I Have Many Teachers.
One of my favorite vinyasa teachers is a willowy young woman with a wise soul. She often laughs at herself during class and she brings to me the lessons of lightness and not taking oneself so seriously. Then there is another of my favorites, an Anusara- trained teacher who gives the best and most precise alignment cues. He brings the lessons of precision and concentration. My children (my greatest teachers so far) offer lessons of patience, flexibility and unconditional love. I was a quick study for unconditional love, but the patience and flexibility was much harder and took seemingly relentless repetition. It wasn’t until I abandoned my idea of perfect that those tough concepts finally sunk in to the core of who I am.
Not long ago, I taught yoga to a group of women at a half-way house. Recently released from prison, they were living in a confinement home run by nuns. One of the women was very fit and had little patience for learning pranayama or asana. She asked me “What is the point? It’s not a very good work out”. I am fond of saying that yoga is not a workout as much as a work-in. But this time, I told her “People always talk about getting a yoga butt. It’s not so much about getting a good butt. It’s more about getting your head out of your butt”. The nun who was practicing with us at the time ducked her head to smile. Yoga encourages us to be fully present. It’s about being present to yourself in all your imperfection. We practice yoga to be good at life.
I have made tremendous strides with my alignment and in my awareness of where I am in space after decades of practice. However, recently in class I was instructed to move through a vinyasa flow to a breath count of five in and five out. It was not easy. It came as a revelation to me that slowing down can make things harder. At the end of class, I noticed I wasn’t alone in struggling to move so slowly and consciously. So many of us were challenged by that simple adjustment to our practice. I think of the advice my mother once gave me. When angry, count to ten before speaking. I can’t always manage it, but when I do I always feel better. This is why I practice yoga. I hope it will help me take advantage of the space between responding and reacting. I hope that it allows me to remember the lessons of lightness, precision, and unconditional love- especially off my mat where it counts the most.