I made a mistake while teaching a Power Yoga class last night. A rookie mistake. I thought I knew better.
Halfway through the 75 minute class, we were holding tree pose to let the energy quiet down. As I observed the students it seemed they were well focused and the vibrations in the room were mellowing. Nice. And then I said it. It slipped off my tongue unchecked. The dreaded “R” word. I told them to “ relax”. The word every yoga student hates to hear. The word relax can easily send a room of otherwise composed yogis into a tail spin of self doubt and recrimination. “I thought I was relaxed!” “How can I relax anymore than this, while standing on one foot and trying to breath?” “I thought I was doing so well, what does she see?” “OMG, I must be the worst student in this room, I don’t even know how to relax!”
Of course, yogis are not alone in their contrary reaction to the word. Try telling your spouse to relax when they’re intently pushing their side of a disagreement will not diffuse the situation. When your best friend is hiccupping through a puddle of tears over a failed relationship, she does not want to hear that she’ll feel better if she relaxes. Who hasn’t witnessed the failed attempts of a mother telling her overly tired toddler to relax as he spirals into a public temper tantrum? And weren’t you secretly tempted to give the mother the same advice?
There’s no question that relaxing would improve the tenor of each of these situations, just as the broad concept of relaxing through your asana practice is worthwhile. By lightening up and loosening up, you let the poses breathe themselves to life rather than forcing them into being. The benefit of relaxing when confronted with stress, on and off the mat, is that you learn to let go of, rather than adding, tension. Which then dissolves the stress. However, the bottom line is that telling someone to relax engenders the exact opposite effect. Even in a yoga class.
As soon as the word slipped off my tongue I regretted it. The best I could do was shrug it off (relax) and move on. But it was a humbling reminder that a diligent mindfulness practice is as important while teaching as it is while practicing.
Have you ever had a yoga teacher say or do something that threw you off, took you out of your zen, or just really annoyed you?