I got to Omega Institute just before 10am after a full night of driving (and napping in the car!). The irony of attending a workshop that at least touched on self-care after depriving myself of a hotel room or a flight to save money was not lost on me. But we all have to make sacrifices to do awesome things!
I mainly teach physical yoga classes, so it was hard to know how much of the presentation would be relevant to me. It was! In fact, I now think it was even more ideal to speak more generally around facilitation, rather than assuming we all did the same thing and there was one “right path” for us all. I really enjoyed Dr. Melody Moore herself – she was both very human and very professional at the same time.
Our small group formed our own community agreements, including regarding confidentiality, so it’s important to point out that what I share is what I took away from this session in general, and I strive to avoid publicizing any individual personal experience shared. And, of course, my takeaways might contain mistakes that are mine alone.
Read on to see 10 things I can and will apply to my own yoga classes (public and service classes), and other forms of facilitation such as workshops and teacher training.
- Doing matters… and so does being. Of course I need to “do” by gaining appropriate training and preparing when I teach. But “being” is important too. Embodying presence, calm, and equanimity is even more important in new or unpredictable situations where it’s hard to know what is the “right” thing to do.
- There are multiple compassionate ways to respond when a participant shares something that is emotionally charged and/or off topic. I could express concern with a look or gesture, and then connect back to the group or the agenda by connecting to the emotion. I may not have experienced that same situation to “know how you feel”, but I have at least also experienced a sense of isolation or grief, which sounds much like what you describe. Maybe someone else in the group has too? Or maybe the tool I’m about to share has been helpful to me when I’ve experienced that. If I’m cautious about identifying or guessing the emotion underneath the share, I might ask, “How does it feel sharing that now with the group?”
- Transference/countertransference; projection; projective identification. These are real! They can underlie a participant’s behavior when no other explanation seems to fit. (Google is your friend but my understanding of their meaning is, respectively: client transfers past relationship qualities onto teacher/vice versa; I assume for instance you are bored with me because in fact *I* am bored with you; I act in an angry way because I can tell you think I’m angry…even though I’m not!)
- Aim to use “I” rather than “you” to avoid implying that your experience must mimic mine, or that my experience is necessarily universal (to me this concept sounds a lot like privilege). “When I feel isolated, I find it best to socialize with a group” rather than, “When you feel isolated, it’s best to socialize with a group.”
- What to share/ self-disclosure. Share from your scars, when it’s relevant and serves the group, not from open wounds.
- Provide tools at the start (rather than waiting for a challenge to arise) to help people deal with difficult scenarios such as physical or emotional discomfort. In my trauma informed yoga classes, this might mean making it explicit that you can come out of a pose or take breaks; it might mean letting students know if they face emotional discomfort, they can choose to pause, back off, or keep going; they can choose to ground by feeling feet on the floor, or to focus on their breath. Or any other strategy that works for them which I haven’t mentioned.
- Compassionate time management. To avoid having one individual essentially hijack the group with a lot of speaking: “I invite you to lean back if you are at ease speaking in a group, and notice if your silence can help elevate another voice; to lean in if you experience discomfort speaking in a group and perhaps practice bravery to add your voice to the mix.” “I claim the seat of time manager “- I’d like to bring your awareness to the time and ask that we re-focus on xyz. [If it’s actually true:] We can reconvene after the session to discuss this further.
- Pair or partner work. For sharing activities, dividing up the class may allow everyone time to speak and share with one person for a few minutes, even if there wouldn’t be time for each individual in the group to share with the group for a few minutes each. *In trauma informed terms, be mindful of getting true consent for anything that involves physical touch. Personally, I also think it’s fair to inform participants in advance if you’re asking them to privately call up personal info on a sensitive topic, that you’ll also ask them to share that info with another participant.
- Non-attachment. I can be and do my best, and what they walk away with is their own. Be present and attuned and also have a thick boundary.
- Intersectionality – We are all members of different “groups” based on life experiences, race, socioeconomic status, gender, and so on; and individually we are all members of different groups at the same time – we are not only one thing! Some group “memberships” are visible, or we expect them to be visible, others are not. Often my group membership in terms of culture influences HOW I listen and engage; it also may influence my assumptions about others look when they listen and engage. But I can be wrong!