When Yoga 4 Change teachers start teaching the topic of bullying to our students, many are apprehensive to participate fully. They are visibly uncomfortable when our teachers ask “Raise your hand if you have ever been bullied”. However, when our teacher clearly states that “Yes – I was bullied at 10!” (or whatever age they were bullied) suddenly being bullied is not so hard to discuss. When we frame the question as an inquiry, asking “Who has ever bullied themselves, or someone else?” we really see our students shift in their seat – closing off body language and not making eye contact with each other or the teacher. I encourage our teachers to use themselves as examples and share their experiences, i.e.: “Yes, sadly I have been a bully to someone in my life”. Then slowly, almost every one of our students raises their hands.
It is easy for us to turn the attention on someone else when we talk about a difficult topic, or we are in an uncomfortable situation. Feelings of inadequacy, suddenly being asked to be vulnerable, and not having an escape from the conversation sometimes forces us to lash out. Turning the focus off of me and onto someone else is my defense mechanism, and I have seen this in myself, and many students when we talk about bullying.
When I first started to talk about this with my students I only thought of this topic literally: between people, (Person A bullies Person B). I would ask questions relating to the physical body, and relate it to yoga. Where in the body does Person A feel their emotions before they lash out? Is it in their heart? Is it in their face? Where does Person B feel it in their body? Do they feel it in their stomach? In their legs? The best answer I heard was from a 4th grader. His teacher warned me that he was “a handful”. Nevertheless, when I asked him the above questions, he stunned me with his responses. He answered in a way I did not expect. He explained that right before he would taunt his classmates, his fists clench and get extra hot. He told me that he knew punching was wrong so instead, he would say the meanest thing he could. He also knew that if he got all his friends to continue to taunt his classmate, the classmate wouldn’t be able to fight back. This child had a full understanding about what physically occurred to his body before he lashed out, and he had the appreciation that words in fact, did hurt worse than sticks and stones – and their effects could last for years.
After talking to many groups of students, I realized that bullying can be applied in other ways that affect our students on a daily basis: specifically substance abuse and mental illness. Our students do not want to be controlled by voices in their heads, emotions in their bodies, or substances. They desperately want to feel normal and they want to be accepted. Having these extra things that separate them from others pushes them into everyone’s view. It disconnects them from the group. Once I realized that bullying does not have to be from the outside, it could be our own demons, I realized that I bully myself on a daily basis.
Lately I have found myself struggling with the “bullying thought” of not being good enough… worried about how to lead Yoga 4 Change, and concerned about not making the right choices and decisions. Being scared to hurt others’ feelings – while also trying to be a leader is sometimes not the easiest thing. I work with my friends, I deeply respect them (otherwise I wouldn’t want them on this team), and having to give them feedback has suddenly become my biggest problem because I am constantly bullying myself internally… “Will he want to still teach for us even after this suggestion?”, “Will she still like me after I give feedback?”. I want to believe that every leader has these doubts, and yet when I start to compare myself to others – I am the only that loses. I looked back at the last couple of months and realized that I allowed the need to be liked to affect relationships and Yoga 4 Change. I was too scared to give feedback, and in the end the only thing that suffered was the organization. I not only allowed my “bullying thoughts” to keep me up at night, I allowed it to run the way I lead, and in the end I feel disappointed in myself. If I had just stopped allowing my thoughts to control me, I could have handled some things differently. It is funny how life works itself out… I stood up to my “bullying thought” and in the end was interpreted as the bully. And I own that. I cannot control other’s views of me, or my life, or the way I lead. I can only continue to do my best for what I believe in, taking it one day at a time.
I am sure everyone has bullied themselves in some way or another: thinking badly about the way we look, how we smell, how we laugh, how we dress, and the list goes on. These thoughts (or judgments) are worse than sticks and stones, and have the possibility of affecting us for years to come. I challenge you to give yourself a break – stop bullying yourself. Maybe for a day, or an hour, or a minute. When you finally accept yourself for who you are, then you will extend that acceptance and compassion to those around you. That’s what I am working on – trying to stop constantly bullying myself – so I can finally accept who I am.
Have a great week!
Next up: Forgiveness