This Thanksgiving, it seemed that even my most cynical fellow bloggers were writing posts about being thankful for stuff. The pressure was on to be appropriately grateful in a bitter kind of way or appropriately bitter in a grateful kind of way. Or just to find something semi-intelligent to say. (As you can see, that took over a week.)
I guess the number one thing I’m grateful for is that this Thanksgiving sucked considerably less than any Thanksgiving I can remember since the time my grandfather helped me to make a big crayon drawing of cornbread to decorate our door (I was around 7.) My guess is the reason it sucked less is yoga, or the cumulative effects of yoga on my (otherwise charming, calm and composed!) persona.
I also got a fair bit of insightful teaching over the weekend, and, over the courses of a few days, came full circle in my appreciation of teachers on and off the mat, human and otherwise. Here’s what I learned!
I saw Carrie Fisher in “Wishful Drinking.” Fisher’s take home message was: if you are bipolar, an alcoholic, and made tons of mistakes to hurt yourself and others, you can make the whole mess really really funny as long as you wait a least few minutes before cracking a joke. Or, as she said, the secret is “location, location, location.” She also said, “Help me Obi-Wan Kanobi, you’re my only hope.” I couldn’t agree more with either of those points. She reminded how grateful I am for my ability to laugh at myself, and that as this point, Obi-Wan Kanobi probably is my only hope.
My first teacher and beloved mentor Elizabeth Rossa stepped up to the plate and hosted a class on Thanksgiving Day at Shri Yoga. This was so perfect, and so much better than last year’s Turkey Day workout, when I spent 8, slow, painful miles trekking around Prospect Park and having anxiety about the impending divorced family reunion thanksgiving. Elizabeth started class by asking us to close our eyes and think of 10 people we were grateful for. I was shocked, and delighted, when I came up with 10 easily. “Wow,” I marveled. “I am not nearly as hateful as I thought!” I even felt I’d left some people out and was glad when Elizabeth suggested we think of another 10. But by 15, I was starting to question my choices. “He’s ok, but he might not come through in a pinch,” or “she’s nice, but I question her motives,” and “let’s be honest: he’s a self-absorbed, oblivious jerk.”
I was kind of alarmed when Elizabeth asked us to work our way up to 30, and surprised when she closed class by telling us she had been able to think of 40 or 50 people she was grateful for. But she explained that she let herself be grateful even for the people who had disappointed or hurt her, because they gave her the opportunity to learn. Ooh, Snap. Yoga: 1, RB: 0.
The teacher I visited on Friday, Katie Malachuk, focused on twists, because twists help digestion, and everyone needs help with that the day after Thanksgiving. But she added that a lot of digestion is psychological and really what we can’t digest on Friday is our family. Oddly enough, we feel and think with our stomachs as much as with our hearts. But really, it reminded me of my own intention for my yoga practice: to enable myself to consume, process and absorb my life is an healthier, more functional way. The thing that’s interesting about twisting is that while it’s a tool for coping with what the world throws at us, it also requires we go very deeply inside ourselves, even to the point of intensity. The plus side is we get to experience everything, without denial, rejection, repression or….constipation.
That sentiment was seconded later when I went to see Next to Normal, yet another play about a bipolar woman. This play suggests that even if you’re having severe delusions, fits of mania and suicidal thoughts, it might be more worthwhile to put in the work and twist your way through the pain, rather than numb it. It also suggested that not only can bipolar disorder be funny, it can be put to music. Bipolar disorder: 1, Lion King: O.
My gifted teacher trainer, and regular teacher, Chrissy Carter, echoed the importance of both twists, and finding teachers in even the most unlikely places. Chrissy is always fantastic about urging us not to go around our weaknesses in poses, but rather to work through the tough spots. To that end, learning from tough teachers on and off the mat often involves putting aside our egos. Facing these challenges as teachers is..well…a challenge. But an important one.
Biking through Prospect Park = Yoga. But I really do think that yoga is when you think, “I’m so lucky to have a bike, and I’m so lucky that the park is this beautiful, and I’m so lucky that no one cool is here to see me in my helmet.”
I went a new teacher at YogaWorks, Keith Yzquierdo. I had been kind of struggling with the whole, “find teachers in the people who are giving you a hard time” thing that Elizabeth and Chrissy had been suggesting. I usually do it on the mat (unless handstand is involved) but in life, I often find it a little challenging to see the silver lining in situations that make me miserable. However, Keith pointed out at the beginning of class that when we’re struggling with something in yoga, we use more props to help us. Thus, dealing with something confronting in life does not mean we have to plow right through and grin and bear it. In fact, we can use “props” to help us cope with difficult situations.
Basically, in order to allow challenging things to be our teachers, we have to adequately prepare ourselves for the challenge, and protect ourselves as well. Maybe the purpose of a teacher is to show you that you need props. Or maybe conflict can make us aware of what props we need get through it next time.
And that lesson is valuable for everyone, even people who think yoga is cheezy. Someone rather bitterly said to me the other night, “So, you’re just choosing to accept everything as a last resort, because you feel like you failed.” (Ouch! But he’s in law school, so we’ll have to forgive him.) I guess the answer is yes: if I had not been laid off during the worst recession in 75 years, maybe I wouldn’t want be as zen about this “everything is a learning lesson” philosophy. But the bottom line is, shit happens, to all of us. Some of it we control, and some of it we don’t. Whether or not you want to “accept everything” is up to you, but if shit does happen to you, you might as well learn something so you can be more prepared the next time shit happens, because it will.
Unless of course you don’t do enough twisting and digesting, in which case shit might never happen. And that would be really unfortunate, I think.