By Amanda Tucker
A wave of stillness washes over the room. Standing before a sea of bodies all lying on their backs, bellies rising and falling to the tune of breath. I stand watching, observing my students. Noticing body placement, the guy in the back of the room who keeps shifting, clearly uncomfortable in his back and hips. I see the woman in front, lying close to my mat, eyes closed, breath smooth, transitioning from her job as a nightshift nurse to a woman ripe on the path of self-awareness. The door opens, loud heels click, a purse zips, keys jingle and a mat rolls out. A late student arriving hurriedly, lying down quickly eager to get into the flow of the room. This is brown-bag yoga class.
Taught each Tuesday, Thursday from 12:10 to 1:10, I see a variety of yoga enthusiasts; the dedicated lawyer who shows up every week 15 minutes early to lay down his mat, the cool pediatric dentist with the large back tattoo, the very unsure lady, always in the back who looks around at everyone to make sure she’s doing the postures correctly. My students vary in experience, body type, ethnicity and personality. Some of them laugh when I ask them to stand on their heads, some of them do it. Each individual is just that, a unique and very lovely human being who comes to yoga class for a variety of reasons.
A funny thing, even yoga teachers develop stereotypes. While scanning the room of students, I look for injuries, restlessness, steady breath flow and softness of the face. I also look at bodies, the bony ones, short ones, tan ones, and soft ones. The variation in people is as numerable as your choices of varieties of mascara at Target.
I will be the first to admit, I often make assumptions. When a svelte 20 something strolls into the room, wearing the latest Lululemon fashion, looking around, she finds a spot in the middle of the room. I think to myself, “Excellent, a young student, I bet she is very flexible.” Who’s next? In walks another yoga fan, a smiling woman in her late 50’s wearing no nonsense brown gaucho pants. This woman has a comfortable ease about her. Her body is soft, round and curvy, I observe the way she walks, with a slight limp. I make a mental note to offer her modifications. She rolls out her mat near the svelte 20 something girl, and proceeds to sit down in the perfect lotus position, eyes closed, spine lengthened, breath flowing and shoulders relaxed. I watch the 20 something girl shift from position to position, not quite able to get comfortable or settle. The woman in gaucho pants just sits, and breathes.
I have always encouraged my students to trust their bodies, let breath and feeling guide vs. ego. Another words, if you are having a low energy kind of day, maybe today isn’t the day to hold plank for 5 minutes because you want rock hard abs. This is a common struggle for students of all ages. I announce to the class, “today’s mantra is don’t force, but rather feel your way into each posture.” We begin to move through a few rounds of sun-salutations. I bring my focus back to gaucho pants and 20 something girl. Both bodies moving, one flowing in sync with breath like that of a dancer, elegant and swift. The other, a laboring, wobbly undertaking of sorts that closely resembles a scene out of one of those obstacle course game shows.
Balance time. Guiding my students into Natarajasana, I encourage them to not put their full amount of effort into the posture. “Give it a good 58% of your energy, try not to try so hard.” Gaucho pants, like a swan stands rooted on her right leg, left leg floated up behind, radiating energy through her like a goddess. My focus is stuck on her poise, breathe and true beauty, no modifications necessary. I shift my gaze around the room, scanning for those who need assistance. My eyes do not wander any further than to 20 something girl. If you have ever watched a child try to reach something off the top of a high shelf, then you might fully understand what I observed. A shaky, breathless, battle with the self. Trying over, and over, and then toppling with a loud thump. She gets up, clearly agitated, shakes it off and tries again.
I place my hands on her the shoulders, tense and rigid, her ego bruised I ask her to breathe in and breathe out heavy. Her shoulders drop, she let’s go and for the first time she experiences yoga.
The word “yoga” a Sanskrit term rooted in the act of uniting mind, body and spirit. Through having the opportunity to observe my students on a daily basis, I see them on their good days and bad and the times in between. I act as a witness to their journey, richly noted in elation, combat, exertion and contentment all part of the struggle that is yoga.
Announcing Savasana, I encourage my students to get in a comfortable lying down position, “soften your body, find your breath, and enjoy existing.” Moving around the room, I dim the lights, adjust students positioning and take my seat. Inhale, exhale, soften and release breath. I open my eyes to watch time and notice 20 something out of the corner of my eye. Lying softly on her back, her body rising slowly following the ebb and flow of her breath, a carefree expression on her face, truly present in the moment. My eyes scan over to her left, Gaucho Pants still and easy, carrying with her a wisdom and knowledge that she too was once that 20 something girl, fighting her way through experiences, longing to just “get there” quickly.
The marriage of body, mind and heart envelope the room. In this moment there is no age, body type or struggle, no male or female, and no incredibly cute designer leggings. This moment is clear, it is yoga, and this is why we practice.