I recently had a physical therapy appointment for my injured finger. At first, I debated if I should even go because I knew it would be a vulnerable experience, but decided that professional help was better than my usual “wing it” tactic. I felt anxiety going into the appointment, but could not identify why. I later realized that I felt my “problem” was insignificant, and therefore not worth a PT’s time. That was clearly lame and untrue, but when I met my PT she managed to make me feel exactly the way I had feared. From the start of the appointment, she acted uninterested and almost bothered, which only amplified my initial unease. As the appointment went on, I did my best to energize her with conversation, but to no avail. She explained a variety of exercises that I should do to bring back mobility to my finger and began to rigorously massage the scar on my fingertip. I winced in pain and she asked if I had been doing this regularly, in which I responded “…no.” With a baffled look she replied “How do you not know to do this?” The combination of physical pain and the apparent insulting of my intelligence nearly brought me to tears. I did my best to stifle the belly-clenching emotion that was bubbling up, and responded “How would I have known to do that?” (…perhaps with a bit of attitude.)
“You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him.” — Malcolm S. Forbes.
This experience reminded me of a major reason why I am a yoga teacher. People all around us are constantly dealing with the stresses of life, and often, just trying to make it through each day. Everywhere I look people are sad, beat down, and struggling to get a handle on their life, and yet, it is such a rare case that anyone gives a crap. Every week I observe students courageously come to the studio and, at times, it takes everything in them to just to get there. When they walk through those doors, the last thing they need is another stressful, anxiety-inducing experience, particularly if it is their first time doing yoga. It takes a boatload of courage to be vulnerable and try something new, and I consider it a huge responsibility to remember that and warmly break down initial fears when I see them. Usually, it only takes a small gesture of connection like an authentic smile, remembering a name, or asking a thoughtful question. People are braced for abrupt answers, short exchanges, and even to be ignored, so the opposite can throw them for a loop. Witnessing tension physically melt from a person’s face or shoulders when they are treated with kindness has got to be one of my favorite parts of being a yoga teacher.
“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” — Mahatma Gandhi
However, there is a secret trick to pull this off, and I am going to let you in on it. You have to ACTUALLY care. It may be forced at first, but with a bit of practice and consistency, it will happen. Your compassion and empathy for others will become almost automatic and I guarantee you will change a lot of lives, especially your own. If you have been to Old Town Yoga, you know kindness is the foundation of our culture. If you haven’t been and need a refreshing dose of love and acceptance, you now know where to find it.