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A Whole Life Yoga teacher training graduate asks: Is it possible for a teacher to absorb the energy of her students? I recently worked with a client who is currently in an emotionally dark place. She felt better after our session, but I felt worse. I even cried later in the day, for no apparent reason. Have you experienced this, and if so, how do you protect yourself?
The short answer is, yes! Yoga tools impact the human energy system, and in teaching them, we open ourselves up to our students’ energy fields. This feels great when students are in a balanced place. It can be challenging when their energy is stressed or sad.
Private work is even more problematic. Private clients allow themselves to be much more intimate and vulnerable than students in group classes. As a yoga therapist, I’ve worked with clients struggling with severe debilitating diseases, clients recovering from trauma, even clients who were in the end stages of terminal disease.
To say, “It isn’t easy” seems more than a little trite. But honestly, I don’t have a simple answer. When I started this work, I actually felt guilty. I thought I should feel worse about my clients’ situations. But I quickly realized that I can’t do this work unless I keep some distance. Otherwise I’ll be on a quick path to burnout and depression. I had to give myself permission not to take on my clients’ pain. The Yoga Sutras agree. According to the sutras, yogis should practice active compassion without joining the suffering. Once we take on the pain of our clients, we’re of no good to anyone, especially our students.
The best way for a teacher to keep that needed distance is to actively practice yoga and meditation herself. That seems obvious, but for some reason, teachers often stop practicing. They even kid themselves that teaching is their practice. Wrong answer! When we teach, we should be 100% focused on the students in front of us. Our personal practice, on the other hand, should be all about us. So if you aren’t currently practicing, start.
Second, I firmly believe yoga teachers should take periodic breaks from teaching. I take a six-week teaching sabbatical every summer. I still work at the studio, but I refuse to teach a single yoga pose. Instead, I focus on filling my own energy well. How full is your energy well? If it’s sucking mud, maybe it’s time for a break.
Third, sometimes our reactions to people around us are symptoms of something already happening within us. I recently wrote an article about Daurmanasya (Depression), which is one of the symptoms of an inner obstacle. So is Svasaprasvasa, which means disturbance of the breath, including uncontrolled crying, as you describe. The sutras list a number of actions you can take when you’re up against an obstacle. Review sutras 1.32 – 1.39 and consider adding one or more of those tools to your daily practice.
Finally, remember to spend time doing things that make you happy. If you’re sensitive to negative energy, you’re likely sensitive to positive energy as well. Nothing picks me up like time spent with puppies or upbeat friends. Others are refueled by playing with children. Still others by gardening. Spend time re-connecting with the touchstones that bring you joy. Allow them to refuel you, just like you do your students.
I hope that helps!
More information about Whole Life Yoga’s teacher training program can be found at our web site: Yoga Teacher Training at Whole Life Yoga.