The Brightness of Day

It has felt like an especially long week where I have felt guilty for my inattention to the present, especially to people, and feeling like my emotions are right up near the surface is very challenging to me. It can be very difficult for me to be alright with needing people, with needing support.

I am far more comfortable giving support and strength to someone than I am at receiving it. I try to be mindful that my opening up to receiving creates space for another person to practice giving, but it is still very challenging for me. I often feel like I am imposing on someone else when I am not capable of being strong and giving all the time so it makes it even more difficult to ask for support and care, even when I really need it.

One place that helps me practice are the times when my yoga students tell me the appreciate something I’ve taught them. It is still actually uncomfortable, receiving praise, but since it is a result of something I’ve done it feels easier to work with than accepting support. What it makes me realize at times, like today, is how accepting praise gratefully and gracefully offers me support in my life as well.

Today’s all-levels class at Dishman posed several challenges. My body ached this morning and really didn’t want to have to leave the cozy comfort of the flat. When I did arrive to Dishman one of my regular students revealed his newly broken right wrist, left elbow, pulled right hamstring, and a scrape the size of a poker chip on the left knee! I inquired if he was certain he should be there, but he assured me he wanted to be there. Everyone else arrived to reveal they felt cold, tired and “curmudgeonly”. A newer student arrived who is very new to yoga asana and isn’t really in is body yet, so it is extra work to help him into correct alignment. What a mix!

Looking around at all of them I announced we’d do some gentle stretches to open the legs and back, some twists to wring all that cold energy out, and we’d do a lot more breath work, Pranayama. Everyone seemed fine with that and I led them through some basic seated asana, a twist, then we sat doing Viloma breathing for a while before some time for meditation.

During this time I decided to practice in an area that’s not the most comfortable for me — guided visualization. I don’t do well with visualizations or counting when I meditate. Any mental activity related to cognitive thought sets me off and I think, think, think, think, think! Nothing but monkey mind, a whole roomful of monkeys analyzing, computing, theorizing. Because of this I focus my attention on my diaphragm and the movement of breathing there.

With this bias I know that I most often teach mindful breathing, of following the breath into the body. During this time I will remind my students to just be aware of a thought arising, notice it, “Hey, there I am thinking again.” and let it go, return to the sensation of breath. Sometimes I add the suggestion from Thich Nhat Hahn to mindfully label the breaths. I’ll suggest that the mind’s activity merely identify, “This is me breathing a long, deep breath in. This is me breathing a long, deep breath out. This is me breathing a short breath in. This is me breathing a short breath out.”

I admit I’m biased so today I decided to add a visualization in there, one that Joy’s taught us and I’ve heard before elsewhere. I suggested to everyone that they imagine their minds as a deep, blue, clear, still lake. Whenever a thought came up, just see it as a bubble rising to the surface of the lake and popping there. Watch the ripples from that arising thought move towards shore, how they get further and further apart until the lake surface is calm, still again.

We then moved through three different asana to awaken and strengthen the core abdominal muscles. With that heat and awareness built I seated everyone again to do Kabalabhati. I was pleased that this time I was able to stay more focused on what I’d be teaching next — the first time I tried teaching this I was energized but distracted! Everyone came up into Bridge pose to lengthen out the muscles of the abdomen after working so hard. A few half salutes to shake out the body, Tree pose, ending with their choice of Down Dog or half forward bend at the wall, a supine twist and savasana. During savasana I invited them to return to the visual of their mind as a lake.

It was probably the fewest poses I’ve taught in a class that wasn’t designated as a ‘restorative’ class, but no one seemed to mind at all. Afterward people commented on feeling very good, stiffness wrung out a bit, and the mental cobwebs clear. The student with the injuries especially said it had felt very good to him. He noted that people had asked him in surprise about his coming to yoga, having injured himself on Monday, but he said to me that he’d told them he knew that I’d be able to come up with something for him! Talk about my student having greater confidence in me than I do!

Another gift was from my student who is the most new to yoga and is still learning how to feel his body, be in his body. He said that he has a hard time with the breathing and meditation, but today’s class focusing on those things really helped him a lot. He said the visualization of his mind as a still lake just rang true for him. That visualization, which doesn’t work well at all for me, was an “Ah-ha!” moment for him. He suddenly understood and connected to the concept of watching his thoughts arise, not getting caught up in the thought, and letting the mind settle again. He left class telling me what good teacher I was, that my ability to teach him despite his confusion, stiffness, and distraction made him feel safe learning something very new and uncomfortable.

Wow. Talk about shining some pretty bright lights in my little corner of the world!

When my students tell me things like this I feel so deeply humbled by it. I’ve often said that I when I teach Hatha Yoga I feel like I am merely a conduit for the 5000+ plus years yoga has been practiced. I merely am the vehicle for a long lineage of teaching. A student recognizing me, the person teaching, for skillful instruction is such a precious affirmation of my ability to rise to the challenge each class presents. The idea that I personally help them to know compassion and comfort in their body, regardless of the ease or dis-ease in that body, is incredibly precious.

In honor of the brightness brought into my life by sharing Hatha Yoga with students I titled this entry after one of Alphonse Mucha’s paintings, The Brightness of Day

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