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Aerobics and the Art of Peacekeeping

Tuesday, September 8, 2009 by Marianne Elliott

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This week I've had the opportunity to teach five yoga classes. I think I can call myself a yoga teacher now. I'm a writer and a yoga teacher and a human rights and environmental advocate – it sounds just like the job I would have invented if I could have when I was a child. Actually, when I was a child I didn't know about yoga so I would have been a writer/dancer/advocate. I would have been wearing a black leotard with grey sweat-pants and black leg-warmers and I would have had a boyfriend called Leroy. I do, in fact, sometimes wear black leg-warmers with jazz shoes when I go out. It's my 'Fame' look and I'm convinced it is about to be very big again soon. So when you are all rushing out for leg-warmers and jazz shoes you'll know who to thank for the early tip off.

The point of this post, though, was going to be about the courage of people who come along new to yoga classes. I love teaching new yoga students, just as I used to love teaching the "introduction to group exercise" class at the gym I once worked at teaching aerobics. Yes, I was an aerobics instructor complete with matching lycra outfits, high kicks and a perky 'can-do' attitude.

It was a lot of fun but the best part, for me, was the Saturday morning 'intro' class which was held – unlike the other classes – in a small, private studio that couldn't be peered into by people working out in the main gym. In this class I would walk people through the basic vocabulary of an aerobics class. We'd do side steps and grapevines, box steps and flick kicks until we could all do a simple combination of those four moves in time to some music.

Every week went along the same lines. The newbies would arrive looking self-conscious and ready to bolt for the door at the first sign of anything that required complex coordination. I'd kick things off gently by giving people a run down of the 'etiquette' of an aerobics class. Water bottles and towels get left at the side of the aerobics room rather than at your feet, for example. Then we'd get started, nice and easy, on the steps. I'd teach each basic move separately before joining them up into a simple routine.

Baby step by baby step we'd edge our way towards doing something that most of the people in the class had watched from a distance and suspected they could never do. The sense of satisfaction and achievement that accumulated in that little studio every Saturday was fantastic and it never failed to make me feel that I'd done something worthwhile with my morning.

Teaching aerobics might not seem to have much to do with peace work, and may seem to be a million miles from my work in Afghanistan. But what I saw in those introductory classes were people overcoming their fear of looking foolish and at the same time realising that they were not alone in feeling that fear. Each group of people who took the class together seemed to come to see in each other the same vulnerability that they knew within themselves and this shared vulnerability created, for an hour at least, a place of trust and of mutual support. Every person was genuinely cheering on the others and the whole group came together to celebrate their shared progress. I sometimes think that this is the only way to make peace, through one heart at a time dropping its protective covering and embracing the beautiful truth that we are all capable of feeling the same pain and fear but equally capable of the same joy and love.

I've never forgotten the joy that I got from teaching those classes and that is one of the reasons I am so happy to be teaching yoga now.


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11 Responses to "Aerobics and the Art of Peacekeeping"

  1. amy says:

    the world needs more teachers like you, in yoga classes and in our communities! i started and stopped yoga a couple of times until i found the right teacher for me. i have since had other teachers that i admire and love learning from; but it was so important to have that first teacher who understood what i was feeling and got me through those wobbly steps of something new. you’re giving your students a lovely and powerful gift.

  2. claire says:

    Ah yes, sidesteps and grapevines: the staples of the Jane Fonda workouts I used to do. There is definitely something satisfying about stringing together a series of moves into a routine that would’ve seemed difficult if viewed as the whole 1st.
    I’m leaning towards making yoga a more regular practice. Still very much a beginner though. Downward dog is what seems most impossible (aside from the really impossible poses 😉
    Good luck with the yoga teaching! Sounds like a great fit for you.

  3. What a great post. This reminds me of a dance show we put on every year in college. People would come in with no previous history of dancing and yet through each group’s determination and support we all learned the steps and choreography and performed in front of hundreds of people. For me this was a transformational experience for the exact reasons you touched on in your post.
    Do you have a boyfriend named Leroy now? 🙂

  4. Wendie Lee says:

    I love this M, it sits so well with me and the joy I get from teaching and influencing others…

  5. postcards from... says:

    i’ve never actually done any yoga apart from bikram.
    i thought perhaps if i did some at home that would be a good place to begin however i find the videos/video podcasts i have tried so far very frustrating as i am spoken to by these presenters like i’m meant to just simply know how to fold myself in to the shape of an eagle, or dolphin, or any of the other seemingly impossible poses!
    i’ve never done yoga at the gym i go to either as it has floor-ceiling windows along the whole side of it and i’d be waaay too self-conscious.
    i’d so sign up for your yoga classes tho.

  6. Pablo (yo) says:

    Great blog!
    If you like, come back and visit mine:
    Pablo from Argentina

  7. Lily says:

    I wish you and your students a great time of learning. I do not know much about yoga.
    What would you recommend as a good introduction?

  8. susanna says:

    It’s evident in your writing how much you enjoy teaching yoga, Marianne, and that joy must come through you to your students during each class. It makes such a difference when a teacher is passionate about her subject/class. And really, how more well-rounded can anyone possibly get than being a writer/human rights and environmental activist/yoga instructor??! You are a true Renaissance woman, Marianne! 🙂

  9. Lubna says:

    You are a born teacher, I am so glad that your dreams are coming true.

  10. ” I sometimes think that this is the only way to make peace, through one heart at a time dropping its protective covering and embracing the beautiful truth that we are all capable of feeling the same pain and fear but equally capable of the same joy and love.”
    i wholeheartedly agree.

  11. gypsy Alex says:

    Indeed the right nurturing and mentoring are essential when we are starting a new venture. Also the reminder that the beginning is part of the process. Your students (myself included) are a lucky bunch! 🙂

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