I've been thinking a lot about 'YOGA' and all that it means to the students that arrive to share their time with me.
Because I work at a resort my students are transient often doing yoga for the 1st time so I take my responsibility to welcome them into the possibility of a practice with care.
Yoga has been a big part of my life for almost 20 years and I appreciate the challenges it has brought to my attention.
The need to find steadiness and ease as you stand on one foot may not seem like much until you realize how many stories your mind can throw at you:
I need to get my foot up to my thigh...then I'm really good at this.
Why can't I get my foot above my ankle...I'm good at making dinner.
What should I eat for dinner?
Is that guy next to me farting?
Look everyone...my foot is on my inner thigh...clearly, I am a better person because...oops, I just farted.
I'm a terrible person.
And so on and so on.
My first class was at our local community college when I was 20 years old and I remember thinking a few things:
1. The twisty blonde next to me was gonna eat crow in a few weeks because my body was younger, bendier and I was going to show her she wasn't the only impressive Gumby in the room.
2. The white haired bearded man teaching the class must have been doing this since the 60s.
Did he ever met George Harrison?
3. I bet if tell him I've been a vegetarian since I was 14...he will be very impressed.
4. What language is he using?
5. Everyone else knows what 'Vira-ba-whatsana' means so they must be smarter and more enlightened than me.
6. They probably don't get mad like I do.
7. Why can't I touch my toes?
8. I reeeeeally need to be touching my toes.
9. Damn it. Why can't I touch my toes?
10. I'm gonna practice the crap out of this and be so amazing that everyone will be so jealous of me and my ability to touch my toes.
Pretty much...me and my first experience was wanting to become a human pretzel.
I took the Sun Salutation handouts he gave me, showed them to my roommate and tried to convince her we would be doing this EVERY morning and we would become oh, so interesting.
Then for many years...I dated yoga.
On and off.
More like flirting...really.
A little stretch here and there, a few months every year dedicated to learning Primary Series from a DVD and dropping in at the class at my gym when I had time.
Then I got into Capoeria and Tai Chi and Pilates but like yoga...
I just wanted to look good while I did it.
Learning to play the berimbau or learnng the stories behind the movements of Tai Chi were not in my realm of interest.
I had other things to do...
And I did them...but then I hit 30.
I started to have a flurry of health issues and went back to yoga and found a studio near my house.
I even remember my first "real class" back.
I was late.
Not like a minute or 2 , probably closer to 10.
I walked in and plopped my mat down and when the teacher asked me calmly if I had done yoga before...
I said ' oh yeah, all the time.'
She let me stay despite...and years down the road she actually hired me as a teacher.
The embarrassment and learning that came from my first year teaching are equally humbling but for now...let's focus on 'younger yoga me' and the new students I see all the time.
I meet 'younger yoga me' all the time.
Now, they bring their cell phones and their outfits are smokin hot.
I also meet people who've never done a lick of yoga in their 60 years of life but their partner or friend or child dragged them along.
What's the big deal?
I love it because I will always have more to learn, about it and from it.
I watch people move in my classes and I explain to them that looking a certain way in a pose isn't the most important thing.
After all, the point of asana is to prevent future suffering so you can rest your body in meditation.
Some people get it, some roll their eyes and others beat them selves up or ask me to tell them what they're doing wrong.
Does it hurt?
What feels good about holding this posture?
If the answer is nothing and it hurts, then come out of it, already.
My own 'younger yoga me' still lingers within my mind.
She likes to come back to visit and she can be persistent just like current me.
She stops by and bangs loudly in my head whenever a student walks in with a perfectly toned body and an Olympic-Gymnist -Type practice.
I wonder if I'm lame because at 39 years of age I've decided that all I want is to be able to keep touching my toes until I'm 100.
Don't get get wrong...
I thouroughly enjoy the challenge of trying a handstand again and again but for me that is a physical challenge that just gives me a little adrenaline rush and reminds me to play...
I'm not a better yogini because I can do it and I'm not an inferior one either because I still wind up using the wall whenever I can.
I like my wall.
'Older yoga me' has for the most part become okay with falling on my tuckus and trying again next week.
Of course that's me but what I see too often in classes is ego floating through the rooms like the never ending dust that is constantly stirred up with every breath.
The brighter the room, the more obvious the dust becomes in it.
It's all over the place and it seems to go unseen because the focus of my words get mistranslated in their minds and all they want is to nail 'the pose of the year' and wear neon colored Malabeads while doing it and then later listing every Yoga Festival they've attended.
My ego joins the party and I feel a little small because I think I'm somehow a disappointment.
I haven't studied with any rock star yogis like Shiva Rae?
I didn't travel to India?
I am not a strict vegan?
I don't play the Harmonium and I didn't participate in Shivaratri Puja?
And then I breathe...
And recognize that I have managed to stay healthy and alive in this aging body.
I wake up each morning to sit and watch the little dramas from my mind percolate like my morning coffee (yes, I drink coffee) until I find some moments that just let me pause.
I practice asana everyday...at least, a little.
Sometimes, it is a long Yin practice, sometimes it is 3 Sun Saluations and sometimes it's a sweaty 90 minute Vinyasa practice however movement isn't my priority anymore and I have to remind myself that I'm not better or lesser for it.
I remind myself when the yogis who DO want to perfect a pose walk in to my class to be humble and encouraging because I was once the same as them...
and what happened when I aligned my body just so, breathed in and out, held my dristhi?
I noticed a pause.
I noticed me.
I noticed my sadness, my joy, my anger...
I noticed compassion in my bones and muscles and got to watch my self moan with relief when I came out of Triangle Pose...and smile with delight when I first held headstand steadily.
Whatever we get from our practice has value but it's not always glorious, magical and sparkly.
I celebrate my fellow practitioners who beam with joy and speak to one another as if each comment is being written down as the Facebook Yoga Meme of the day.
I would love to be in a constant state of bliss and I've been told I could be, if I only worked harder.
I'm a moody, cranky, funny and joyful person and that is worthy:
My strong jump backs, My pranayama practice...My geek outs regarding anatomy,
My moments of ' oh, I just yelled at my dog for being a dog' right after I finished my yoga or meditation practice,
My-I still struggle with my relationship with my mother,
My-Am or am not really attractive to my boyfriend,
My-I'm doing a Kitchari cleanse and 2 days later I'm gonna eat my body weight in Strawberry Pie moments are important and I shine the light on all of it with my students because even the old moldy stuff that becomes unearthed after I thought I just cleaned my shit up immaculately...
They have value.
So now...when 'younger yoga me' walks into my class...
Whether they are Santa-Monica-Power-Yogi-Proud or Iowa-is-this-a-cult? student...
I just hope they become a bit more aware of themselves during my class.
If they hold handstand with ease or never try it once...I hope that in the quiet of savasana they can hold themselves in their heart and have some compassion for themselves.
Maybe, that's not straight Sutra teachings but that's what 'YOGA' means to me.