authority and permission

Authority and Permission

What is permission anyway?

What do you think when I say the word “permission”? Do you think of a certain person giving permission to you, or permission you would give to other people?  

Maybe it’s an age-based thing: older people give permission to younger people; or a power-based thing: bosses give permission to employees.  

Do you have an emotional reaction when thinking about permission?  Defiance, or a sense of stability knowing what’s okay and what isn’t?

What about the permission you give yourself? What types of things do you limit for yourself and when do you earn your own permission to do/have them?  

Authority in Yoga

Since I’ve been back in the studio teaching yoga classes I’ve been thinking a lot about permission. As the teacher, I’m in a position of authority, deciding how to set the lights, when to start and end class, and what to tell folks to do with their breathing and body. In fact, it could be an all-dominating type of authority. I say sit and you say how tall.  

It’s counter to what I aim to teach, which is to give each individual the authority over their own experience. After all, it’s your body and you’re the only one that gets to live in it. Other people with their expertise can help you map out and understand your experience but no one but you can know it like you can. Teaching yoga, I try to help you know yourself from your sense of yourself. And it’s not always easy to pick up on that sense. What do I really want? What do I need? What even feels good?  

What should I be feeling?

I don’t know about you, but throughout my life I’ve gotten a lot of messages, both direct and indirect, telling me what I should feel/want/do. For example, in America there’s a general sense that college is more prestigious than apprenticeship and if you’re smart and hard-working you should want to go to college. And goodness, what about the pressures your assigned gender has put on you? Can you think of anything you learned you should want given your classification as a woman or a man?  

Our role models, parents, grown children, friends, colleagues, celebrities, and social media influencers all might suggest directions we should want to be heading in. Some people can come off as pretty certain, too.  

Just tell me what to do!

When I can’t figure out my own desires, I might look around for someone to tell me what to do. When they tell me clearly and with confidence, I feel a sense of relief. When they aren’t so sure, when they put the ball back in my court to make the choice for myself, I feel as confused and aimless as ever. It’s so hard to know what I want sometimes!  

So that’s the thing about teaching yoga. I could (and sometimes do) teach in a way where I tell you exactly what to do. It’s a direct and useful way to learn how to practice. The gentle drill sergeant approach isn’t all bad, I just question whether it’s the most valuable aspect of going to a yoga class.  

Giving yourself permission

Your practice can be so much more than poses. We go through life striking poses to fit in, putting on fine-tuned masks depending on the social requirements of the situation we’re in. We could do more of this in yoga, sure, practicing to make your teacher proud, but could we also practice something we get less permission to do in life?  

Can I, as your teacher, give you permission to give yourself permission to feel whatever you feel, take steps towards wherever you choose for yourself? (I had originally typed “steps towards balance and ease” and then realized that was me imposing a certain goal on you. Maybe you don’t want balance and ease!)  

Let’s be real, sometimes life is all about floating in the confusion for however long it takes before any kind of discernible clarity comes. Seek, find, flounder, fail, continue. Your life is truly up to you, despite how it may sometimes feel, and despite the fact that it’s at times completely overwhelming.  

Self-direction and a note on community

How can your yoga help you get better at self-direction? This is what I contemplate as I make choices in how I guide people in class. How can I use my authority to give it back to you? How might practicing permission in the bubble of a yoga class strengthen you in the outside world? Does this have something to do with cultivating intuition, inner knowing? I don’t have the answers! Maybe you do.  

It seems like so many people are looking for community these days and here’s the thing: It’s not about finding a charismatic leader who tells you why, how, and when. I think it’s about finding the people you can ask questions with, and contemplate the answers together . We figure ourselves out in relation to each other.