I teach a restorative yoga class every week. I recently read an article in Yoga Journal which claimed that a restorative class is an “advanced” class. I found that classification to be rather confusing and certainly counterproductive for anyone who would like to take a restorative class, because in all reality, a restorative class is the least physically demanding class one can take.
But when we think about yoga, which isn’t really just about the physical (it’s really SO not about the physical, it’s just that we westerners tend to think everything is about the body when it’s more about the spirit), describing restorative as “advanced” has legs. Restorative yoga IS advanced IN that it requests of you that you let it happen. My dermatologist asked me a couple weeks ago while he was stitching me up after removing a basal cancer cell from my chest, “Will yoga work for me?” And I said, “If you let it.” He laughed nervously. I raised an eyebrow and said, “Now you’re on the mat and you didn’t even know it.”
And that’s the truth. Things will work, in the manner in which they are supposed to, when we let them.
While I was reading the article, I was reacting: “this is such a turn off… this article needs to start a different way….” and I still believe that because those of us who teach or rather, endeavor to inspire yoga in students / other people, is that we don’t want anyone to feel as though they don’t belong. Especially in a restorative class, but like so much in life, many of us also tend to bite off more than we can chew. Such as it is with people who might attend a restorative yoga class and think it’s all about letting go… which is the only thing I used to believe: that all yoga is about letting go… making peace… but what if that doesn’t work anymore? What if (as I wrote a couple weeks ago) letting go (or writing with love) is just not possible sometimes? What if we try and try to find the lesson, to learn from or let go of that which irks us? And it just doesn’t come or it feels forced, contrived and fake?
The answer, then, according to this article, is to make room for what bothers us. In the purest tradition of Rumi, be the “Guest House”: we need to make room. Set a table, be inclusive, open the door laughing, invite and have tea with what bothers us: learn from the energy which keeps us in balance. If something is pulling us one way, surely something is pulling us another way to keep us upright. Make room for the thing that bugs us the most. That’s where the teacher is…
Just be careful, though, to not confuse the identity of the teacher. Try not to assign a value judgment (good or bad) to either side. Sometimes the very thing that bothers you and that you make room for, is the very thing you THINK you need to let go of….
For example: I don’t like to quit. I find quitting to be something that weak-willed people do. So for me, which is the greater discomfort: staying in a toxic situation or walking away from a toxic situation because I don’t like to quit? To me, quitting is like letting go. So for this conversation, making room would mean that I stay. At what point does a character attribute (perserverance) become a flaw (stubborn)? It’s a fine line.
I recently walked away from a situation in which I found the toxic energy to be familiar. Not just familiar to other things I’d experienced in my long-ago past, but even identical to situations with the exact same players. When I framed it in this context: that I needed to make room for what chafes me, I began to feel very confused. With what, exactly, am I having tea? For what am I making room? And of what, exactly, was I “letting go”? Was I letting go of my anger and outrage? Was I letting go of a desire to be treated professionally (just because I have a different set of standards)? When does my own prideliction for truth and fairness become a feckless pursuit? Was I refusing to have tea with the concept of quitting?
Does my staying on, having tea with, and opening the door laughing mean I have to compromise my mental health? Even when, as Rumi says, my ‘house’ (spirit) will be violently swept clear of my ‘furniture’ (habits, ideas, fears, ego)? When does “be cool, man” become “give up, man”? Rumi says to treat each guest honorably for they are sent as a guide from beyond…. OK. But what’s the lesson? To what am I being guided?
I get it. Sometimes we have to sit next to the mouth breather on the bus or at the movie or at the game or on the committee. Sometimes WE ARE that mouth breather too, but when does making room for that mouth breather become fruitless? Who’s “to blame” when the mouth breather’s breath becomes toxic? Is it us? Are we too sensitive? Are we to blame because we decide to not say anything because we don’t want to offend the offender? At some point, making room for the mouth breather, at least in my life, meant that I offered some gum or a glass of mint tea. Or even coming right out with it and saying as others nodded in agreement, “Dude, your breath is RANK.” When that tea or gum was continually rejected, I decided I need to leave the room. I decided I was going to sweep my house clear of its furniture. I was taking my ball and going home because, honestly, I have only one life.
I find that when my body starts to react, then that’s when I need to do some investigating. That when my family is affected, or more appropriately, the way I treat my family, then I need to do some investigating. I agree absolutely that we all need to make room for discomfort because life is full of disappointments and frustrations and “surprises” and that if we don’t get our shit together and figure out who’s being the baby here, then we are really part of the problem, if not The Problem.
Making room for discomfort has legs. To a point. To me, there’s yet another fine line between being amenable to discomfort and being a freaking masochist.
So despite making room for and waiting for the mouth breather to drink the tea, I paid the check and walked away to spare the others at the tea room. I quit. I promised myself last year I wouldn’t let my tea get cold. That I wouldn’t go through it again in front of myself or in front of them. I chose my discomfort: I chose to stop doing something I cared about a lot to spare myself from continued discomfort and toxic breath. I sacrificed myself now while I am still useful and happy so I didn’t have to sacrifice myself later as a bloody stump. My head is high, but my heart is sad. I walked away earlier than I’d have liked to. I have learned that I have a limit, and that’s just going to have to be ok.
The lesson here is to not walk away because you can’t take the heat. The lesson here is to stay and make room for what bugs you, to learn from it, and to let it toughen you because life is hard. Continually feeling mistreated because you don’t like the way things roll out though, makes you the problem. I didn’t want to be the problem anymore. Even though my standards were in line with others’ at some point you have to decide which battles to fight. Make room, for sure, but don’t give up your seat. Walk away when your bus gets to your stop. Walk away after you finish your tea.
As I read this, I had just finished a Hathaway yoga practice at home. One meant to focus on purification and making room. I guess I need to make room for those things that are bugging me today :-). Thanks for the reminder.
I know what you mean. They tell us to tell students (and ourselves) to breathe into the stiffness, to let it tell you where you are constricted. Where you’re holding on, not making room. Sometimes, making room can mean only a fraction of an inch. That’s going to have to be ok. Thanks, K. 🙂 -M