dropping “f” bombs in yoga class

I dropped the “f” bomb in yoga class just a few days ago. As the teacher, no less (student teacher, true, but still the person in the class who was leading that section and who was supposed to be all yogic and calm and in charge).

The scene of the crime: I had just confidently led the Surya Namaskara B and was moving into a warrior flow series when my lefts and rights got all mixed up. The faces in the room were looking at me with what can only be described as expectant confusion, so I moved to the side back of the room in hopes of regaining a sense of direction. Quickly, I realized I was awkwardly teetering on the edge of some poor man’s mat, and I had somehow wedged myself in the corner where nobody but that unfortunate man could see me properly. I scurried over his mat and into the center of the back of the room, forcing everyone to turn around, when I realized I had lost it, and the naughty, naughty word came sailing out of my mouth as smooth as my own name. I was mortified. As if I needed another reminder of my imperfections, my potty mouth decided to wreak havoc on the poor students who registered for an intro series class.  Ok- admittedly, it wasn’t my mouth as much as it was me; I wreaked the havoc.

For all I know, people who had never taken a yoga class before now have some vision of me as some version of a long haul trucker in yoga pants. When they see me sitting serenely in the front of the class, they’ll likely have an unsettled feeling that I could lose it at any moment. And the really frightening thing is, I just might. I don’t know how much control I really have over this irresistible urge to break into a frenzy at any given moment. I’m like a bottle of Kombucha that’s just been on the Tilt-a-Whirl and is ready to explode in tangy elation. It’s downright petrifying.

Deep breath. I know this isn’t the entire truth. I realize that I have control over what comes out of my mouth. What upsets me most, actually, is not the fact that I cursed like a sailor in yoga class (as displeasing as that actuality is), but rather that I continue to play the story out as though it is the only one I have. As if I am actually this out of control beast ala Where the Wild Things Are instead of a complex and imperfectly perfect human being on this life journey (which is why I’ve always had an affinity for this particular children’s book).

I know intellectually that the very kind and intelligent people in this intro series class do not fear me or my cursing tendencies. I also know that these lovely individuals are most likely not replaying this scene over and over again in their minds and that they do not judge me or think that this way that I acted in class is the only way I act in the world. But this bumbling and awkward way that I acted in class is the way I often see myself. It’s the narrow view I’ve had of myself for much of my life, and it’s terrifying when I can see the mirror reflecting off of those faces onto myself.

The yogic philosophy that has been on my mind lately, and that relates so perfectly to this struggle, is the yama (observances and codes for living according to Patangali’s eight limbs of yoga) Aparigraha. Literally translated, Aparigraha means “not grasping”. In my own mind, Aparigraha stands for (among other things) the work that it takes to abandon control over images, ideas, labels, hopes, dreams, and expectations. It’s about taking that deep breath and realizing that this moment is just this moment, and I am just who I am in this moment. In other words- I can let go of the idea that I will always be awkward (though it kind of makes me sad to think of ever losing my potential for dorkiness for good). I don’t have to hold tightly to the expectation that this is who I am. So as an individual or, in this case, as a yoga teacher-in-training, I can every now and then curse or laugh or do something wildly inappropriate, and I can honor each as merely experiences and/or expressions of my humanness.

the city Lorax and my search for God

 Where is the door to God?
In the sound of a barking dog,
In the ring of a hammer,
In a drop of rain,
In the face of
Everyone
I see.

-Hafiz

There’s a man in Seattle who shows up to work sites where buildings are being torn down. He fascinates me. This man, who I affectionately refer to as “the city Lorax”, has grey hair with dreadlocks down to his knees and a long beard. Every day he wears a dark blue and green puffy ski jacket with baggy khaki pants and ragged tennis shoes. City Lorax talks to himself, occasionally moving in a rapidly rhythmic way, and he mostly goes between pacing the sidewalk and standing still in apparent awe at the demolition before him. City Lorax utilizes what looks like a cell phone to record the activity, which was upsetting to me at first, because it didn’t fit with my story of him. I’ve reconciled this fact, chalking it up to advancement in Lorax technology. What City Lorax does with the video footage is unknown to me, just like most everything about him.

