(Scrabble Tile Pendant from Gratitude Jewelry)
Saturday morning I made some Tanzanian coffee and devoured a juicy honeycrisp apple and headed off to meet Jen for yoga. I had been looking forward to this time for weeks. Not only because I was craving the warmth and renewal that comes from a hot yoga class but also because I am so grateful for moments with friends.
Upon arrival – and prior to the class – Jen and I excitedly chatted and caught up on life. We weren’t talking too loudly (our collective enthusiasm can often cause the decibels to climb) but nonetheless got scolded by our soon-to-be yoga instructor. We rolled with it and just continued with our smiles and happy talk. We were just thrilled as ever to be TOGETHER. Now that is all that really should ever matter but on this particular day we were both to be challenged in that assumption.
We tip-toed our way into the yoga studio and got ready for a 90 minute workout for our minds and bodies. In most yoga classes, the instructor starts class off with a welcome and a brief note about “intention”. Then we launch into a series of standing poses and it continues from there. This is what I have come to know. On this particular day, I attended a class by an instructor with whom I had no familiarity. I can’t say whether it was his teaching style or the special holiday weekend but what followed was a 15 minute diatribe on how the purpose of yoga is not to get a tight butt (his words) but rather it is “meditation”. He stepped further up on his soap box and “shoulded” around talking about how we “should” be grateful as members of a tiny, privileged percentage of the world who can waltz into a yoga class on a Saturday morning. (Jen respectfully disagreed with this statement – both as someone who practices yoga but also someone who has travelled to parts of the world in which yoga is arguably a traditional and spiritual practice .)
I enjoy hearing what people have to say about many topics including yoga but not in a class in which etiquette requires that I do not talk and thus am subjected to a lecture for which I have not signed up. I felt horribly trapped – forced to listen to someone imposing their belief system on me but without the ability to contribute to a dialogue around it. I had no voice and it started to make me feel uncomfortable – to the point where I wanted to leave the room. Instead, I used my best skills to tune out his voice so that I could hear my own. And then finally the instruction began. I have never been so GRATEFUL.
But our troubles didn’t end there. Both Jen and I got chastised for not having proper ALIGNMENT. I was attempting dancer’s pose – one of my favourites. It really tests my balance, core and hips. The yoga instructor came up to me and said, “Your thigh isn’t parallel to the floor so you shouldn’t be bending forward.” What the heck does that mean? My thigh is NEVER parallel to the floor unless I am laying flat on it (which I wasn’t)! My yoga practice is NOT about achieving perfect alignment or a state of nirvana. Neither of which I was ever going to reach in this particular class. At one point, I was certain he was going to start grading everyone’s poses. I was terribly distracted to say the least.
So what’s the point here? I have two things to say about this experience.
- I enjoy yoga. I attend classes because there is something powerful about the synchronicity of 40 people moving and breathing in unison. I love the warmth of hot yoga studios – it heats me up from my head to my toes. I like the experience of challenging myself – physically and mentally. And yes I do love the fact that I can get a tighter butt and flatter tummy but also stronger legs and healthier heart. Yoga, for me, is also about the positive teacher-student relationship that can result from a philosophy of FUN (yes people FUN!). My instructors have generally been encouraging and positive (with calming “radio” voices) and that empowers me to continue.
- I believe that gratitude cannot be derived from guilt or sermon – like most things, by the way. It comes from within and it really is more of an attitude than anything else. No one can truly influence or convince you to be grateful. You either are or you aren’t. We all have moments when we take for granted who we have in our lives or what we are to the world. It’s part of being human. And the potential to recognize our shortcomings and re-adjust is equally human. Gratitude as attitude – is how I like to think about it. This is my perspective and I am clear not to impose it on others. What is your take on gratitude? You may have an alternate perspective and perhaps in this difference is the potential for meaningful dialogue. At least, that is my hope.
On this thanksgiving weekend, I have many blessings to count. Among these are my inspiring family, my loving fiance, my courageous friends, my constant breath and my full heart. I also thank you for reading and sharing your insights and thoughts with me over these 200 or so posts. I greatly value them.
Wishes for a warm and happy thanksgiving!