“I tried yoga once and hated it. It’s not for me. It’s too slow.”
When I hear this (at least four times a year) the reaction in my gut is not pleasant. A few weeks ago, I had the same feeling after being yelled at -twice- by some cyclists when I errantly stepped into the bike lane in front of their invisible selves.
Oh my gosh! What a look of contempt that man had on his face. I feel terrible. Is it really necessary to make someone feel more idiotic by screaming and shaking fists? Do you really need to be riding your bike at 20 mph down 5th avenue? Well maybe you do. I’m so sorry. I’m leaving tomorrow and you will never see me again, although I will see you in my mind over and over for a long time.
Do I really need to revisit my missteps? Didn’t the guys do me a favor by making me aware that bike paths are serious business?
Is my bruised ego so fragile that the slightest embarrassment makes me sick to my stomach?
What does it say about me if I’m upset that some people hate what I teach?
This is a perfect example as to why I practice yoga. It’s no longer an exercise option for laziness, it’s a way to investigate my big emotions.
Yoga is different from aerobics or circuit training. The physical practice is a way of tricking the ego into taking a break.
A good teacher WILL ask us to note how we feel when we can’t seem to stay in a tree pose longer than five seconds. Is it the worst thing ever?
A good teacher WILL encourage us to focus on physical and emotional sensations and then remind us that they are often unavoidable but temporary.
A good teacher WILL suggest that reactions on the mat are similar to actions off the mat.
A good teacher will listen to someone say “ I don’t practice yoga because I need to go go go” and NOT reply, “Evidently you lack the ability or discipline to sit with a quiet mind, and ask why?”
A good teacher will NOT demand to know “If yoga is not for you then who is it for?”
A good teacher will NOT write “If you tried skydiving once and hated it, okay, but a yoga class? Come on ya big baby.”
There are many people who don’t practice yoga because they feel calm, centered and content, or simply can’ t find the time. Not surprising, they aren’t the ones who tell me they hate it.
If I never got back on a bicycle after first falling off, I’d never have fallen off again. If I’d never taken more than one yoga class, I’d never have become a teacher.
I have a tendency to believe that if I’m intrigued, interested, or inspired by a person, and want them to be my friend, s/he will feel the same. I can count on one hand the number of times that has worked out.
I can count on two hands the times it hasn’t.
Those instances have been massively embarrassing and emotionally discouraging, however, as with most situations in my life, the worst stories end up being ones that make my friends double over in laughter. Then again, most of my friends are kind and prefer to learn from my mistakes.
This past September, Peter and I heard David Sedaris,the prolific American humorist, speak at the Paramount in Rutland, Vt.
I wrote him a fan letter in March of 2020, one of the 1500 or so he gets a month. I was inspired to write because I felt he wrote like me, and I told him so. I was intrigued that he never had to establish a social platform in order to get published and interested to know if he thought that was still possible in this day and age.
It’s not too difficult to read between the lines. Dear David, I know everyone wants to be your friend, but we have so much in common as you will see in my blog.You may even wish to save me from jumping through hoops and find me a publisher.
Six months later I received a postcard from him. He had read one of my blogs and wrote, “I think a beginner chainsaw class for women is a great idea. After 15 years someone just asked me to write a book so I don’t have much advice.”
To be clear, that blog entry wasn’t one of my best. In fact, there wasn’t much funny about it except for a photo with me in my PJ’s making a smoothie wearing a hard hat and ear protection. That’s only funny if you know it was the only time I donned any of the safety equipment, much less looked at my chainsaw, since the class ended a year ago.
The evening in September was going to be my chance to show him, or remind him, who I really was, a smart, talented, pleasant, witty, and likeable person. Someone he would be honored to call his friend and protege.
I’d been carrying his postcard with me for almost a year, but due to my constant switching of pocketbooks, I couldn’t find it that night. I pretended not to be distraught as I planned my outfit.
What was I going to do anyway? Wave it in front of his face as he signed a copy of his book screaming ‘YOU WROTE ME!’”
I’m much too cool for that.
Because I couldn’t find the postcard, and I couldn’t bring him my book, Virtuous Sinner (of course I sent him a copy a few months back) I needed something to make an impression.
So I penned a list of “Five Interesting Coincidental Similarities Between David Sedaris and Alexandra Langstaff” and put it on a piece of matting board suitable for framing.
There were about 20 people in line ahead of me after the show waiting for David to leave the stage and get set up at a table, with a protective plastic barrier with his pens and markers.
The oversized card was a good idea because I used it as a fan. (Note to self, scarves should only be worn outdoors in blizzards, not as the perfect accessory to tie an outfit together in a crowded theater lobby.)
The people in front were all couples. I was alone because Peter was leaning against a wall pretending to be part of security in his black fedora and tweed jacket.
That was just as well because I had no ability to speak. My legs had gone to jelly and my heart was beating so that I could not only feel it, but I could hear it, sending the blood coursing through my carotid artery. I was slightly worried that I would explode.
