The advent of Groupon, LivingSocial and other local discount websites has converted me into a fickle yoga flitterer. Yup, that’s the new yogic me, cheap ‘n easy: I’ll do it with anyone, anywhere, any time, if the price is right.
Five classes for $20? Sign me up. Style and philosophy? Doesn’t matter. I’ll try anything once – or even better, 10 times for $30.
The upside of flitting: accessible exposure to a veritable smorgasbord, enticing, scintillating variations on a yoga theme, old and new; contrived and traditional; melded and morphed; sassy, sensual and serious.
I’ve sweated to Bikram; shimmied to the oldies; meditated to silvery, shivery gongs. I’ve been massaged and manipulated, stretched and strengthened, pushed and pulled, lengthened and loosened. I’ve unleashed pranic fire, exhaled unhealthy desire, stirred and shaken my soul, rolled and rocked to the live kirtan beat.
Fun, stimulating, exciting: These words best describe my playgirl yoga experiences.
The downside of flitting: the uneasy sense I’ve strayed too far from the path, rollicking my way through Nalini’s-Adventures-In-Yoga instead of cultivating a serious practice.
I’ve experienced an oddly difficult period recently, battling, surprisingly, my health. Since the end of August, there’s been one illness after another, one slight setback after the other. Bouts of wellness have been sandwiched in between common colds, pneumonia, viruses, bugs, biopsies, cuttings, scrapings and scans – with more tests to come and with each answer leading to more questions. Each invasive test steers me closer toward something that’s starting to feel major, and the continual insults to both my physical body and my mental state have dragged me down to some pretty low moments.
At such moments, yoga simply hasn’t been enough to pull me from the depths.
So my thoughts have begun turning inward as I fight to maintain equilibrium. And I wonder: Am I stressed and worn out because I’ve played and strayed? Am I paying the price for forsaking a focused long-term personal practice in pursuit of easily available present pleasures?
A while back, I fell into yoga without a plan and frankly, without a clue. A friend told me I’d like it. I’d heard it relieved stress. It was offered cheaply through the local community school and best of all, for a frazzled full-time mom, the classes provided a twice-weekly escape from the house and parental responsibilities.
Those early classes were held in a dusty, dirty high school gymnasium in which lingered the stale smell of old sneakers and hard play. The air was always slightly too cold, kicking into bracingly icy high gear just as we downshifted into low gear for quiet contemplation. Judging by setting alone, peace and serenity were elusive at best.
The teacher herself was an odd combination of diehard hippy, new-age philosopher, and insightful diviner. Her distinctively gravelly voice guided us through body-transcending meditations, her waist-long braid flapped idly over her shoulder as she demonstrated postures that seemed impossible. In those days, she always lit candles – orange light flickering around her, casting the proceedings in an otherworldly glow.
Sometimes she’d speak about her swami, leaving us hanging in poses for interminably long spells, shaking with exertion as she spun her tale. In the beginning, I thought she was a bit flaky, lost in her own memories, but much later into my own practice, I realized she knew exactly what she was doing.
In this unlikely setting, I found, for the first time, glimmers of inner stillness I didn’t know I was missing. I came to crave these classes, my twice-weekly sojourn away from my whirling thoughts and toward my quieter self, guided by a healer with a sixth sense and a generous heart. There was nothing particularly flashy about her style: solidly rooted in sivananda, shifting and changing according to the mood of the class, incorporating bits and pieces of other styles, but never straying past a holistic mind-body-spirit approach.
A few years later, my teacher moved her classes to a new location that suited her perfectly: a county park, nestled among native Florida palms and brush, rife with birds and butterflies. But the times for her new classes no longer suited me, now working full time and becoming increasingly mired in long, slow, painful changes to my own life. For a while, consumed with upheavals, I practiced no yoga at all. When I finally felt compelled to return to the fold, I began the first of my long experimentations with various, more vigorous styles that were based on price and available time slots.
As the difficult phase of my personal life came to its inevitable conclusion, my passion for yoga was reborn, rising insistently from deep in my soul. Suddenly, my teacher’s words returned full force, echoing in my head: long ago, she had suggested that I should become a yoga teacher.
And so I did.
The training I embarked upon in some ways mirrored my own crooked yoga path: multi-disciplinary, a layered introduction to many styles. I loved the constant stimulation of the new and shiny. After graduation, I continued to follow the teachers who’d inspired me, willy-nilly, no matter what their philosophy or style was: a rather disjointed approach with no continuity.
And then came Groupon…and my complete loss of control.
I am lying on my back fading into savasana, skin clammy and dripping with sweat, trying to ignore the mosquito that is snacking on my forearm. My body, loose, stretched and satiated, is melting into the earth as my mind floats free.
The nuances of nature stir my senses. At the slightest wisp of a breeze, the hair on my skin rises a little, seeking the gentle caress of the wind. Through half-shuttered eyelids, I cannot help but watch yellow and orange butterflies wing past me, so close I can almost reach out to them, while snowy egrets circle above, wings spread in magnificent exuberant glory. Palm fronds rustle, swaying as the clouds gather, adding a rhythmic backdrop to the music set forth by cicadas. A soft drop of rain lands on my cheek, followed by another, then another, then another.
I feel light, I feel at peace.
I’ve just completed a class with my very first teacher. Sometime in the midst of my personal challenges, I became irresistibly drawn, as if by magnets, back to this place, and so I’ve unrolled my mat in the park almost every Saturday for the past two months. Even though I still play and frolic through my practice, even though I still experiment with other classes, I’ve come to realize that this is the class that centers me.
My soul is soothed. My heart is nourished.
I have come full circle.
I have returned, at last, to my source.
Melinda Matthews lives in sunny South Florida, where she eschews the norm and spends very little time on the beach. Instead, she’s an urban planner by profession and a newly-minted yoga teacher by passion. She’s also a bit of a dilettante and a dabbler: a wannabe artist, writer, musician. Find her random musings at http://naliniyogini.wordpress.com/ .