I stayed up late into a bit past midnight sorting socks. It’s always the socks without the friends that I seem to vex over.
I spent a lot of the day yesterday catching up on laundry to prepare everyone for my absence, hence the socks at midnight. I am leaving tomorrow at 2:15 to drive to the airport to pick up people who will be joining me on the next stage of my yoga training.
Last weekend I attended at three-day children’s yoga teacher training with 18 other students. That was a 30-hour program and yes, it was 30 hours. Thirty hours of mostly sitting, often chanting, occasionally dancing and playing and working hard to remember BEING children ourselves. It was liberating. Shakta, our teacher, has this … energy that almost insists you be good to yourself.
I saw changes in people just in that short time. Profound changes. One woman (we were all women, I still find it unlikely that a man would endeavor to teach children’s yoga); many of us actual teachers, and I’d say our age averaged at about 37. As I type this, I’m actually very curious now.
I spent a good amount of time with two women in particular, one who is 29 and who has the most radiant skin and smile and good feelings, just like a bubble you’d blow with a wand. She has her own blog, granolaglamour.com and such style — nothing pretentious, just … a vibration that says “YES.” Our interactions were not very intense; I sensed a vibrancy about her that I was more interested in observing than engaging with; we are at profoundly different times in our lives and she seems liberated in a way that I can embrace for her but I daren’t get too close to it because I know myself too well: I’d end up saying in my head, “Well, enjoy it while it lasts” (about her freedom without the children she wants to eventually have). When I was her age, I was three years married and pregnant with my first son. She knows her realities before her based on choices she will make, and I look forward to watching her develop.
She’s a lovely person, truly positive. We stayed in the same hotel and I encountered her our second morning dashing to class on foot and although we are within walking distance of the hotel, I am not accustomed to waking at 5:45 every day so I drove; yes, lazy I know. But I wanted those precious six or seven minutes I’d save by driving. I picked her up along the way and we would ride back to the hotel for breakfast together at the buffet after our morning sadhana, which I later wrote on my Facebook page: “is Sanskrit for asskick.”
I spent other times with another gal who is a mom like me, also of three boys. She was a couple years younger and had a gentle kindness that I can only say reminded me of the actress Dianne Wiest; a tenderness and vulnerability that I fought a compulsion to scrape away; she seemed right on the edge of some form of emotional collapse. Despite this depth, I enjoyed being with her. She has a perseverance and fortitude that can only come from experience and those of us who have been there understand it. I hope to stay in touch with her; she’s an old soul and I enjoyed eating lunch with her for two of the three days.
Another woman entered the first day blustery and
confident arrogant. She complained of her drive; she wore a bluetooth headset to disconnect herself from the rest of us. When she exited the building for lunch she was already on her phone and she said, “Hey! How are you?!” while smiling and looking at me, that I thought she was talking to me. I was in her way. She was talking to someone else. She spoke of her future and that on her way to class that morning, that started at 8:00 am (so it was an hour for most of us who lived locally), she had already read three separate offers to teach yoga, that her life is so busy, that she does Bikram yoga (hot yoga) six days a week, going on seven years now (yet oddly, she seemed completely lacking in awareness of her physical space, that’s called “prioperception”) and blah blah blah blah… I tuned her out. Her shields were up (like Michael Keaton’s “Batman” when he got into the Bat-mobile, he spoke into his glove, “Shields” and up went an armadillo-like covering around the car — still the BEST Bat-mobile if you ask me).
