November 27, 2013

Coming to Yoga, Learning to See. ~ Nora Neill.

“The teacher points where to look, but does not tell you what to see.”

~Veronique Jewell

It’s Friday. My feet walk across the swirly cork floor and I lay out my prana, “life force,” mat, take blocks, a strap and a bolster from the prop shelves and sit. The dense rectangle with rounded corners rests beneath me and my legs fold, cross-legged, lower than my waist. Opening the hips, I remember. It feels good, relaxing, familiar.

By mid class, I’m sweating. My long time teacher softly dictates one move after another, then she weaves her legs into lotus and asks us to do the same. I cross one leg over the other, sort of, and wait. I am nervous that I will hurt myself and my toes keep sliding down off my thigh on one side and my calf on the other. She urges us to lift ourselves, using blocks if we need to and swing. I smile, not in an advanced yoga sort of way and begin to blame.

She doesn’t understand her class, I think, I, we, can’t do this! Incredulous, momentarily, and then I notice.

There I was, in that familiar pattern that so often haunts me, blaming others for my discomfort. I saw it there, looking at me, a guest I never invited. So I lifted my bottom only an inch or two of the ground and rocked, not gracefully, forward and back with my one heavy leg flopping against the ground, only managing half a lotus.

I didn’t master the pose in that moment, but I did learn more than a funky new way to build strength. Swirling in front of me like the floor, I noticed a pattern and through observation, pure presence with my current state of being, I opened a choice: to be hijacked by my autopilot or allow the knowledge derived from observation to take me to new territory. I chose to feel my discomfort, pure and present.

Years ago, before I began a weekly yoga ritual, I started my journey through videos, short Rodney Yee videos that I turned off as soon as the stretching was done. No savasana, corpse or the final resting pose for me.

I couldn’t find that yogic space on my own, with only a distant teacher to guide me, but something in me was drawn to yoga, to the thing beyond stretching, beyond exercise, that it seemed to offer. So, with peaked interest, I signed up for an introductory class.

There I met a new kind of yoga.

On that first day of class, as we sat as instructed and listened to our first yoga lesson, I remember hearing that we might not be accustomed to sitting cross-legged for so long. That this might be the first time we were really in our bodies all day.

Yeah, I thought, that’s me. Outta my body.

I liked the class so much after two weeks I went to a weekend community class at the same studio. These classes are taught by various instructors and they are meant for all levels. Clearly I wasn’t even at a level yet. I went, but I didn’t even know how to get into downward facing dog. The teacher seemed to look at me with worry and confusion, not even knowing what adjustment might help me understand what was going on.

I felt awkward, lost, unlike the yoginis surrounding me, adept and ready for each new warrior pose. They were fully ensconced in practice, with lovely yogic tattoos to show devotion and an appreciation I didn’t quite get. After the class, I was tired, sore, depleted and embarrassed by my beginner self. My observation muscle was not yet honed and those feelings remained unrecognized.

Acceptance did not welcome me home.

Years later, still a yoga and mindfulness student, I sit in front of my mom and she begins talking about my dad. I notice that familiar ache in my chest. I pause. I respond, I bring the kindness I would like to; pure presence in my body, in my life.

I sit in front of my dad and he begins talking about my mom. I notice that familiar ache in my chest. I pause. I feel the yoga living with me; I am mindful.

Once I found a way to the power of observation, my way of being could unfold. I could move beyond survival. I keep reaching in through yoga, learning what it means to be me.

I keep taking myself back to class. When I’m tired. When I’m sad. I make the choice, because I can. Yoga and mindfulness, has opened that possibility for me.

In class this morning, I thought about happiness, noticing the dreary perspective I dragged into the studio. Soon I laugh, embracing each moment as it comes, right there on the mat and nowhere else. I am not ashamed and I do not blame.

Veronique guides us through our final quiet moments together, “The teacher points where to look, but does not tell you what to see.”  With that in mind, I pick up my mat, heading back into the world with light spinning in my heart and a full spectrum of life to notice, to see, moment by moment.


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Assistant Editor: Gabriela Magana / Catherine Monkman

{Photo: Wikimedia Commons.}

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