August 15, 2011

Watching the lady’s neck about to snap.

Today I got schooled in yoga class by a real, shall we say….Kali Durga?

I was on my mat, being a student in a friend’s sweat-tastic class this morning, blissfully unaware of my fellow students as I moved through my practice.

We’d moved into partner headstands, and all of a sudden, my own anatomy geek Spidey sense went off: I could sense a potential injury waiting to happen over to my left.

I looked, and there was a woman trying to get into her headstand, as her total beginner partner tried gingerly to hold her hips up. This yogini was rushing at her pose in a way I haven’t seen before, and hope never to again. Instead of bringing her knees in, building the arm and core strength that is the foundation of a safe neck in this pose, she was attempting to pike up with straight legs…not smoothly nor with control, but by jumping, over and over again like a pogo stick. Her neck was taking all the pressure, and it was jarring to behold, much less to be her poor body.

Now, usually, I keep my mouth shut in other people’s classes. We can’t catch everyone’s misalignments, and I respect that when I come to class, I’m there to learn…not to teach.

But watching that lady’s neck about to snap, I couldn’t take it anymore and blurted out, “You might try taking your knees into your chest first to….”

and I was about to say “to build up the foundation and core of the pose before attempting straight legs,” but she cut me off at the pass.

“I’m not trying to do it with bent legs,” she snapped. “I’m working on straight legs, and right now, I have to jump to get it.”

Then she and her partner looked at me like they worked at a swanky store and I was Julia Roberts’ Pretty Woman on Rodeo Drive. They turned away and never looked back.

Now, obviously, I was trying to help, since in this case, what she doesn’t know could hurt her…

but when I got that response, it reminded me of an old saying:

“Save your breath to cool your own porridge.”

The catty Sicilian in me also thought of another quote, this time from Iceland:

“There are many wonders in a cow’s head,”

but luckily it was far enough into class that I was able to resist the urge to fly at her sideways, feet first, like a ninja, screaming, “I’ll show you straight legs!”. No, I put my guns back in the holster, and decided to CTFO (chill the f&%k out).

Back to the first quote.

I felt shamed and indignant after reaching out with concern; angry toward this stranger who dissed me when I actually held a key to her growth.

It was her loss—after all, if she wants to headstand with straight legs, she’d be better off backing off to go deeper—bend the legs, gain arm and core power, and also work on her tight back body. Releasing her hamstrings and back was the other key to getting the hips back far enough and legs walked in far enough to create a more healthy lever at the pelvis, instead of straining the low back or potentially hurting her neck.

It’s been a source of lifelong amazement to me how often we dismiss or resist our teachers, whether they appear as our family, partners, friends, or some seemingly random encounter on a mat or a street or any old where. I do it too, whenever I think I know everything, and discount others who may have another perspective, even if it would help me get where I say I want to go.

Yet the study of yoga has taught me that all we can do, and this is a very big “all”—is to do our own work: be the most of ourselves, the most present, the most alive, the most brave and the most available to walk our own path when the next avenue appears.

It’s a secret of life that we could all probably back way off of other people, retract the claws of worry and control from all but what we can master: the quality with which we show up in each moment, and the actions we choose to take from there. If people are ready and willing to receive advice, they’ll ask for it. Still, it’s not up to us to take their process over, but to give a word of encouragement, or a statement of support for them as they do their own work—not you.

So, after that headstand exchange, I just circled back onto my own mat, and got back to business: the full time job that it is to be me. In a sweet twist of fate, part of the business of being me happened to coincide with just enough time for me to do a slow, light, headstand sequence, complete with straight legs up, down, splits, Tripod into Crow, and back up again.

Although part of me felt like Julia walking back into that same store as a rich woman dressed to the nines, and watching the salesgirl’s mouth drop open, but mostly I really wanted to do it. I just sent her good wishes, and silently thanked her for bringing up the very lesson I had to learn today: to stop butting in, and instead, lead by example, where the best possible outcome can occur for everyone involved.

Do I wish she would have been open to my suggestion? Of course. Yet it’s not my place to say what her path should be. Perhaps she’s meant to hurt herself and then learn her own lesson that way. Had I been doing my own practice instead of looking at hers, I would have been doing the pose she was aiming for, and she might have asked me about it then. We’ll never know but, for me, the point was well taken.

What’s delightful is that after class, this guy I hadn’t even noticed came up to me and said, “Thank you for your dedication—I’m new to yoga and I was able to follow your poses whenever I felt confused. And, if you don’t mind me asking…how do you get into that headstand?”

“Well,” I said, grinning…

…let me show you”.

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