These past few days I had been working myself into a tizzy imagining that I wouldn’t teach the right kind of yoga to the people of 26th street, who have been without their homes since Wednesday, April 30. What is the right kind of yoga, anyway? In my mind, I wasn’t up to the task of helping people to find peace in the face of so much grief, upheaval, and challenge. Some part of me doubted that I would properly convey my sincere desire to help, to hold a safe space for them to breathe and relax. I was afraid that I would come across as a know-it-all, someone who presumes that they understand what everyone is going through because they are able to hold the concept of understanding in their minds.
As we know, eating and the concept of eating are not the same. If all I ever had was the concept of eating, I would starve. Luckily, I have good food and actually experience eating, and this real experience nourishes me and sustains my body.
Practicing asana and the concept of practicing asana are not the same. If I only ever thought about doing yoga, but never got myself into the postures, I wouldn’t be developing true strength, balance and flexibility. I could imagine myself more strong, more balanced, more flexible, but imagination is in the realm of the mind and wouldn’t be true experience until I took the time to move and breathe into the postures that would help my body to evolve.
One of the yoga sutras addresses the tendency of the mind to conceptualize, and warns us that conceptualization is not a source of true knowledge–it is the result of words and ideas that are devoid of actual experience and is therefore not a valid means for attaining knowledge and understanding.
Pondering this sutra, I was afraid that I would come across as a phony, that in the face of their suffering, I would hide behind my role as teacher and deliver a ho-hum class full of repetitive sequences of postures. Basically, I was assailed by self-doubt and feared that my teaching would completely suck. The anxiety that this kind of thinking generated become agonizing; I regretted volunteering to teach the class, afraid that I would reveal myself as a teacher who can blurt out sanskrit names but doesn’t really know how to connect with students, to be present for them.
Then, seemingly out of nowhere, it struck me that our suffering is the same at the very heart of it all. We might experience suffering in reaction to different events, at different times in our lives, with different people and in different circumstances, but the feeling of loss, of heartache, of grief, of pain–is unequivocally universal, and crosses all barriers of race, creed, religion, social status, and generation.
And then I remembered that many students have come to me in a state of suffering over the years of being a teacher; this wasn’t going to be the first time that I taught yoga to students in pain. The only thing different in this particular situation was that the residents of 26th street shared their suffering as a neighborhood collective of 18 households, households that were evacuated because of the fear that their homes might be unsafe. These people had experienced the same traumatic event together, and shared the same feelings of uncertainty, homesickness, frustration…
Ok then, I don’t do anything different. I don’t need to prepare a special sequence, to ease their particular brand of suffering–I only need to show up to teach, and open myself to the good medicine that will flow through me to them if I allow that flow to happen. When I met them, I was immediately touched by their vibrancy, their bright smiles, their realness. When I asked a mother of two how she was doing, she said, “It has been stressful, but we are fine.”
Another student answered, “All things considered, I’m good.” So much courage there.
The class flowed as all classes have flowed–being attuned to their bodies and their breathing, I was able to guide them through some asana to get their energy flowing and ready for stretching, breath work, and relaxation. My ego’s fear was gone, to be replaced by the certainty that this is exactly what was supposed to be happening, and it was all perfect.
There is no right yoga; “right” would imply that there might also be a “wrong” kind of yoga–there is only yoga–union, the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind, a binding together of the different aspects of awareness that they might be experienced in the wholeness of this one eternal present moment.
I feel so grateful to have been given the honor of leading a class for the residents of 26th street this afternoon. Grateful for their trust, their willingness to be open, to breathe. Grateful to witness their transformation in the course of the hour long class. Grateful for their open hearts, inspired by their courage.
There is no right yoga. There is only yoga.
What Makes Me Human
I am tired, my body is weary,
I need rest
I am excited,
I want to play, to laugh
I am devastated by grief,
I want to hide, to heal
I am hungry;
I need to eat.
I am lonely;
I need companionship.
I am cold;
I need warmth.
I am afraid;
I need encouragement.
These needs do not make me a failure,
they make me human.
These all make me human.