Saturday, November 15, 2008

Peeking at the Poses of Others

Last week I joined some pals for a yoga class at Exhale, taught by Amy Leydon, who recently confided that I was one of her first yoga teachers, as many as seven years ago, here, in Boston. Small world, eh? So it was quite a treat to take the yoga journey full circle and attend her upbeat and graceful class, as a student. Moreover, I was happy to join my friends, who are all serious runners, in an activity that I love so much. Throughout the past year, some of them have, in turn, provided running tips, pieces of insight, and motivation- particularly when I was training for Reach the Beach.

With my mat positioned next to Jack and behind Barry, Sarah, and Chris, I enjoyed the experience of being surrounded by friends while absorbed in a solitary activity that, more often than not, provides me with quality introspection. I tuned into my pals only long enough to notice that they weren't nearly as stiff or inexperienced at yoga as they'd let on. In fact, they looked like seasoned students to me.

Still, when class ended and we huddled together, sharing our collective post-sivasana bliss, Jack joked that practicing next to me left him feeling slightly, yogically inadequate by comparison. To which I responded, "Well, if that's the case, none of us would ever bother putting on running shoes again." You see, Jack once won the Boston Marathon. Therefore, if we follow the logic of comparing each other's yoga poses, we could just as easily fall into the trap of comparing our mile paces (not to mention our bodies, bank accounts, and . . . the list goes on) with similarly dissatisfying results.

I believe it was the Buddha (or perhaps a middle school teacher of mine many moons ago), who said, "All unhappiness comes from comparison."

In other words, heaven help us all, if we base our own capacity to lace up a pair of New Balance sneaks and take a trot along the river, bopping to Rihanna while envisioning ourselves crossing the finish line, before being draped in a foil blanket and adorned with a champion's laurel wreath, on the standards set by someone else. Sh*t, why bother we might say?

Yoga, among other things, teaches us to turn inward and turn off the tendency to peer over at our neighbors, sizing up their downward dogs or dancer's poses. It's not an easy task, but it is just as much a part of the practice as lengthening one's hamstrings or steadying one's drishti.

Years ago, I took a workshop with Bryan Kest, who I recall telling the class, "You should not know what the person next to you is wearing [in a yoga class]," which I think is a helpful rule of thumb. Perhaps you admire someone else's level of experience for a moment or you're a beginner who learns visually; however, avoid getting too swept up with anything that's happening anywhere other than on your mat or in your shoes.

Remember, each of us has our own finish line, with a champion's laurel wreath, in just the right size, awaiting us during our own personal moments of triumph.


Anonymous said...

Every little bit of me could use 108 sun salutations right about now- as I come off an 8 day juice feast and battle back a little cold as all the dust of my insides settles back down after being stirred up.

Bryan was a transformational teacher for me. I went to his classes three or four times a week (though practiced at his studio daily) for three months when I was living in LA dealing with my health challenges.

As I am sure you feel now, when someone tells you that you inspired or helped them in some way, it is an amazing feeling. I find it hard to wrap my head around the notion that in the work that we do, we might be playing even the ittiest part in the transformation of others.

Jack said...

Excellent post Om Gal. Good reminder that we each define our own finish line and what success and victory are to us. The results we achieve in life are (or ought to be) byproducts of an inner game that is played to maximize our own potential.

I've also heard it was the Buddha who said, "Desire is the root of all unhappiness". And the Buddha can be found in second grade teachers too:)

Keep on keepin' on!!