The people that come to my yoga classes are the shit. True story. Their willingness to be open, to be brave, to get close to their bones and dig deep within themselves is not a rarity. It happens in every class. And to someone who used to (and yes of course, still sometimes does) question and doubt the goodness and grittiness of people, this willingness about them always blows me away every time.
I already know that this is gonna be a super sappy, ooey-gooey kind of post so for all of you badass mofos who don like dat shit, my deepest apologies.
Before class started, the room was fairly quiet. There was some soft chatter, the normal OhHiHowAreYou, GoodHowAreYou, the WhatPropsDoWeNeed, the MyLowerBackHurtsCanWeDoPigeon, the OhHiI’veNeverBeenHereBeforeMyNameIsLizzie. Normal stuff. Normal conversation, situations, and body language. Everyone claimed their space in the room with their mats, a yogis (somewhat unintended and subconscious) version of sticking a sign in the ground that says PRIVATELY OWNED LAND, NO TRESPASSING.
AND DON’T YOU DARE LET YOUR ARM COME ANYWHERE NEAR MY MAT DURING SUPINE TWISTS.
Okay okay so maybe we aren’t as weird about our personal space as I’m saying.
But maybe…we are.
I started off class with, Alright, everyone find a partner. They all just kind of looked at me and half smiled.
No, like really, get a partner, I said. Just turn to someone next to you and say what’s up, my name is blahdeblah. And eventually, everyone partnered up. They started talking, nervous-talking, but talking nonetheless. Quick hand shakes, HiI’mJulie, HiI’mMark, YeahI’veSeenYouHereBefore, OkayCoolNiceToMeetYou, YeahYouToo.
I had them sit back to back, breathe their own breath, feel the breath of their partner, and the warmth, support, energy, and movement coming from another being outside of themselves. They even sat on each other’s mats. And in yoga world, that’s like inviting someone into the room in your house that your Mom never let you go in when you were little. The room that is too fragile or delicate for someone else to even step inside of.
What I was asking my students to do was to invite this person, this stranger, into their inner most world. That’s a huge, incredible task to ask someone to do. But because my students and humans in general are so brave, every person in that yoga room sent out a silent invitation: Come on in.
We went through a series of partner yoga poses as a warm up, and then I had them on their own mats again for some solo-flow. But it didn’t feel solo. Not at all. People were breathing in unison with each other, loud, deep breaths, even louder if the sequence got more challenging. Supporting not only themselves, not only their partner, but everyone else in the room with their breath.
It was fucking magical.
For the hip and heart opening section of class, I had them come back to their partner for some seated poses. Laughter happened. DoesThisFeelGood? happened. YeahThat’sGood happened. YourBreathGotShorter,WantToComeOutOfThePose? happened.
Open hearts happened. Wide, vast, limitlessly open.
And then, the sweetest, most amazing, worthy-of-love-song-to-be-written-about-it (but this blog post will have to do) thing happened.
The usual, unspoken rules of savasana–keeping to your own mat and space–didn’t apply. Bodies were stretched out, wide open X shapes, on to mats that weren’t theirs, arms crossing over legs crossing over torsos over ankles, and wrists, smiles, shoulders, knees pressed against calves and toes, lots of toes.
Real connection, not OhHiHowAreYou. Not the surface, but down in the depths. Not the apparent, but the true. Not the kitchen, but the room no one goes into.
And because I’m a Northern California softie and a complete sucker for anyone who finds a way to open their heart in a world that discourages it, I teared up while I sat at the front of the room as the students were in their new, touchy-feely version of savasana. I pulled it together before it was time to say our namastes, but almost lost it again when the hand shakes and I’mWellThankYou-s that happened at the beginning of class turned into 30-second long hugs and ThankYouSoMuchForBeingMyPartner-s.
And the coolest part about this whole thing is that I didn’t do anything. I was so not responsible for the outcome of that class, it was entirely the people in there. I see a yoga teacher’s job as someone who creates and holds a space for people to do their own work. I can keep them safe, make them laugh, suggest some cool poses and remind them to breathe, but when it comes down to it, I ain’t doing shit. It’s all the students. They do the work and and are therefore responsible for any goodness that comes out of yoga. I truly believe this: what you get out of a yoga class is 95% the student, 5% the instructor. And in that 5%, it’s usually the instructor doing something wacko and making the experience negative. So many teachers, myself included sometimes I’m sure, have their own agenda and forget to shut the hell up and let the students do their work.
All yoga goodness comes from the person doing the practice.
I needed to see that happen. I needed to witness the process of someone opening up, even with all of their hurts and heartache that I’m sure they have. What a valuable, gentle reminder that being hurt or having been hurt in the past isn’t a good enough excuse anymore to be closed. Because really, we’ve all been hurt. We are all hurting, in some big or small way, right now. In this very moment. It’s not like the people who come to my classes are a rare breed (well, they might be), they aren’t special (well, to me they are), and they don’t have super-human bravery (okay I’m lying). What I mean is that we are all capable of this, not just my yoga students. We have the ability, the option really, of being open hearted and connecting.
I think that’s easy to forget about when we’re hurting.
There is a sadness to this world that you and I both feel, you know exactly what I mean when I say that, but there is also that resounding and ringing with truth HAPPINESS out there, and how lucky we are that we aren’t alone in either of those things, and always have someone, even a stranger next to us in a yoga class, to partner up with for this wild and true of heart experience called being alive.
Thank you students and to everyone else I see, for being my teachers too.