On this summer's yoga retreat - nourish + ritualize - I woke up the earliest each day. Put on the coffee, and then had sufficient agitated energy with the busy-ness of the week to want to run. My morning asana wasn't shaking the anxiety, and so I took the little terrier at Shanti Retreat, Gypsy, with me for a jog.
The first five minutes were difficult. Gypsy jumped, circled and barked at me, clearly confused as to what we were doing. A somewhat seasoned dog owner, I gave her more distance between us and held her calmly but clearly by the leash to diminish the circles and jumps. Eventually, she may have been too tired to continue jumping, but either way we figured out a rhythm and both spent our morning crazies with a few kilometres of movement and fresh air.
It reminded me of teaching yoga specifically, as everything does, but what I noticed is true of any situation where you are leading the less experienced. When we are uncertain of what is going to happen, it is natural for us to react both physically and mentally with signs of distress, confusion, and anxiety. (The fear centre of our brain - the amygdala - fires up our fight or flight response.) With familiarity, we develop self soothing techniques and realize and integrate the healing potential of curiosity and new pursuits. (We reallocate mental energy away from the amygdala and back to our prefrontal cortex, the assessment centre of the brain.)
As facilitators, it means we need to be the best prepared we can be so that when our students experience panic, we do not follow suit. We continue to provide the container within which they can explore their experience and perception, rather then diving into that experience with them.
This is simple to do and does not require seasons of teaching. It means being the best prepared for where you're at, which includes preparation and ensuring YOU are well taken care of so that the situation is not triggering for you. You don't need to have all the information, but you do need to be as grounded and self-aware as you can be. That means prioritizing practice, meditation, and self-study (svadhyaya).
What's really cool is that this means you can be an amazing teacher without immense physical skillfulness. Big ups to my handstanders and bendy girls, but physical ability doesn't mean much as a facilitator to those whose goals are less... bouncy. Precisely because I am a slower runner, I felt no desire to force Gypsy to keep up with a faster pace. She was led out of her comfort zone with the new experience, but not so far that she felt frustrated and I felt held back. A faster runner may have found Gypsy limiting, but I was able to find her motivating and charming. (The cows we jogged past looked up occasionally to see if the "good girl!" shouts were for them.)
Our skills as leaders are not in what we can do, but how we allow others to explore what they can do with curiosity and a sense of support. Get your own work done, so you can be in compassion and clarity as they do theirs.