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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Open Sesame!

Today I was inspired by more than my mat.

I have a dear friend who has just taken her first few steps on this Yoga journey. With some gentle encouragement and a touch of trepidation she unrolled her mat and courageously took that first Yoga breath. After only one basic class she began taking the mixed level classes and when asked how she liked it, she said, “Eh, not so much. Yet.” The fact that she didn’t hear harp music and have woodland creatures eating out of her hand that first time makes me respect her more for taking a second class. Unseen forces are at work!

I had the privilege of practicing next to her today. Her willingness to have faith that there’s more there than meets her eye, further opened my mind and softened my heart. Bringing a sense of humor to the mat also helps, and she does that joyfully.

I started thinking back to my first days on a mat. I’d pay an extra dollar to rent a studio mat and make my way into one of the basic classes being offered. One was held in a spacious room with lots of light and the other was a small, dim somewhat gloomy room. Dull or bright, I would leave feeling better than when I entered. But I never considered going into a mixed level class. For many years I got stuck in my own beginner’s mind, not allowing for the possibility that I was advancing. The mat I used was like a stage, in that my energy was alive during my practice and was then left for someone else to play out his or her experience on the same mat.

Unlike a stage, the mat was not for performance, the play was not presented outwardly, but inwardly. The audience was not a house filled with bodies, but a heart filled with emotions ranging from fear to bliss. The satisfaction came not from applause for a good performance, rather from a soft place that perhaps went a little deeper than the time before. Once I got my own mat, I claimed my practice in a more personal way.

I imagine New York Yoga basic classes differ somewhat from those outside the city. The big room was often filled with ex-ballerinas & dancers working toward realigning their bodies, athletes adding Yoga to their routines and long time Yoga practitioners and teachers getting back to basics. Then there were those like myself, who knew something special was happening, and whose mats became a sanctuary. Beginners’ minds filled the room along with those of us with a beginner’s practice.

I make a distinction between beginner’s mind and beginner’s practice. While I am mindful to maintain a beginner’s mind in most of what I do, like pregnancy memory, I have forgotten the feeling of my beginner’s practice. Though I am far from intermediate or advanced, just by virtue of having a regular practice, some of the basic fear and insecurities I had at the start of my practice have fallen off. But it is a process and that process continues through every downward dog and vinyasa.

In those first days, I struggled with Triangle (Trikonasana), energetically more than physically. My teacher asked me to demonstrate one day and I did, feeling pretty good that my hand reached the floor with little effort. She was trying to get me to understand that it was more important to stack my hips and keep my torso in line with my legs, than to reach the floor. I totally did not get it. Then a few years later, after my first daughter was born, a very dear friend who is a senior teacher at a NYC Yoga studio told me that she could get me into a workshop with Rodney Yee. My adrenaline replaced the blood in my veins as my life flow, and then I got scared. I had no place being in that room! Forget that my practice was no longer consistent or that my body was still harboring more than a memory of pregnancy, I was still just a beginner who couldn’t get Triangle!

The room was packed, with maybe a couple of inches in between mats. I positioned myself safely out of view, near the door. So, we get to Trikonasana and my safe spot was revealed. We had done countless poses where my form was probably questionable, but leave it to my nemesis, Triangle, to attract the teacher’s attention. Rodney came over and, rather brusquely, said, “How are we going to get those hips stacked?” Nervously, I shrugged and said, “If you have a secret, I’d love to know.” He didn’t seem amused, but I left that day knowing that Trikonasana and I were destined to grow together.

It wasn’t until I started practicing in Bucks County, that I had a teacher who gently encouraged me to lengthen with the crown of my head. Lo and behold, Triangle. My hand now rests easily against my shin rather than rounding down, through my back, to the ground and my former nemesis has become a challenging, yet welcoming, friend.

In this world of immediate gratification, it is more important to be patient while the process takes its natural course. The faster computers go the slower they feel. The faster people pass us on the road the sooner we catch up to them at the red light. The magician says, “Open Sesame” and the magic happens before our eyes.

On the flip side, “slow and steady wins the race.” There is no secret to the magic of Yoga. There’s a reason it’s called a practice. Opening up our hips, shoulders, backs, legs, minds & hearts takes time. So, when my friend says that this practice doesn’t resonate with her just yet and still makes it to the mat, I applaud her. When she takes that studio mat and rolls it out in a mixed level class, I am moved by the warrior she already is.

Say to yourself, “Open Sesame,” and feel the magic as it unfolds over time.

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