27 April, 2013

Finding the calm within the chaos


Today was complete chaos with [redacted] at Blue Yoga in Detroit.

I said once that I would never speak negatively about a class, so the compromise I am making here is that I have omitted the instructor’s name, because I would hate for them to do a Google search for themselves someday, and come across this entry.

There’s a lesson to be had in every class. That much is true. Today’s lesson was about taking personal responsibility for finding calm in whatever chaos is around us. It is a lot easier to change the way we experience a situation than to try to force the world to pivot to align with our preferences.

We decided to try out Blue Yoga, since it appeared in our search results of available yoga studios in Birmingham, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit. This was to be a Vinyasa/Ashtanga style hot yoga class, and the temperature in the room was set at what felt like a very hot 99 degrees. The teacher started the warm-up sequence, which was very quickly and clearly not a typical flow. There were many transitions, and it was an eclectic blend, with poses like Pigeon folded into the initial series amidst low lunges and twists. This could have been very interesting, if it were not for the fact that I could barely hear what the teacher was saying, because they did not project their voice, and walked around the room with the remote control for the music, intermittently increase and decreasing the volume in a bit of an overly frequent fashion. So, very quickly, I had no idea what I was supposed to be doing. But I guess the regulars knew just fine, since everyone else seemed to be following along to greater or lesser degree. Suddenly, I noticed that the instructor had stopped talking, and the music was at full blast, and everyone was just doing yoga. I later realized that they had instructed us to continue free-flowing through the completely unmemorable series of poses we’d just heard once. Nobody was in sync with anybody. It was complete chaos. I tried to remember the sequence as best as I could, but it was like trying to remember directions around downtown Tokyo without GPS or the ability to read Japanese. After several minutes of this, something that could loosely be called “teaching” started again, with a difficult to hear, meandering set of cues for another flow, with no sense of following the cadence of the breath (the instructor would tell us to hold a pose for 7-10 breaths, and then call out the next pose about 10 seconds later), and cues to form, etc. It was truly as if they were not paying attention to what was happening in the room at all. A couple of times, I found myself looking to see if the teacher had left the room! After one time through this next long sequence, it was back into the randomness again, with Eminem cranked at such an ear-blistering volume that, of course, my brain started having the “this is not yoga” thoughts that it is inclined to have in such (though previously far less extreme) situations.

After a few rounds of the so-called flow, the instructor chimed in that we should keep doing what we’ve been doing, but add in any other modifications or additional poses that we’d like to add, and then the music went back up again for nearly the rest of the class. I took that as a cue to do my own thing. The heat had exhausted me, and I had created far more than enough fire in the feeble attempts to adhere to the flow, and at this point, I did some standing balance, and then went to the floor and did some stretches.

The one saving grace, a nice touch, near the end of the class was that I looked up, while lying on my back, to see the teacher reaching down toward my forehead, and then they placed a cold washcloth on me. It felt really good. But the thing that confused me was that the teacher had dark hair, and this person putting the cloth on me was blonde. I am thinking, “Who is this? Where’s the teacher?!” But I was not in a position to question the one pleasant thing that happened during the entire class.

I didn’t really get angry at the teacher, which is what I probably would have done in the past. But I did experience that sense of “this should not be.” And it is true that it was, indeed, not what a yoga class should be. But that’s what was happening. There will be teachers who resonate for me, and there will be teachers who do not. Sometimes it is because of the technique or expertise or mindfulness of the instructor, and sometimes it’s just a matter of personal taste. The class, horrible as it was, served as a useful lesson to me nonetheless. No matter how favorable or unfavorable the circumstances, I still have to choose for myself how I want to experience it. The practice for me in this class was, first, to tolerate and be open to what was offered but, ultimately, to recognize that what was happening did not serve my own interests and needs, and to instead choose my own path.

It makes me ask the question:  Do we learn the least or the most from our most-favored teachers?

Or, an alternative question would be:  How do we choose our teachers?

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