So I had the weirdest dream last week. In it I was walking through a huge gym, scoping out yoga classes. Like Goldilocks I proclaimed one to be too fast, one too easy, one too crowded. I walked into the last class available, determined to make it work. I rolled out my mat and got into Warrior Two.
That’s when I heard something strange – a voice gravelly and excited, like Louis Armstrong on crack:
“Okay, now get into that yangatanga pose! Okay, now do that pose where you stick out your leeeeeeeg! All right! Nice work yoga MAStuhs! Now throw up your arms and pretend like you just crossed the finish line. Yeeaaaaaaah!”
What in the world? I got out of the pose and looked over my shoulder. To find TRACY MORGAN teaching the class. Are you kidding? The loud and hysterically funny star of 30 Rock? The star who insisted he and Jenna could cure their staff of the flu by going shopping? Bryan frikkin’ Fellows? He can’t teach yoga! He can barely sit still! I started to protest loudly to everyone around me, to anyone who would listen. But they just kept yoga-ing, calm serene faces, flinging their bodies about, acting like nothing was wrong. They gave me dirty looks for even remotely suggesting this scenario might be just a little “off”. I woke up howling with laughter. Obviously something is telling me I need to relax. Just a teeny tiny bit, right?
I’ve been a pretty devout follower of yoga off and on for 6 years. Lately it’s been “off” but obviously from this dream it’s time to start looking for a class. I love yoga. Simple Hatha or Vinyasa please though, that Bikram stuff is for hothouse flowers (I mean who wants to sweat it out in a 100-degree room?) and I’m sorry, but Ashtanga is fake yoga. Invented by an AMERICAN and way too competitive. They missed the whole point. Madonna and the rest of the celebrity Kabbalah crowd might enjoy showing off, but not me.
Yoga isn’t about bragging on how flexible you are. Yoga is about getting quiet and being with yourself. It’s about breathing. Really breathing, slow and steady and with consciousness and awareness. Meditating. Really examining what kind of person you are and what makes you tick. Maybe for the first time in your life. Understanding exactly who you are physically, but also emotionally, mentally. What are your strengths and can you learn to respect them? What are your limitations and can you learn to love them? All of these things are revealed little by little the more you practice.
I started doing yoga and meditation at my cousin’s suggestion. She’s an instructor in Richmond and still the best, most nurturing teacher I’ve ever had. Along with pigeon pose and sun salutations she always included a bit of meditation at the end – an introduction to focus and breath awareness. It was she who taught me that something as simple as breathing is the foundation for everything else. What the body begins, the mind will follow. Yoga is about understanding your body’s strengths and limits. She helped me understand while my back might not be at all flexible today, it would be with time. If it was supposed to. Where you are in the pose *right now* is where you’re supposed to be.
That’s another thing about yoga – it teaches you to be in the moment. When you’re doing a sitting forward bend frustrated because your hand can only reach your knee, it helps to focus and breathe and keep telling yourself, “It’s okay. I’m not competing. This is my body and what it can do right now. And that’s all right.” When you’re trying to meditate and your mind is racing with all the things you have to do when you get home, you become aware of your racing mind. You slow yourself down by just trying to focus on breathing in and breathing out. Something so simple, yet so challenging in this crazy world.
Learning these things helped me in so many other aspects of my life, particularly in dealing with people who don’t share my outlook or who are negative. I breathe and am in the moment. I allow them to be assholes 😉 and it’s okay. Because it’s where they are right now. Okay, that might be a little trite. But true. Yoga and meditation not only help with the big things (Who am I and why am I here?) but they also help with the small stuff like dealing with uncomfortable situations. Yoga helped me get through 10 years of teaching English to middle schoolers. When stuff got so bad I wanted to cry, I could hear my cousin’s voice telling me to “Just breathe.” It really helped.
At one point in my teaching career meditation gave me the gift of the “teaching moment”. Something so rare and yet so precious, where all the planets align and the kids are into you and what you are trying to do and you can actually SEE them learning. It always brought a chill to the back of my neck. Hairs back there would raise up like I’d just heard a wolf’s howl. So cool. In this instance the kids were acting up – it was the class before lunch, 11 football players out of 25, so this class was usually bouncing off the walls. I was reading to them from a book where a hippy kid was meditating in the desert (Jerry Spinelli’s Star Girl – wonderful book btw). A kid asked, “What’s meditation? Can we try it?” I laughed. Yeah right. I could just *see* the pandemonium of trying to get 25 kids to learn to meditate. Then I took a breath. Why not?
I had the class get comfortable and close their eyes. Then I talked them through a simple meditation exercise – one where you basically start at your toes, relax them, then your feet, relax them, working your way up the body until you reach the top of your head. All the while telling the class to breathe. There were some snickers, a few clowns peeping, poking their friends, but to my amazement most of the class took the exercise seriously. I peeped myself (always on “Teacher Watch”) and was stunned to see the kids relaxing. Slowing their breathing down, really concentrating on the moment.
I felt bad for not giving them enough credit. I thought they wanted to try meditation as a way to kill class time, and here they were really trying to meditate. Enjoying it. A thought occurred to me then. How filled are the days of these students? How often are they told to hurry, to pay attention, to focus. To everything around them except themselves. And it’s never quiet. Their days are filled with teachers screaming, parents screaming, screaming coaches and the screaming noise of Grand Theft Auto IV or Halo. This might be the first moment they’ve had EVER to be aware and quiet inside. To be with themselves if only for a few minutes.
My thoughts were confirmed when I talked with them about how they felt now and gathered their thoughts about the exercise. One of my ADHD kids, loveable, but nonetheless a pain in my neck more often than not, said, “My shoulder doesn’t hurt anymore. And I feel soooooo calm,” which sent the class into hysterics because this boy was NEVER calm. Others agreed, saying that pain or stiffness they had had was no longer there. One kid said he fell asleep. Others said they enjoyed the chance to slow down. Another asked if we could do this every day. Lightbulb moment. Yeah, you know what? It would be a good thing to do every day.
So why don’t I do it every day? Thinking back on this memory, I shake my head and wonder why. Why don’t we all take enough time to be good to ourselves every day? It’s such a gift, but so often it’s just seen as another chore. So much done for others and not enough for ourselves. No time to reflect, to be in the moment. And every week I don’t go to a class or meditate I can actually FEEL myself tensing up more and more. Like I’m holding my breath. Or I’m a coiled spring ready to explode. Or a racehorse at the starting gate. Yoga relieves this. I relax, and let go of everything I’ve held in all week. It has been many weeks since my last class, almost a year now. That’s a lot of breath holding. Why am I holding my breath? Maybe that dream was trying to tell me something.
So what *did* that dream mean? Maybe I need to relax my standards a bit, explore and try new things. Give people a chance and quit trying to tell them how to do it because they’re doing it wrong. There’s no one right way to do yoga or meditation anyway. And DOING it on a regular basis is more important than how. Even so, I know if I stumbled upon ol’ Tracy Morgan’s class in real life the only thing I’d be doing is cracking up laughing. Which is not necessarily a bad thing…