Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Doing Yoga in Hard Times

Inspired by two best friends who did a fasting retreat to take care of their health, I went back to yoga after a long hiatus. I decided to tune up my body before I return to Atlanta to teach at Candler School of Theology in January.

The small yoga studio can accommodate 8-10 people. Yesterday’s class was quite full with 8 people. The teacher Joy (not her real name) was a middle-aged woman. 

A woman in her forties came in a few minutes before the class and had tears in her eyes. Another woman in the class apparently knew her and began talking to her. The crying woman then told the class that she was sad because she has a family member who is sick. 

On my! I didn’t come to yoga to hear family tragedies….I came here to practice.

As she apologized for her crying, one woman said, “Crying is cleansing. There’s no need to be ashamed.”

Some of the women in the group clearly knew each other and offered support.

We began by practicing different breathing exercises: three-part yoga breath, belly breathing, and breathing in through the left nostril and breathing out through the other side, etc.

This was to warm up and after 10-15 minutes, the body felt quite warm as the internal organs were massaged. You massage the organs by expanding and contracting the diaphragm.

As we continued to do different yoga poses, the teacher sometimes became chatty and there were friendly responses from the room.

I HATE to listen to banter in yoga, good-natured or otherwise. I came here to relax.

I realized others might have come to seek community, especially during the holidays, with so much to do and so much pressure.

Joy turned out to be a very good teacher. She offered some of the best comments on the pelvis I have ever heard.

While teaching one pose, she said: “Move your pelvis freely. Turn it and try to put in at a different angle.”

Then she said, women were not allowed to move our pelvises freely. Patriarchy wants to control our pelvises. Wow, so true!

Later, when we were doing the Warrior I pose, she told us to square our pelvis, so that the navel would face the wall.

She said our pelvis needs to be strong and pliable—strong so that we can stand up and pliable so that a baby can come out from the birth canal.

Then as if catching herself, she said not every woman is a mother, but the belly is the seat of creativity. We may not give birth to babies, but we can give births to new things. We can all be creative in our lives.

As we were doing the baby pose, Joy asked us to relax all parts of the body. She said much of unresolved emotions are stored in the pelvis (in addition to other areas of the body). Contemplative exercises allow us to get in touch with the still body, beneath the thinking and feeling bodies, so that we can get in touch with these unresolved emotions.

This was such a good reminder for me, a teacher of spirituality.

Joy told the group to listen to our bodies. Listen to what the body was telling you today. We could modify the poses to accommodate our needs.

The body is not supposed to suffer because of doing yoga. Instead, yoga is to ease suffering in the future.

After doing yoga for an hour and 15 minutes, I felt my body was more relaxed and my joints more flexible.

As we concluded the practice, Joy asked us to dedicate the practice to ourselves or to someone else. I dedicated it to my brother. Joy said the usual saying: “May all beings be protected. May all beings be free of suffering…..”

When we said namaste, I was grateful to the company of yogis who practiced with me.

The woman who cried at the beginning stayed behind and apologized to Joy for crying and disturbing the class.

I walked up to her and consoled her, “I met you for the first time. But when you shared your story, I felt honored to be invited to be part of your community. There are times in our lives that we need even strangers for support…”

Then out of the blue, I began telling her that I have a brother who is going to have surgery for a brain tumor the following week. . .and started crying.

She embraced me and tried to offer some kind words.

As I walked back home, I thought what a wonderful yoga class I had. My feelings for the crying woman has softened during the short span of the class.

Doing yoga together is to create community—whether we chat during the class or not. The silent assembled bodies, the rhythm of the movements, and the commitment to support each other in our practice are gestures of building community.

The holidays are hard times. People may not have loved ones to share the holidays with. People may hate the big family dinners, for they have little in common with their relatives and don’t know what to say to them. People may have loved ones who have died and can’t share the joy of the season. 

Do something during the hard times. We can choose to do something to ease suffering in the future. I am glad that I went to yoga that morning.