Slow. Fast. Your choice. That’s what’s great about yoga.
I experienced recently that conversation within my own home practice. I gave myself the choice. What choice you ask? To breathe and move slow, or to breathe and move fast. That is the question. Oh, yeah, to me, yoga is in the questioning and noticing, not in the pose, product, or goal. I digress. Point is that sometimes breathing and moving slow can open doors and windows of this conversation, sometimes not. Sometimes breathing and moving fast can open doors and windows of this conversation, sometimes not. Ok, now you might be asking, what’s the conversation? It’s any kind of conversation that could lead one to clarity, lead one to being fully in the moment as a friend, yoga. Oh, yeah, also, you can’t force it. If you do, that’s when things can lock up, grip, or brace, and that’s when things can stop moving. We’re alive and breathing, and things will move. Why inhibit that? Yoga is about freedom and liberation, and within that freedom and liberation, you have a choice. But I do have to say, that if one cultivates a practice of breathing and moving slower, you got a few things going on. You’re paying attention as you practice (hopefully), you’re paying attention to what you’re doing, and you’re allowing your breath to be your teacher, so if one day you choose to breathe and move faster, you’re not going to deplete yourself of energy, and you’re not going to hurt yourself because you took the time to breathe and move slower.
Last week as I was practicing at home, I noticed that I was breathing and moving faster than normal. I was booking. It was a little bit shocking, and a bit of a surprise. I also noticed that I wasn’t forcing any of it. It just kinda happened, and I went with it. It felt really supportive. I gave myself that space. I wish everyone would give themselves that space. And when my practice was done, I felt a bit more balanced, and bit more even, and that’s a good thing. I’m not going for perfection when I practice or anything for that matter. I’m into the noticing. That day I noticed I breathed and moved a bit faster than normal, but I didn’t deplete myself of energy (and trust, living in NYC can deplete you). Yoga. Who could ask for anything more?
If you’re interested in that space and conversation, come to one of my classes in Brooklyn at Abhyasa Yoga Center. Would love to breathe and move with you. This is America! You have a choice!
The Zen Buddhist library is open.
The Lankavatara Sutra. Chapter IX. The Fruit of Self-Realisation. Page 85.
Even with these eloquent words, words and ideas are not central for the transmission of this teaching. It is a reflection of Zen. Words and letters are at best a description of reality and not the reality itself. Woah. That’s heavy. Put that in your incense burner, and spark it up.
Sometimes doing simplest things can bring great benefits. I’m talking about yoga and the lens from which I’m looking through. That’s the lens I’m sharing when I’m teaching. For me, in regards to practicing, and in turn teaching, my goal is no goal. I don’t have a goal. Well, if there is no goal, what is then? It’s learning something about yourself with the process and feedback along the way. Yoga. To do that, I just want to give people the space to explore and breathe.
I had a special place last week for a group of middle school and high school students. These awesome youngins’ came to Abhyasa Yoga Center in Brooklyn where I teach for a private class. They had various special needs, and this was their first yoga class ever. Not a problem, and really not different from anyone else. I showed them around the center, helped them get situated with mats, bolsters, blankets, blocks, etc…and off we went into the yoga blue yonder. The class, as well as all my other classes, wasn’t about performing asana. It was about being together, listening to each other, and helping each other out. Yeah, we did some cat-cow, some warrior I, some warrior II, some tree, talked about pranayama, but it was beyond all that. It was a space of support and observation, and at the end of class, a space of rest and relaxation, which they loved. It was awesome and uplifting. It was one of the most pleasurable classes I’ve ever taught. As they we’re leaving, and saying good bye, and walking out the door, everybody, including myself, was full of laughter and joy. I had an amazing time, and had extra spring in my step for the rest of they day, as I hope they did too.
You know, I go through stuff too, and this time that I spent with these wonderful newly minted yogis got me through a passing period in my life, where, you know, things can get hard, even for yoga teachers. Hey, we’re people too. They helped me, and I hoped I helped them. To me, that’s what yoga is about; help when someone needs it, being in a space of exploring to where you are alert and relaxed, strong and soft, to where you have zeal and patience, and to where you can breathe. Freedom. Choices. Yoga.
Many thanks to my new friends for an opportunity to learn about myself while teaching this wonderful process of yoga.
Photo by Anna Rose
As the weekend is upon us, and I reflect upon my classes, I realize that something powerful happened at the beginning of the week. So much so, that it’s imprinted forever in my teaching and in my life.
I teach a Breath-Centered Yoga class at Gilda’s Club NYC. Gilda’s Club supports, educates, and empowers cancer patients and their families. This past Monday I had a new student. She was a bit tardy for the party, but no worries. I helped her get her yoga props: mat, bolster, blanket, blocks. As I was setting her up, I realized that she was having a hard day. Her breathing was labored, she was moving slow and like she was in pain, and I could tell she’s going through chemotherapy. I could smell it coming from her. I know what that smell smells like. Some of you know, some of you may not know, that I had testicular cancer almost ten years ago. I am a clean teen now. I had surgeries and chemo for six months. I know what chemo smells and feels like. My interaction with her brought me back to ten years ago when I was sick. It was a bit of a shock, but then I looked into her eyes and I saw that she needed help. I asked her if there’s anything I should know about her health. She told me she has lung cancer. I told her to take it easy and to take breaks whenever she needed and whenever she wanted. About fifteen to twenty minutes into her practice her breathing became really labored. I came over to her and asked if she was ok. She told me she was in pain, but she didn’t want to stop. I told her to stop and to lie down on a sofa that was in the room. I told her to take care of herself. As she walked over to the sofa and parked it, I told her she’s still participating in the class by just being in the room, and that it might not feel like it, but she’s absorbing the practice by observing and listening. There she stayed for about forty five minutes, for the rest of the class. Her breathing became easier, and she rested.
When the class was over and people were getting their things together, my new friend got up from the sofa and came over to me. I asked her how she felt. She said she felt better. She said wanted to do the class, but she just couldn’t because of the pain due to the surgeries and chemo. I told her, “Pat yourself on the back, friend. You came. You tried. You took care of yourself. Yoga.”
That class was really hard for me. Not so much as a teacher, but as a human being. It brought me back to my pain of the cancer that I had, but I wasn’t stuck on myself and my past hardship. I just didn’t want to see her suffer. I wanted to help take care of her, and the best way that I knew how was to remind her to take care of herself. To me, that’s yoga.
We have to take care of ourselves. We have to care of others with no strings attached when we see pain and suffering. Thank God there’s this wonderful process of yoga to help us get through times like this.
Peace, health, and happiness to you and to all the company you keep.
Photo by Anna Rose