A confession: I don't walk on my yoga students' mats. Here's why.
It's no secret that I was a real mess when I first started getting into yoga seriously. I was dealing with a deep depression following a major family tragedy. Days were nearly unmanageable without a trip to either my shrink or my yoga class (and a good day included both). It was 2005, college, and we had all just returned from Spring Break. In the dining hall, while everyone was sharing stories from care-free Caribbean adventures, I'd eat as quickly as I could and all but run from the deafening noise back to the comforting silence of my single dorm room. Bright lights made my heart race. Noise made me jumpy. The anxiety that pulsed through my body dominated every decision I made.
I felt powerless over it, but for some inexplicable reason, the panic that hovered over me daily would melt away the second I settled onto my yoga mat in class. As silly as it may sound, I began associating the yoga mat with the one and only place where the anxiety couldn't reach me.
The mat represented a sacred place for self-reflection, and I'd get lost in the sound of our collective breathing, no time to dwell on anything while the instructor talked our bodies through shapes on the sticky mats. When it was time for savasana, each exhale would lower me deeper into the comfort and protection of the mat, and at the end of class I'd carefully roll up my mat, tuck it securely under my arm and leave with a glimmer of hope that someday I could live a life without anxiety and depression.
Years later, though I no longer deal with debilitating panic attacks or deep depression, the mat continues to provide the same introspective space as before. Anytime I'm feeling overwhelmed, or tired, or angry, it remains the place I can go where the thoughts immediately quiet and the yoga does its work.
One of the things I love about yoga is that even in a classroom setting it remains a personal and individual practice. As a yoga teacher, I try to remember that everyone who comes to class is dealing with one thing or another, and perhaps the mat represents for them the same sacred space it represents for me. And that's why, when I'm teaching, walking around the room, cueing the next posture, reminding them to breathe, I avoid trampling over anyone's sacred space. When I adjust or assist students in poses, then I do step onto their mats, but always with full presence and awareness that I'm entering a special place.
Maybe that's crazy- I know in reality it's nothing but a mat. But to me it represents hope, and is a reminder that even in the most difficult of times we are stronger than we feel, and have the power to change if we can let go of the armor and the worries and all the things that weigh us down, and just be.
I'd love to know - how do you feel about this? Do you mind if people walk on your mat?
PS- More confessions of a yoga teacher.