Beginning yoga I began to experience awkward in myself. Feeling silly in certain positions or making certain sounds. Even just breathing felt awkward. As I transitioned into teaching a whole new world of awkward opened up. Again I worked through it, in my mind thinking that once I "arrived" or became "skilled" I would lose that awkwardness. A good teacher wasn't awkward. It wasn't until I began teaching acroyoga that I started to embrace the awkward. As an acro teacher I noticed that my students would have difficulty "breaking the ice" with people. When it comes to practicing acroyoga, "breaking the ice" is a necessity. Most of what you do and communicate in acro is unfamiliar to people. Just being in that close of a proximity to others, where touching and being in each others space is required to both practice and stay safe. Hesitation caused by second guessing one's self could cause injury or just ruin an otherwise good experience. I knew what that felt like after all, I'd been a student, I'd taken classes all over the place. I saw the way other teachers addressed those issues, all having their own merits. I learned greatly from all of those methods and went one step further ... I addressed the awkward!
Right at the beginning of the class I get that word out of the way. I bring everyone into a circle on the floor. Not just any circle though ... an awkward circle, and I call it that! Just sitting in a circle on the floor with strangers can be awkward enough but I take it one step further. We all sit touching people on either side of us. In the beginning maybe this is just knees or arms and for the first class that is definitely enough. From there I expand as the classes progress. Hand on the shoulder or on the head, holding pinky fingers ... well you get the idea. I also return to the awkward circle at the end of every class, always referring to it by name ... "the awkward circle". Of course touching isn't the only important skill in acro, communication and community are key, even if only for the duration of the class. So we talk. We start with maybe our name but always answer my "deep philosophical question" of the class. I always make it something seemingly silly and inconsequential but what it does is gets people talking and thinking and responding to each other in the large group. It isn't a personal question or anything that anyone would feel shy or judged about, its single purpose is to get people talking and listening and more often than not laughing and relaxing with each other. At the end of class I always revisit the talking, this time though I ask each of them to express their experience in the class in terms of ... well ... something silly. "Describe how you felt about your class in terms of fruit.".
It all can sound sort of mundane and childish but the effect is tremendous. So tremendous that its one of the first things people talk about when telling others about my classes. They do crazy acro things and even have pictures to prove it but they talk about the awkward circle. So much so I had shirts made that said, "I just came for the awkward circle.", the picture at the top is the real shirt!
It isn't just in the circle that I will talk about awkward. I'll address it in poses and in spotting. Constantly calling it out. If it could be awkward in any way, I'll call it out. That usually elicits some chuckles, but it also brings out into the open what many people are thinking or feeling. I'm the teacher ... if I'm talking about awkward then it must be okay to be or feel awkward. I noticed a tremendous difference in people. Students relaxed much quicker and were more open with each other. They still likely felt awkward but they knew everyone else was feeling the same and feeling awkward was not only okay but fun. The subject was brought up and out of the way right up front, so we could go on to play and have fun! I was truly amazed at the effect and at the response. In the beginning I thought people would just think I was goofy, but I didn't mind if it helped me with my classes. Instead though a strange thing happened. Students still thought I was a bit goofy but they also realized the reason and effect of bringing it up immediately. Classes moved along quicker, were safer, students learned faster and even created lasting connections with each other much more easily than before. Embracing our awkward let us all connect and share.
I still use the awkward circle all the time. Teaching classes for 3 years now it takes plenty of effort to continue to be original and new with it, especially when some of my students have been there with me since the beginning. Still I think the awkward circle is one of the reasons they are still with me, so the effort is worth it. It not only helps our community and our practice but it also allows me to bridge larger subjects like talking about body positive in all shapes and sizes and how to be confident with your own boundaries and not be afraid to say something even if it is ... awkward! I've seen some of the negative aspects of acro and yoga and being able to discuss those things in a safe and open place goes a long long way to helping remove them from the community.
Some of my students have gone on to use my "awkward circle" or "deep philosophical questions" outside of classes in their own lives. One of the truly large compliments I received was while attending a jam which I had students running on their own as jambassadors. They would start each jam with an awkward circle, even when I wasn't there. I'd never even thought of using it at a jam but what did it do? It made new people feel more comfortable with the group, introduced everyone and gave that sense of community a boost. The jams went from 5 people to 15 people and I think that was in no small part thanks to embracing the awkward.
It hasn't just been about my yoga classes and students either that have benefited. It's helped me. "Networking" is something I never cared for, it just isn't my thing. I would refer to it as schmoozing and thought it was a complete waste of time. After all I felt it should be my skill that represents me not small talk. Still embracing that awkward and seeing the result of community and connection I've persuaded myself to embrace my own awkward in those situations. Making new connections and opportunities for myself and for others. It isn't something I will ever be comfortable with, I know that, but I also know I can delve into my awkward and be okay with that. I wouldn't want to spend my whole day feeling awkward, no one does. Every once in a while though allowing yourself to be awkward can have all sorts of benefits!