“Na mah stay.” I placed my hands in prayer position (the Anjali mudra, if you must know), bowed my head and stated the syllables slowly and clearly. “Na mah stay.” Seven guys, unwashed and in varying states of dishevelment, slowly, but carefully pronounced each syllable as they bowed in response.
“Does anyone know what Namaste means?” I didn’t ask this lightly. In the course of my classes, I had been surprised by what bits of arcane knowledge these guys knew. One guy uttered “Peace?” Another suggested “We’re done, we can go?”
I started to laugh, “Kinda…it roughly means ‘The goodness in me honors the goodness in you. It’s a nice way of honoring you guys for showing up. Now, who wants a brownie?’
Where have I been? Like the proverbial skin cell, I have been sloughed off and renewed–I’m pink and plump. Oops, not plump per se, rather, let’s say, pink and juicy. When I started blogging, my initial goal was to write every day. Who knew thinking in text was such a chore! Setting such a goal induces an intense form of aphasia. Suddenly, nothing I had to say was particularly noteworthy or interesting. Plus, it felt good to uncurl my stiff little fingers from the keyboard, as they hovered waiting to tap out any profound idea that surfaced its pretty little ephemeral head.
So I turned off the computer for a while. No more blogging…no more Ebay and Zappos (my drugs of choice)…and decided to take a look at my too comfy (read: lethargic) existence and decide, once again, what to be when I grow up. The housewife gig (my recent incarnation) was killing me. On my death bed, a spotless kitchen should not be my legacy.
So off on a quest I sailed. The old adage of the student being ready and the teacher appearing is pretty true.
One day, on my way to my usual coffee shop, a gentle breeze of burning sandalwood wafted from a delightful lavender and orange doorway. Why had I not seen this transom before? The doorway was draped by gold and purple silk fabric similar to an elegant sari. A small fountain babbled from an interior courtyard. The wind made the crystal chimes that hung from the thin branch of a small ficus tree gently tinkle. A low table held a small ceramic cat with burning stick of sandalwood incense propped into a small hole in the top of its head. A small brass Ganesh sat atop a stack of light blue flyers. I lifted the Ganesh (remover of obstacles) and took a flyer.
“ Iyengar yoga classes – First Class Free.”
Over the years, I have attempted yoga. I would fall in love, professing to be a real devotee only to be discouraged by how immensely inflexible my body was and how slow the workouts can be…and in defeat, abruptly quit. I knew that I liked Iyengar because of its attention to precise details. But…
My pattern of starting and quitting began when I was about 12…growing up blocks from the notorious Haight Ashbury in the full blossoming of the Hippy movement…it was hard not to be influenced by all things eastern, or arcane, specifically spiritual endeavors. (At 13 I swore I wanted to be a Zoroastrian—I think, because, Zoroastrianism was found in the last volume of the Encyclopedia, for some reason, I found that to be amazingly cool.) There was even an Ashram across the street from our flat near Golden Gate Park. My parochial school teachers spoke about the use of mantras and one amazingly progressive English teacher brought a book of blank mandalas for us to color. Pretty cool stuff for a Catholic girl’s school…then again, this was San Francisco.
In the recesses of my saurian memory lurked a respect but trepidation towards yoga. After all, I like my workouts to burn! And most of all, I like them to be over and done with in a hurry!
Maybe it was the intoxication of the sandalwood or the immense serenity of the place, but I was intrigued. I noted the class time and date. Why not?
The class felt good. It was hard—this was burning—a good thing. For the first time, maybe it’s the ability to focus that comes with middle age, for 90 minutes, nothing off of my mat existed. No to do lists, no bills to be paid, no phone calls to be made. The world was delimited by the borders of my purple mat. I liked that. A lot. But wandering eyes…Soon I was looking at people around me…Look at her lift her leg! If only I had her butt! Dang, my downward dog looks like a puppy with parvo! Not good…I could feel the seeds of discouragement and frustration take place beneath my corporeal awareness of simply feeling good.
Then one day, the teacher opened with an explanation of the first Sutra of Patanjali (the putative first codifier of yoga)… The first word of the Sutra, is atha, frequently translated as “now,” atha can also mean a blessing, turning point, or the start of commitment. She grinned, “Start where you are…” She continued, “Every time you come to your practice, you will be different, your practice will be different. Start there.”
A light went on. Start where you are. Pema Chodron, the awesome Buddhist nun, says the same thing. Start where you are. This concept is liberating as is another yoga concept—Ahimsa, or nonviolence. Usually, we turn this idea towards others…but yoga teaches that it is just as important to be nonviolent in terms of the self. It does no good to attempt a posture one is not ready to do, nor to berate oneself for the lack of perfection. Let me tell ya, as a triple type A person who swears by perfection, this idea is downright earth shattering. I don’t have to bend like Rodney Yee to be a yogini! I just have to do yoga as my body sees fit. Perfection is in the attempt, not the end. Doh. Who knew?
After a few months of daily yoga, my life is different—I am different. Things shifted. I can touch my toes…I am 10 lbs. lighter…and I am happier—and have been told, much less bitchier (I have my doubts, enlightenment can only do so much!)
Months after I stumbled upon the doorway to the yoga studio, I stumbled upon another doorway. My friend told me about a program in San Francisco that provides a hot meal and activities for homeless seniors in the Tenderloin that needed volunteers…I can write grants, so I figured I could help.
The universe is so cool and crazy sometimes. During my interview to be a volunteer grant writer, I mentioned I’ve started studying yoga…the rest, as they say, is weird synchronistic history.
I now lead anywhere from 3 to 7 homeless guys twice a week through a modified yoga class—mostly seated…and with a hearty dose of Buddhist principles of non-violence and anger management…and batches of brownies as incentives…I tried organic fruit, but nothing gets them to class like fresh brownies! I love my guys. They have taught me so much about seeing beyond the surface. They’re funny, insightful and willing to bend. How cool is that?
I found my calling…I have enrolled in a program to be a community health worker—focusing on holistic modalities. My goal is to serve the homeless and low income seniors.
It’s amazing where a doorway will lead you!