My new students breathe very quietly. They place their mats into large, open spaces, what I like to call the Midwestern approach to the yoga studio. (We believe that wide open spaces are the proper form for all interactions. Call it a form of independence or a form of antisocialism: I'm never sure.) And when I chant OM at the end of class, they are mostly silent.
These qualities, along with a brouhaha that happened two weeks ago involving some students' vocal response to a sub covering for a popular teacher (I was neither the sub nor the missing teacher), have made me somewhat hesitant in my teaching. There's always the choice - when you are doing something performative like teaching - whether to be yourself or whether to be what you think the audience/class desires. And because yoga teachers usually are paid according to the number of students in a class, the game is heightened by the question of If. If I taught this, would I have more students? If I looked like that, would I have more students? If I play music or if I don't play music or if I make the class tough or if I make it easy, would I have more students?
Luckily, I have teachers who have taught me to try not to fall into that deep well. My first teacher taught me that the main thing is to show up, and that whoever needs yoga that day will be there. Sometimes that means teaching to one student. Sometimes that means a room full. As it says in the Bhagavad Gita - let go of the fruit of your actions. Meaning do something, but do it because it's the right thing to do, not because you expect a certain result from the work.
Of course, like so much else in yoga, and thus, in daily life, easier said than done. My classes at the new center have been small or non-existent. With the freezing weather, the January doldrums, the economy, and a new business, attendance is low. And so, when I suggest that we chant OM at the end of class and no one joins in (well, hardly anyone - there have been a few voices out there), or when I drive over, feed the meter, rush through the frigid, dark afternoon and no one comes, I start to think: is it me? Should I be someone different?
Today, I began to feel myself again. I decided to talk to them about why I chant OM, its effects (including deepening and lengthening your exhale, because chanting is nothing but breathing with sound), some history, a bit of Sanskrit and a bit of philosophy. I realized that I'd been going on for a bit, so I took a breath and realized that the most important thing to say was this: that I was fine with them OMing or not, but that I at least wanted them to have the information that they needed to be able to make a choice. Knowledge is power, I actually said, and it was one of those times when you recite a cliche and it means something.
And when the last person to come in placed herself waaaaaay at the back of the room, I stopped and said "oh my god. What are you guys doing? can you even hear me back there?" and everyone laughed and one student said, "oh, I never noticed that OM and Oh my god sound a bit the same," and then they all offered to move closer and they all picked up their mats and came into a nice, cohesively spaced group sort of near the front of the studio.
Things went much better. I felt like me instead of a shadow. And at the end of class, I suggested that we chant either OM or a word that means something to each of us, but that we do it mentally rather than aloud, so that no one felt pressured to join in or abstain. It felt right for today. And next class, I'll chant aloud, even if I'm the only voice, feeling a bit more sure that at least I'm showing up, and whatever happens or not afterward, that I'm a teacher.