They say you always remember your first time.
After six months of classes, chanting and practice, practice, practicing—including a weekend juice cleanse when I had been omnivorous—I finally held my RYT 200 card securely in hand, and was to lead my first ever full hour-long yoga class! I had my playlist all ready. I spent most of the week devising a vinyasa flow to cater to a specific intention I had been planning to express. I felt, for the most part, pretty well prepared.
It was a crisp Sunday morning at the forward edge of winter. At 10 minutes to class, I sat alone in the studio. By the time the hour rolled around, three people had shown up. Two were young women who had never been to the studio; they had simply heard through the grapevine that there was a donation-based yoga class being offered and decided that this day was a great day to introduce yoga into their lives. Another was a regular guest at the studio.
I had just gotten through setting intentions and beginning easy warmups when the doorbell rang.
A friend of mine was at the door. She’s also looking to go into yoga teacher training, and she has a powerful motivation to: she’s not yet 30 years old and already a recovering stroke victim. Her sympathy towards the disabled and recovering far and away trumps the best empathy I could ever muster. She brought a friend along who was also new to the studio.
So, let’s recap: I had five students, four of which had never practiced at the studio before, and two were new to yoga entirely. To add to the difficulty of this class, I had been contacted the prior evening by a friend I hadn’t seen in almost 10 years, and she insisted that we catch up, despite my repeated protests that no, really, I have to work on this thing before I get some sleep. My sacrifice was my script for the ending sequence.
I started them moving through sun salutes, teaching them the sequence and going through it a few times with them before turning them loose to do two more on their own. The two new yoga students looked at each other. But I felt like my teacher very nearly stole my body and cheerfully instructed through my voice, “If you don’t know it, just make it up or glance sideways. There isn’t a test or a grade, I promise.” I even think I sounded a little like her when I said it.
We progressed a little unsteadily through most of the sequence. There were one or two poses where I’d see my friend make a face, at which point I’d gently assess what she was trying to accomplish, and from there we’d work to get the pose right for her body. Fortunately, the studio is well-armed with blocks, straps and bolsters, and there was very little that couldn’t be accomplished with the aid of props and creativity.
And then we came to the ending sequence. I still had a solid 10 minutes before Savasana (corpse pose/final rest). This was where something magical started to happen.
I had no plan.
I had no script.
I had no teacher to guide me.
As the walls of my confidence began to crumble, I remembered what it was that I did have: I had an intention. I had six months of practicing modified Primary Series flows. And lastly, I had five students that had no idea that I was at the end of the road.
Patanjali wrote that you begin to see benefits of prolonged practice. Six months of the same poses over and over again in my personal practice gave me a plethora of ending sequence poses to choose from. I also knew that instead of—say—shoulder-stand, legs-up-the-wall pose was a perfectly viable inversion alternative. A short sequence assembled itself in my head, with a feeling that hit me like a flashlight being turned on in my face. So, we wound up workshopping legs-up-the-wall pose.
Later that week, I was talking to a chef friend of mine about the class. After retelling my story, he laughed and said, “You know how many dinners I’ve run where, on the day of, I had to change this course or that dish because I couldn’t get the ingredients or the space to prep some part of it? That’s kind of what it sounds like. You can’t just cancel the dinner and go run off screaming back to the drawing board.”
He went on to add: ultimately, what the people want is food, and they want it because they’re hungry. So what if it’s soaked in vegetable broth or white wine reduction? If it nourishes, the rest is just flavor.
But what really struck me was that he pointed out that chefs aren’t chefs because they follow menus, or even because they devise menus. A chef becomes a chef (as opposed to a cook) when they understand food so intimately that the recipe book becomes nothing more than inspiration. They make choices based on the needs of the moment rather than follow ink on a page.
My teachers have often said, “Leap, and trust the net to form beneath you.”
The ending sequence was perhaps a better ending than I could have planned. It was an authentic moment where I acknowledged the presence of and the individual needs of my class—not the whims of the script I’d devised the week before.
My friend who came late had ended up staying in legs-up-the-wall pose through Savasana. We talked about it afterwards. She told me that she really needed that, and it was something she was going to incorporate into her life and her practice. I hadn’t written that pose into my script (nor had I intended to), yet it had been perhaps the most important part of her practice that day.
I’m not about to throw away my scripts and put on my best Bill O’Reilly impression (NSFW), but I do feel that I learned something from my students that morning about yoga—and about cooking, too. I’m sure that it has to do with the removal of ego and the reliance upon learned wisdom and all that stuff we talked about for six months, to which I nodded my head obediently and jotted notes in my little pocketbook. However, what I thought in that moment was that, when the people are hungry, they want food.
I don’t think people come to yoga because their lives are storyboard great, their bodies are as perfect as they imagine and they feel at one with their god; they come because they are hungry. It’s our duty as chefs, friends or teachers, to provide for those who enter our spaces. And when the people come for dinner, excuses and apologies make for very thin dishes. So next time you open the fridge, and you find that you can’t make that awesome dish you saw online that one time, well…
…then it’s time to go digging in the pantry.
Kevin Macku is a 20-something fledgeling yogi with a love of words. He is a trained actor who occasionally appears in local movies and on stage. His preferred methods of expression are based in movement: Suzuki’s Training for the Classical Actor, Viewpoints and Butoh to name a few, all of which benefit from the practice of yoga. In the midst of a rigorous physical practice, he discovered he was undergoing a spiritual transformation, and began to document the experience. These entries can be found at http://doafy.posterous.com/. Kevin himself can be reached at [email protected].
Ed: Kate B.