I thought about Jung (day 2), what he said about “often what irritates us in others can lead us to a better understanding of ourselves” and I went there; I entertained it: her bluster, her bravado, her “pita” (yoga for “fire”). I used to be attracted to that kind of energy because it told me “that’s a CAN DO person! get to KNOW her! she has SUCCESS!” but now it tells me “there’s a lot there; it’s unresolved; it’s not yours…let her be; it’s a façade.” When we went to lunch the first day, she stood in line at the strip-mall NY-Style pizzeria (Antonio’s — and it was awesome) insisting that she not wait for her salad… she was expecting it to be ready in a plastic box I guess. It wasn’t ready when she had to have it (we all had 90 minutes for lunch, I don’t know what was up her butt … we had plenty of time) and she coarsely told the attendant that it took very long when she did get her handmade, fresh, to order, glorious Greek salad. She sat by herself in her lycra and $400 sunglasses, kept her lipgloss just so and spoke to no one but her invisible friend on her headset. By the end of the second day, she was well into her softening. Her energy was completely different. We’d done so many chants, meditations and kriyas (numerous poses repeated very quickly in a set with intense breathing) that her submission would be inevitable. Her smile was softer, she was on her headset less. She, gratefully, did not infect the pizzeria. I still have a sense that she’s unaware of herself, that her coarseness is a sense of pride for her, but all in good time… she will eventually get there. I hope.
Almost all of these other women have been certified, for several years, to teach yoga with the 200-hour training that I am starting soon. Many of them are much younger than I am. I started out looking at them, in their late 30s, remembering: I used to have that body… (it’s amazing what six years can do to you despite conscious eating, exercise and rest). My sister-in-law and I often joke about “middle age thickening” — this thing that seemingly happens to us without our permission. The slowdown of the metabolism despite your most fervent wishes it do otherwise. I am still “shapely” but I see “more” of myself than I am accustomed to seeing. (We will see what 16 days on a lacto-vegan diet will do to me…) I know
part most of this “thickening” is a result of a drop in my “training”; I can still fit into all my same clothes, but it’s different. I don’t worry about it anymore. These things are how we age; we can fight them and be miserable or we can accept them and be mindful of our choices which will accelerate or stave off their aggressive inevitable advances. As I’ve determined over the past few months, especially with the Jungian series I just finished (go to the previous post to see the index) it’s not about looking good, it’s about feeling good.
As I wrote to an e-friend last night on a Facebook post she shared with me about how yoga fashion has gone COMPLETELY NUTS that “it’s about the pose, not the clothes.” There was more lycra and spandex and ripped abs and bulging deltoids in that room… the physical strength is great, but as I’m learning: it’s the mental strength, the strength of spirit that will bring you home. I suppose it’s all well and good for me to say these things, perhaps it’s an unconscious interest in saying to myself, “It’s OK, Molly. >pat pat pat< You can just admit you're sad you've softened a little around your middle…" and there is some truth to that, that my fantastically brilliant observations are just thinly veiled contempt at the youth and strength of some of these women, but then I counter with the sagacious side of me that says, "be strong, be fit, but loosen up a little too" because I recall quite clearly in my memory actually, a time when I was totally wrapped around the axle about my appearance and fitness and yes, it was good to be concerned about my health, but my concern was about my vanity, not my health. I feel I'm in a better place now. I can still run five miles if I decide to; I do a 5k all the time, with virtually no muscle pain or joint discomfort. I just realize now that I'm already there, that I've hit the lottery: I've got a fantastic husband, three great kids, a wonderful home, more solid friends and loved ones than I can count, a pretty strong sense of my purpose now, and that in the end, all we want or need, is love and smile and a gracious hug. Sounds completely woo-woo, I know, but it's true.
I also looked at these women with a twinge of regret in myself for getting started "so late" in life. I'll be 46. I'm definitely on the downward slope now. Lots of the women already have their businesses beneath their belts, they just added the children's yoga component because it is in such high demand. My personal sense is that if you can teach and instill in children the ability for them to learn they can self-regulate their emotions, that they can go to a quiet place in their minds, that they can feel safe expressing themselves physically in a safe and creative way, that they will eventually take it forward with them. That they will be able to calm a room, just by walking into it.
Each day began with a "tune in" that we all chanted to get the room or the energy ready for all of us. The chant (I'm sure my father and brother would be freaking out if they read this, thinking I'm joining a cult, which I'm not) is "Ong Namo Guru Dev Namo" which means something like … I can't remember. But it's physical effect no different from singing a nice long traditional "Amen" at the end of the Eucharistic blessing in Mass; it's just a way of getting everyone in the same mental space. So chill, Dad and brother, I'm not about to start worshipping long-lashed, eight-limbed elephant women (not that there's anything wrong with that…).
