Monday, May 05, 2014

Noticing, Aging, Resistance and Dick Cheney

At the end of my yoga practice this morning, I was chatting with a friend and fellow yoga teacher about whether or not there is a time when you reach your peak of flexibility and/or strength as you age.  She is just a little older than me and has been feeling particularly stiff lately.  As always, I struggle with building strength, or as one of our teachers likes to say, Robyn you have no es-strength!  (She is from Colombia).  This teacher walked back in the room and joined the discussion.  While we were feeling like, yes, there is a time when you start to naturally decline in those areas, she was pretty adamant that everyone, everyday, must adapt and accept their practice to suit the reality of their current physical state - age makes no difference.  When you fail to do that, whether you are 20 or 80, that is when you suffer, feel anxious and experience disappointment about expectations not being met.  I would only add that it might actually be that everyone, every minute, needs to do that since how the practice is going can change radically from moment to moment.

So what of that?  A little humility can be an excellent thing in *cough, cough* some people's practices (no names, please).  Yet there is a difference between my saying (you know, just as an example) that I may never be able to come back up from a drop-back and I will never be able to come back up from a drop-back.  Accepting how things are right now isn't the same as solidifying it into a thing that will remain unchanging into the future.  As I experience this in my yoga practice, I sometimes even remember it in the rest of my life too.

A couple of weeks ago, I substitute taught a class where I essentially made this the theme of the class - I asked the students to look at the sensation of resistance (in their mind mostly) as we moved through asana.  I deliberately chose asana that I find annoying and difficult and I have noticed others also feel irritated by.  My premise was that, by noticing that sensation,  they would be able to better recognize it in other areas of life and learn some ways of not getting all done in by it.

Let's just say that it wasn't one of my more popular classes.  No one actually walked out but I could tell a few wanted to and almost no one would meet my eye at the end.  I am laughing about it now (laughing at myself, mind you!) but it was pretty rough to feel the hostility in the room growing and growing as the class progressed.  They felt resistance alright - towards me!  It is safe to say that most people who come to yoga class for a bit of sweaty vinyasa flow to some rockin' tunes are not really up for turning the light around and examining their mind. Ok, ok - lesson learned!

Yet even as I feel badly about disappointing those people in that class, I also feel like I don't practice yoga to just feel good about myself and I certainly don't teach yoga to spoon feed people more of what they already get everywhere else.  That is selling yoga short.  Big time, as Dick Cheney would say.  So, perhaps as I had to face, and accept, the silent but searing disapproval of that roomful of unhappy yogis, it actually gave me some good tools for learning how to stand by what I believe, to notice and adapt according to the present conditions, and to not solidify that experience into absolutes - "I am a terrible yoga teacher" comes to mind.

It is such a funny thing, this putting ourselves into various physical postures.  As we do it, we create and recreate the world - our world - over and over in its entirety.  What a gift!


Rebecca Martin said...

I really hope that some of the students in your class will reflect on what they noticed, and perhaps they will benefit by it!

Robyn said...

Thanks Rebecca. I try to imagine that it is possible that someone might reflect later and find something of value there. Who knows? And that is part of it too - we just don't know how we impact people, whether it be in the moment or ten years later. I can think of several examples of time when I was pissed at something someone said or did to me that I later (sometimes years later!) realized was exactly what I needed.

On the other hand, perhaps there is a way to teach that class in a more subtle manner that won't totally alienate everyone : )

Jan Morrison said...

Yes, exactly what Rebecca said! I have resisted lots of teaching to have it arise later. I'm so grateful to all teachers!