Even though I haven’t found the cadence yet to my new, emptier schedule, some days it still feels like I’m busy. I guess that’s what happens when I sprinkle my week with things here and there.
One of these things is teaching yoga. I’ve been teaching at an arboretum on my own for some friends and at a small dance studio in Liberty, North Carolina. I teach two beginner-friendly classes here: Happy Hour and Power Hour. Beginners are my favorite. Beginner-friendly yoga is my favorite. Sometimes, I catch myself getting caught up in more difficult poses or transitions and tend to forget the very basics of what made me fall in love with yoga in the first place.
I came to yoga after I ruined my knees from a lot of running. My physical therapist recommended it and I laughed out loud at the thought of it. At first, I thought yoga was so boring and not nearly as “good of a workout as running.” Eventually, I learned this was wrong. Yoga can be a hard workout. Hungry for sweat and self-exhaustion, I pushed myself too much (yes, in yoga). I injured my shoulders. I flipped over and fell smack on my back in headstand. I collapsed and fell on my face in crow–I attempted poses my body and mind were not prepared for.
Begrudgingly, I went back to the basics. Maybe I’m not alone in this; I think a lot of people lose sight of the basics. Eventually, I began to love “easy” yoga. As a teacher, I learn from my students and I’m constantly reminded that the basics are not boring nor are they “easy.” There’s no need to do anything fancy, levitate on your hands, go jack-rabbit-fast, or throw your back out to achieve a pose.
To me, yoga isn’t about the pose. It’s about making space. Be a space maker. Once you make space, there’s room to witness true self improvement, authentic self acceptance, and most importantly, there’s room to care for yourself.
A lot of yoga instructors who are writers have written about this same idea plenty of times. Many of them are also writing about how social media, especially Instagram, is ruining the practice. Instead of listening to the body and breath, yogis will be in a beautiful location, set up their camera, get into a circus pose and then post it online. If you can do this safely and honor yourself, cool. But sometimes I think this is what scares people away from yoga and makes it inaccessible. To me, that isn’t “real.”
Real yoga isn’t necessarily on the cover of yoga journal or self magazine. It’s in your hometown studio. It’s your next door neighbor who practices in their living room. It’s on your mat. It’s embodied by you and each and every type of body that chooses to practice. Real yoga is listening to your body; if it says, “hey, I wanna just sit in childs pose today,” honor that. Let go of your own judgement. One thing I am constantly having to remember is that it doesn’t matter what anyone else says or thinks about you. It matters what you say and think about you. You deserve to be nice to yourself.
For my first class this fall only one student showed up. I welcomed her into the dim room with sparkly Christmas lights, introduced myself, and asked her name. “Laurie,” she said quietly and immediately blurted, “I’ve never done yoga before and I’m not sure if this is going to be the kind of thing I like. Is anyone else coming? Am I the only one?” I asked how her body was feeling and what brought her to yoga. “I’ve been falling a lot. Especially when I step over a small fence in my garden to keep the rabbits out,” she said. She’s an older woman and she mentioned that too. I told her anybody can do yoga and we began.
I ignored my prepared class notes and routine. Instead, I worked closely with her, one on one. To start, we did some breathing exercises followed by a super slow warmup-really lingering in each movement. Then we worked on balance and stability poses at the wall and did a lot of poses on the ground. At the end of the class, after “namaste,” she began to cry. I asked if she was alright and she said, “yes, is this a normal reaction?” I quickly and quietly responded, “oh yes. I’ve cried in yoga before. Lots of people have.” She said, “I don’t even know why I’m crying.” I said, “some people believe through yogic movements, we break up bits of tension in our body; we crack open and shed light on parts of ourselves we didn’t know were dark. Or, maybe its because you hadn’t realized how much love you needed to give yourself. Especially if you care for other people, its so easy to forget yourself. But you deserve care too.” She nodded and smiled.
I cracked the door to begin the next class (I teach back to back). A few others came in and Laurie decided to stick around and stay for her second yoga class.
The following week after class she gave me a bag full of goodies from her garden. Cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, and one perfectly round acorn squash. She told me, “this is a magic squash. One day this spring, I noticed a sprout coming up from my compost pile. I figured it would just die like most sprouts there do, but it kept growing. It began to form something and I couldn’t tell what it was. Eventually, it turned out to be acorn squash.” She paused and then said, “its the best squash I’ve ever had. I’ve never purposefully grown any that taste quite as good as this one. It keeps growing; this is squash number 28. It’s magic.”
I think maybe we’re all like this magic seed, trying to grow in a pile of stuff that wasn’t exactly meant for us. But eventually, we decide to root down, grow upwards, and make space in that place anyway. Its like that quote, “a flower doesn’t compete with the flower next to it, it just blooms.”
I think that’s real yoga.