In 2011, while living in Edinburgh, I found a yoga studio near my apartment and a conveniently timed class with an Australian teacher named Haylee. It was yoga-love at first class. She made me really believe in yoga as a personal practice in the way no other teacher has since.
At the time, I was student teaching. This means that I was constantly lesson planning and worrying about my teaching abilities. I was planning in my sleep and every waking second was an opportunity to talk about what was happening at school. Literally planning in my sleep. Still, I made the time to go to Haylee’s class. During Shavasana (corpse pose), I would actually fall asleep in a room full of strangers.
Her classes always followed a similar arc. A nice, deceptive warm-up followed by sweating buckets and shaking uncontrollably before being worked down to a completely sweat-free, relaxed physical and mental state. Almost every class, while at the height of that arc of torture, Haylee, with impeccable timing would say, “Relax your faces, smile!” and I’d inevitably start giggling.
Balancing on one leg, arms stretched forward, other leg stretching back, on the verge of quitting, “Smile!” My face would lighten, I’d laugh and everything would hurt less.
Trying a new balance pose: “Don’t look at your neighbor and think about how they’re doing it better than you. Maybe last class they fell over, maybe next class they will. It doesn’t matter. You just do your best today.”
This is how Haylee turned me into that really annoying girl in Yoga who smiles beatifically during hard poses. When I’m being stretched into the deepest split I’ve ever done, I think of her and start smiling and relaxing and breathing into the pain the way I’m supposed to.
Now, it’s become a part of my yoga practice to remember to relax and enjoy the hard parts. I’m reminded that something might be hard today and easier tomorrow. That focusing on the difficulty or failure can distract from the accomplishment. I managed to close my eyes during a tree pose, dang it! I did a proper head stand and held it today! I deserve to smile for that, even if I fell over eventually!
My current yoga-love, Rohit, is making me stronger and pushes me further (literally) than I thought I could go. Every class of his has at least one moment when I end up exhaling a smile and chuckling to myself as I remember Haylee’s teaching. So every weekend, I have an hour of reminding myself to smile, to breathe through it, to keep trying and lately, also moments of success and feelings of accomplishment.
As a teacher myself now, maybe I can remember to do this in the classroom – smile on the difficult days and with the difficult kids. Always assume that everyone is trying their best, and not comparing them to their neighbors. Maybe I can even help them to smile on a rough day and enjoy working through a hard patch to that moment of clarity. We’re all practicing, and I’m so glad to have had Haylee as a teacher and to have taken that lesson away from my time in her class.