I just enjoyed a taste of yoga yesterday at Integral Yoga in the West Village, NYC. It was my first time there, and I was offered a free second class if I filled out an evaluation form of my first class. So I did. But as I got to the second side of the form, I was asked to rate the teacher, and in some ways, the teaching. This was funny to me since the experience of a yoga practice is not something I usually rate or judge in terms of "E=Excellent," "G=Good!"
Then today I happened to skim through Elizabeth Gilbert's short article in the recent Yoga Journal relating her discovery that yoga was neither gym class nor religion. She describes the moment when she realizes, suddenly, deeply and somehow permanently that her being is opening and healing through this simple combination of moving the body, stilling the mind and breathing. She mentions that she now takes yoga all over the world, wherever she is, and writes, " And you know what? It doesn't even have to be a good yoga class. Garrison Keillor once said that the worst pumpkin pie he ever ate wasn't that much different from the best pumpkin pie he ever ate, and I feel exactly that way about yoga classes -- that even the sloppiest or most rudimentary studios have provided me with the opportunity for transformation."
This thrilled me, because I, too, have found this to be true. I've come to understand that every teacher is offering a guide and a space within which it is my own breath and prana that emerges. If I chafe against the words being used, or my hip criticizes the sequence introduced, or perhaps my heart fails me as others leap into a place my body dares not go, I can only gain. Surely as I feel the earth below me in savasana, I can open to the possibilities offered to me in any class. Perhaps it is a power yoga class, perhaps it is a meditation and hatha class, but they each open the gates to awareness.
I remember feeling unsure in classes, and even having strong negative reactions to some teachers who did not seem to be on the same wavelength as I wanted to be. It is that "wanting to be" that is illuminated. Yet even with someone shouting and counting breaths, urging me to "do it-push it-hold-it" in ways that felt like a workout and nothing like yoga, it was my own response that I investigated, and my own breath that I used for support and softness. A class can be very quiet and not rev up the engines that burn off the toxins of the day, but that quiet space is where strength of focus can surely be nurtured, and the distracting mind seen fully.
So I rated everything "E" for excellent on my form, smiling at how even that exercise gave me a new look at myself and my yoga practice. I'm not sure when I will make it back for that second class, but I am sure to learn something from it whenever I do go.