November 30, 2009

How My Yoga Neighbor Teaches Me Yoga

This is a story I posted a few months back of a situation I encountered in yoga class one day. I have re-worked and it is much better flowing and more clear. Please send your comments!

Yoga class (unspoken) etiquette rule #1: Do not enter the yogic space of your next-door yoga neighbor. Your presence is not welcome. Thank You.

After three agonizing days of a sketching intensive in my summer design fundamentals course at Carnegie Mellon University, I had an intense craving for a vigorous yoga class. I had just moved to Pittsburgh from Los Angeles, the yoga capital of the US. While in LA, yoga had developed into a platform for my sanity. The focus on the droplet of salty sweat trickling from my brow to my cheek to my lips; the intense Ujjayi breath stinging the insides of my nose and throat, energizing my entire body; the ease of meditative bliss after 75 minutes of intensity - all contributed to my dependence on this trendy, spiritual path.

It was a lukewarm Tuesday in Pittsburgh. My body was tired and my mind was racing. I trudged up the stairs of the Amazing Yoga Shadyside studio juggling my block, yogamat, towel, and water-bottle. I dropped everything down in my usual spot - middle center, between two people - and went to sign in. Everything was normal. The instructors sat in the front gossiping subtlely as they waited for 5:45 p.m. The smell of the incense burned through the air as the heat magnified its smoky aroma. I handed my ten-class punch card to the desk-receptionist and turned back towards my space.

A curly redhead had placed her mat down next to mine and because I was preoccupied setting my intention for class, I disregarded her over-sized neon-blue beach towel breaking rule #1 of good yoga etiquette - it touched every adjacent mat, including mine. Deepening my inhalations I spread my Yogitoes towel onto my mat and collapsed into Child’s pose. The bustle of people slowed down and the instructor took attention.

Suryanamaskar A.
[inhale] Arms reach high.
[exhale] Fold.
[inhale] Halfway lift.
[exhale] Chaturanga.
[inhale] Upward-facing Dog.
[exhale] Downward-facing Dog.

I melted into non-thinking. The soothing oceanic waves of breath through the classroom; the choreographed lightness of the chaturanga jumpback; the throaty vibrations of sound exiting the instructors lips - all reinforced successful meditation.

[inhale] Step the left foot forward. Warrior I.
[exhale] Open the arms. Warrior II.
[inhale] Lift the right leg up. Ardha Chandrasana.

“Yes! Half-Moon.” I thought. Ardha Chandrasana is a balancing pose capable of disclosing years of tension while allowing the heart and spine to open and be free. When achieved in all its glory, Half-Moon feels phenomenal. However, the focus must remain on a perfectly still object while the breath is deep and the abdominal muscles are tightly engaged. Elated, I began the search for my Drishti. Typically I locate a well-formed lump in the drywall. I balance. Stare. Engage. Breathe. Then I step my gaze up until it has reached the ceiling. Once there I find a hole in the acoustic paneling to stare at, and then my arms and legs can soar into Half-Moon. Today of course, Rule-Breaking-Yogi - you know, the curly redhead - wobbled back and forth obstructing the view to all drywall lump Drishtis. Not being unusual to teeter in Half-Moon, I tried to ignore her and brought my gaze straight to the ceiling. I hardly reached my Half-Moon climax when my foot obnoxiously crashed down with a loud thud. Oops.

[exhale] Release the right foot next to left.
[inhale] Switch sides. Ardha Chandrasana.

To my left was a strong Half-Mooner. She obviously practiced yoga often, so I had no worries this time around. My left leg rose. Lump #1. Lump #2. Hips stack. Lump #3. Inhale. Exhale. Abdominals tight. Inhale. Exhale. I had almost taken my gaze to the ceiling effortlessly when I noticed steamy, humid air blowing onto my back. Oscillating-Redhead had her mouth wide open and she panted every last bit of her hot, sticky breath over the line into my yogic space. Rule #1 broken again. “Breathe through your nose,” I wanted to say. The sound of my foot crashing again disrupted my thoughts. Usually, I don’t notice a single person in the room when I practice, but today was especially a challenge. Out of desperation, my mantra changed from the usual “Ham-sa” to “She does not exist.” I chanted this over and over again. She does not exist. She does not exist. Class continued on and despite the breathy gasping next door, I managed to return to the present.

Ahimsa - one of the five Yamas of Patanjali’s eight-fold path - means non-violence. It can pertain to anything from eating strictly plant-based foods to denying negative thoughts towards another. Sometimes Ahimsa is effortless - like abstaining from swatting a fly or kicking someone. However, in certain annoying situations, Ahimsa-deficiency is highly likely.

Class finally reached its pinnacle and I was exhausted. My hair, shirt, pants, face, towel, block, watch, and everything else within a one-inch radius of my mat was doused in secretion soup. For today, my clarity of mind was not going any deeper.

[exhale] Float the hips back. Child’s pose.

Aaaaah. The room sighed in utter relaxation and then, of course, the stillness was broken with a loud whisper. “What a tough class.” It came from the mat to my right (from Redhead / Oscillating Half-Moon / Hot-Breath - pick a name). Humorously annoyed, I thought, “Who would have thought after all the puffing and panting, she would be so worn out?” I caught myself: “Okay Sarah. Positive thoughts. Ahimsa.”

[inhale] Come to standing
[exhale] Lower down. Crow.

I prepared for another of my favorite poses. As I steadily lowered my hands to the floor, Hot-Breath plotted her final disruption. She sucked on her water-bottle waiting for the stars to align in perfect synchronization. And then as she finished her last gulp, an intestinal water-y belch exited her mouth and went straight for my Ujjayi inhale. “Sorry!” She loudly whispered as she looked up at me, mortified. I chuckled and as I floated into Crow I whispered, “It’s okay.” And it was.

1 comment:

  1. I love your writing, Sarah! Thanks for sharing more!