About a year ago, I was resting in savasana (“corpse pose,” or final resting position) at the end of a yoga class, and without anticipation, a flood of thoughts drifted in and out of my mind…thoughts that were inspiring to my life in that moment, or were just introspective and meaningful to me. Unfortunately, these ruminating moments would often escape me as swiftly and as unexpectedly as they arrived in my mind. I began to bring a journal in my car with me when I attended other teacher’s yoga classes this year so I could write down some of these thoughts that came to me while they were still new. Although I cannot capture every fleeting one that drifts to me during the practice, I am able to at least reflect on some. So, for fun, I thought I’d periodically share a few of these entries with you. I call these musings (which are at times silly) my “Yoga diary.”
Entry #1, January 2013 – Shifting my perspective
Have you ever misread a person based on what you have become accustomed to in your own life, and enjoyed that moment of transformation when your perspective changes? That is what happened to me today when I attended a yoga class.
All day, I had been looking forward to my evening yoga. The chill of western New York’s winter makes my joints stiff, and a heated vinyasa yoga class often feels as healing for me as a burst of warm sunshine. As I excitedly arrived to class, I laid out my mat and descended my back upon my bolster, peacefully awaiting an inspiring and invigorating practice. I’ve been to this teacher’s class before, and I’ve always left feeling uplifted. A moment later, however, I was abruptly distracted by the person who placed her mat next to mine. An attractive young woman whipped her mat opened and flung it on the floor with a thud. She proceeded to plop down on it, and then began to madly type on her Iphone in what appeared to be a heated and overwrought text discussion. The chomping of her gum sounded like clamps grinding inside of my ears.
Well, we all have our peeves. Some people get annoyed by loud groans or overtly expressive yogis, or exponentially heavy breathing. These things have never bothered me in class or otherwise. But, chomp loudly on a piece of gum, or chew incessantly on food with a gaping open mouth, or go for an hour madly sniffling the uncontrollable flow of mucus as it dangles from un-blown nostrils, and my yogic disposition quickly goes awry. Whether I’m on a flight, in a yoga class, or next to someone in a meeting, these peeves can challenge me. So, as you can imagine, having this woman park her mat about three inches from mine while engaging in these activities brought an abrupt halt to my previously blissful pre-yoga state I was entering. I reminded myself of what I learned from a Buddhist monk once, who suggested I try meditating in the middle of a busy parking lot to challenge my concentration. That, he said, would make me truly centered. Alas, this reasoning rarely works for me in real life, especially if I try to self-impose it in a preachy way.
Class began with the teacher instructing us the settle into child’s pose (balasana) and release our hips while focusing on our breath. I half followed her instructions as I irritably listened to the semi-rhythmic incisors of my neighbor, wondering how she will keep her gum in her mouth when she is flipped upside-down in a standing splits pose…would she still try to chew it? I wondered. Perhaps she would give it a rest for a while and wedge it behind her molars or under her tongue? Hmmm…I started to think of the potential options she could choose from to keep her gum in her mouth. Meanwhile, as these “unyogic” thoughts plagued my mind, she quickly exited her balasana for a moment to reply to a text mid-pose.
As we proceeded through the practice, however, a shift occurred. We began to flow through our sun salutations, and I noticed that she was quite lost in the practice. She frequently looked over at me, imitating my movements. I glanced at her from the corner of my left eye, and she smiled at me. “I have no idea what I’m doing, but I’m glad I’m next to someone who does. I’ve been wanting to try yoga for a long time, and I’m finally at a class!” she exclaimed. At that same moment, the teacher stated “our actions and feeling in life will be guided by our thoughts and perceptions, so make the choice to shift your perceptions to those that make you feel good.” I suddenly saw this young woman in a different light. She had never tried yoga before. Instead of seeing an annoying, gum-chomping, ignorant girl, I suddenly saw someone who is just conditioned to the use of modern technology and external distractions as most of us are in our outside lives. Having never previously practiced yoga, there was not any reason for her to act otherwise in class. Her intentions were not even slightly malicious. I found myself wondering if some of those who are new to yoga come to class and see these experienced yogis lifting their legs over their shoulders with ease, or launching effortlessly into parsva bakasana (side crow pose), and feel too intimidated to ever walk into a class again. Most of us are conditioned to a paradigm of constant distractions in our daily lives…texts, e-mails, social media, etc. Becoming disengaged from this, even for an hour, can seem almost foreign to someone who has never been introduced to the concept.
As I switched to a place of compassion, I thought instead of how great it was for her to just be there. It changed the entire experience for me in class. I remembered how much yoga transformed my life years ago, and how unaware I was in the beginning of the yoga concept of Dharana, which means (in short) to cultivate inner awareness, and how often I still don’t practice this outside of (or in the case of today, even inside of) the yoga room. I was able to laugh at the situation, and at how my reaction and judgments were just as affecting to my practice as the gum chomping and texting may have been to hers. But I was even more struck by how profound a smile and a friendly face is. It can literally transform everything about a person, making our initial judgments of someone change entirely. This concept is far from new to me, but being reminded to stay aware of it still felt new in that moment.
My practice that day had turned into one of the best yoga classes I have attended in weeks. I felt revived after this experience, noticing how simple and powerful shifting our own thoughts can be. I then trailed off into a blissful savasana before reenacting my senses.