Sunday, June 5, 2011

The rhythm of life

Photo credit: Akuppa John Wigham./ Flickr Creative Commons
Yesterday I taught my final exam class for yoga teacher training. I've been working on it pretty seriously for over a month, agonizing over the sequence of poses, tinkering constantly with the playlist (trying to get Nomad's Follow the Sun to line up with my Reverse Warrior pose - it's the first song on the linked video "Turn your face to the sunshine/ and you won't see the shadows"), and practicing teaching the class to my mentor, classmates, and an empty room full of imaginary students. I've been using the room where I was scheduled to teach in order to become comfortable there and visualize my success. Little by little, I became confident and comfortable teaching my class. On Thursday, I was very happy with my teaching. I went into yesterday's workshop feeling ready to go, seeing myself as a yoga teacher.

I was the last of five students scheduled to teach yesterday. Just as the second class was winding down and we were moving into Savasana, loud music began blaring into our room from outside. After class, we looked outside and discovered that the car wash across the street had been converted into some kind of event stage for the Art Around Adams festival. Large speakers were pointed directly towards the studio window. We decided to move to the main studio, a much larger and less intimate space but better insulated for sound.

Two more classes went by without incident, and it was my turn to teach. I set up my room, playing some mood-setting music on my iPod. Everyone was tired but ready to push through with class. Then, just as I was beginning to teach, loud drumming started right outside the studio. I was completely fazed. Sound easily affects my concentration, with calming music assisting me and drum beats extremely distracting. Nevertheless, I'd been preparing for this moment and I was ready to teach. I began my class, doing my best to focus and create a calming atmosphere. I walked around, breathing a loud ujjayi breath. I tried turning my music off, but then the drums seemed at odds with what I was doing. I tried turning it up, but there was no competing. I ended up settling for my music fairly softly and the drums beating over the top of it all.

In spite of all this, the class went really well. It's always challenging doing something new, and stressful to take any exam, but I was really happy with how things went. At some point, the drums stopped, so my quiet meditative music was the only sound for Savasana and I was able to go around and do some nice adjustments and spread the lovely scent of lavender around the room.

However, there was still one last lesson to be learned. It wasn't until a couple of people suggested that I could have simply turned my music off and taught the class to the beat of the drums that I realized I had totally missed the gift I had been sent. For me, the drums were a distraction and "ruining" the mood I had chosen to set for the class, but for the students doing the class, the drums were an invigorating force at the end of a long and tiring day. I had completely missed that potential energy. All that planning and visualization was helpful, but in the end, there I was repeating an old pattern: clinging stubbornly to my plans, my version of how things were "supposed to be" - and fighting against the inexorable rhythm of life.

This class - my last class as a trainee teacher and my first class as a professional - taught me something I never expected. As I taught my first class in the role of a teacher, I also found myself in the role of a student, repeating an important lesson about life. I am not in control. Life has its own rhythms, and sometimes dancing to your own drummer is not the way to go if your inner drummer is in conflict with the rhythms around you.

Ironically, this lesson was already encapsulated in my class and it was I, the teacher, who needed to hear it. The class theme was "gratitude", and I ended with a quote from Melody Beattie:
"Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend."

Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity.

What I had was live drumming right outside the studio, and I had forgotten to be grateful! What I had was enough and more. My gratitude in those first few moments of class could have turned "denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity."  Instead, I suffered through fear and frustration. Now, as I work to let go of the story of how things happened or how things could have happened, I am realizing that not clinging to the past does not mean we fail to grasp its lessons. I hope that I will be able to carry this lesson with me into my work as a yoga teacher.

I don't think it's a coincidence that this was exactly the lesson I needed to grow as a person, a yogi, a teacher. I am very grateful for those drummers now.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Change is constant

Photo credit: lululemon athletica/ Flickr Creative Commons
I was waiting for a bus the other day after a teacher training workshop when a woman came out of a nearby tattoo parlor. As she walked by me, I caught a glimpse of her brand new tattoo: change is constant. This isn't a new concept to me - I've written about impermanence here before, for example (follow the tag on this post) - but for whatever reason, I received the message in a new way. It was as though there were a footnote on her tattoo that said: and that means you, too.

