We All Want To Soften By Kathleen Kraft

It’s the hot class where I learn the most on the spot about myself and my students. The heat opens people up in a different way, physically and emotionally. There are also a wide variety of practitioners in terms of level, intention and focus. And it’s Monday at 12:15, a peaceful, quiet time for a class.

The longer I teach, the more evenly-paced and more deliberate my classes have become, and I’ve begun to notice: people want to soften.

The guy with enormous muscles right at the front of the room, who can “do everything” and wants to do MUCH more, he wants to relax. He doesn’t want me to tell him to–I just need to make it happen gradually.

The gradual build for me is sticking to my intention and class vision in a room that can be full of surprises, and tweaking that vision along the way—responding to the room, and to my creative instinct in that co-created space, in other words:  playing, or in Sanskrit: Lila. The divine play or conversation that happens between us.

So whereas once upon a time, I’d offer “an inversion” at the end of class before savasana, I don’t anymore–I offer shoulder stand and headstand as the inversions choices even though I know the ripped guy wants a handstand. Handstand changes the energy of the room – not just for the person doing it but for everyone —the head is off the floor, and the energy is high. So now I let him be momentarily frustrated, gradually relax, climb into his headstand, breathe and see his perceptions. Then I offer a headstand variation he might be interested in.

And there’s the super fit woman who comes in right under the wire, doesn’t make too much eye contact, and slips out of class right at the end. She wants to soften too. I feel this when I assist her in a reclined spinal twist. The gradual sigh. Giving it up for a few breaths.

And then there were the people who came to the Soulful Movement workshop I led recently with my yoga colleague Oneika Mays where we guided a flow—a grounded vinyasa dance really. Nothing wildly inventive, but a flow that expressed who we are and what we think feels good, balanced by what the participants expressed through their practices.

This set the stage for the softening : we concluded with guided a meditation and a short writing session. It was easier in this context: the participants came to soften: A studio staff member came after resting for 5 days after a marathon, another came just because it sounded healing. One participant was brand new to yoga! (Wow—bold to come to a two hour workshop with no prior experience!) A woman shared with the group that she wanted to be more patient with herself. A man spoke of his crowded mind during meditation. And the last person to share was a woman who read a poem she wrote about being in the warm candle-lit room that felt like a blanket as the snow fell outside.

As a yoga teacher, I’ve learned to tap into my inner parent and guide my students toward the length and strength they need to be ready for anything, especially something as big and gentle as their own hearts.

Kathleen Kraft leads yoga and writing workshops.

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