I first learned about the power of my voice while performing in theater as a young girl; I noticed that it was the only time people would listen to me. I became obsessed with theater from then on, and loved the ability to become other people through various roles. But as I got older I got frustrated. Because I realized that performing may have been a way to make people listen, but it didn’t necessarily free my own personal thoughts and words. That came much later, in my 30’s, when I began training in the martial arts.
When I got my black belt in jujutsu in 2002, I remember my Sensei was the one who empowered me to use my voice: I would avoid confrontation or be afraid to ask things of others or give direction, and she reminded me over and over, “Laura, you’re the Sensei!” She pushed me to take the seat of the teacher and really own it, and by doing that, I was able to empower others to do the same.
Our society conditions us (women) to always be “nice” and “positive” and “nurturing”, but often those expectations cause us to edit ourselves so much–even before the words come out of our mouths. Using our voices and our power, in a firm but not necessarily combative way, is often appropriate–even though it may be uncomfortable. I try to practice the the old Sai Baba maxim before I speak: Is it Kind, is it Necessary, is it True, and Does It Improve Upon the Silence? (the last one is my favorite!)
Like my Sensei did for me: I hold space for my students and give them permission to use their voice and power. While no one ever needs another’s permission, sometimes empowering another person through suggestion is the missing piece. As an acting teacher, martial arts instructor, and now a coach for new yoga teachers, I do my best to provide others with a safe space to use their voice, but also the challenge to face the fear and vulnerability that makes it hard to do so.
*Laura is a former high school teacher and has been trained in Martial Arts since 1998. In 2013, she earned her first of several yoga certifications. Today, she helps grow new teachers and helps manage a yoga studio in Hollywood, CA.