The phone rang and my husband called up the steps, “Pick up. It’s for you.”
“Who is it?” I asked.
As I walked to the phone, my thoughts raced: Did he know that I was in the middle of writing a blog post about him? Was he going to ask me why I ran out of his two-hour yoga session, only half-an-hour into it? Was I in trouble with the local, and worldwide, yoga community? Was I a yoga pariah?
“Hi, Yogi Thomas,” I said in my most airy voice.
“Hello, Patricia,” Yogi Thomas responded. “Why did you leave this morning?”
“I’m sorry, ” I said, “but those other students were very advanced, and I was in way over my head.”
“But that’s why I asked that man to move his mat, and I moved you to his place next to me, so that I could keep you safe,” he said.
“Thank you for that,” I said, “but I was embarrassed that you were going to be supervising me and taking up the time of the people who knew how to do the poses and the breathing exercises. I didn’t want to be the focus of your attention.”
“Let me tell you something, Patricia,” Yogi Thomas said, “Most of these students have had hundreds of hours of yoga instruction and practice, but every one of them was a beginner at one time. They all have compassion for those who are just starting.”
To myself, I had to acknowledge that I was “just starting,” compared to them, but I have been to a number of yoga classes before, including one that Yogi Thomas had held at our church. I’ve been in rooms with young people, middle-aged people, and even older people. But those were big rooms, and when I looked like an idiot, there were others who looked more incompetent than I did. During those classes, I had always congratulated myself that I wasn’t yet at the stage when I’d have to ask for a pose adjustment for my neck pain, back pain, knee replacement, scoliosis, or even fibromyalgia, like some of the other students. While far from being proficient, I had never felt like an outcast in those low-stress classes. There were always people who were worse than I was. However, this morning, in his private studio, I was the lone, inexperienced soul, among experienced, graceful, and dedicated yoga practitioners.
This morning’s class was in Yogi Thomas’s home studio. He is a professional yoga instructor and his classes are usually very expensive. However, as a gift to the area, he organized a special morning class at a very affordable price, and he sent out Facebook invitations:
Spend two hours this Saturday, 9 a.m. – 11 a.m., with Yogi Thomas who has devoted 15 years of his life to understanding, practicing and teaching the traditional yoga received from his teacher Sri Dharma Mxxxx. This Workshop offers: Yoga Postures, Pranayama, Yoga Nidra, Meditation and Spiritual Knowledge.
Dharma Yoga Maha Sadhana is appropriate for All Levels and is of special benefit to those with some yoga experience and yoga teachers who share this special knowledge with others.
I couldn’t resist an offer to be trained by a real yogi in a studio that wasn’t in a church basement or a YMCA. They were even doing chanting and there was going to be a drummer. And, the invitation said that all I needed was some yoga experience to benefit from the class. I immediately signed up and, since I usually sleep until noon on Saturdays, that showed how much I wanted to do this.
But, once I was there, it was apparent that I was out of my league … or any league, anywhere. I couldn’t get the introductory breathing exercises right. And when he said to extend the thumb and ring finger on our right hand so we could open our chakras for our meditation, I even got that wrong. By the time we were actually assuming asanas, or poses, I spent most of my time on my asana, after toppling over.
Yogi Thomas took pity on me at this point and moved me next to him. I suppose the looks I was getting from the other students were compassionate, but they felt pitying. I was dreading the point when the looks would turn to disgust. (I later learned that disgust doesn’t have a place in yoga. Nor does self-congratulation. Yoga people are on a path to self-realization, and nobody wants to to come to the realization that he or she is a pitier or a braggart.)
So, I ignominiously moved my mat to the corner of the dark studio, to the gentle accompaniment of drumming, and mystical musical. I had no sooner settled back on my mat, when Yogi Thomas whispered to me, “Whenever you can’t do something, just assume this pose.” He was on his knees and he bent his torso and head forward over his knees.
“The child pose?” I asked?
“Exactly,” he said. “You can stay in that pose for the rest of the class, and just breathe and enjoy the chanting.” He then wandered off to inspect the work of the other students.
In his defense, Yogi Thomas was being sweet, and considerate, and not at all pitying. However, I was appalled. But, I took a deep, cleansing breath, attempted the pose that was being assumed all over the room — holding my entire body weight on one arm while twisted to the right — and fell on my face. Before too many people could show compassion, I assumed the child pose.
Too soon, he reappeared and started stacking mat upon mat upon mat next to me. He then soothingly announced to the class, “You all know how to do our next pose. Remember that, and breathe … as you do a headstand.” As everyone put their heads on their mats and began to slowly extend their legs over their heads, I stared in fear, amazement, and horror.
Yogi Thomas turned to me and pointed at the huge stack of mats on the floor next to me. “They’re for you,” he said. “I’ll keep you safe while you stand on your head.” All I could think was that if I wasn’t able to get the correct fingers extended to open my chakras, how was I going to turn myself upside down without breaking my neck? I looked at him to see if he was mocking me. I should have known that mocking isn’t on the path to self-realization, either. He gave me a kind look and said, “Let’s start.”
My stomach began to churn and my head began to pound. I bent over and began to roll up my mat. “I’m sorry, Yogi Thomas, but I really have to go.” I gathered my things and made my way to the door.
Yogi Thomas looked distressed. “You can do this,” he said.
“No, I really can’t,” I said.
“Okay,” he said, “but let me make your exit safe.” There was a woman standing on her head by the door, and he went over to her and held her legs steady as I opened the door and hurried out.
I put my flip-flops on outside and raced to my car. When I got home, I went back to bed and dreamed about a woman I don’t like, and haven’t seen in years, who inexplicably had become a yogi herself and suggested that I practice on a child’s sliding board.
When I finally awoke, I assembled a carrot cake to take to our friends’ house tonight. We’re going to play board games and charades. I had no apprehension about tonight, because I have no qualms about looking inadequate in front of friends, probably due to lots of past experience.
Once the cake was in the oven, I decided to blog about this morning. The tone of the blog post was quite different from how it is now. It was riddled with self-defense and distrust of yoga aficionados, which would have set me back a lifetime or two if I had published it.
As fate would have it, the phone rang and Yogi Thomas offered me reassurance and a free session at his “more gentle” yoga class on Thursdays. He couldn’t have been nicer or more sincere. I apologized for leaving his class and expressed the hope that I hadn’t humiliated him. He assured me that he had walked out of many yoga classes in his life, when they were too much for him or if he wasn’t in the mood. I doubt this, but I appreciated his saying it. He even said, “God bless,” before he hung up.
After our conversation, I sat down and did deep yoga breathing. I thought over this morning’s experience and accepted that nobody was judging me and that there was no room for self-pity or feelings of inadequacy on my journey toward self-realization. I am calm.
Oh for crying out loud, what is that smell? The freaking cake is burning!