Friday, September 11, 2020

I Became a Yoga Teacher After Another Global Crisis –– Now What?

by Kate Lynch

There was a global crisis nineteen years ago that rocked all our foundations, and put me on my current path. On September 11, 2001, I was living far from home. I felt as helpless as anyone else whose dad worked near Wall Street and couldn’t be found for several hours. After the initial attack, my feelings of despair persisted. I knew I had to do something with my life to try to relieve some of the suffering I felt within, and in the world.

I had never envisioned myself as a yoga teacher, but it didn’t feel as if I had a choice. My practice was the answer to my helplessness. It felt as if I were being dragged to take the first step, and then the next. My training as a yoga and meditation teacher began. For almost 20 years, I’ve shared the tools that help me find joy, healing, and calm in the face of self-doubt, pain and anxiety.

During the pandemic, my practice has taken on the role of emotional triage.

I use breath as a first line of defense when faced with overwhelming feelings. Meditation has taught me to tolerate discomfort. This global pandemic is a collective moment of fear, grief, and discomfort. As I learn to tolerate just a little bit more, resilience grows and I can show up for others with more clarity and courage. My students, family, and community benefit when I can find my center. I show up on Zoom to share what has kept me emotionally balanced these many years, and especially these past four months. They say it is helping!

As a yoga teacher, I pieced a living together by traveling from gyms to studios to homes. Of course, I cannot do that now. Without the privilege of marriage giving me health insurance, my position would be even more precarious than it is. I am, by nature, risk averse. I was careful to never put all my eggs in one basket, and to take jobs which may have paid less but felt more secure.

They all laid me off on the same day, March 16. One employer with a week’s pay, another with none. Those who worked for studios fared worse. At one social justice focused studio where I am an occasional teacher, a request went out: if you have the privilege to donate or pause your pay, please don’t invoice us this month.

I thought to myself, “If I am scared, I wonder how some of my students are feeling. I must find a way to be there for them.”

Of course, I was also thinking of my family, home all together indefinitely, and the looming virus we had not quite witnessed yet. We were safe, but we didn’t feel safe.

A bounty of free and sliding scale yoga classes blossomed online overnight. All the yoga teachers who saw our studios suddenly shut down, or were laid off from our gigs at gyms, scrambled to boot up Zoom. Behind the scenes, there was a flurry of activity. Those more familiar with teaching online stepped up to show the rest of us how. My first few classes were a hot mess. I didn’t have the right tech. I didn’t know how to mute anyone. My son ran through shouting during deep relaxation. Some students didn’t return.

To those who did, and continue to, I’m grateful. We have seen each other through something unfathomable, and I know none of us will forget.

There was no way to hide my anxiety those first few weeks, and I didn’t want to.

Showing up in my vulnerability allows my students to let their guard down and work through their challenging feelings during class. When one of my students logged on to class after her colleague had died, we grieved together. There have also been births and other joyful celebrations. Throughout, I do my best to remain consistent, supportive, and present, just as I did in person.

A few weeks into lockdown, a ritual began. Whenever I heard an ambulance begin its trip down the parkway outside my window, I would stop everything to focus on the people inside. This happened countless times a day. Everything stopped for me as I sent loving-kindness to them on each exhale. Breathing in, I derived courage and hope from both the sick people and their helpers. I would pause even during class, until the sound had faded. My students understood, grateful for Ambulance Meditation practice that I shared with them. They see that I am vulnerable too, in my helplessness and empathy.

While maintaining faith in the tools of yoga and meditation, I have not relied solely on that. The support of a therapist, also on Zoom, has been essential for me at this time. I’m anxious and triggered, and it’s ok for my students to know that.

I decided to begin my yoga teaching career in the wake of a previous global crisis, because I wanted to be part of the solution to the world’s suffering. I know that the inevitable anxiety, grief, lethargy, rage, and isolation arising from living through this pandemic (and its resulting financial and emotional devastation) can be soothed with yoga and meditation.

I don’t know what’s next for me, or my fellow yoga teachers. I don’t see my job ever returning to a pre-pandemic “normal,” so I’ll keep learning more about how to hold space online.

Kate Lynch is a meditation coach and inclusive yoga teacher in Brooklyn, New York. She has been teaching and cultivating community since 2002. Her core values are empathy, integrity, equity, and respect. She offers accessible variations, and encourages self-nurturing, mindful breathing and awareness.

Kate has advanced education in meditation, mindfulness, anxiety, trauma, integrating equity, prenatal, and postpartum yoga. She specializes in supporting anxious parents of atypical kids with the mindfulness, resilience, and self-care tools that help her get through the day. See: HealthyHappyYoga websiteHealthy Happy Yoga PodcastHealthy Happy Yoga YouTubeFacebook, and Instagram.

Originally posted on

This post was edited by Patrice Priya Wagner, Managing Editor of Accessible Yoga blog and member of the Board of Directors.

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