Wednesday, February 22, 2017

A long way, baby

On Valentine’s Day, I spent part of the morning volunteering in my friend’s first grade classroom.  Since last autumn, I’ve visited a couple of mornings a month to quiz the kids on their math facts.  It’s been a great way to spend time with children and in the process, save Christy some much-needed time.  A few days before, February 14th, she invited me to stay and watch her monthly yoga class that’s attended by students of all grade levels.
“We watch an episode of Cosmic Kids on YouTube,” she explained.  “The yoga instructor guides the class through a lot of poses through storytelling.”
“Reading Comes Alive with Yoga,” I brightened.  “That was part of my training…I’d love to watch your kids in action.”
As the children filed in and found their places in the classroom where desks and chairs had been pushed to the perimeter, I thought to myself, Yoga in schools has come a long way.  In 1999 when I first earned my certification, I taught pro-bono workshops in the school system where I had worked for ten years.   Back then I wasn't allowed to call it yoga.  The administrators and teachers dubbed it creative moment because many of the parents were fearful I was going to indoctrinate their children with something completely unknown to them.
Fast-forward eighteen years in a time when yoga has become commonplace in my hometown.  Every year there are more studios opening around Toledo.  Meditation and vegetarianism are no longer mocked, but embraced as healthy alternatives to fast living and fast food.  As a yoga instructor, I’m no longer considered to be a nut or a novelty.  In fact, just the other day, my sweetheart explained that when he thinks of my yoga practice, it goes beyond what I do on the mat.
“It’s like your religion,” he said.
“More like a way of life,” I replied. 
“Exactly.”
So when Christy started the episode of Cosmic Kids in which the teacher told the story of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone using a host of yoga poses and breathing techniques, I was overjoyed to watch the students eagerly engrossed in what they were doing.  Sitting in the back of the room marveling at the quality of the program, I was equally thrilled that kids ages six to twelve were able to experience movement in ways that will hopefully serve them well as time goes by.  Who knows how much healthier my teenage years would have been had I learned that I can use awareness to diffuse stress and tension or that peace is my natural state of being?
Schools all across the country are discovering the wide variety of benefits from practicing yoga and meditation, some even using classes as an alternative to detention…with very positive results.  That’s a far cry from my creative movement days, and I hope teachers and parents everywhere will continue to seek ways to help children create balance in our ever-frenetic world where inner peace can be hard to find.

Lately I’ve had people come into my life who are performance-based.  And since it takes one to know one, I’m often reminded of my younger self who was fixated on how much work I could accomplish.  How many classes I taught.  How many books or blogs I could write.  While productivity is all well and good, I realize now that my life was out of balance and that ultimately, all of the work could never take the place of quiet contemplation.  Of spending time with Satish, Danta, and their family.  Of falling in love.  
These days I’m curiously confused about which direction to take.  Should I write a novel or let it percolate a little longer in the back corners of my mind?  Should I spring clean since the weather has been uncommonly warm or simply enjoy a gorgeous afternoon on the front porch where I’m currently writing this blog in company of my sweetheart’s adorable dog?  Should I query more prospective literary agents or wait a while longer for a response from the ones I’ve already contacted?
Still, if I’ve learned anything in the past twenty years of yoga practice, it’s to stop “shoulding” all over myself.  For as Yoda once said, “Do or do not.  There is no try.”  I suppose it all comes down to following the guidance I’ve given to my students lately:  move at the speed of my own body…not my mind.  As winter easily melts into spring, I’m captivated by the fact that I don’t want to move at all, and when I do, it’s at half speed.  No longer needing to accomplish anything to prove my worth, I’m peacefully content to do my own thing in my own time and in my own way.
For a former work-a-holic, Type A, achievement junkie, I’ve come a long way, baby.

Perhaps this is just a slower cycle on my way to higher energy.  Perhaps I’m finally allowing myself to gently respond to the incredible life-changes that have happened in the past fourteen months.   Perhaps I’m recognizing the fact that I can’t move at the speed I used to (and probably didn’t need to back then, either).  It doesn’t really matter, for I’ve found that the more I move at the speed of my body, the more present I am with others.  The more patient I am with the challenges of life.  The more thoughtful I am when making choices. 
Hopefully, the more loving I am with my friends and family.
The other day I was talking to a young woman who is only beginning her yoga journey.  She shared some of her personal story with me and tears filled my eyes, for much of it mirrored my own.  When we hugged, I felt her whole body tremble and held her closer, for I remembered what my life was like when I was her age.  What a miracle it would have been to have discovered yoga back then.  But the practice found me when I was ready…and ultimately saved my life and allowed me to create a brand new one.
“I’m so happy I found you,” the young woman smiled.
“Me, too,” I nodded.  “Keep coming back…I look forward to practicing with you.”
On the drive home, I called my dear friend (and first yoga teacher), Michele, to thank her for being such a loving presence all those years ago.  “Twenty years later, you’re still paying it forward,” I told her.  “I’m so thankful that I can be for others what you were for me.” 
Even though I may have taken the long way, looking back on it now, I can see how far I’ve come.  Yet looking forward, there’s still so much more living and learning to do.  I’ll endeavor to venture on…practicing contentment, curiosity, and compassion every step of the way.