by Ellie Bernstein
"This is a story about control
Control of what I say
Control of what I do
And this time I'm gonna do it my way…” (Janet Jackson)
As a yoga instructor at a studio that is also a registered training school, I get a lot of teacher trainee observers in my class. I adore the process of mentoring new instructors and welcome these students into my class with an open heart.
As I’ve been teaching at my yoga studio for a number of years, many of the students are eager to talk to me about my experiences, thoughts, and feelings on teaching yoga. I love the conversation and the relationship building that this process fosters. The teachers-in-training have sheets they are required to fill out during their observation, which include things like pace of the class, sequence, music, mood
and theme of the class, etc. Recently, one of the trainees accidentally left her sheet lying out on the front desk of our check-in station at the studio, and it happened to catch my eye since it was my name in the teacher box. I glanced over it, knowing full well that I probably shouldn’t have, but what can I say, I had a human moment
. The trainee had written all of this wonderful stuff about my class, and the pace, and the theme, and how everything was tied together like a neat little package, which made me smile, until I saw the comments continued on the back.
“This class was structured and themed really well, the ambiance was set, and the students seemed to enjoy the practice, but I feel like Ellie is a control freak in class. She didn’t seem as open and free to the people in her class doing what they wanted to.”
UMM WHAT? CONTROL FREAK? WHAT THE WHAT? I was crushed. I totally give my students freedom in class. What the hell? Why was I letting this bother me so much? I like to think that I’m very confident in my teaching, so why was one person’s opinion hitting me so hard?
Control freak. The words repeated like a mantra from hell in my head for days. Control. It swirled around in my mind, often catching me off guard while I taught, making me self conscious. "Should I chill out? Am I not chill? OMG how can I chill more? Maybe I am a control freak.” I questioned where else in my life I was control freaking the fuck out and realized that, indeed, I was grasping onto a lot.
After a few days of letting this defeat me, I decided I was fed up with allowing a singular opinion to hit me this hard. I chose to theme my classes that week on control. I thought long and hard about what control meant to me and how I could reframe this pervasive thought in my mind. I often teach what I need to learn
, and during that week I learned a lot about myself, about my teaching, about my habits of grasping onto things, ideas, labels, and all sorts of stuff. This idea that I might indeed be a control freak turned my world upside down, but I came out the other side with some really important realizations.
The funny thing about control is that we think we have it. We love to think we are in control, yet it’s a complete illusion. Whether you believe in a divine spirit or not, there’s no way to deny that having everything under your control is impossible. Accidents happen. People get sick. We meet new people everyday. We lose touch. People come and people go and we have very little control over this simple fact of life. Whether we like to admit it or not, many of us are “control freaks”, doing everything in our power to have some sort of semblance of control, resisting the natural shift of everything.
When things start to feel like they are spiraling out of our grasp, what do we do? We grip harder, which is usually a futile practice. It’s like those proverbial waves that swell up into our lives
. We have no control over this. So why do we constantly stand in their way and allow them to knock us down time and time again? Speaking of the beach, I love the beach. I love the beach so much, yet I live thousands of miles (maybe hundreds…I’m not so great with math…) away from the ocean. I grew up on the east coast and the salty air and sandy beaches were a part of my existence. My body and soul crave the sea. When I was back east last summer I remember being on the beach and being really bummed out about leaving. I grabbed a handful of sand and squeezed it so hard and in that moment, as all the sand poured out of my palm, I realized when you love something so much, the tighter you hold onto it, the faster it escapes your grasp. If you gently hold it, it stays for much longer. Now of course, I can’t carry the beach back to Indiana with me, but it made me stop and think. These things in life that we want so badly to hold onto, when we resist the natural ebb and flow
of their existence, not only do we lose them more quickly, but we are much more deeply affected by the inevitable change that occurs. To begin to understand that we are not in control of our lives is to begin to live in the present moment.
When we finally decide to let go of this illusion of control and surrender to the natural unfolding of our lives, things tend to settle more quickly and we return to our homeostasis, or our happy place. As we allow the waves of life to approach, it’s easier to ride them, and ultimately pass through them with more ease.
What is it that you are trying so hard to hold onto?
What is trying to work its way out of your life?
Can you take a moment to first recognize this thing that you’re gripping, and then be with it for another moment?
Pause. Take it in.
Recognize that it has no power over you, nor you it, and just like that…begin to let it go.
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