More and more I see people uploading pictures of themselves doing some hard core yoga poses on social media. On instagram there are even daily challenge from a so-called yoga expert to his/her followers to do certain poses. These poses are cool to see, intriguing and motivating, but sometimes also misleading.
I have to admit that I have done my fair share of showing off on social media. Thinking back to those days always makes me kind of embarrassed, but I need to own it because at that point I was where I was supposed to be. I guess that was part of my journey and now I have to live with seeing my boastful ego in each of those pictures. That same ego still follows me every time I do my practice and I've been trying to find a way to work with it and not for it. Because let's just face it, praises and adoration fuel the ego and when that happens somehow we thought it was happiness or worse, contentment.
More than once people would come to me and say that they had been thinking of doing yoga but they kept hesitating because they were not flexible. I guess that is the number one reason people don't step into a yoga class. They do not want to look silly standing beside other students that they thought were flexible. I would always say, "You don't need to be flexible to do yoga." As long as someone is breathing, I would say that yoga is for them. The crazy poses with those arm balances or unbelievable backbends are not for everyone. People should realize that before injuries occur, because they do occur.
I am one of the flexible people in my yoga class. I really am not saying that to be condescending, but to say that it really does not mean anything at all. There are poses that I could easily get into, because I was built to do them easily. I am petite and I did ballet in the past, so some poses do work in my favor. Nonetheless there are times when I tried to hard, I forced, struggled and obsessed until I felt pain and then I would feel stupid for pushing my way into a pose. It is just a pose. People need to lighten up and realize that the poses are only a small part of yoga. I need to remind myself that every single day. It is just a pose. The world will not collapse if I can't do a handstand or a stupid standing bow.
My yoga training included a posture clinic where we went through poses one by one, discussing the benefits, the anatomy and the correct way to do them. We spent a lot of hours to do so. I would have nights where I dreamed of those poses. It was that intense and I would be extremely critical to myself when doing the poses. At the same time we also learned about why the poses came second. Or maybe third. I couldn't really grasp the concept until I did some special classes as part of my training and also when I had finished the training.
The classes were special because almost everyone in these classes had mobility limitation. Flexibility is a word that would be taken as mockery in these classes. Unless if we were talking about flexibility of the mind. I have had the privilege of giving yoga classes to people in wheelchairs, people with Multiple Sclerosis, senior people who were senile and totally immobile except for some movement of the wrists. These are the kind of classes that make me love to share my passion for yoga and not because I pity them, but because in these classes yoga feels pure, yoga is believable, yoga is not seen as a place for competition.
The first time I came to teach in a Senior home here in Houston, I really did not know what I was going into. I did not have the slightest idea what I was about to encounter. It was actually my yoga teacher's class and she asked me to sub because she could not do it that day.
My yoga teacher that I love and adore is 74 years old. Her mind is sharp, she has terrific posture, she is independent, she is passionate, she is the very definition of being alive. She is the one person that makes me think that age really does not matter. One does not have to be old when they get older. One does not have to give up youth as they experienced life longer. Somehow she makes age just as it is: numbers.
Coming to my first yoga class in a senior home I was welcomed by a startling view. My class was a group of 7 people, all in their wheelchairs and -I believe- most of them were senile. Actually, all except one, he was in his bed and looked unconscious. I was more than discouraged, I was ready to jump out the window and ran as fast I could. I did not though. The class was on the 4th floor. I stayed and struggled to do the class. I had taught a class for people with MS and there were interactions, there were a sense of a normal class only with a lot of modifications and that was fine. That was absolutely fine with me. In the senior home, there was almost no movement, let alone an interaction. I felt like I was the only person alive in the room. I was on the verge of crying because the class felt like hours when it was only 35 minutes and I had ran out of ideas.
I had to totally alter my routine. I did a lot of fingers, wrists and ankles movements. I had them breathing with me. Breathing alone was a struggle in the class. Some of them followed my instructions, other fell asleep or started talking to themselves. At one point I had to really pray that nobody would die, because I honestly felt like some of them were slipping away. It was scary. By the end of the 35-minute class I was drained. My level of energy was so low that I felt like taking a nap right there and then. It was gruesome, but it was also awesome because I had the chance to experience something so out of my comfort zone. Something so new and challenging. To me, more than contorting poses, classes like these are the true challenge.
The one thing that made the whole experience more than worthy to repeat was when I had the opportunity to talk to them one-by-one after class. Some would just repeat their sentences over and over again while others would tell me about their past as if I was someone who really knew them. They would say thank you and how they enjoyed the class. The class that I had made up along the way while silently crying and wanting to bail. I would say thank you back because I was really grateful and because they made me felt the presence of my grandmother. They made me realize how uncomplicated it was to be compassionate. How easy it was to take things easily. Those souls, in the body of a senile old lady or a dying old man, humbled me with their presence. It was enough by them just being there in the class, doing the breathing, struggling to breathe.
The second time my teacher asked if I could do another class in the senior home I immediately said yes. I was shocked by my own enthusiasm, remembering how disastrous my last class was. I guess it was my teacher's voice that made me excited to come back there. Over and over again she would say that everyday is different and I thought that I owed myself at least another try.
So in that Friday morning, a frisky Friday morning, I chose the craziest pair of socks I had in my drawer. They were knee-length high socks with black and white stripes and separated colorful toes. Crazy is an understatement. I covered the socks with my boots. My class that morning was consisted of sweet old ladies and a couple of gentlemen. As usual, everyone was in their wheelchairs, talking to themselves, sleeping or looking at me confused. They might had initially wanted to do tennis or waterski, yet they were brought to a yoga class, because it was hard to do tennis or waterski with a wheelchair and we were nowhere near a mass of water.
I took off my boots and they were immediately drawn to my socks. They might wonder how someone could find such hideous socks, but at least I had their attention. I started the class with a totally different attitude and approach. There was no discouragement or hesitation, I went head first to become the most energized yoga teacher I could possibly be. I made myself the center of attention, addressing each and every one of them with the biggest smile I had, assuring them that the movements and breathing we did were doable and even good for them. I felt like a clown in a 5-year old birthday party, but it was a success. I got more reaction, even lit up a few pair of eyes. It was awesome!
In the end I was still drained, but at least it was because I consciously sent my energy out to them and not because they unconsciously took it from me. There is a big difference. I was a messenger of energy and it is the best part of being a yoga instructor. And those kind of experiences are the reasons I do what I do.
So I guess competitive yoga is not for me. Besides, I don't think competitive yoga exists. Yoga is the very opposite of competition and that is my lesson learned. This journey has its ups and downs. The downs are important, but when it comes to the ups, it gives me a high no drugs could ever provide.