Here in New York City, where I teach, pretty much everyone who walks through the door of a yoga studio is looking to calm down. I remember years ago meeting with my GP for a routine check up and confiding that I had "anxiety disorder." He smiled politely—completely unfazed, and said, "90% of my patients have chronic anxiety. It’s what draws us to New York, right?”
I wondered then, why—if we’re anxious, do we want to live in a city that might exacerbate our condition? And I guess the answer is, we gravitate towards what we know. We draw on and pay attention to aspects of ourselves which are readily available and familiar. Having an adrenalized city mirror our own tension back at us feels almost cozy.
So what I have spent 20 years trying to teach people isn’t so much asana or pranayama—although that is largely what we "do" in my classes. I seldom if ever lecture on the Gita, or the Sutras or the 8 limbs—although I draw deep inspiration from these sources on my own path. I rarely stop to explain a pose, or demonstrate. In fact, I don’t find teaching people how to do a yoga pose interesting at all. What I do find interesting is the challenge of helping students feel the physical practice energetically and emotionally—encouraging a deep and indisputable connection to the present. What I do is try to guide a group of people into energetic coherence and a group meditation (via asana, pranayama, and some qi gong)—using language that prioritizes the moment to moment experience of moving and breathing and feeling and thinking.
If we gravitate towards what we know—as humans seem to do—then what I want my students to begin to feel—as deeply and coherently as they can—is the possibility of Yoga, union, connection—a deep ease that comes with being introduced—over and over again to a steady, and continuous version of themselves—the Self that gets buried under a lot of noise.
To tap that kind of energy in the room I use slow, steady flow, meditation before, during, and after, breath counting, music that calms and/or helps us release emotionally and feel our hearts—psoas release, humming, shaking, yin practice, etc…things I’ve borrowed over the years from other teachers (God bless them) or learned in trauma yoga trainings—and of course things that have gotten me through all sorts of my own pain and discomfort
My hope, always, is that the space feels safe—that trauma and broken hearts and anxieties have a home here to ventilate, to be seen and felt and not feared.