Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Doing Yoga with Shoes on

I bought some shoes the other day. Actually, I bought three pairs of shoes in less than two weeks, which is the first time I've bought shoes since I bought the black pumps I wore for the classy date my husband and I went on celebrating our five-year anniversary of being together, not too far off of a year ago, and those were the first shoes I bought since I bought some snow boots two years before that. It's not just being a yogi and hence trying to avoid mindless consumption-shoes just aren't really my thing. This shoe binge was prompted by the realization that the only non-snow boots I owned have been around since my mom bought them for me...when I was thirteen...ten years ago.

So, I go out, I buy these fabulous slate grey over-the-knee boots, I wear them, I love them, my feet hurt, I realize these shoes are not Emily's-foot-shaped, and I remember why I'm not into shoes. I'm not into anything that suggests that if I'm not a certain way then I am wrong, and the object in question is correct.

That realization led me back out for more shoes, not at DSW this time but at Payless, because I already invested in one pair of boots, and I'm not about to "invest" in another. I tried on several pairs, foiled each time when I discovered that only a certain color or style, and not the one that I wanted, is on sale. Finally, with only two minutes to go before I have to rush over to Namaste for a Medicine Wheel Workshop, I find a pair of cute, size 7 1/2, on sale, little ankle boots with a kitten heel, and a rounded toe. Thank God, Allah, Shiva, Buddha, the Universe, or whatever else strikes your fancy.

The very next day I pulled those puppies on, approved of my reflection in the mirror, and set off, with my chin held a little higher than usual.

Are you familiar with the phenomenon of "teacher shoes"? The sound of dressy pumps worn by a purposeful woman coming down a (likely marble) hallway? Maybe this is a Catholic school thing. These were teacher shoes. I'm used to flipflops, chuck taylors, and lately, snowboots. My shoes are quiet, even stealthy. These produce a noticeable echo. I spent the first block trying to re-learn how to walk quietly before I started to wonder who exactly I'm worried will hear me. That moment of self-observence was enough to activate my inner Mountain Pose: tailbone under, tummy firm, heart lifted, shoulders softening down the back, neck long, crown of the head lifting. Between that self-adjustment and the two inch heel, I suddenly felt about six feet tall and regal as a queen. I started to notice the subtle variations in the sounds of my wooden heels on the sidewalk: something of a, 'cauk cauk cauk' perhaps. There was also a pleasant sort of a call and response between left and right foot. Sometimes Left took the part of the higher-pitched call, and sometimes Right did.

I don't know if new shoes, or old ones for that matter, can do this for everybody, but buying two pairs of boots (and a pair of toning tennis shoes; don't judge me!) led me to question habitual thought patterns and reconnect in a very immediate way with the idea of meditating every minute: being truly present for my walk to the train, instead of an hour or so ahead of myself in the class I was on my way to teach.

The point of this meandering tale is, the best yoga I do is off the mat. If you pay attention, I'll bet it's the same for you.

Live omily,

Sunday, February 6, 2011

What You Deserve to Get

This past Thursday I set a personal record for most yoga taught in a single day (in fact, it may have been most yoga in a single day, period.): I taught four classes, at noon, 2:30, 4:15, and 6:30, all at different locations, to entirely different groups of people. Noon at Loom, 2:30 with my private client, 4:15 subbing at Namaste, and 6:30 subbing for a small private group at a condo down by the river. As is the plight of the NYC area yoga teacher, I more or less spent the rest of the day in transit.

What makes this a big deal for me is, there was a time not so long ago that teaching two yoga classes in one day would run me a little ragged, and teaching three yoga classes in one day, or two classes two days in a row, was enough to leave me pretty useless for at least a day or two. It's partially a matter of building up more physical stamina, and that's partially because of circus class, but it wasn't even the muscular fatigue that would get to me. It was very emotionally draining in the beginning to hold a space for class, be present to students in a leadership, vaguely maternal, position. As Rebecca put it the other day, (roughly paraphrased), "You're really helping people work through their stuff!" Whether or not it's overt, or either of you realize it's happening, you're basically acting as a therapist on some level, and as a new teacher, you don't have the slightest idea how to be a therapist, so you tend to substitute "close friend" for therapist: you give and you give and you give where you see a need, without any idea how, or even that you should, take back and be nurtured by the experience as well.

As Cathy put it, and though this is a solution rooted in Roman Catholicism, the point can be interpreted into any number of faith systems or lack there of: "You have to leave it all at the foot of the cross." Even if you're not a yoga teacher, you've probably found yourself in a situation of being too involved in a situation with a person you're not involved enough with. Healing and nurturing is not automatically a two-way street, especially when you're dealing with a stranger. You have to recognize that the intimacy of the yoga studio, the tutoring session, the hair salon, the weight bench, the therapist's office, are a.) all one, and b.) not built to last. Give, feel, care, nurture, because we are all human beings and we owe it to each other. When that person says, "Thank you!" either out loud, or with their tip, or with their eyes, take that in as deeply as you took their pain. Let healing and restoration occur. When that person walks out of the space, let them, and all the baggage you held for them in that space, go.

No, you won't go out the same way you went in any more than that person will, and thank God for that, but you won't come out weak or worn down either.

I taught four yoga classes to four different groups of people in one day. One group struggled with English, and challenged my verbal adjustment skills as well as my ability to understand with my heart instead of my ears. Another person cried on my shoulder because I reminded her that people will be nice to her. One student feared she was an imposition: the only student in a public class on an icy day. I gave the gift of welcome and hospitality. A group of three tough guys needed reassurance that they were capable. I put them in Crow and watched them soar. They all gave me gifts as well: the benefit of the doubt, their own vulnerability, and most precious-the ability to be useful to other human beings, to this planet. I didn't think through how I got through this day emotionally balanced until four days later, but I did take their gifts just as deeply into me as I took their separate pain and uncertainties, big and small.

I did take a hot bath when I got home. I did have sore hamstrings and quads for two days afterward. I did emerge a stronger, a more built up person.

Live Omily,