April 6, 2011 § 4 Comments
The past few days since I finished the first weekend of my yoga teacher training have been interesting. By interesting, I do not mean fun. I have been watching my mind a lot as it vacillates between “I am so excited that I am studying yoga!!!” and “On what planet did I ever think I could be studying yoga???” I am watching these thoughts, but that doesn’t mean I am not feeling the emotions. In a way, it’s like watching yourself as you try to stop your car from hydroplaning. You see the car skidding. You watch the road move back and forth. But that doesn’t mean you aren’t thinking of how bad it will hurt if you don’t straighten out.
I felt so great when I arrived at the yoga teacher training on Friday night. I had been preparing for months by running more, going to yoga as often as I could, trying to clean up my diet, and most of all, by trying to live by the spiritual precepts of yoga, those wonderful yamas and niyamas that dictate right living and right action. As we all sat and eagerly listened to Rolf Gates last Friday and waited to do some yoga with The Man, I felt as if I belonged there, like I was on my path in a way that transcended just the ego. I felt like I did in college when I trained hard for a big cross-country meet, stayed injury-free, and showed up on race day ready to play. Yes, every fiber of my body was saying. I want to be here.
On the second day, Rolf handed us a 90-minute yoga class narrative and told us to find a partner. He told us we were going to teach our first yoga class by reading the narrative out loud to each other. You’re kidding me, I thought. Wasn’t he supposed to teach us? My partner and I gulped and then rolled out our mats. I was to “teach” first so I looked at the narrative for about 30 seconds before we were told to begin. After a few minutes of stumbling over the 10-point type while my partner gamely tried to follow my instructions, an assistant came over to me. “Try to remember that you are teaching yoga to an actual human being,” she said to me. “Don’t just read the words without stopping. Think of it as a kirtan, a call and response.” Someday, I am sure I will look back and say that was great teaching advice. But at that moment, my first thought was, “Screw you, lady. You try to read this tiny little print cold.” What came out of my mouth was, “Thank you.” What my brain said to myself next was, “Oh. Kay. Obviously, you are in way over your head.”
The night before, when we had to make an intention at the start of our training, I said out loud to 70 people that I wanted to learn to live powerfully so that others could be powerful. Clearly, I was about as powerful as a substitute teacher in a roomful of seventh graders. The next 36 hours were a seesaw between I’m Doing Great and I Totally Suck. After my first “class,” it was all I could do to keep myself from running out the door. After a great lecture from Rolf, I was convinced I was right where I needed to be. After saying something inane to the woman next to me, I told myself I was too old to start something new.
The next few days after the training ended have been equally harsh. I am excited about starting something new at the same time I keep trying to fight feelings of inadequacy. Yesterday, for the first time in a long while, I yelled at my boys (for fighting) and immediately after, felt like a total fraud. I ate meat today, which I haven’t done in months. I went to a parent meeting at my son’s Waldorf school on Monday and fought the urge to stand on a chair and scream. Holy crap, I keep thinking. I’m losing my mind.
At the training, Rolf talked about how in our lives, we have areas of confusion and areas of clarity. “But they’re all mixed up in there,” he said. “It’s not like we have one thing figured out and we move onto the next. It’s all jumbled up.” It’s like that a lot these days as I close in on the end of my thirties. Just ten years ago, I was young by anyone’s standards. I was single and childless and just beginning to make my way. Now, just a decade later, I am approaching Middle Age. Sometimes I think that women have a shelf-life of about ten years. Before 25 we are “too young” and after 35 we are “too old.” Before 25 I wasn’t taken seriously in my career, but at 35, I was considered to be of Advanced Maternal Age. Before 25, I wasn’t mature enough to understand yoga. Now, at 38, I feel too old to become a yoga teacher.
I realize that I am not old, of course, but at the same time, I am no longer standing on that verdant plain of youth. The ground under my feet is less lush, more rocky. There are weeds cropping up between my toes. I think of Middle Age as the last undiscovered country. We have no rituals for it, no ceremonies. Just as soon as we begin to come into ourselves, Middle Age creeps up behind us and puts its hands over our eyes, making us gasp. There is really no way to prepare for its arrival. As women, especially, we are dealing with our looks fading, like the dropping of our petals in a world that values flowers, and we need to steady ourselves at our roots. Perhaps this is why so many of us turn to spiritual practices to guide us back home to ourselves.
How odd then, that my own spiritual practice was causing me so much suffering, such dissonance.
Tonight, during yoga class, we had a new teacher. Usually, I hate new teachers. I don’t want to be a guinea pig, I want a good yoga class. I want what I’m used to, not what is new. But this teacher tonight was excellent. She was young but calm. Her class was challenging but familiar. She stretched us out and made us sweat. I liked her music. Before the start of class, she told us to set an intention. I wanted to roll my eyes. I’ve pretty much had it with intentions by now. Then I sighed and set an intention to drop my current feelings of inadequacy.
On the mat next to me was a girl with a zillion yoga bracelets bright with Om symbols and mala beads. I watched as she practically strutted to her mat and extended herself flat over her legs in a forward bend. “Oh, jeez,” I thought to myself, uncharitably, “One of those girls.” Instantly, my inner competitor pricked up her ears. I’m better than, worse than. Better than, worse than. Oh who the hell cares, I finally thought. I started focusing on my own mat, on my own sore back, on my own 75 minute practice. “And now,” begins the first yoga sutra, “for the practice of Yoga.”
During savasana, a song was playing that started with the words, “I looked in the mirror and wanted to be somebody else.” The chorus sounded something like, “Open wide the livery gates.” I am sure this is not what the words actually were, but I felt the gates of my own heart bang open. I thought of everyone else on the planet who is now beginning something new. I thought of all of us women in the middle of our lives, trying to balance on that unstable log suspended over the abyss. I thought of the new moon that began on Sunday, dark then, and now a tiny sliver of light. I remembered that just because the girl next to me has a beautiful yoga practice doesn’t necessarily mean that I don’t. I remembered the lyrics to the Leonard Cohen song, the one that surely does exist: “Everything has a crack in it. That’s how the light gets in.”