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I am a stalker of sunsets. I will drop everything and hop in my car driving five minutes to a nearby lake if I think I might catch a two-minute glimpse. Driving down a rural highway, I will make a U-turn and pull my car over for the right sunset. I don’t understand why everyone around me isn’t doing the same. Are they blind?

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Sunsets also frustrate me. Sometimes my timing is off and I miss it. I’ll be making dinner, and look up and it’s dark already. Dejection! Or sometimes I am chauffeuring kids around and by the time I get them dropped off and head back to the lake it is over. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel resentful.

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But here’s the most frustrating thing. I get there. The sunset happens, and it’s pretty good. The sky, the lake. I think it’s over. I wait a few extra minutes just in case. Finally, I get in my car and leave. Then, on the way home the sky gives one last shocking hurrah of PINK! But I’m in traffic, and can’t really admire it the way I’d like to. The way it deserves.

WHY DID I NOT WAIT FIVE MORE MINUTES? I was sure it was done. I did wait a little, but not long enough.

One time at a Buddhist retreat center, the teacher was talking meditation. She said, sometimes, right when you get the urge to come out of meditation, if you stay a little longer, if you just give it a few more minutes, insights or breakthroughs will happen. Not that they must, but sometimes our impulse to leave the meditation is actually fear of our own growth.

There is a saying in the yoga community, “the pose begins the moment you want to leave it.” I don’t know about that. There is wisdom in listening to your body if it is telling you to leave a pose. If you are at your limit. If you are in pain. But sometimes, there is wisdom in staying just a little bit longer.

Why am I so often in a hurry to get to the next moment?

What beauty might happen if I learn to wait?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Class was getting settled, I started them out lying on the back. I was guiding them to lengthen the breath, and just as they were dropping into their practice, a tiny elderly woman in sneakers entered the room and marched directly toward me.

“I’m a hundred years old and I’m blind in one eye,” is how she greeted me. She pointed out a couple of other physical problems, told me she’d be doing her own thing.

I assured her that was A-okay with me. I was subbing the class and appreciated her letting me know about her issues.

“I’ve only been doing yoga since the sixties,” she added, one eyebrow lifted.

She rolled out her mat and got settled along with the others. She kept her sneakers on. I loved that she kept her sneakers on. Loved that she advocated for herself in this small way.

There was much she couldn’t do in this gentle slow-flow-ish class. She modified what she could, expertly, and when she couldn’t, she chose to lie on her back, on her mat.

And when I instructed arms overhead, she lifted her hands just a smidge off the floor in that direction. Every instruction I gave, she was right there. Even if it was just a pointing and flexing of her toes. I could see, with the slight direction of movements in her body, that in her mind, she was visualizing everything I was saying. She knew every yoga pose (and most sequences) by heart. Her brain neurons were firing as if  her body were doing the entire physical practice.

It was quite amazing to witness.

We spoke after class and she told me more about her eye. She told me she’d lived all over the world. She asked me about my name.

I told her she had a beautiful practice.

I told her that she inspired me.

 

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After a recent yoga class a student came up and asked, “Are you always this peaceful?”

I looked her in the eye and said, “Nooooo! I’m a terror.”

And we laughed! 

(I do believe she thought I was kidding). Terror might be a little harsh, but no, I am not always peaceful.

I told her I practice yoga because I need to. Not because I am naturally peaceful. Her ask was especially ironic that week, because I had been feeling anything but peaceful. I’d been quick to anger. I’d been quick to get my feelings hurt. Times like that, when people assume I’m “peaceful” I feel like a big old hypocrite. (I imagine most yoga teachers if they are being honest have felt imposter syndrome from time to time).

It’s not that I’m pretending to be peaceful when I teach. I am peaceful when I teach. I’m 100% present and focused on my classes. I don’t have to think about the stresses of my everyday life during the time I have students in front of me. Teaching is its own form of meditation. It’s sacred space. I love it.

So how about this? Generally, I’m more peaceful than I would be without yoga in my life. But I’m a passionate person with the full range of emotions. Life often enough throws me big seemingly impossible challenges. Some days are better than others. Most days I am skillful. Sometimes I fall flat on my face.

