I am that: By Brynn Scally
I did something that scared me this week. While I was struggling to sleep one night before teaching I decided I needed to tell my class I was on medication. I suddenly felt like I needed to make sure that my students understood that, although I get in front of them and lead them through ways to become settled in their being, this is something that I need chemical help with. The interesting thing about this is that I don’t believe my students cared at all. What I found after class was that I needed to say it for myself. Teaching yoga for me has been my greatest life teacher. I have come to realize that when I get up to speak to my students I am actually speaking to myself. Although I think it is fair to say that today's modern yoga classes don’t assume that the teacher has, in any way, figured life out, and many yoga students today are doing the practice for exercise alone, it is important to still bring home the notion that we are all learning together. For the safety of the students who come into our yoga room I must be utterly real and grounded in who I am, for my own mental health and the health of the people I teach.
At a particularly desperate time of my life 16 years ago I sat in my doctors office and sobbed that I felt like I was drowning. At that time I was struggling with the aloneness of being a new mom and a husband who was mostly away with work. The medication the doctor prescribed me that day helped pull me out of my darkness enough to take steps forward into self discovery and self healing. It helped me get clear enough to face past trauma. One of the positive steps I took was yoga. Although the medication is what pulled the blanket off of me, yoga is what changed the trajectory of my life. With that said, even with the yoga and the full scope of what it has blossomed in me, I must be honest with the fact that I have a very real mental health diagnoses that must require constant awareness, through yoga but more than just yoga alone. Yoga has taught me to move with the constant waves of emotion and not fight against them. It has helped me see and hear myself in all my complexity. This deeper learning and deeper listening has helped me understand the hard work it takes each day to care for my mental health. As a wellness practitioner I feel it would be dangerous for me to ever create an environment where it appears I have all the answers. Yoga teaches us that each human need is different as every human experience is different. Hopefully I can help students learn to tune in a little more clearly. To tone down the static and noise from the outside and practice a deeper listening in order to find their own healing path, which may or may not be yoga alone.
Even as I write this now I feel a small spark of shame, a little bit naked just as I did when I told my class. Even just 16 years ago when I met with my doctor there was much more of a stigma about mental illness than there is now. We are more accepting of mental illness but I do wish that people in the wellness industry would be more mindful that one size of healing practice does not fit all. As a yoga teacher I would be doing a disservice to my students if I was not fully forthcoming about my own struggles, while leading them to find ways to face up to their own. Not only did I tell my students I was on medication, I also told them that there have been just as many times sitting on my yoga mat not wanting to be there, hating my body, not feeling connected, as there have been times of feeling the goodness I may seem to be tapped into. The key though is that I have learned to notice these moments and settle into them. How to breath into not feeling connected until sensation comes. Sometimes sensation is as small as my baby toe. Sometimes there is an absence of feeling, a numbness. Sometimes there is too much feeling and I mentally try to run from it. But I return to my mat as a way to listen to all of it. I know this is how I grow.
After I told my students these things at the beginning of class I felt different while teaching, I felt raw and I had a small lump in my throat, I felt in a small way like a beginner teacher again. I had taken off a bit of my mask. After class as the students went on about getting themselves together to leave the studio I realized, as I always do, that what I had done was a practice not just for them, but for myself. They weren’t shook, they didn’t expect or ever think I had my shit together, that was something I was putting on myself. My tattoo on my left arm is Sanskrit for “I am that”. Meaning I am you, you are me, we are yoga, we are all one, all the same. When I teach you I am teaching me. When I speak on my mat I am giving voice to what I need to learn. So this week I gave voice to the fact that it’s ok that I need help. I can’t escape my past but I can be gentle with myself as I guide myself through it to the future. Tuning back in again and again.