Yesterday my husband told me about a conversation he’d had with a friend, encouraging her to come to one of my yoga classes. “Quite honestly,” he said, “I think she’s scared of going to a challenging flow class, and a ‘flow 2?’– forget it!”
To which I almost replied, “why would anyone be afraid of yoga?” Yoga, that lovely, breathing and moving wonderful thing that has saved and made my life?
Easy for you to say Ms. bendy-pretzel, yoga-selfie facebook-photos yoga instructor, came a chorus of naysayers in my head, before I could speak. Hey, not so fast, I silently scolded these mental hecklers, as it dawned on me that once upon a time, I too felt afraid of attending a big bad yoga class.
Almost four years ago, I was living in New York City with a few months left to my yoga teacher training when my husband got a job in Colorado. As my yoga time in the city dwindled, I wanted to take advantage of all the legendary and inimitable yoga teachers there. I particularly wanted to take class with Sri Dharma Mittra. If you don’t know who I am talking about, google “Dharma Mittra headstand” and an assortment of photos of a grey-haired man doing a headstand on a city street with NO HANDS will pop up on your screen.
That’s the guy.
Hence my fear.
I’d heard that Sri Dharma’s classes involved lots of upside-down-ness, without, gulp, a wall. Even though I was in a teacher training, even though I felt young and fit and flexible, I was TERRIFIED of being upside down. Headstand, handstand, forearm stand with a wall? — even that was scary. Without a wall? Impossible. What would happen if I showed up for this class? Would they kick me out at the first forearm stand, leaving me to exit in shame with my tail between my legs as a sea of head-down yogis stared at me through upside-down eyeballs?
If you don’t believe me, here is an actual email conversation I had with a yogi friend asking if it was “crazypants” for me to go to the class:
On Mar 2, 2010, at 7:28 PM, Jean Hackett <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
Hi Tara: we talked about dharma mittra once….
Is it crazy pants for me to walk into his “master class”? I have to get to a class of his before i go, and i might only be able to make one. i am just afraid, b/c I don’t do handstand, or forearm stand without a wall……
Yes, you must go you will be fine. Sri, Sri [Dharma] is a sweetheart and a Master. Go and then let me know how you liked it.
So I put on my big girl yoga pants and I went.
Tara was right. Sri Dharma is a lovely, sweet master of yoga. To be in his presence was incredible.
I was also right. The class was crazypants. Forearm stand, headstand, tripod headstand…all my fears came parading through his sequence. And I, terrified of the sea of feet in the air above me, stayed on my mat and…
I just did what I could. In forearm stand (no wall! in the middle of the room! ALERT ALERT FEAR ALERT) I stayed in a down dog shape with my forearms (and toes!) on the ground, and breathed. No one kicked me out.
So this is the main thing I want any scared-of-“flow/flow 2”-yogis to take away from this story. You just “do what you can do,” as a teacher I deeply respect recently said. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GVF0w8jJeJs&feature=youtu.be
The only requirement in class is that you breathe.
Look, I’m not advocating that brand new beginners walk into the most advanced class they can find. Brand newbie’s–if fact, everyone– can benefit from a basics class or “Breaking Down the Flow” type foundational series. But if you’ve already made the foray into those and other slower-moving classes, at a certain point you want to stretch your legs onward. I know I am not alone as a teacher here at Flow when I say that child’s pose is always an option. You can modify for injuries. You take care of yourself. The practice is supposed to be malleable and healing. You can also reach out and talk to teachers about the classes you are considering; we are happy to help.
My old friend Tara was also right about this: I did like the crazypants class; actually, I loved it. Dharma Mittra’s class was one of my early experiences being with a teacher who, through his own years of dedicated practice, could look at me and see a vision of me far beyond the little one that I saw — a teacher who could show that vision to me, and empower me to rise to meet it. And so, in prasarita (wide legged forward bend), when the rest of the class was lifting their legs up into tripod headstand, and I stayed, stubbornly anchored to the floor, as well as to my small, fearful image of myself, Sri Dharma came up to me.
“If I was flexible like you, I would just bring my legs up like this” (gesturing to lift my legs from the wide legged forward bend and, yes, I needed to get that quote in print at some point in my life).
And yes, because Sri Dharma said so, so confidently and so sweetly, and because he stood there, radiating all this indescribable energy, my toes peeled off the floor and there I was, standing on my head.
I’m not going to lie to you. You are going to encounter some fears in yoga. I now practice ashtanga, particularly because ashtanga has brought me face to face with my fears – my fear of being upside down, my fear of failing, my fear of being myself (my, my all the fears can seem endless!)– and the realization that I can come out the other side a better, stronger, more ME me.
You show up. You just do at you can do.
And then one day, you find yourself doing a little more.