Teaching yoga in a Chicago high-rise

Everyone benefits from yoga.  Even the extremely wealthy.

While some of my yogi peers are actively seeking out teaching opportunities in jails, battered women shelters and under-serviced elementary schools — all communities that could absolutely benefit from yoga! — I brought my services to a Gold Coast high-rise on Sunday.  It was my parents’ condo building on Chicago’s Lake Shore Drive.

It’s a condo building full of affluent Chicagoans.  Go ahead and roll your eyes if you must.  But these are people who carry all sorts of baggage, both physically and emotionally, despite having bank accounts that most might assume makes everything roses and sunshine.  In my experience, those who most have an abundance of material things are just as prone to unhappiness and self-created stress — if not more so.  Holding a free yoga class in the community room of this high-rise is no better or worse than holding one in a jail.  It just might not elicit the same “Oh, you’re such a good person” response as received by the yogi who teaches children, abused women or inmates.  So it goes.

At the end of the day, the intention is the same: bring people a tool that can release them from self-imprisonment.  Whatever form that might take.

My co-teachers for the 1.5-hour practice were Lisa and Beth, my video review partners.  This was our first test run of the practice we will be holding on May 18 (for a formal critique by our program director, Daren).  Three women from the building showed up.  All beginners.  In fact, for one woman, it was her first yoga class.  Ever.  She had a really bad knee and spoke of her mother who was dying of terminal cancer.  She was wonderfully open about volunteering information.  Knowing about these physical and emotional ailments upfront, I wanted to make certain that she had a good first experience.  Note to self: Approach each practice this way, perhaps by assuming there is at least one person in the room with an equally gripping story.

The practice was split into three 30-minute increments, and I took the intro and warm up.  I felt confident, although I now recognize that I spoke a little too much in the beginning — as I didn’t get to squeeze in a half sun salute sequence before my 30 minutes were up.  Based on this, I’ll need to distill, distill, distill my welcome and explanation of what yoga is for next time.  My favorite part was guiding students through meditation and breathing.  It’s interesting, I find myself in an eyes-wide-open sort of meditation while providing the instruction.

The students responded to cues well — for the most part.  One woman was unable to bring her spine into cat position while we moved through cat/dog vinyasa, even with some one-on-one prompting and encouragement from my co-teachers.  It just goes to show that with beginners, even this most “basic” form of body awareness cannot be assumed.  It’s another reminder to speak slowly, cue clearly and demo, demo, demo.

It was a good first test run, and all of the students walked out of that high-rise community room with smiles.  We asked them to leave a comment card as they left.  The one that warmed my heart is below.

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