by Beth Woodford, RN, RYT 500
When I graduated from Yoga Teacher Training, I was working full-time as a nurse practitioner without a solid plan for teaching opportunities. Upon offering a class to my work colleagues at the hospital, I instantly found myself grappling with “barriers” nonexistent in a studio. Things like inadequate practice space, no yoga props, no sound systems, no temperature control, and poor lighting. I simply started anyway, and my new students loved yoga in spite of all that I knew was "lacking". Still hungry for teaching experience, I approached my local church about starting a class. The first night 42 people showed up! I had to fake it to make it, but as I practiced teaching, I also practiced creative problem solving in a non-studio atmosphere. That class continues today, four years strong. The more I taught, the more I recognized that my students might never have found their way into a studio. Everyone in my world seemed to need yoga, so finding students became as easy as noticing, REALLY noticing, the people around me. Working in a non-studio space began to feel normal.
"The more I taught, the more I recognized that my students might never have found their way into a studio."
As an NP, I work with children and adolescents who have disabling chronic pain. Over time, they begin resenting, even hating their bodies as the source of their pain. Their thoughts, decisions, and behaviors are rooted in pain until they see almost nothing else. Patient after patient after patient, I found myself thinking the practice of yoga had so much to offer them, especially for transforming the negative views of self I so often saw. One day, when all medical strategies were unworkable, I began to teach yoga. Very simply at first, only a few minutes – helping patients find an “easy seat,” loosening up the shoulders, learning to breathe effectively. I was stunned at the positive responses to these very basic interventions. One day a 14 year-old boy was standing in tadasana in my exam room, practicing mindful breathing with his eyes closed, and I watched the tears roll down his cheeks. I realized if the power of yoga could be unleashed in a cold medical exam room then it could work virtually anywhere! I added more and more yoga into my medical visits, and soon almost everyone spent a little time with the lights off in my exam room with their legs up the wall.
"I realized if the power of yoga could be unleashed in a cold medical exam room then it could work virtually anywhere!"
Eventually our hospital planned to open a chronic pain rehabilitation program, where teens from all over the country could come for intensive therapies that focus on restoring function. I was in a position to help build it from the ground up. I knew the time was right to seize my opportunity for impact, negotiating for yoga to be a therapy offered every single day. The medical director was the recipient of a large research grant studying the success of such programs. I knew the powers-that-be needed persuasion to allocate funds for yoga equipment and to allow me to formally teach yoga. Unheard of in a hospital setting – and it happened because I started the conversation.
Oh, the power of a yogini’s intention!! Just because something doesn’t already exist doesn’t mean I couldn’t make it happen! There is so much power in visualizing what can be – and it’s the only way an idea evolves into a plan that can move toward manifestation!
I have now had the privilege of teaching private and semi-private yoga to over 100 adolescents with severe, disabling pain. Many of them grow to love yoga and some continue to practice after they graduate from rehab. Looking at what can BE, instead of focusing only on what IS, made the difference for me. I didn’t think I knew ENOUGH to teach these patients. My yoga teacher taught me to teach only what I know, and to trust the process. I chose to believe THAT, and I’ve since added to my knowledge with every patient I serve.
"Looking at what can BE, instead of focusing only on what IS, made the difference for me."
For my teaching to be authentic and impactful, it has to reflect my own experience. Imitating my beloved teacher’s style is not my calling for a good reason – imitation is without potency! You and only you have YOUR unique voice and offering. Look for a place in YOUR world where people gather, and you have potential students. Find some floor space and the yoga will work it’s magic!