 My own story of City Lorax has been that he stands witness to destruction when others barely take time for a second glance.  I’ve often wondered how disappointing it would be to know the truth, especially when the mystery seems so lovely. Which makes me think about those times when I fail to allow myself to believe something out of a distrust of that which isn’t “known” by me; if I can’t see, taste, feel, hear, or touch it, can it truly exist?

 The City Lorax exists to me because I have witnessed his presence. I know that he most often appears where there is a demolition site and that he stands vigil for hours on end without so much as a drop of water to quench his thirst. What I don’t know is who he may be related to, where he sleeps at night (if he sleeps at all), what language he may speak or understand, and what it is he is truly doing near the dust and noise laden blocks of rubble. But there he is, and it always makes my heart sing just a little to see him there. It feels good to hold just a little curiosity along with what I know.

 In my attempts to live life according to Patanjali’s eight limbs of yoga, I recognize those places where I grasp and fear and judge.  The more I learn about myself and my connection to the world, the more I want to have a sense of “the Divine”. And yet growing up in a home with no religious affiliation, I have no concept of what it’s like to commit myself to any one belief. My mind moves from having a sense of curiosity to thinking that I need proof. It’s another space where it’s most likely better for me to hold a sense of wonder and to leave space for the unknown.

 Yoga philosophy tells me that the Divine is in everything and that even I am a manifestation of the Divine (and so is the City Lorax);   if this is so, then I suppose everything is my proof that the Divine exists. Which isn’t good enough for my senses, but it’s mostly good enough for my spirit. When I see blossoms in early spring, witness newborn babies, hear children laughing, and dig my hands in fresh soil, I feel connected to something larger than me. When I witness something or someone who doesn’t fit the “norm”, I am reminded of the possibility that the Divine exist. And when my larger than life imagination creates a story for someone that others see as mentally ill and homeless, it makes me happy.

 To me, yoga is a spiritual practice that I can relate to without committing to a religion and it is a practice that I can feel comfortable being playful with. I can be funny and quirky and negligent without being judged.  I can just show up in my life, attempt to observe some specific ways of being in the world (enter here the Yamas and Niyamas), and I can use my breath and my body as ways of honoring my practice. Or, if/when all else fails, I can just be where I’m at. A human experience working toward a divine interaction.

the slush is melting, and yoga is being made

The slush is melting. A reminder of the snow that brought such mixed feelings to so many people, from exaltation to revulsion to dread. For me, being the Gemini that I am, each moment held a different feeling. I had moments of absolute giddiness, joy and hope and others when I wanted to hide in a corner sucking on a bottle of wine or run like a lunatic screaming profanity….But regardless of what was happening outside (with the weather) or inside (with my emotions), I bundled up and ventured out to be in it. I wanted to experience the snow and ice and slush- to breathe in the elements and be in the land of the living.

In my snow adventures I was often surrounded by people- a mixture of people of all ages romping and playing as people often do when it snows in Seattle (which is rare). I walked in areas of my neighborhood that I rarely visit, and I smiled at people I most likely ignore on any other given day. This is what snow does for me- it helps to bring the introvert out so that I can look people in the eyes and begin a brief dialogue. It also…brings out the worst in me. The angry me who gets frustrated by people who refuse to give space for me to walk past them on the sidewalk and the me who frets about the homeless, the flooding, and the power outages. I obsess. I ruminate. I “kvetch”. And there’s no rhyme or reason. I’m downright unpredictable and crazed.

Metaphorically, the storm and my ensuing moods related to change in my life are like my experience of cancer. I had moments of insight and recognition of luminous beauty mixed with times when I wanted to scratch incessantly at an itch that never existed. And this is where my yoga practice so beautifully comes in. I can once again feel pain without having to own it as something that will never go away. I can be in the experience of joy or pain or itchiness and trust that this is just this moment. My truth does not have to be dictated by this discomfort or this elation. And when I freak out, I can look at that as another opportunity to learn. Which seems never ending…

Lately, I delight in thinking about Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra 1.1 (that’s right- the very first sutra)- Atha Yogānuśāsanam, or something like “now begins the exposition of yoga”. Even in the slush, yoga is being made.