without having a panic attack or resorting to a 35 minute savasana. Not that there would have been anything wrong with a 35 minute savasana. It probably would have been the most brilliant class I ever taught.
But I digress. Felt resources: they’re the key to being able to do something that’s uncomfortable, whether that’s teaching your first handful of yoga classes or it’s doing anything else that you’re passionate about but that scares the pants off of you.
The three felt resources are grounding, centering and orienting yourself in space. Typically one seems most accessible and most effective in helping to return to a sense of steadiness. It might not make the fear disappear, but it will let you be with the fear in a way that it’s just a part of your experience, and not the part running the show. Think fear-with, not fearless.
And here’s the thing–the fear doesn’t even necessarily go away even years into teaching. Perhaps it’s downgraded to nervousness, but either way, it’s an indication that you care about what you’re doing, and that you care that you continue to grow into your best self as a teacher. All these years later, I still take a moment before each class starts to consciously feel myself in the room, aware of the people on their mats and of my breath and of my feet under me all at the same time. Only then do I feel like I can really be there and begin with confidence and with a real connection to myself and my students. And when it happens in the middle of class that I say something that my inner critic chastises me for, “Did you really just say that?” Or when I get a look from a student that I interpret as them not liking me or the class, I still have to stop myself from going into freeze or panic mode by making the choice to feel myself come back to my center and ground.
So it’s not that I’ve necessarily gotten all that more comfortable with teaching in front of a group of people. It’s that I’ve come to thoroughly trust in the reliability of my felt resources to help me manage the ways that I have a tendency to freak out and instead show up the way I would like.
This is why in the AHEM training we place such a huge emphasis on practicing self-regulation through feeling a felt resource. It’s because having access to felt resources and being able to self-regulate allows you to show up as you in a way that is as real and as powerful as possible, whether you’re in front of a room full of yoga students or having a hard conversation with your kid or going in for the interview for the job of your dreams. Said another way:
Felt resource + discomfort = nothing can stop you from doing what calls most convincingly and terrifyingly to your heart. And that’s the sort of equation that adds up to the best kind of teacher and the best kind of person to be out in the world.