“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage.
Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.”
– Brene’ Brown
Our final lesson in the curriculum is vulnerability. Normally, I break this lesson into two classes because for students to truly understand the theme; sometimes speaking about it for two weeks helps the theme resonate. Many students only focus on the latter portion of the quote above, and our curriculum’s culminating lesson is teaching them that vulnerability is not weakness. Instead it is a powerful tool to connect you to someone else and demonstrate how powerful you are.
When I first started to introduce this theme to my classes, I would ask what vulnerability meant to them. Many of my students would use words such as frail, delicate, weak, inadequate, timid, feeble, and broken. I would ask them if they wanted to be vulnerable, and many would look at me with wide eyes. Of course they did not want to be known as weak or frail (especially when they are incarcerated)! If they were not able to produce any words or definition, I would describe what is commonly thought to be a “vulnerable wheel”. I would describe a bike wheel with missing spokes. It may work, it may allow the journey to be completed, but it is looked at as not being as strong as a brand new bike wheel.
I then ask my students to write down what they now believe vulnerable to be, and we start a yoga practice. I weave the theme into our practice of yoga shapes/forms. Many times someone starts to have a hard time holding a pose. I immediately start speaking to the entire class about being honest with yourself, and what is going on physically in your body. I don’t need to point out a student specifically because I know if one of my students is struggling, more than likely another student in the room is feeling the same way. As the practice gets harder, many students take child’s pose. I speak directly to them taking this posture because it takes courage to admit you need a break (especially in many the places we teach). By allowing my students the ability to see themselves as being honest or courageous, our teachers are paving the way to allow them the opportunity to be vulnerable at the completion of class.
These building blocks are necessary to fully understand vulnerability. At the end of our classes, we ask our students to share what is going on in their lives. Sometimes all of our students are not confident enough to share on this topic, and sometimes everyone is raising their hands. See, the goal of this curriculum is not to simply show someone how to do yoga forms. We want our students to leave feeling empowered, and confident enough to tell others their shame, their fears, and their own worries. They want to feel strong enough that what they have to say is important, and not worry about the outcome. Many of our students do not feel comfortable speaking up for themselves because they have been told time and again to be quiet, to not speak out and to believe this situation is out of their control. By reminding them that what they have to say is important, that sharing about their fears is empowering and takes courage, we shift their initial impression of vulnerability to something of power.
This lesson strikes home with our incarcerated populations. We remind them that when they are inside the facilities, sometimes for their safety they have to put on masks: “I’m hard”, “I’m tough”, “I’m mean”, “don’t mess with me”. When they leave, however, they immediately have to strip these masks off in order to fit back into society and back in with their loved ones. This stripping off of armor (which they put on for their safety while inside) takes time – and our yoga practice allows them 60-90 minutes of weekly practice. We are reminding them to be human again, to feel their feelings, to not become someone or something that they will regret. Our teachers are not naïve enough to think that everyone of our student is in our class to experience yoga, many come because it is something different (or they heard the teacher was a female). Nevertheless, I show up week after week because if we can remind just one of our students that he is important, that he does not have to return back into the lifestyle that led him to end up in this place, we are saving his life – and possibly his family life, and changing his outcome.
I believe in the lesson of vulnerability because it was the hardest one for me to understand and to teach. Being vulnerable is not being weak. Sharing your heart is not easy, it takes strength and courage, and when we truly share – and connect with those around us – when we allow other’s to hear our shame and worries and fears, we level the playing field. It does not matter what type of upbringing my class has had – each of them have felt fear or anger or jealousy. By speaking about our feelings, we are not being needy – we are being honest. By telling someone that they hurt our feelings we are not being overbearing – we are being courageous. Vulnerability is taking these two powerful values, and bringing them together. Vulnerability is a standard we should all attempt to implement in our lives because it improves us as individuals.
Thank you for reading our series on what we teach through our curriculum. If you missed any – or have questions or comments, please reach out: email@example.com
You will be hearing from me next week 🙂