Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Yogis Come in All Shapes & Sizes

I recently took on a work exchange job where I do data entry (from home) for a yoga studio in exchange for free unlimited yoga classes. It's a really sweet deal... I feel extremely grateful to the owner for blessing my life with this opportunity.

I wrote this a few days ago, after class:

My favorite yoga teacher at the studio is about to go on maternity leave, and I took a class with her replacement last evening. He's the only male teacher at the studio (I believe) and his teaching style is very different than any I've experienced before.

I got to class early this time because I overestimated how congested traffic was going to be—a nice mistake! Because of my planning error, I was there while the new teacher was being trained on the computers and the general studio policies and ways of doing things. I saw him arrive in his clothes from his "day" job, and I listened to him talking with my favorite instructor, fumbling through the computer system, and checking people in. After experiencing those sides of him, I admit: I didn't have high hopes for this class.

As more students arrived and the room filled up, I worked on focusing my energy (and my breath and my intentions) inward. I concentrated on how I was giving a gift to myself in this hour of yoga practice. I felt my breath regulate. I sent blessings out to all the other yogis in the room as each of them arrived for class.

A young woman put her mat down in front of me. I recognized her (but I still can't remember from where). Her body was a unique shape. That's one thing I love about yoga class: the clothing lends itself to ease of movement, consequently showing form and shape very clearly. I became aware of a judgment that welled up from inside me: She won't be any good! I accepted that part of myself gently, and asked her to please be quiet while I practice my yoga.


An old woman put her mat down behind me. She was at least seventy years old. Again, that part of me piped up to let me know, You will do the postures better than she will! And I instructed her, Go do something else right now, please! I'm practicing yoga.

The teacher returned to the room and put his mat down at the front of the class. He nervously began class by introducing himself and stating his credentials and experience, and then fumbling with the sound system and putting in a CD that I saw him retrieve from his bag earlier. I noticed his body; I noticed how it didn't look like the other men in the room. I noticed he was missing the distal phalanx of one of his index fingers.

I wondered if he was going to be any good.

Suddenly, the music started and class was in full swing. It was a yoga like I've never practiced before: the music was boisterous and lively. This new instructor spoke loudly and confidently, while still being open and welcoming. He was unassuming. He whistled and hummed intermittently to his music. He spoke the Sanskrit names of the asanas (yoga postures) smoothly and beautifully, sometimes adding in the English versions...but usually not. He easily settled into his role; he effortlessly moved through the asanas. He walked gently around the room, talking us through the practice. I kept thinking he might touch one of us to correct a posture, but he never did. He simply said, "Beautiful!" when he liked what we were doing. It took maybe five minutes of class before he was dripping sweat.

It was a very active yoga, without feeling athletic or exhausting. It was physically challenging while still feeling like a communion. Class felt long when I was in it. I kept thinking it was time for shavasana, but then we would move from extended child's pose to cobra, to downward facing dog, to warrior II... and the activity was in full swing again!

The floor postures began, and I felt the end of the class drawing nearer. Finally, relief: corpse pose and breath, and silence. I felt myself sinking into the Earth, my mind in a totally different place than it was when I entered the building.

The teacher thanked us; he was genuinely grateful that we would be willing to practice with him. He hoped to see us again soon.

I felt the "Namaste" reverberate through the room.
Everyone felt it.
Everyone meant it.
Everyone believed it.

It was the Truth.

Other truths that arrived within me during that class:
  • The young woman in front of me was the most talented and graceful yogi in the room.
  • The old woman behind me kept up with the fast pace of the asanas much better than I did.
  • The teacher was gifted. He was engaged. He was passionate about his yoga.
  • Change is hard, but with a new instructor comes even more opportunities to deepen and expand my yoga practice.
  • My discomfort with the newness of the situation provoked the judgy part in me to jump out and start blaming people.

That judgy part of me knows now that she was right to keep her mouth shut.
She was wrong.
And it felt good to be patient with her about it.

7 comments:

  1. I love this post. I particularly love the active efforts to quiet that inner voice that makes judgments and assumptions in situations where neither are appropriate. I've never thought much about addressing that voice within myself so directly, but maybe it is time that I do.

    My husband gave me a wonderful tool for dealing with that little voice (and I don't even think he realizes he does it). When he sees someone struggling physically, particularly someone who is carrying a lot of extra weight on her frame, but who is nevertheless getting active, he'll say aloud "bless her for starting out in the right direction" or "bless her for making that effort." He acknowledges that what she's doing is difficult, and that she's overcoming just by being there, by taking those hard steps. Saying that made me totally aware of the fact that, at the same time, my judgmental mind was saying "woah, look at her!" My judgmental mind has quieted down quite a bit since I had that paradigm shift.

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  2. Wow. Thank you for a glimpse inside yoga. I've never been to yoga, I've only ever watched a kid's yoga DVD.

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  3. @Momma Jorje: You're welcome! =)

    @Jenn: I like directly addressing my inner voices (the ones that judge me as well as others). That is so compassionate of your husband! I'm also working at "honoring the effort" even when the result might not be what I had hoped for. For me, it's all about showing up and being willing to simply make the effort...not just in yoga, but in many aspects of my life.

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  4. Amy - I REALLY needed to hear this today. I must bring your words with me to my next yoga class, as well as through everyday life. xoxo

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  5. Wow... I'm going to be honest and say this got me teary eyed. It's partially because I would love to take a yoga class and being able to see inside of yours for a little while is just a beautiful, beautiful thing for me and partially because I recognize that when I am put into new situations, I tend to judge others too, and knowing that is not always so easy.

    This post is just beautiful, just beautiful.

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  6. Thank you for writing this. I have practiced Yoga thin, fat, injured, healthy, pregnant, old and young-you name it. I have felt judgment directed at me and arising within myself toward others in class. I love it when it has all released into stillness. That's true Yoga right there

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  7. I am in love with this post. While I've never practiced Yoga in a formal setting, I know the great revelations it has provided me with. I think it was nice that the negative behavior was recognized and the reason for it. I think that's great self-awareness. This post was beautifully brilliant.

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