I’ve lived my life based on the notion of keeping things “real”. In other words, working with what I’ve got from where I’m at. Little did I know that that kind of thinking is actually Yogic in nature: never knew I was a philosophy kinda guy. I also have this tendency to tell it like it is, call a spade a spade: I think you get the picture.
Since I began my Yoga practice I’ve noted a few things here and there out in the Yoga world; specifically, things that come into play when I’m on my own mat in a self-practice or leading a class.
Without labeling things that give rise to the Ego, here’s a topic that really hit home in a class recently and I figured I’d share it here.
Let’s call him Louis (name changed to protect the innocent!). Louis is 70 years old. Through discussing Louis with other teachers I learned a bit about him. For instance, he participates in all kinds of activities: swimming, weight lifting, etc.. He never fails to get to classes everyday (bar illness or emergency).
The day I began teaching at the ‘Y’, he jumped right in. Mind you, the first class I taught was an intermediate level class though some of the poses may be considered advanced by some. To say the least I was pleasantly surprised to see such an elderly statesman in the group.
As I lead the class, I constantly scanned the classroom for any possible adjustments or corrections in posture, signs of distress, etc. Admittedly, I kept a possibly ‘more’ watchful eye towards Louis.
I went through my mental checklists as I was describing each pose and posture: foot placement/alignment, knees, hip placement, etc. Sure enough in each pose Louis was right on key and in step with everyone…his ‘floating pigeon’ was admirable.
As we came down to the mat and began a series of seated postures I began to see a change in Louis’ facial expressions and how his outward demeanor seemed to change a bit. Rather than a focused gaze, er drishti, he seemed a bit lost: this concerned me.
So, as I lead the class into a badha konasana (cobbler) pose I carefully watched Louis for a moment. Since I intended to keep the class in that pose for no less than two minutes I left my spot and made my way over to him, assisting a few others along the way to give a nonchalant appearance to what I was doing.
I kneeled down next to Louis as I observed him straining to keep his back straight and then arching it to place his head closer to his feet. I asked him to unclench his jaw and to keep his spine aligned and to not look down, rather look across the room at the wall and he obliged.
I soon resumed my place at the center of class and moved on to other postures, janu sirsasana (forehead to knee) and paschimotanasa (seated forward fold) scanning the classroom but always pausing at Louis.
At the end of class I chatted with the students getting as much feedback as possible. Then I saw Louis sitting putting on his socks and shoes and approached him to get some feedback from him.
I was taken aback by his words. He angrily told me that I should have ‘let him be’ while he practiced. I was speechless for a moment. Then the moment came that I visualized one of the other teachers telling me about all of Louis’ activities.
I then sat down across from him and began to speak. I asked him about his activities at the Y. He rattled off an impressive list of his activities. I calmed myself by first taking a deep breath. I then repeated what he said and added “you can do all that and you’re worried about putting your head on a foam mat?”
His eyes lit up.
I then reminded him that he is 70 years old and that he didn’t get to be 70 years old by being foolish or intentionally harming himself. That, in fact, had he continued in those particular poses in the manner he had been; he might very well harm himself and not be physically able to participate in other classes he enjoyed. Of course, I added with sincerity, that I want to see him coming around for another 70 years if possible.
Our conversation ended on a more upbeat note than it started and I think I gained a friend from that experience. I reminded him that class would begin at 10:30 AM sharp on Saturday and I expected to see him.
That experience is worth sharing. Regardless of your age or physical prowess, Yoga is about ease of movement: not strain. I can assure you there is no gold coin or token waiting for you the moment your head reaches the mat, your knee, ankle or foot.
Besides, once your head does reach your ankle… there’s always another little something you can add on to it to challenge yourself more. However, sometimes the challenge is to keep it real and work from where you’re at.