Recently, I was thinking back to the first bios I wrote as a new yoga or Pilates Instructor. They included the usual list of certifications and information about my formal education. I also recall including a line about safety that said something like, “My goal is to challenge my clients with diverse workouts while also keeping them safe.” At the time, especially being a new teacher, I wanted people to know I would keep their physical safety my utmost priority to avoid new injury or even flaring up an old one. I have always been a cautious person and that characteristic was manifesting in my teaching. I was working on gaining trust, and being careful and safe was familiar to me.
A couple months ago, a client whom I have been working with for several years came in noticeably upset. After a big hug, I asked her if she wanted to talk about what was bothering her. She did, and I listened. A few more tears were shed but talking helped her feel better. As she wiped her eyes with a tissue she said, “I am sorry to bring this into your space.” I smiled at her. “My space?” I asked. “This is your space. Our space.”
I reflected on this conversation later that day. I realized that unconsciously, somewhere in my 13 years of teaching I had continued to make physical safety a priority, but had also held an emotional safe space for my clientele. Beyond roll ups, teasers, and short spines, holding a space for people to open up and share what is going on in their life has become just as important and significant as protecting an old injury or helping them manage recurring back pain.
As a new teacher, I found this very difficult. Over a decade ago if a client started to dive into something personal I would earnestly try to get him or her to focus on the movement practice rather than share the story. Even if I had a “relatable” example I would rarely share a personal story myself. And you know, what? That’s ok, too. I was new and holding space was new for me. But somewhere along the way, something changed. Maybe it’s because I have had the privilege of working with some individuals for many years. Perhaps it’s because I am more comfortable in my own skin. Maybe it is because I have found my voice, and want others to know theirs, too. Whatever the reason, I no longer feel bad or guilty if the first 10 minutes of a session are a heart to heart. I know no longer feel like we are “wasting time” or that we “need to just get to the Pilates.” I also feel like my personal walls are not up so high. Words I say might be a game changer, a light bulb moment, or very best…words of comfort for the individual sitting on the Cadillac in front of me. Sure there are boundaries and I am no therapist, but I am honored to be called a friend. Some days holding space for people in a grounded, empathetic, and safe way is the best and most significant part of the session. In fact, it might be my very best work.
In health and friendship,