Toting the essential oils I use in my classes has my car often smelling like heaven. My daughter’s friends hopped into the back seat one time recently and went all dreamy.

“You’re mom is sooooo peaceful…,” the girls swooned, inhaling.

Riley was quick to correct them,

“She’s not peaceful all the time.”

And we laughed! 

I’m not.

I never said I was. I might wish I was. But I can’t pretend to be.

For all the yogis out there, who fear they are not allowed to feel anything other than “peace, love, la la la….,” I would like to call BS on that.

I can feel mad, sad, hurt, depressed, overwhelmed, hopeless, or like a failure some days. I’d never heap any of that onto my students, but I sometimes feel those things. Of course I do.

My guess is “ultra spiritual” people who claim to have risen above negative emotions are kidding themselves, or lying, or are fortunate enough to have lives set up where almost everything goes their way. One of my friends, a fellow special-needs mom says of self-proclaimed enlightened ones, “Try one day in my life, and see how you do.”

And we laughed! 

When I’m feeling imposter syndrome, I need to remind myself that having moments (or days) of not feeling peaceful doesn’t mean I’m not a good yoga teacher. Or a good mom. Or a good person.

It is in moments of despair, on our worst days, that we are called to look in the mirror with compassion toward the parts of us that are hurting, not kick ourselves for being in pain, or for not being further along the path than we think we should be.

There is a saying in the yoga world, “Gentle is the new advanced.” This usually means asana, but I think it also includes being gentle with ourselves when we are in emotional pain. It just means we’re human.

This breath in.

This breath out.

Peace.
Peace.
Peace.

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One time, many years ago, in another state, I was a yoga student at a crowded studio. There was a teacher there everyone loved. She was bubbly and sweet and had studied with one of the best known and respected teachers in India. She knew her anatomy, knew her stuff.

I do not think she was a trauma-informed yoga teacher though.

Teachers receiving training to volunteer for Connection Coalition (working with youth  in crises) and Connected Warriors (working with veterans), are versed in giving students choices and never taking their power away from them.

Back to that long ago class. I was at my limit in a pose. I wasn’t being a “quitter.” My intuition, my inner guidance told me enough. This teacher came by and tried to physically force me deeper (not brutally, but physically) into the pose. Trying to discourage her I shook my head and whispered, “I can’t.” She ignored me and moved my leg further than what I felt comfortable or safe with.

She smiled, victorious! Her bubbly personality shining out through her eyes, thinking she’d done something amazing, showing me I could go further than I ever imagined!

“Except maybe you can!” she said. Like a cheerleader.

My heart sank. I did not share in her victory. I felt completely disempowered.  I felt like it had become “her” pose, not mine. I wasn’t a teacher yet and didn’t know anything about trauma informed yoga, but I felt a real sense of despair and had to swallow a lump in my throat. I didn’t understand why I felt so angry?

Help isn’t help when we railroad over peoples’ choices. Help isn’t help when it isn’t invited in. Help isn’t help when it makes a person feel smaller rather than empowered.

I’ve made this mistake countless times myself. Not as a yoga teacher, (I hope) but as a human. As an adult child of an alcoholic, with co-dependent “helper” tendencies, it has taken me a long time to learn that I should ask permission before charging in with all my awesome “help” and helpful ideas.

And as a soul on the path, I work on forgiving those who have, with the very best of intentions, inadvertently not “helped” me.

 

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Almost four weeks ago I did something, don’t know what, or when or how, but I twisted my rib and it was very sore. I knew to take it easy for a bit. Incidentally, I had scheduled a surgery to remove a lipoma from my lower back and had waited a long time to do it so even with the sore rib, I went in for the surgery almost three weeks ago. Stitches came out a few days ago. It’s still tender. The rib is better. I am on the mend and slowly easing in after almost a month of little to no physical practice.

I’ve been able to teach the whole time because I need my words more than I need my body to demo, and that has been fine.

But it’s been challenging not to do the practice I love.

