Choosing Connection Over Retreat: Lessons from Tim Feldmann
Namaste everyone! I am Courtney Wolfgang. As mentioned on Our Story page, I had the honor of meeting the four other lovely ladies of Finding Isvara at the renowned Miami Life Center in July 2015 when we attended their yearly Ashtanga Intensive. We thought that sharing our experience at the Intensive was a good place to start off our blog, seeing as that’s where we all first met and bonded.
The five of us came to MLC from diverse backgrounds in yoga and life, and thus we each got something different out of our five-week intensive. One of the key moments of our intensive was when we taught a portion of a led class in front of Kino MacGregor—a highly prominent teacher in the Ashtanga yoga community—and received direct feedback from her on our teaching.
Feedback from this caliber of teacher is definitely invaluable. Personally, I received a lot of good comments from Kino as far as my ability to lead a class--strong presence, good pace, etc. I had already been teaching Bikram yoga for almost seven years prior to attending the Intensive, so it is not surprising that I felt comfortable in front of the classroom. Though I was thrilled to get this positive feedback, it’s often the constructive criticism that helps us to truly grow. So for me, the profound, life-changing feedback came not from Kino, but her husband Tim Feldmann, another highly accomplished and respected teacher in the Ashtanga yoga community.
I received said feedback from Tim after delivering my assigned posture presentation for Ardha Baddha Padma Paschimattanasna, or Bound Half-Lotus Forward Fold (shown above). I tend to approach my yoga asana practice in a precise, anatomical way, so the material of my presentation was thorough, technical, useful, and “checked all the boxes” of the sort of information that needed to be there. I had practiced my presentation, felt I had it in the bag, and had not felt nervous about it at all—until the exact moment I went up to present.
Being nervous is nothing new to me. I struggled with performance anxiety throughout my childhood as an athlete at competitions, and later giving presentations or speeches in college. I was nervous in social situations or around guys I was attracted to through high school and probably far later into my twenties than I care to admit. I can self-analyze a little bit and realize that as a child, I somehow thought my likability was connected to my performance in school and athletics, and the nervousness stemmed from fear of not being able to live up to the high expectations I felt (real or imagined) from teachers, coaches, peers, and family. This is just one example of the baggage we can develop as a child and carry with us into adulthood, and I credit my yoga practice of self-inquiry for even being able to make this connection.
Anyway, sometime during my mid-twenties, after I'd taught yoga for a couple years, I learned to manage my nerves—mostly through self-acceptance. I figured, everyone has nerves sometimes and it’s nothing to judge myself over or feel awkward about. I gave myself permission to feel nervous and told myself I was just going to do whatever it was anyway, regardless of the nerves.
So as far as teaching yoga, nervousness had essentially become a non-issue… until the moment I got up to present in front of Tim. It came on so suddenly and without warning that I had no tools to cope with it. Like a blast from the past, I became self-conscious and just willed my way through my presentation as mechanically as I could.
When it was over, I meekly looked at Tim for his feedback. As any good instructor does, he started with the positive: the amount of knowledge in my presentation was “impressive,” and gave me instant credibility. He then addressed the fact I was nervous by saying (paraphrased), “It’s okay to get nervous, but it is not ok to pull away from the intimacy of the exchange.” He referenced the fact I could not or would not look anyone in the eye as I spoke, which insulated me from really connecting with those I was teaching.
This feedback was revolutionary for me. When I returned home to start teaching my Intro to Ashtanga class, nervousness struck again. I had never taught this type of yoga before and the newness made me feel unsure. But from the very first class I taught, Tim’s words were in my head. It was ok to be nervous, but not to pull back from everyone and retreat inside myself. So as I spoke to the students in my first class, I made sure to connect to each of them with my eyes. And would you believe it, that very act of connecting and basically saying, “I’m nervous but I am still willing to share myself with you” made all of my nerves melt away.
Still to this day I try to take note of whether or not I am making eye contact with my students when I teach. When I hit a challenging spot during class, like struggling to find the words to express a concept or trying to figure out if it is the right leg or the left, I notice I stop making eye contact. I am working to correct that and it is really magical what an effect it has when I resume connection.
Eye contact is just a simple way we humans can connect with one another. What Tim told me reminds me in a larger sense to be willing to be vulnerable and share my imperfect self with others, and challenges me to overcome my natural tendency to withdraw when I feel vulnerable. I can’t tell you what a huge lesson this is in my life. I am still working on it, but it has improved me in many ways already just to become aware of this tendency.
And this is a huge part of why I love yoga, and Ashtanga yoga in particular. We are encouraged to connect with each other, be real, be vulnerable, and be humble—student to teacher, student to student, and teacher to teacher. Hopefully that lesson transcends the yoga room and we can be real and connect with those we meet in our day-to-day lives. I hope this advice resonates with some of you, and thank you so much Tim Feldmann for your life-changing feedback!