Because I said so.
We all say we don’t like other people to tell us what to do, but I think we actually do. To a point.
A few weeks ago I went to a power vinyasa class. Not something I’m normally called to, but I was feeling the need to seriously move that day.
As a student, I was struck by a few things:
1. How weird it is to have someone instruct me when and how to breathe and move.
2. How hard it is to stay inwardly focused when also trying to follow someone else’s commands.
3. How annoyed I was when we were doing something I really didn’t want to do!
I left feeling a little high and mighty in the reminder that, as a person, I really don’t like other people telling me what to do (even when it’s yoga!), and that as a teacher I need to be cognizant of how I lead others.
So later that night I went to teach my own class and I riffed a bit on this idea of how hard it is to stay connected to yourself when someone else directs your movement. I alternated between leading a few poses and then letting students have a few minutes to explore. And then when we would come back together I would ask, “Ok, what do you want to do now?”
I do this quite a bit in my classes as a teaching moment—get people connected to their body and then ask them, based on what they can feel, what would be best to do next. I feel this is a valuable way to hold space for people to begin to get in touch with how they know what they know, and how they take action on what they know to be true for them.
But this night I was asking people what they wanted to do next more because I just really didn’t have an idea of what I wanted to teach.
The truth is, I had gone to the power vinyasa class that afternoon because I was antsy and anxious and feeling like I couldn’t trust myself with my own practice. So the reality was that I still wasn’t particularly connected to myself when I went to teach my class that evening—and whether doing or teaching yoga, I find that without the connection to myself, I have no idea what I want to do.
But because I was so disconnected, it wasn’t until the next morning when I was practicing at home that I realized how brilliantly hypocritical I had been—just as I was teaching about how it’s good to take responsibility for your practice and not always have someone tell you what to do, I was asking my students to tell me what to teach. Ha! Love it.
And so, it seems I don’t like people to tell me what to do, unless I feel vulnerable in some way, and then I’d rather you tell me my each and every move and breath.
Because the truth is, doing what you want to do requires vulnerability. It requires vulnerability first in that to follow your own guidance you have to be connected to your feelings. And if underneath your armoring and resistance what you’re feeling is something you really don’t want to feel, it will be vulnerable to get to your own knowing.
It’s also vulnerable because it brings up the question, “What will other people think?” Whether it’s about taking your own detour as a student in a yoga class, offering a teaching that’s dear to your heart, or making a decision about your life path, the worry that other people won’t like you, will walk out or will in some way be hurtful is incredibly vulnerable.
Now I’m not saying that instruction is a useless thing. I wouldn’t be a teacher if I believed that. But it’s good to remember what I think the purpose of teaching is—to connect someone with his or her own knowing. My best teachers and mentors are the ones who teach me an incredible amount of information but all in a way that is only available if I step up and meet them half way. No spoon feeding.
So the play is to notice as a teacher, a student, a mother, a husband where you fall on the spectrum between “because I said so” and “tell me what to do.” And to notice why and when your position on that spectrum changes.
When it comes to teaching, this is about claiming your expertise and your vulnerability. Which, the more I talk about this with people, the more I feel like this is a collective crux, something that people in all different kinds of professions need to do. And it makes me think we could use a word for this—what word or title would you use to describe someone who fully embodies their expertise and their vulnerability in a way that makes them a leader in what they do? Once you find your word, seek to embody it.