I’ve hit this bump before, with the neck injury from the car accident a couple of years ago. It changed so much for me, and I fear talking ad nauseam about these things and sounding like a little old lady complaining about all her ailments.

It’s always shocking to be reminded that my body is aging and I maybe can’t do everything I want to. I still feel, mentally, like I’m about 34, (I’ll be fifty in October). So I get a little indignant. What do you mean I can’t do X,Y and Z? I’m only 34!

It’s also hard when you are a yoga teacher because you know you are a better teacher when you are practicing regularly. When I can’t practice I feel like a schlump. A bit like a gray cloud is hanging over me.

I did meditate almost every day. I am doing “yoga” in other ways. I watched a lot of continuing ed videos and did learn a bunch, but my body craves the asana.

When I go without a physical yoga practice for a while, doubt creeps in. Have I given up? What if it all falls away? (Yoga is something that helps my busy mind not catastrophize, BTW). 

But every time, the second my body is ready, I find myself on my mat, exploring. Where am I now? How do I feel in this pose? How do I feel in this moment?

One time after the car accident I stood at the top of my mat, eyes closed and said silently, as if to my practice itself, “Come back to me.”

Instantly I felt in my heart, “Your practice never left you. You left it.”

I had. I was so sad about what it could no longer be, I was blocking what it might become.

Back on the mat, it’s always right there waiting, greeting me like a dear friend.

Eager. Ready.

No judgement.

 

 

 

 

 

One of my favorite films of all time is Beasts of the Southern Wild. A theme running through it is how our greatest challenges are sometimes there to make us strong. How they can be our friend if we stop running from them.

I volunteer for Connection Coalition (formerly Yoga Gangsters) an organization that provides free yoga to youth in crises. Volunteers receive training in trauma informed yoga, and each session usually lasts six weeks. I am currently co-teaching at a group home for teen girls.

Last week we were doing yoga outside by the pool. In the middle of our practice one of the girls noticed a frog had gotten into the pool. Her heart was so big, she HAD to stop her practice, fish it out of the pool and deliver it to a nearby natural pond. She was certain the chlorine would kill it.

A scene from the movie Beasts of the Southern Wild came to mind. Miss Bathsheba, a very rough, straight forward woman who served as teacher to the almost feral children says,

The most important thing I can teach you? You gotta learn to take care of people smaller and sweeter than you are.”

The young woman who fished that froggy out of the pool had been taught that lesson. Or maybe she was just born with that kind of heart.

Her life hasn’t been easy. Kids in this program have been removed from their families due to abuse or neglect. There are often physical and emotional scars.

But she is kind.

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She is the teacher.

It happens every time with these kids. I swear to God.

One of the communities I have just started teaching in hosted a free class. It was an effort to have people come out and try yoga, to meet me as a new teacher, to see if my class might be a fit for them. Usually there are about twenty people in a class. The free class surprised us as people came out in droves. We had to move to a big ballroom. I had to teach from a stage so they could all see and hear me.

These were mostly retired folks with a wide sweeping range in ability levels. I kept the class simple.

Some had never tried yoga before. I reminded them if they only kept breathing mindfully, they were doing just fine. They were practicing yoga.

I reminded them to listen to their own bodies and take a break whenever it was right for them. That no one is “good” at yoga, and no one is “bad” at yoga. It meets you right where you are and gives you just what you need.

In a large group it is impossible to keep your eyes on every student all the time, but one in particular struggled. I did what I could to make sure she was safe.

After class she came up to me. She had some physical challenges that made it hard for her. She asked, with tears in her eyes,

“Did I do okay?”

Of course, I reassured her. But I didn’t have the exact right words at the ready to express what was in my heart.

“Did I do okay?” Isn’t that the big question for all of us? When we look back at our lives, isn’t that what we’ll be wanting to know?

People living with disability or physical impairments, or even just beginners are working SO MUCH HARDER than others, and often at the same time beating themselves up for not being able to do this, that or the other thing, (yoga or not) like everyone else.

Having those very real human emotions, feeling defeat and doubt, working through tears, but showing up anyway. This inspires me. This is honorable and courageous.

I wish I had thought to tell her that.