We did lots of amazing things in this program and I’ll share the three most personally profound; one on each day.
Day 1: Shakta introduced for us “The make the bad thoughts go away” meditation to bring us a bit closer to our inner children. I’m sure it has a real name, but for kids (as well as the kids inside us all) that’s all I have. This is a simple exercise but maaaan, I had to keep it together, during it because it is profound and we had just begun the classes. The physical action is to “make like” you are spitting, but it’s your air, not saliva you are expelling. It takes a little practice. The sound is like a pointed, decisive “pih” or “puh.” The breath is powerful, but controlled, coming from the belly, not the lungs. So you have to breath from your belly… it’s very different. (I’ll write more about that in another post.) Practice it a little.
Simply: sit comfortably. Close your eyes and cup your hands in front of you with your left over your right. Bring your hands about 10 inches from your face. Think of a bad thought or bad memory or bad feeling from your life (it could be from your youth or five minutes ago at the exit ramp); a moment when you felt fear, shame, guilt, rage. Anything. Hold that thought, feeling and memory in your head until it’s right there, literally, in your mouth. You repeat this breath for a minimum 26 times; you can go to 54 or 108 if you need. But for beginners, I’m thinking 26 is fine. Prepare yourself, you might get swept away and feel it all. Let it come and let it go. I felt a lot of stuff and I looked forward to being able to do it privately so I could let it all process.
On Day 2, Shakta’s husband Kartar came in to spend some time with us. He is tall, he dressed in white traditional Sikh clothing. He is very mellow, chooses his words with discernment and has a lovely wafty yet grounded way about him. He’s like a willow. He had a long white beard and talked to us about Masaru Emoto’s HADO “Healing And Discovering Ourselves” exercises that he performed with water a couple decades ago. HADO is based on the effects of words and energy on all living things. Basically, if we use kind words, things are lovely; if we use ugly words, things suffer. Check out the link (in red above), it’s pretty amazing. Some people think it’s a hoax. I don’t think it’s a hoax. I think those people who think it’s a hoax are sad. There. I said it. Kartar didn’t stay long; but he played some games with us, one in particular that was really neat:
The “find the feather with your intuition” game. I don’t know why we used a feather, maybe there’s something spiritual about it; but the colors of these feathers (day glo green and pink) suggested they were not originally that color.
Basically, get a group of people together and sit in a circle facing one another. Put the feather in the center of the circle. Everyone looks at the feather. Everyone tunes in. Start by being really quiet together for a moment once seated or sincerely saying some cool thing like “Om” or “Amen.” The deal is that it’s a good idea for everyone to say it so the energy of the vocal vibration is received not only by everyone’s ears (provided they are not deaf) but also their bodies, their rib cages, or “chakral center.”
Someone leaves the circle and goes to an area where s/he can’t see anyone at all. Someone in the circle takes the feather and sits on it. Those in the circle close their eyes. You call back the person who left, and you let that person stand in the circle. S/he can close their eyes (in fact it’s best if s/he does so that the body tells you what’s going on, but you have to be open, you have to be ready to truly listen to your body) and slowly turn (while still standing) in a small circle “greeting” each person’s energy. Those in the circle all (woo-woo alert): “send” that person positive thoughts like “find the feather” or “let your intuition tell you where the feather is” or “key in to your intuition,” Something general like that; don’t think, “The feather is under Bipsy.” or “Help Bipsy find the feather.” It has to be general. It just does. As the feather finder, when you feel like you’ve felt all you can near a certain person, like you’ve gone around a couple times and you just “sense” (not think, you
it) you can tap that person on the head and say, “Do you have the feather?”
