The Geography of Yoga

“If you begin to understand what you are without trying to change it, then what you are undergoes a transformation.” – J. Krishnamurti

In the past two weeks, the ancient practice of yoga, born in India, has followed me to Mexico and back; or, I’ve followed the practice. I’ve also taken a class taught in Japanese. Tracing my practice on a map, and tracing its effects on me, is a new kind of cartography, with ripple effects throughout my life.

Mexico and Minnesota

Last week I was at a resort in Mexico for my friends’ wedding. That meant that I couldn’t get my “three classes per week” at any of the great studios I’ve been going to here in New York… instead, I had to find a way to go to three classes in Mexico.

On my first morning, I went to a yoga class at the resort’s gym led by a woman from Minnesota. It was pretty short, and pretty beginner-level… not the most spiritual or physically challenging class I’ve ever taken, but still, I was grateful to have someone else leading, and my body lapped up yoga — any yoga! — after all those hours on a plane the day before.

A sign for yoga classes in townThe next day, I decided to practice in my room (on my balcony, actually), using this great Seane Corn video, “Yoga from the Heart,” that I downloaded from YogaJournal.com. My friend Ronna has studied extensively with Seane and can’t say enough good things about her as a teacher, and now I see why. In the video, Seane does a beautiful job of keeping the emphasis on the spiritual aspects of yoga, while also making sure to cue you to assume the proper alignment in each pose.

Proper alignment is critical to being safe in a pose, and avoiding injury — not to mention achieving optimal energy flow through the body. Unfortunately, in my experience, teachers who emphasize alignment instructions in their classes often do so at the expense of translating the beauty and spirituality of yoga. Seane achieves a near-perfect balance, and doing this video left me hungry to study with her further. I’ll be checking out the Yoga Journal conference coming to New York in May, for sure (here’s the conference website).

Doing this video on my balcony, with the sound of the surf in the distance and the blue sky above me, felt like heaven. I savored savasana, or final resting pose.

For my third class, I admit, I cheated a bit… I taught a class, instead of taking one; but since it was one of the more rewarding yoga experiences of my life, I’m gonna go ahead and say it “counts.” I led yoga for my friend, Christina, and her bridesmaids, on the morning of her wedding. We were right on the beach, with the waves crashing less than 10 feet away, and a huge expanse of blue sky above… it was beautiful. I was able to give everyone a massage while they rested in child’s pose at one point, and I could just feel how much their bodies needed that letting go. Christina told me later that a line from a poem I read became a mantra of sorts for her as she went through her day — any time she found herself getting stressed out, she’d say the line to herself.

Here’s the poem:

Peace flows into me

As the tide to the pool by the shore;
It is mine forevermore,

It ebbs not back like the sea.
I am the pool of blue

That worships the vivid sky;

My hopes were heaven-high,

They are all fulfilled in you.
I am the pool of gold

When sunset burns and dies

You are my deepening skies,

Give me your stars to hold.

By Sara Teasdale from Love Songs (1917)

New York, Japan

Back in New York, my body and spirit were craving some serious yoga, and as luck would have it, I was scheduled to meet my friends Christa and Monica at Jivamukti Yoga (we were having tea in the adjacent cafe, which I love). I can always count on getting a beautiful flowing practice at Jivamukti – rigorous, but afterwards, you always feel that great “scrubbed” feeling that yoga can provide, where you’ve worked out all your shit and you are restored to your core, relaxed self. Ahhhh.

But then, a twist! When I was ready to take a class, the only class they were offering was being taught in Japanese. Yes, you read that right — Japanese; and no, I don’t speak it (though I do have two Japanese grandmothers… but that’s a story for another day). Jivamukti offers an “International Spiritual Warrior” series, ie, one class each day of the week (except for Friday) that’s taught in a language other than English. Apparently, the schedule is thus:

Monday: German
Tuesday: Spanish
Wednesday: Japanese
Thursday: Hebrew
Saturday: Russian
Sunday: Arabic

Christa and I decided to give it a shot. The teacher, a tiny woman named Kumiko, led about 85 percent of the class in Japanese, occasionally substituting a English phrase, or the Sanskrit name for a pose (like chaturanga dandasana). She communicated a lot by demonstrating. The whole experience reminded me of an exercise we do in improv sometimes, where we challenge ourselves to do silent scenes — a way to remind ourselves just how much we can accomplish and express without using words. Language can become a huge crutch for improvisers — we get on stage and blah, blah, blah, and feel like we’re doing something, when really, we’re just getting in the way of anything actually happening.

Being in that yoga class, I felt for the first time how yoga is truly a universal language of its own. You could put yogis from different countries in a room, and we could all flow together through sun salutations and more. Complete strangers, who couldn’t have a literal conversation, could have a conversation of sorts through yoga.

Bringing it Home

Putting together the class for Christina, I realized just how creative I could be as a yoga teacher — not only deciding the asana sequences and flow, but also selecting readings, imagery and ideas to incorporate into the practice. Leading the class that morning on the beach, I also realized how much my intuition and improv background can help me as a teacher — learning to intuit what a group needs and adjust course accordingly…to flow, right along with the students you serve.

Increasingly, yoga is what I want to do. It’s what I want to practice, and learn about. And so, I’ve decided something: This is the year I’ll do my 200-hour yoga teacher training. This is the basic level of training you need in order to get certified by the Yoga Alliance, and hired by most legitimate studios.

I’m gonna be a yoga teacher when I grow up.

 

4 thoughts on “The Geography of Yoga

  1. Being very literal here – If you become a yoga teacher I will come to your classes – assuming we share the same geography at the moment you grow up and I once again have time. Because one of the reasons I *didn't* enjoy yoga years ago was because the teacher simply didn't pay attention or paid too much attention to alignment. Ow ow ow!!!

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