The Yoga Workshop is closing. Thirty years old. Elizabeth invites a bunch of us to practice one last sun-salutation, Surya Namaskar. I keep thinking about it, but don’t write back. Cindy writes: “I wouldn’t know what to do.” I spent all the 1990’s there, well into the millennium. I grew up there, met Steve, Alison, Kimmer, Claudia, Dan, Susan, Elizabeth, Katie, Marcia, Barry, Jeannie, Anne, Annie, Billy, Tom, Jodi, Mary and Mary and Kevin, Laura. We had memorial services there for Chris and Glenn. I swept its floors. I went out to eat or at least grabbed a carrot juice from Pearl Street Market with friends after class. I taught and practiced in the early morning and late afternoon and sometimes at night. When someone asked me to sub I said yes.
I rub the sweat into my face and cover myself with a thin light orange cotton cloth I brought back from India. Scalp’s still sweating making my hair wet. Dan presses my shoulders into the floor and we both exhale. Clunk, heater goes on. Heater goes off. I’m plugged in. I am a cut-out of the energy in the room. I occupy space and also am no one— free. I don’t have to breath so much. A memory of my parent’s kitchen on Larchmont Lane in Lexington; its green Formica counters with small multi-colored specks. Richard starts up harmonium. He begins to chant names of the mother and my eyes well. Silence. I drift off and nearly jump when he blows a conch shell to bring us back.
It’s Tuesday and Longmont and I’m awake before the dogs. I hear Mike’s Saab go down the alley, so I know it’s 6:35 at the latest.
The Mead Town Hall pops up from far away. It’s a substantial building with fire trucks, offices and a huge multipurpose room where I teach Yoga.
“Only do what feels appropriate,” I say. I ask students to notice they are breathing, the gap in-between, and how they are touching the ground. We lie on our backs. I wait until I feel what should happen next.
Mara told the Buddha he didn’t deserve this seat (of enlightenment). Mara basically said, “prove it!” And Shakyamuni Buddha touched the ground. “The Earth is my witness.”*
It takes a certain sensibility to tolerate the slowness and surrender of my yoga classes. On some level it’s harder to pause and listen for nuances than do a plethora of sun salutations. Someone—Maybe Noel, thought of a bumper sticker: ‘‘Meditation— it’s not for everyone.” This type of Yoga is not for everyone.
After we release to the ground, twisting, stretching, lengthening, a few sit-ups, we roll to one side and rest there—the parinirvana pose.
People want to improve, have a goal, move ahead. Richard Freeman said that his students seemed like race horses at the gate. In beginning classes or if he was teaching a workshop, he slowed us down. He asked us to raise our arms over our head for a way long time (“like a stick up”, he says). He asked us to ride the breath. The breath does the practice for you,” he says. I believe him. At some point I am doing all these difficult postures with jump backs in-between barely knowing how I got there.
I practiced at Valley View hot springs, in the motel room in Yuma, Arizona, in Washington DC by the pool, South Harpswell Maine on the deck, Las Vegas, New Mexico at Sally and Tom’s. I practiced Yoga instead of whatever other people did on Friday nights. Instead of brunch at Lucille’s.
“Should I do something other than practice Yoga,” I asked Richard. “Might as well practice while you can.” he said, “Things will change.” When he was a new father, he told our class his practice was reduced to sitting on the edge of the bed, one breath in; one breath out. He said rolling up your mat and going about your day is a practice too.
I asked Teressa what to take to India. “Almond butter, camping mug, condoms,” she said. “Toilet paper, tampons, and a cushy towel,” Wendy said. “Not your favorite backpack because it will get beat up after the three months,” Cindy said. “Your Yoga Mat,” Richard said. I thought that was stupid but then when I got to India there were no Yoga mats for sale anywhere.
During downward facing dog I ask students to keep exploring as if they are still lying on the ground. I watch as they move a little, pick up left hand and right foot.
People want to improve by building muscle, becoming more flexible, doing advanced postures, faster and with more “flow.”
“It’s a practice, not a performance”, I say.
I think of Wendy Bramlett, and Studio Be. I came limping to her studio and she said, Oh honey, you can be here. There I was, sort of hard on myself and critical, a little uptight, classical and injured, judgmental and hurt, after basically no one came to my classes at the Yoga Workshop anymore and I just had to leave. I needed to find a way out of thinking of myself as a do it yourself improvement project.
Slowly we make our way to equal standing pose, Samastitihi, and then step the right foot back for Triangle pose, Uttitha Trikonasana.
Is it in the name of improvement that causes Yoga students in the Yoga franchise world to yank bodies into postures faster and faster, dragging Yoga practice through the loam to look for the garden.
The student looking for a deeper experience also improves. She improves at being patient with her sensations and finds space to linger. She improves at being able to stay with a pose for a while. Opening to the ground, she tolerates feelings, and not knowing. She is willing to return to this breath even though her back hurts and there was an argument with her daughter this morning.
A few standing postures. Tree pose, (vrikasana). A sun-salutation. Beth is softly repeating the names of Yoga postures. Then she makes a Yoga posture name joke. We all blurt out laughing.
I keep showing the class half- moon pose, Ardha Chandrasna, and talking about the things that could throw us off balance. I show how when your arm lifts up sometimes the leg on the same side crosses over the midline which takes us down, and the whole room gets it.
Could yoga practice be an old friend, as natural as blinking or walking.
Rather than quit practicing could I have the courage to let my practice evolve along with me in a way that carries me through my injuries, issues, losses, old age?
In the last posture, savasana, some students place their hands on blocks. “Like having your nails done” I say. “Not that I ever have had my nails done,” I say and then I regret saying that. I talk too randomly, I think. I vow to myself be more formal, and therefore, respectful. Students put on socks and cover themselves with blankets or roll blankets under knees.
My teachers tell me we are the ones we are searching for. We only have to open the hatch and climb in.
After class I look at Janeen’s nails, beautifully pink, and toenails to match.
When everybody leaves Lyn says she likes my commentary but today I was too quiet.
~ o ~
*The Earth is my witness story:
Green Koans Case 1: Shakyamuni Touches the Earth – Tricycle: The …