Yoga has not always been one of my favorite things, though I really liked it right off. I didn’t always know that “yoga” as a word blankets a lot of things, either. For example, yoga can be wrangling yourself into that impossible but impressive posture that puts your feet somewhere around the vicinity of your ears. Yoga can mean trying to be nice, or at least taking a deep breath before delivering that devastating, though super snappy, comeback giving you just enough space to realize how very much you’re going to regret it later. Yoga can, in fact, mean not delivering an ass whipping even when said ass whipping might be the most effective means of communication. Yoga is sometimes as simple as breath. Yoga is meditation.
Meditation has not always been my favorite thing. Unlike with yoga as physical practice, I did not like meditation right off. Often, meditation made me feel like the best course of action might be to leap right out of my skin, relieving me of the horrible situation of sitting there quietly with no one but myself. If you, dear reader, knew what it was like in my mind, you wouldn’t want to sit there quietly, either. I think it’s amazing you sit there and read my posts.
Eventually, there came a turning point in my meditation practice. This occurred years after my first yoga class. It happened in kung fu.
I trained with an old Chinese man who growled at the class a lot, shouting in broken English, “This is awful! Go run!” and he’d indicate with his wildly waving hand that we were to take off out of the school and run as far in one direction as the busy Mobile street would allow without anyone getting hit by a car. Then we had to run back. I never thought he’d be one to teach me anything about meditation.
We call him Sifu, which just means “Teacher” in a fancy language. He was always trying to get us wild kung fu ponies to try a little tai chi. We like using our legs – a lot – and we like throwing them around. We buck like horses in the wild, wrestling and playing for all we’re worth. Tai chi, for all intents and purposes, is kung fu in slow motion. And by slow motion, I mean frame by frame shots. This is the complete opposite of our beloved martial art. Inhale, move a foot, exhale put the foot down. Inhale raise an elbow, exhale, raise a hand. Well, being fierce kung fu warriors and all, tai chi is laughably the worst idea we could have conceived of on our own.
I loved the wild practice of kung fu and practiced for years. I liked the strength and feeling something raw and unbidden rise up in me. In training I saw more than one person just throw up from exertion. I saw shins bruised, ribs cracked and hips laid to waste but it never seemed like a bad idea. Because in training I felt free, fierce and wild. In my flowing gray pants tied to my calves with black elastic cord, I felt like a wild filly off her rope.
One day, while the class was practicing jump kicks, Sifu comes in. “This is awful! Sit down!”
Now, usually the “This is awful!” is followed by “Go run!” or the less eloquent, “Get out of here!” which in essence means go run. But, sit down? Alright.
It seems he is going to punish us with tai chi.
I am sitting on red plush carpet. My legs are folded under me. Sweat is dripping off the end of my nose. My clothes are soaked through, there isn’t a dry spot on me in spite of the air conditioner. My hair is dripping onto my face. And here I am, on this silly red carpet. My heart is pounding from the training that I was wholly involved in only moments before. Now I have to sit here and drip all over myself.
Sifu begins talking us into meditation. I am irritated with this whole business. But unlike other times when I try to meditate, my body isn’t twitching all over the place. I don’t have to move my legs a million times before I hold still for five seconds before twitching all over the place once more. My body is satisfied. Now, it’s only my mind with which I must do battle, but even that isn’t as difficult as before. It’s almost as though I’m contrite for it having taken this much to get me to settle down in the first place.
I begin experimenting after this incident. When I go for a run, when I get home I shed my shoes and sit on the end of my bed, dripping sweat all over myself, and I try to go into meditation. This is helping. Maybe I do a little Turbo Jams and then rush to my meditation mat to see what happens. What happens is that meditation is less of a challenge.
I am reintroduced to yoga, and at the end of that class, I feel the same peace I felt when Sifu inflicted meditation upon his wild horses. I’m maybe not dripping sweat all over myself, but my body is at peace and the only common denominator is the physical exertion of class. I am not twitching and having to re-adjust all over the place. I’m not wiggling and looking at the clock. There is a stillness that has touched even my mind. And I like it. I begin to remotely understand, and thankfully my hee-hawing mind is less obnoxious. This is a bonus.
Tonight I go to a workshop. An out-of-town teacher is hosting it. I have been looking forward to meeting her. As class begins, I find myself waiting for it to start. Eventually,I realize it already started and that this class is going to be a slow meditation comparable to tai chi. I decide that maybe if I climb right out of my skin, I’ll feel better about the whole thing. Then I turn on myself. I think things like, These teachings are just too damn subtle for your gross mind to wrap around, and yoga isn’t just about getting your ass on your shoulders!
Closely following on the heels of these thoughts is a great sense of guilt, as though I am not properly appreciating this very nice lady’s class. I’m not especially impatient, really, I’m staying with what we’re doing and I’m trying very hard to not, in fact, crawl out of my skin. But the fact still remains that I’m waiting for things to get started and by the end of class, I realize that was it.
On my way home I am aggravated with myself and the whole day, if you want to know the truth. Then I remember Sifu and that day of meditation he sprung on me. I put it together that, yes, yoga is a great many things. Tonight’s class was certainly yoga. But maybe not the best way for me. I just don’t settle down enough to go full tilt boogie into a breathing meditation followed by some chanting and then more breathing. Right now, I’m a high-octane sort of practitioner, and so, yes, yoga for me includes those poses that sometimes includes trying to get your ass on your shoulders. Not that it’s better or worse, but working my body is part of what it takes to lead me to stillness, even for a little while.
In class tonight I felt like a filly tied to a lead rope. I felt like that halter was impossibly too tight and all I really wanted to do was run. I think that had I been able to run around in the pasture for a while, I’d have been more than willing to work on that English trot. But I need to work the kinks out first. Without warming up the muscles, I realize the heat of my mind can’t possibly cool down. And so, though I can’t say I felt like tonight’s workshop was the most profound class upon its first viewing, I have to admit that I learned a lot about yoga and various teachers by paying attention to the nuances and needs of my own practice. Sometimes, it’s in attending to the details that allow us to find stillness.