Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Well that was just awful....

Yesterday I had a brand new student in class. As always, I fully briefed her on the heated room, taking breaks, and being open minded about what to expect in her first Bikram class. She seemed to be fine for the first few postures. While she didn't smile, she also didn't audibly moan or grunt or signify indications of discomfort. Towards the floor series, I could tell she wasn't loving class, but she stayed.... until the last posture. At spine twisting, she abruptly rolled up her mat and walked out. I called out, "Wait, you're almost done. This is your last posture!" But, alas, she was out the door.

It's very unusual for a student to leave the room at that stage in class. I mean, once you're in the last 5 minutes, it doesn't really make sense to abandon ship. After final Savasana, I found the student in The SweatBox lobby. She was quietly sitting, her mat rolled up on her lap. When she saw me, she stood up. "How are you?" I asked, "you did really great for your first time." (She really did).

"Well, that was just awful" she said. "That was really really unpleasant. I just hated that." I'm not sure what my exact response was. I probably told her the heat takes a while to get used to. I might have said something about the first time always being the most difficult. But she was done. "I'm never coming back" she said, "that was really just awful." Okay. Bye.

I've been teaching Bikram Yoga for over 11 years. I've taught thousands of students. My skin is pretty thick. I didn't take this student's comment personally. Not at all. She's right. Sometimes yoga practice is awful. Sometimes it's really awful. That's the point. We practice through the discomfort, the unfamiliarity, the heat. If you're a new practitioner, you might still be in the throes awfulness. If you've been practicing twenty years, you too will have practices that are awful. And then, you'll have practices that are wonderful, enlightening, epiphanic.

It's hard to tell a brand new student that "awfulness" is part of the process. Until you've endured the struggle of practicing through hard times, it won't really make sense. Once you've been there, seen both sides of hard and easy, inflexible and flexible, wobbly and balanced, you know how important all of the experiences are in your practice.

Maybe I should have tried harder with the new student, pushed her to understand more. I hope that she tries yoga again so she can see the other side of "the awful."
As for myself, the experience with this new student was a great reminder for my own practice. I remember those early days.... Some days yoga class was so hard. And now, almost twenty years later, it still is sometimes. The only difference is that now I know the rest of the story.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Michelle Obama must do yoga....

For years, I have been out of the loop politically. It's just a bunch of mental masturbation to me. Blah blah blah! I vote. I care. But I'm just tired of the bullshit. I grew up in an intellectual household where knowledge of current events was very important. Reading the New York Times and multiple other publications daily was the norm. But not for me. I'm a Sunday New York Times Style Section girl. Cover to cover every week.

Then last week when I was driving home from work, I heard Michelle Obama on the radio speaking at the DNC. I have some background with Michelle. I'm from the same neighborhood in Chicago where she and Barak used to live. I went to the same school as their kids. Like all Hyde Parkers, I kind of feel like I really know Michelle and Barak Obama, so when Michelle was speaking, it felt like listening to a trusted friend. At one point in her speech, Michelle said, "If you succeed you don't slam the door shut, you reach back and help the next person succeed."

Whoa. When I heard her say this, I nearly wept. Her voice, so warm and loving and fierce all at once, made me feel like she really believed that statement. I know Michelle and I aren't really friends, and I know she's speaking to millions of people, but it felt so real, like change is possible if we can remember not to slam the door shut.

The next morning I taught the 6am class at The SweatBox. The class was all women, about ten of them, mostly in their late 30s to early 60s. One older woman made the trek down to Capitol Hill from Shoreline at the ungodly hour of 5:30am to meet her friend who lives near the Capitol Hill studio. Her friend had been complaining about her arthritic shoulder and she knew yoga would help. All of the women worked their asses off. They always do.

At the end of class, when everyone was lying in final Savasana, I did my usual guided relaxation. "I don't know if any of you heard Michelle Obama on the radio last night." (Some whoops were shouted from the corpse poses in the darkened room). "She said, 'If you succeed you don't slam the door shut, you reach back and help the next person succeed.'" Hallelujah and Amen uttered the corpses....

I said, "Michelle Obama must do yoga because she has so much to give." Now I don't know this for sure (because she and I are not super tight friends), but I know Michelle Obama must do yoga or something equally self-nurturing because she is a woman who clearly takes care of herself enough to be able to offer amazing inspiration to those around her. I said as much to this class full of hard-working women. It is only by caring for ourselves (yoga, yoga, yoga!!!), that we can replenish the energy neccessary to support our families, our communities, and (dare I say this semi-political utterance)our country.

I'm still not political, but Michelle Obama's one liner gave me some clarity about how all parts fit into the whole of making our country a better place. Taking care of ourselves is the first step. Give yourself a little and you'll have a little bit more to give. Thanks Michelle Obama.