I got it on the first try. I was the first to leave the group and I got it. I was amazed. I actually felt it at one person; a person I’d not yet interacted with. I was amazed. This was on day 2, so we all were a bit tuned in to one another. This was probably our 18th hour of being together in that room for lessons. I suppose if you wanted to try this with just one other person, you could do it and the person could hide the feather on their person and you could let your hands hover and guide you; it would likely feel magnetic — at least that’s how it felt to me. Like a gentle pull. I am very grateful for that exercise. Peggie, if you’re reading this, my freckles on my thumb mound are almost gone…
Anyway, each person in the group got to be a seeker. Only one out of our five didn’t get it on the first guess.
On Day 3, Shakta’s son Ram Dass came in to meet us. He works somewhat nearby and he generously left work early to speak to us. It was lovely. He went off to India to live in an ashram and go to school when he was eight and he left when he graduated from their high school (it’s somewhat like an International Baccalaureate school) at 16. He graduated from college, my alma mater, at 20.
Shakta and Kartar, his parents, are American-born, white. His father is a former Christian. Shakta looks to be of German or European descent to me; she is still quite “dirty blonde.” I suspect their birth names are something as “normal” as Stephanie and Richard. They met at a cooperative, sort of like a commune of those on the yoga journey in the 70s. They wanted a child for many years. Finally, Shakta became pregnant and so as a child, their only child, their son Ram Dass, would wear turbans and dress in traditional Sikh garb.
Shakta had told us well before she asked him to join us, that he loves to wear suits now; that he is a businessman, that he works for a large government contractor; that he doesn’t do yoga anymore, that he’s a “DJ” for hobby; that he works out and runs for his health, although he still meditates quite a bit. I smiled inwardly at the irony: here is this young man, born into a yoga ashram-like community, in a communal living way, who left his mother and father for eight years to live in India (as was the path for those living in that way), whose “child” spirit was very much honored and revered and encouraged, who comes back to America to end up working for one of the largest, lucrative and most influential government contractors as an analyst….
He walked into the room, comPLETEly self-possesed. Tall, elegant, quiet, serious, clever. He looked at and considered his mother with a respectful detachment, that they are peers… such is the way of a 21-year-old, I mused inside. I told him this — I wanted to tell him that he is like an “old soul” because he is SO VASTLY unlike any other 21-year-old I’ve ever met. But I countered it with “But I can’t say you’re an old soul, because you’re not — or maybe it’s that you’re so old a soul that you seem new again” because again, he had confidence and a sense of his place in this world that was frighteningly unshakeable. He had the kind of quiet, reflective, sincere, easy smile, and real steadiness that maybe 1:10,000,000 people possess; and of 21-year-olds? Cripes… 1:700,000,000. You can say “reflective” about some people and it sounds as though they’re neurotic. like Woody Allen. No. Not this guy. He knows who he is and you could feel it. It was stalwart. Shakta beamed with love and pride for her son. Yet it was in a way that said, “I was the one who simply carried him to this world… he is not ‘mine‘; he belongs to himself…” and maaaaan, you had no doubt.
I know lots of people who think they mean it when they say that about their own kids. I know now, myself included at times, that they don’t know what they’re talking about. They’re not even close.
The Day 3 exercise that affected me profoundly was the “trust circle.” Basically nine people form a tight circle (almost touching each other) facing one another. They are the “receivers.”
Another person (bringing the group size to ten) stands in the middle about 18 inches from each person / receiver in the circle with her/his feet almost touching, they are close together, maybe an inch is between the toes. The arms of the person in the center are like a mummy’s: forearms crossed on the chest with the hands touching each opposing shoulder. Each receiver in the circle grounds her/himself in a gentle lunge and their hands are gently cupped and facing the person in the center. Arms are engaged, but soft; they are “ready.” Make sure no one is wearing socks and that the floor is not slippery.
The person in the center closes its eyes and grounds. Takes a couple breaths and grounds again. When the person in the center is ready s/he asks the receiving group, “Are you ready?”
The receivers say “yes” because their hands are ready and their eyes stay fixed on the person in the center and because they ARE ready. You can’t help but take this with reverence: another person is about to trust you to not let her or him get injured. It’s a big deal. This exercise is mostly performed at grades 5 (maybe some 4th graders are ready) and up through high school… through graduate school … through the mortgage years, and into senior living if you catch my drift.
