Thursday night is yoga night in my universe. I practice yoga at home on my own a few days a week, but on Thursdays I get to go to a studio class and study with Martha, who knows the poses very well, is very humorous and lighthearted, and looks a great deal like Joan Baez. Martha’s is a level 2 class (you must complete at least one 12 week session of level 1 before moving on to level 2, and I have been in a level 1 class since last January), and while I’m technically prepared for level 2 there is much about it that intimidates me. There are only three levels of practice at my studio, not counting the “special” classes (wall ropes, Tai Chi, gentle yoga), so people with all degrees of experience and ability are in level 2. By level 2 standards I am a beginner.
One of the foundations of yoga is patience. The teachers at my studio constantly remind us that it isn’t the “nature” of yoga to force ourselves to do things that are uncomfortable, hurt our bodies, or trouble our minds with feelings of inadequacy when we haven’t yet perfected a posture. According to Martha this is what our jobs are for. But in spite of my continued efforts to be patient and gentle with myself, I tend to be a bit competitive, and I worry when I can’t keep up with my classmates, even when some of my classmates have been practicing in level 2 for months or even years. Also, I have always been one of those students who wants the approval of her teachers; even now, and even in yoga class, I want the teacher to be pleased with my work. With those things in mind, know that tonight’s yoga class was, at least inside my head, like being in 7th grade math class with the wrong notebook, wearing leg warmers and velcro tennis shoes, and putting problem 8 up on the board even though the teacher asked for the solution to problem 18. I swear to Krishna, the music playing in the background was a new age version of “Please Don’t Go Girl.”
The trouble started with Warrior III. Warriors I and II are cake–both feet are involved–but Warrior III requires balancing on one leg while imitating an airplane. Even on a good day I don’t have good balance (I run into door frames, people!) but my allergies are raging thanks to the false spring we’re experiencing here in the South, and my ears are stopped up. It’s a wonder I can stand on two feet, but one? I made a noble effort–I did–but while I was falling into the wall I glanced up and saw the other 25 people in the room doing their Warriors, and they all looked like a field of perfect Ts. I’m ashamed to admit that I wasn’t thinking, “Be patient with yourself.” I was thinking, “Sonofabitch.”
But it didn’t end there. The very next segment of our practice was supported handstand, and yes, it’s exactly like it sounds: you stand on your hands with your legs straight up in the air while someone holds your waist to keep you from crashing to the floor. I’m sure we all did it as kids, and it was so easy then, but it’s been quite some time since I was a kid, and I don’t know if I really did handstands as a kid, and might I remind you that I felt like a 7th grader tonight and 7th graders do not have grace or agility. Anyway, we were working with partners, and the girl next to me opted to work with her husband (whatever!) so I ended up latching on to two women who were already well into the routine when I arrived. By the time my turn rolled around everyone else in the room had already done his or her handstand (one man did the pose unsupported! in the middle of the room!) so they all got to see me attempt to fling myself–specifically my legs– into the waiting arms of my assistant. If you’ve been paying attention, and if you remember 7th grade at all, you know that my legs never made it, and after two tries I curled up into a ball and began whimpering things like, “My locker is jammed” and “My mom made me wear them.” It was not my best yoga class.
Another foundation of yoga is positivity–looking at what you’ve accomplished and building on it rather than dwelling negatively on what you haven’t yet mastered. It would be really easy for me (and so 7th grade) to pout and say that the only positive thing about tonight’s class was that I didn’t fart in Downward Facing Dog. But I can do better than that. I can do this:
Don’t ask how many tries it took to get this right for the picture, and if you practice yoga, don’t look too closely or you’ll notice that my arms are slightly bent and my feet are too far apart (again with the imperfection!). I’m just glad my body will do this. It’s being vertical that causes me problems. But you’ll be glad to know I’ve regained contact with my older and wiser self, and I’m steering my pouty “can’t do” attitude back toward patience and forgiveness. Along those lines I’ve settled on a focus for tomorrow’s practice: walking upright without running into door frames. Don’t you just love yoga?