As the line shortened, one of the real security guards brought David two plates. Obviously the man needs to have choices of what to eat.
How humiliating for the people in front of me, I thought, I’m so glad I’m back here. Is he going to talk with his mouth full or focus on his food rather than his fans? I hope he’s a fast eater.
As I grew closer and Peter continued to act like the Secret Service, my brain, obviously unappreciated, left the building and went back to the car in the Walmart parking lot, where we had sushi before the show. It was evident that my wits had left me as my turn came. Up to the table I walked with a slight limp, my legs had gone numb, and the first thing I did was to point to one of his plates and say, “That looks horrible.”
Needless to say, he was slightly taken aback as was Peter, who had left his post to accompany me, unaware that I was about to implode.
“We’re so sorry to interrupt your meal” Peter apologized.
Wait, this is a book signing, we aren’t asking for a selfie at a diner for god’s sake, I thought wildly.
“Uh, do you accept gifts?” I whispered.
“Sure, what is it?” he asked while taking a small forkful of something that looked delicious. Some jokes fall flat.
“It’s a list of five interesting coincidental similarities between David Sedaris and Alexandra Langstaff.”
Notice I didn’t say between “you and me” but used our full names as if being formal was a sign of reverence and respect.
“Uh, it’s sterilized”, I added as I passed it under the barrier.
“What do you mean?” he questioned.
“Uh…I mean it’s sanitary, no cooties or anything.” I mumbled.
What if he asked me to prove it?
“Read me some of it”, he asked while drawing falling leaves next to his signature.
“Uh, David Sedaris once saw a dead wallaby on the side of the road. Alexandra Langstaff once saw a dead kangaroo on the side of the road, holding a can of Foster’s.”
How to ruin someone’s appetite and put a damper on the conversation.
It was clear that I was untethered, so Peter said, “You sent her a postcard!”
Rather than be grateful for his interjection, I wanted to elbow him in the ribs. This was like going up to a famous author in a grocery store and gushing, “We’ve read all your books”. How crass, how gauche, how… helpful.
Peter broke the ice. We had a conversation starter.
“If I wrote to you, you must have written to me. What did your letter say?” David asked beaming.
Because my brain, in defeat, had gone back to the car earlier, I drew a blank.
Think! Think! Say something original and clever.
“Uh, I asked you about the publishing business.”
Time is running out. Why is my head so empty?
“Uh, the picture on the postcard you sent me was of Mr. Smith’s runaway horse and my maiden name is Smith!”, I jabbered.
I felt a wave of relief. Maybe my mind was returning. Maybe I just needed to warm up.
“Well thank you for coming, I love meeting people I’ve written back to,” David said as he slid my book towards me.
“And thank you so much for your words”, I blurted rapidly as the Secret Service agent, Peter, escorted me away from the table. “You read my blog and agreed that a chainsaw class for beginners was a good idea” I announced over my shoulder.
I know the 30 people still in line were glad to see me go.
On the 45 minute drive home, I replayed the embarrassing and discouraging experience over and over. So much for being at home in the world. What happened to the confident, sparkling, easy to speak with, refreshing burst of energy person that anyone in their right mind would want to exchange phone numbers with?
I was pretty sure that Peter was to blame for me making a fool out of myself in front of an author I was interested in, intrigued and inspired by.
Poor guy, it’s taken me weeks to get over it.
Namaste: want to read the 3 other similarities ? Send a message my way.
My friend Andi is a part time yogi and a full time mom. In addition she’s a writer, a horsewoman, a dancer and a speed-walker- slow-jogger. She also asks the best questions like, “Where are the short cuts in yoga? How long does it take to feel better, calmer, able to let things go?” I explained that unlike vacuuming, yoga is a steady, committed practice.
In college I was a master at shortcuts. I used the same three part, Mad Libs style, template for every paper I wrote. Each one started with the title,
“(Insert Chimpanzees, Sexism, Sign Language, Self Defense, Public Speaking or Ethan Frome here) of the Newer World”. This brilliant idea came after reading “Explorers of the Newer World” in an Encyclopedia Brittanica back in 7th grade. Some things just stick.
The second part was the content and I use the word loosely.
The third was the summary, one line, “Thank you for your kind attention”.
I thought I was quite clever and I was also content with mediocre grades.
There are five Niyamas in the eight-limbed path of yoga. It’s basically a list of things to do. Santosha asks us to be at ease, appreciate and be content with what is. Sometimes however, as in my case, it leads to complacency.
It was easy to come up with a term paper topic at the last minute. I appreciated that editing was for English majors not me. I was also quite content with a passing grade until after I took an independent study self defense course in town. In order to satisfy the physical education requirement I wrote a quick paper. All my part-time sensei required was the class fee.
I received a grade much better than I deserved or expected. Of course I boasted about my “B+” to my instructor. Of course he wanted to see the paper. I couldn’t do it. I knew it was lame but I sure didn’t want anyone else to think I didn’t know it. Time to stop practicing fake Santosha.