When s/he is ready, s/he — the “truster” — will begin to fall into the receivers. It is best for about three receivers to have hands on this person (mostly the upper body, mostly the shoulders and crossed forearms) when s/he leans into them. The physical sensation is not to reject or push back the leaning / falling / trusting person in the center, but to “welcome” and guide back to the center and let the truster’s sense of balance and equilibrium guide them or rest them on to another area of the receivers. I couldn’t help but think of those swinging pendulums over those little sand gardens that some people have on their desks.
At moments, the truster’s falls can become fast, a little out of control; that’s up to us, the receivers, to slow down and reassure the truster in the center that “we’ve got you.”
I watched four other women go before me to do this exercise. I answered, “we are ready” for three separate women; I was a receiver three times and then I stepped back. I wanted others to receive the truster and I privately yearned to be the one who could summon the courage to do it. I privately yearned to be a “truster.” This isn’t just about the game, I said to myself. This is about my life. This is a metaphor about everything I’m dealing with. It’s a metaphor about me trusting ME. With each passing person I saw my chances go away.
Shakta said, “one more time. We will do this one more time.” I
asked squeaked, “Will we be doing this next week at the retreat? Because if we are, I’ll do it then; but I don’t want to take away this opportunity from someone who might want to do it today because I’ll be doing it again for sure at the retreat…”
Shakta said, “No. We won’t be doing this next week.”
The room grew quiet. The metaphorical light was on me.
“I’ll go then. I need to do this. I’ve got major trust issues. And I’ve been a receiver; I know these women will get me.”
So I did it. I nudged myself into the circle. I visually inspected everyone’s footing, their hands, their deltoids and triceps, the cuts of their jaws and the intensity in their eyes. They were ready. They all said it. They all looked at me with love and intention and a femininity that only other women can understand. One in particular, with eyes like black coffee said, “We’ve got you. We are already here.”
I cried a little inside. I knew they wouldn’t let me “down” — not figuratively, not literally. It was truly up to me.
Do I trust them?
I barely know them, I quickly said to myself in what seemed like nanoseconds; a quiet, private moment.
I closed my eyes. I breathed in and breathed out.
I breathed in and breathed out.
“Are you ready?” I asked.
“We are.” They said.
I submitted. I began to lean into the women; their hands were warm and kind; soft and strong. The room was silent. I was stiff at first.
Then I felt a shift in my consciousness; I felt free.
I “let go” and someone whispered, “wow, she just let go…” and I let them carry and receive and welcome and suspend and guide me for another minute until I was really OK with it all. It changed me.
They later told me they could see it in my face; a loosening, that I had submitted; no more fighting, no more control, no more forcing.
We closed the classes about an hour after that. Did some exercises on “deeply listening” which is listening without reacting, interrupting, smiling, nodding, or anything. No relating. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Each person shared and the other listened for five minutes straight. You are deeply aware of yourself at this time while also working hard to honor the speaker without facial gestures, judgment or relating. I heard everything my partner said. I realized then how little of that I do.
The problem with “nodding” or gesturing, as Shakta explained, is that it interrupts the speaker’s flow and it turns it into an exchange. Also, if we wince, we can make the speaker self-conscious, or feel bad for making us feel bad. Same goes if we laugh, we make the speaker feel as though the good feelings must continue. I shared deep stuff. It stayed confidential. I felt heard. She shared her stuff, I didn’t react. I let her spill. Talking to someone else, even though they’re not reacting also helps you feel like you’re not talking to no one; that you’re not crazy.
I pack up today and drive out for the next big stage tomorrow. I have never been away from anyone I’m related to for 16 days straight. I commuted to college, so this is going to be entirely new for me. But I am ready. Suddenly, this isn’t really about yoga anymore; it’s about me.
I will write more while I’m there. WiFi is available, but limited; so it might be like the Jung series — written in the moment, but loaded later … I don’t know. We’ll see when we get there, won’t we? V
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