Change is constant and that means you, too. Sometimes I have this crazy fear that I can't change, that I'll always be fighting the same battles and making the same mistakes, that I'll always be stuck in the same patterns of being. In fact, change is inevitable, and that means me, too. Everything changes. And that conviction that we're in some way an exception, that our identity is somehow permanent and unchanging? Well, what are the chances of that?

This is pretty liberating and empowering - because change may be imperceptibly slow sometimes, but it is constant. On a cellular level, we're changing all the time as new cells die and are replaced; we don't usually notice those changes happening, but they are. Perhaps in a similar way, elements of old mental/ emotional patterns die and are replaced regularly, and although we can't see the changes taking place most of the time, we aren't stuck: we have an incredible capacity for transformation. This is our birthright. It is constant and inevitable. It's important, therefore, to work for positive change - because change will happen regardless. Look within and make those changes count! Namaste.

Monday, April 18, 2011

The wisdom I once knew

Yoga teacher training is giving me lots that I want to write about - and no time to write in. I hope these posts that are rattling around in my head will eventually make it here. Some of the things I've been learning seem new; other ideas are realizations that I've been reaching towards for some time but have only just found within my grasp. Still other ideas seem like things I knew once but thought I had forgotten.
Photo Credit: Tela Chhe/ Flickr Creative Commons
We all learned to walk once. From our positions on the floor, we were driven to grasp nearby objects and pull ourselves upright. In that position, we had to use our muscles in new ways, figuring out how to stabilize joints and stack our bones. Even then, with some measure of stability, we weren't satisfied. We had to walk, and then run - learning to keep it all together and balance in a constantly shifting world. We moved too fast, leaned too far, and fell - often, and sometimes painfully. We howled when we hit our heads on the corners of tables and scraped our hands and knees - but the next opportunity, we pulled ourselves upright and ran headlong into the next disaster, fearless, until we learned to feel our own center of balance and remain steady on our feet.
Photo Credit: Neeta Lind/ Flickr Creative Commons
Now, many years later, most of us don't remember how we learned to walk. We're blissfully unaware of the painful headlong falls, and we have no conscious memory of how we learned to balance on our feet. When it comes to balancing upside down - on your head or hands or forearms - it may seem like something completely new. As I try to understand the limits of my balance in inversions, however, I'm realizing that I have done this all before. I've already been through this process of challenging the force of gravity, of learning to stack all the bones in my body on top of each other, of finding the point of lightness and effortless balance in a seemingly impossible vertical position. Somewhere, in those deep hidden places in the body where forgotten memories go, I know how to learn this.

Back then, those hurtling falls didn't faze me for long. Now, when I reach too far with my legs and come crashing to the ground, I'm left with a lingering fear that sends me back to basics, just trying to straighten my legs into the air again. Somewhere deep inside, I need to connect with the toddler me - that little girl who wanted so badly to walk around, who had such incredible confidence to try again, who had not yet learned to dwell on past failures. In my practice, I'm seeking the simplicity of being of a child. I'm striving to bring in a little innocence to balance my wisdom, to infuse beginner's mind into these poses. I want to do them with all the knowledge I've gained from my previous attempts, but also with the openness that comes with trying something for the first time.

Surely part of the practice is to walk, run, dance, balance on your head, and love as though you've never been hurt, never fallen down, never cracked your head against the corner of a table. To be fully present through the falling and the getting back up, and then to be fully present in the next attempt - as though falling last time had nothing to do with what will happen this time - because it doesn't, in fact, as hard as that is to believe. Maybe that's all of the practice in fact, all the work there really is to do. I'm starting to think that it will be enough.