Incidentally, all I have to do is remind Dee of my academic history and her concerns about my nieces’ schoolwork goes out the window. “Don’t worry so much; look at my pathetic papers; I turned out fine!”
Considering one of her college works was titled “My Life as a Black Man”, I’m not sure why she’s concerned about anything.
Santosha requires a little effort on our part. It requires a commitment to be our own true selves, our own best selves, by appreciating and accepting what is now. Looking back with regret or forward with anxiety isn’t part of the deal. This is the practice of yoga.
Sometimes our physical yoga practice is frustrating. One day we feel like tired old farmers and other days as nimble as monkeys. One month I may have to vacuum the kitchen twice instead of once. It comes down to being content with what is and what is not.
There are no short cuts, it is a continuous way of living and thinking. It’s enjoying the long haul.
Perhaps we could practice yoga, on or off the mat, the same way we write a thoughtful paper.
Start with an introduction by taking inventory of ourselves, thoughts and circumstances.
“This is how I feel and what I’m thinking.”
Then get into the important message, the content.
“The only thing that matters is that I pay attention to this moment.”
Wrap it up.
“I’m content because I’m me and only me. I appreciate all experiences.”
I used to like old things. I bought a light brown, beaded sweater at a church rummage sale and wore it for years. I’m wearing it in most photos taken in the ’70’s. I would never buy it now, even for a couple of dollars. The color isn’t really brown or tan, it’s more like the color of Georgia’s physical reaction after I added old vegetable and faro soup to her dog food mix.
My father and I went to tag and rummage sales when I was putting together my first apartment. That was fun because he paid for everything and I felt like an only child. It’s not like Had, Dee and I vied for Hopper’s attention, (that’s what we called him…another story) but more so that we vied for making him laugh. Having him alone meant he was a captive audience.
Hopper was 22 when his ship was hit by Kamikazes in WW2. He spent one and a half years in the hospital recovering. Some of that time he was in the psych ward because no one knew or believed that pilots were intentionally killing themselves in order to kill others. The government had a part in that.
He was 90% disabled. His right leg was fused at the knee. Excellent for kicking but not so good for running bases in a game of kickball. His left arm was reshaped into a curve. I think the elbow joint was removed. No muscle left, just skin and bones. Although Hopper had long fingers, the ones on his hurt arm were incredibly thin and incongruous with his body. He was lucky. Born a lefty, as a young boy in school, he was forced to become a righty.
We never really noticed that he was physically different from anyone else. He was just Hopper. His dry sense of humor was his greatest gift if I say so myself.
Every morning we heard him sing “Oh what a beautiful morning, oh what a beautiful day, I’ve got this wonderful feeling, everything’s coming my way”, along with a pause after each step up the steep stairs. Funny now, not funny when I was a teenager.
I had a tag sale a while after Hopper died. I was married, divorced and remarried at that time. It included a few ancient kitchen items bought from tag sales past but mainly books. As I spread them out I noticed the titles.
“Creating Your Own Wedding Vows”
“When to Call it Quits”
“How to be Your Own Best Friend”
“Weddings For the Second Time”
“Children After Forty”
“Our Bodies, Our Selves”
“Oh my gosh” I said to Dee. “This is the history of my whole f*cking life!”
“Maybe you should display them in alphabetical order so no one notices”, she advised.
Dee is pretty funny. Funny as a crutch as Hopper often said.
Here I was bemoaning that fact that strangers could pass judgment on my life because of my old books. In all the years spent with Hopper I never heard him wonder if people were judging him for how he looked.
Dee owns a consignment store filled with old stuff. People bring in all kinds of things. Are the consigners ever embarrassed at unloading old collections? Do they pretend the junk belonged to a relative so they themselves aren’t pegged as crack pots?
What did one crack pot say to the cracked pot? “I know you are but what am I?”
At 12 I loved reading in the grass in between the house and the barn. It was the perfect spot to keep an eye out for the two hippies living in the octagon up the road. They came down often to buy milk. I assumed others lived with them, maybe girlfriends? I think it was a commune. How cool is that?
One day I took a break from Spiderweb for Two (one of my favorite books) and got engrossed in a love comic. Women in pencil skirts and sweater sets often crying over the guy with the chiseled jaw.
“Whatcha readin'” drawled Keith.
I was startled and then mortified. A LOVE COMIC OH MY GOSH!
I did what any 12 year old girl would do and jumped up to empty the dishwasher or something equally absurd. I didn’t look where I was going and stepped my bare foot in dog poop. Could things get any worse?
I hopped inside crying tears of embarrassment. My father took me into the bathroom, sat me on the sink and washed my foot.
It was a pivotal moment. For some reason I assumed I’d be stuck with that muck between my toes forever. That’s not the case, excrement can be washed away.
Saucha (sow-cha) means cleanliness. It reminds us to be clean, not just physically smelling good but also being pure of actions and thoughts. Get rid of stuff that lingers unpleasantly. Better yet help someone else clean up the muck.
If I hadn’t been reading that love comic who knows how long it would have taken me to turn on the proverbial faucet. Let things go down the drain.