My new teacher inspired me so much, I would try to make 3 classes a week. I wasn’t the only one enamored with her teaching, several others would also make all three classes she taught in a week. Those of us who were her devoted students developed a deep kinship. We looked forward to her yoga classes and the commradery that came along with it. We often sat around and joked before and after class and sometimes one of us would make a good quip during class. She had a way of integrating philosophy with the asana that resonated with me. She didn’t rattle off a yoga sutra and translate it, rather she used the asana to get us to pay attention and stop the monkey mind. She used the asana to hone our powers of discernment and discrimination and yet feel our conncectedness to the whole. The sanskrit word TAPAS is often translated as burning zeal, and I felt some serious TAPAS toward my weekly yoga classes. I felt that she had tailored each yoga class to personally attend to me. I also felt an attraction toward her though I am straight. I realize now how much transference goes on in a yoga class.
She often gave credit to her teacher: Manouso Manos. I remember asking her, “Is that really his name?” I thought the name sounded like a porn star.
In Sanskrit the word guru means spiritual teacher. Gu means darkness and Ru means light. The job of the guru is to shine some light on those dark places so you can get rid of them. I just wanted to feel better. I wasn’t looking for a spiritual guide or anyone who babbled in sanskrit to me while I tried to do the poses. I popped into a Wednesday night class and lo and behold I found the teacher I needed. She was exacting and articulate in her instructions. Her demos were consice and clear. She whipped her shirt off and exposed her sports bra to demonstrate her shoulder blades or her abdomen or whatever we needed to see to understand what she wanted us to do. I thought she was the biggest badass I had ever encountered. She was serious about her yoga and she was as methodical as she was strong. She would pick up a student by their legs if they weren’t in the correct position in Viparita Karana (legs up the wall pose). I once saw her get stung by a bee while she was teaching. She didn’t flinch. She captured the bee and set it free outside. She did all this while not missing a beat in her instructions. I watched her more than once tell a student that they weren’t ready for her class and asked them to leave. I watched more than one person walk out of her class mid-class because they couldn’t stand her attention to detail and her demands that students pay attention too.
Each class, I still looked forward to savasana, but this teacher didn’t babble. Her instructions in savasana were in her same voice only softer and they were sensible instructions. I was smitten and looked forward to her yoga class each week. There is an expression in the yoga tradition that when the disciple is ready the guru will come.
So after a few months of going to Iyengar Yoga classes, I could kinda spread my toes. I took great pride in that. There was a whole lot that I couldn’t do, like any kind of forward fold. All those years of running made my hamstrings tight as a drum. I was always so eager to get into that pose at the end of class where you just lie on your back–savasana (corpse pose), but I came to realize in my blissed out haze, that the teacher was talking to me in her new age modulated voice. She would enumerate in her slow, whispery, creepy, new- age voice all the things that I couldn’t do. Like, ” Don’t let it bother you that your tight hamstrings wouldn’t allow you to touch your toes, you will get there some decade. First you must learn to spread your toes though.” No joke! I would lie there and will her to shut the fuck up. This happened week after week.
After the 8 week beginners yoga session was over, I looked on the schedule and found another yoga teacher. Still, I am grateful for my first yoga teacher. I told her that years later when I ran into her at an Iyengar Yoga workshop of senior teacher Manouso Manos.
There is No HATE like YOGA HATE
We are all in this alone. — Lily Tomlin
Okay, I am desperate. I can’t believe I have found my way to a blogging site but that’s where I am on this Friday evening. I have been frustrated by narratives being controlled on social media. I am sick of the righteousness, viciousness, and greed of yoga communities. I want to get my voice out there so maybe, just maybe, someone will look for another side to the story. I have no idea of the life span of a blog, but maybe in a decade when things settle down, some researcher will find my blog and unearth some truth and another side to the story.
My yoga adventure started unceremoniously in the year 2000. There was a yoga studio down the street from my house. I was in great emotional pain because I was in an unhealthy relationship and needed to find my way out of it. I ran four miles a day but that wasn’t even making a dent in my overcast outlook. So I wandered into the yoga studio. I think if the studio hadn’t been down the street from my house I would have likely never have started the practice.
Anyway, I found the courage to go to a class. I think the hardest yoga class is the first because it takes a lot of courage to step through that door of judgement (perceived or real) The studio looked like a crazy torture chamber with ropes and tresslers and all kinds of weird shaped wooden accutrements. The teacher was a beautiful, petite and buxom flexible “doll”. I mean she bent like some sort of gumby doll. I will never forget how she had us sitting in dandasana (staff pose) and told us to spread our toes. My toes were aliens to me. I willed them to spread, but I had no intelligence in my toes. The teacher quickly pointed out I did not have intelligence in a lot of places. I felt somewhat embarrassed about my lack of flexibility and “intelligence”, but I kept going to class because I liked the challenge and the way I felt after class. It seemed for a nano second my mind would be at peace. I came to find out eventually, the yoga I was being taught was called Iyengar Yoga. When I told one of my male friends about my budding interest in yoga he said, “There is not hate like yoga hate.” I laughed at the time but I never forgot his words. It’s a paradox.