I just cancelled a class. The reason: I am struggling to speak. I am suffering from the long lasting after –effects of a cold. I did an hour long chanting session with a fellow teacher yesterday and I think I might have breathing through my mouth last night when I was sleeping ( no NOT snoring!) And then I chatted and laughed my way through an hour long mentoring session with a student this morning and my voice was really struggling.
All of this seems to have resulted in me losing my voice. (Funny expression that isn’t it? It’s still there, it’s just not very effective)
And so I had a choice.
- Show up to class, suck lozenges and sip water and croak my way through, or
- Take time off to rest and gargle before teaching class this evening?
My impulse was to turn up. To be there, as I always am, despite how few students show up. (This is a lunchtime class that isn’t very well attended) This is definitely part of what I consider to be my ethos: integrity, consistency and reliability. But as I walked to the studio this morning, feeling that burning discomfort in my throat I reflected on just exactly who I was serving with this intention. Not myself – as with all teachers and performers – my voice is a precious instrument. And my students? Do they not deserve to have me fully present – voice and all?
I reflected on what I would advise my students and therapy clients if they asked for advice on this situation.
And my answer would invariably be: rest.
As a teacher, is it enough for me to give out advice that I do not feel able to also take for myself? When students come to class with an infection or an injury – following that culturally conditioned impulse to push on and through – then, depending on the circumstances, my advice is often to go home and rest. Listen to what your body is telling you it needs. You have permission. As a teacher, I realise that it is important for me also to reflect the value of not pushing. If I turn up to class unable to speak, what message am I reinforcing?
Take my advice – I’m not using it?
We live in a culture of overwork. Despite what publications like our old favourite the Daily Mail might have us believe, we are far from work-shy, quite the opposite. Often justified as a healthy “work ethic” , we work longer hours, take fewer holidays and fewer sick days than many of our European colleagues. No wonder there are so many people experiencing the effects of chronic fatigue. Pushing oneself to the point of illness cannot in anyone’s book be considered healthy. Those in employment may feel pushed to work long hours for fear of losing their jobs, and self-employed people like myself may feel that they simply don’t have a choice, because there is nobody else to do it. The truth is, despite how indispensible we imagine we are, things can and do survive and thrive perfectly well in our absence . They really do!
I’m side tracking. I suppose what I am getting at is that this work ethic, this drive to “push through” fatigue, illness, injury and pain also manifests outside of the working environment. Even on the yoga mat. I’ve seen it countless times when students show up at class thinking that somehow they are doing a good thing by making themselves go to Yoga. Because Yoga is good for you, right?
I have had students arrive at class with the flu, in the vomity early stages of pregnancy, with fractures (yup), with a migraine, even with a nose bleed and always, I think ( and often say it too) you should really GO HOME ( via a doctor if appropriate)
(I should say – because it is my area of specialism – that in the case of chronic conditions, then it’s a bit different. Happy to discuss.)
In a recent workshop with my friend and mentor Lorna Penney, we were doing some really deep work and I realised maybe half way through the day that I might not have the necessary emotional resources to teach class that evening. I think I actually said something like “I feel like I never want to teach another yoga class!” – It’s Okay I changed my mind
What Lorna offered was massively empowering and – at risk of sounding over-dramatic – life changing in its simplicity. She offered to put a closed sign on the studio door and if necessary wait for the students to arrive and tell them that I wasn’t going to be teaching that evening. As it turns out I didn’t take her up on her offer because enough processing was done during the remainder of the workshop to bring me out of my funk, but at that moment, it gave me the sense of space that I needed. If I COULDN’T teach, then I didn’t have to – simple.
What came after that was an opportunity to reflect on when it is appropriate to put my own closed sign on the door. It doesn’t happen very often, but I realise that if I am to be of service to my students and therapy clients, then it is better that I work when my physical, emotional and psychic resources are not depleted.