by Tari Prinster
Something that is very different in a y4c class is the exchange or non-exchange of information. As yoga teachers, we are trained to ask for injuries or concerns in a public forum at the beginning of class. We assume if there are none, that people are taking responsibility for their own secret affliction/condition. In a class for cancer survivors, the norm is different. Public disclosure is awkward, and can invite an inappropriate response or lengthy exchanges. And useful information can be easily missed. Taking time to do the “intake” rounds before class and in semi-private is important. It is the teacher’s responsibility to create time and space for this to happen and to make certain critical facts are not missed.
There are two other shifts of responsibility. First, start with a student’s expectation of what he or she can do. Second, think about the student’s expectation of what the teacher knows and understands. With the first shift, students may be reluctant or embarrassed to talk about newly installed expanders, surgical drains, or chemo ports. Or students may not even know they have a condition that puts them at risk in certain activities or positions. This does not shift the onus to the student. It is still the teacher’s responsibility to know that such conditions exist and to ask questions at the right time and place.
The second shift is more dramatic. By just offering a class for cancer survivors, a teacher is saying, “I am responsible.” When a student confides their cancer details with you, this intimate sharing forms a relationship of trust and assumes an expertise. “Teacher knows best,” or at least “knows.” Knowing how to ask about cancer makes you different from other yoga teachers, therefore maybe you do know best. When you become the teacher of a class for cancer survivors, you are implying that you know what is under the baggy t-shirt. Your students want you to have the expertise. It makes them feel safe. Carefully balance the confidence placed in your expertise with the awareness and acknowledgement that you are a yoga teacher, not a medical professional, and this is a yoga class, not a medical clinic.