I just took the hardest yoga class of my life. Part of me feels speechless because it’s difficult to come up with the words to describe my experience…to paint a picture that would take the reader into my world on my mat in that moment. Let me start by saying this; tonight I trekked along an arduous new path and found myself surprised by the results. My personal work was not to master one of the dozen or so different arm balances taught in class, but to force myself not to leave the room and waltz up to the front desk demanding a refund.
It was that bad. One might go so far as to say … cataclysmic.
I sensed the potential for disaster when the teacher put down her mat in the middle of the room, amongst her students as if she, herself, were taking the class, but as we closed our eyes she surprised me by introducing an interesting concept. Let go of expectations. Specifically, she asked us to let go of our expectations of her and ourselves “so that we wouldn’t disappoint each other.” She caught me red-handed, as I was already passing judgment on a teacher I knew nothing about and so I decided to let go of my standards and expectations and I dedicated my practice to the idea of letting go.
The universe responded with its usual dose of irony, opening the class with King Arthur at the wall. The perfect overture. We then moved into Handstand, Pincha and Sirsasana because they were hard poses and so we should “just get them out of the way.” Back to the center of the room and I have to be honest, from this point on its all kind of a blur. I remember doing push-ups and Bird of Paradise. Somehow we managed to fit so much into an hour and fifteen minute Level 2 class: Vasisthasana 2, Visvamitrasana, Parivrtta Ardha Chandrasana (with the bind, of course), Eka Pada Koundinasana 2, Kapotasana, Prasarita into Sirsasana 2, and lots of push-ups in between (just to stay warm). She got sidetracked a few times and forgot her sequence on the other leg, but in her defense she was doing the entire practice with us so she was probably preoccupied with her alignment. At one point she interrupted her sequence and demanded that we jump ship and drop to the floor because “our abs song is on” (translation – the song to which we do abdominal work is now playing). We proceeded to do lots of crunches. It was a nice little sorbet to cleanse the palette before finishing her vinyasa on the left leg.
Oh, the vrttis in my mind. On the upside, I think I held the longest downdog of my life. It was like my safe house – the fallout shelter from the bomb that exploded in the room. I just kept waiting to catch up with the group in some posture I recognized, but I ended up waiting a really long time for that to happen, so I just kept holding downdog. I did a few things here and there, but towards the end I couldn’t stop myself from climbing out of my storm cellar to witness the devastation. Dozens of unknowing bodies strewn this way and that – I just tried to wipe the horror off my face and resist the urge to get up and start offering modifications.
All I could think was “Oh my God. This exists out there. This is what people are practicing in the wild wild west” (or, in DC, as it turns out). My first reaction was to storm out (along with the other five people who left) and demand to speak to the owner. This woman needed to be expunged from the yoga universe. Surely once I explained that I was a teacher trainer … well, I mean, hmf, come on. Of course something would be done.
Hardly. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that this was my practice. While others were happily binding in Trikonasana, butts sticking out in blazing glory, I was the only one in the room organizing a coup d’état. The tapas (sanskrit for “the willingness to endure intensity in the name of self-transformation”) was not the blood and tears from jogging in downdog, but the discipline to be in the moment and witness my reactions to the madness. I wanted to yell out to the students “Come with me! I’ll give you shelter!” but they were all too busy having a great time. My emotional implosion was mine and mine alone.
There’s a lesson here – one that’s similar to the truths buried in the peak pose (which I was told was Vasisthasana 2 – thank goodness because there were a lot of potentials to choose from). Perfecting Vasisthasana 2 can only get you so far. Watching your own personal meltdown and subsequent reactions to the physical inadequacies preventing you from perfecting Vasisthasana 2 – now that’s educational. My practice, tonight, was about letting go in the midst of the meltdown…and (side note) to disregard the wicked (sutra 1.33).
In summary, I’m reminded of a passage from the Bhagavad Gita: “Wise men do not unsettle the minds of the ignorant. Quietly acting in the spirit of yoga, they inspire the same.” A few years ago I would’ve marched out of the room clanging all my bells in the name of principle and integrity, announcing the arrival of my opinions as if I were announcing the arrival of the British. Tonight I chose to be a Pied Piper of a quieter kind. I sat with what felt like the impossible and observed my desperation to leave. There was another girl across from me who had given up (for whatever reason) and taken a seat in meditation. I was inspired by her decision. Joining her in stillness, I found that I was able to rest in the eye of the storm. I later peaked at the room from my meditation and noticed that a few others had joined us. I left quietly after class and laughed at the smile on my face. Yes, it was the hardest class I’ve ever taken but somehow my willingness to do my yoga was both uplifting and enlightening. So, thank you, teacher, for offering me the opportunity to practice tapas, stillness and to enjoy the wonder of letting go.