Last month I had the privilege of assisting Tari Prinster, the founder of Yoga 4 Cancer (Y4C), in a week-long teacher training up at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. As you can imagine, a big part of the training is learning about what makes teaching a class for cancer survivors different than teaching a general class. And there are many answers to that question. For example, determining modifications so that everyone can safely practice given what they might be feeling as a result of their illness or treatment, knowing which poses might aid in their recovery, and the type of language to use or avoid.
Of all of the topics we discussed, there were two that I think are particularly powerful and that I personally think should be an integral part of all yoga teacher trainings. And really, when I think about it, it would probably do us good to practice them in our relationships off of the mat as well. The first is a concept that Tari refers to as The Other, and the second is the idea of holding space.
The Other is similar to what I’ve also heard referred to as the Platinum Rule. We all remember the Golden Rule, which asks us to treat others as we want to be treated, but the Platinum Rule asks us to treat others as they want to be treated. The Golden Rule is easy, but the Platinum Rule demands something different of us, something more difficult. While both come from a place of good intention, the Platinum Rule requires us to put aside our own egos and views in order to understand what someone else needs or wants. The focus of the relationship then shifts from, “this is what I want and need,” or “this is what I would want to hear or have done if I were in this situation,” to “what does this person need right now.”
The idea of The Other first calls for some self-examination. It entails asking ourselves if what we are about to do or say is about us and our needs or about the other person and their needs. It encourages us to question the value of what we are about to share – is it valuable, why is it valuable, and to whom. On or off the mat, this is something that I think can bring tremendous perspective to our interactions and takes a great deal of practice. B. K. S. Iyengar once said, “Do not imagine that you already understand, and impose your imperfect understanding on those who come to you for help.” Broken down, this means we shouldn’t act on the assumption that we have the perfect, or the only, understanding of any given circumstance. We’ve all been there right? We feel like we have a complete understanding of a situation and that we are giving our students/friends/partners/colleagues exactly what they need, and then at some point, we are shocked to learn that we are way off the mark. So how do we practice the concept of The Other whether we are teaching a yoga class full of people or we are having a discussion with a loved one? We start by acknowledging to ourselves that our way is not the only way. For example, if you’re teaching a yoga class and you are about to assist someone, think about why. If the answer is that they are going to hurt themselves then by all means assist them. But if the answer is because you need things to look a certain way, maybe you acknowledge that the way you think things should be isn’t the only way they can be. Instead of jumping in, sit with it, and see how that feels. If you are having a difficult conversation with someone in your life, the same applies. Start by exploring the idea that maybe the way you think things are or should be, isn’t the only way they can be.
Much like the idea of The Other, holding space also requires that we have an awareness of our own emotional stuff and how it plays out in everyday life. One of the best definitions I have read for holding space comes from a blog I stumbled across the other day by a woman named Heather Plett. Heather describes holding space as being there for someone without trying to fix them, judge them, or make them feel inadequate. To just be there for someone without trying to change the situation or the outcome. The ability to do this is beneficial on or off the mat. I think one of the greatest benefits of yoga is that it can empower people by providing them with a safe place to make choices, to experiment with what feels right for them, and to learn to trust their intuition and their bodies. One of the simplest ways to do this in teaching a yoga class is to meet people where they are. Offer people an option and use language that reassures them that whatever they are doing at this moment is okay, that there are no “shoulds” or one perfect way to do a pose. Again, you never want anyone to do something that will harm themselves, but really what is the point of insisting that someone portray an aesthetically perfect Warrior II or making someone feel bad or less than because they can’t reach their arm as high as someone else can or as high as they once could.
Talking about these ideas with our group was further inspiration for me to strive to always be conscious of how we are communicating with one another and the importance of exploring our own motivations, putting aside our biases to see the perspective of others, and bringing compassion and curiosity into all of our relationships and interactions. This isn’t always easy and I would venture to say will be a lifelong practice for me. These are my interpretations of how we can apply these concepts in yoga and in life. What are yours? Give some thought to where in your life you might be able to use one or both of these practices and please feel free to let me know how it’s going.
As always, thank you for reading, take care of you, and don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any comments or questions on this or any other wellness-related topic.