Itty-bitty ant-like creatures, and the deep meaning of yoga.
At a recent adult yoga teaching training seminar, my yoga mentor posed what sounded like a simple question, "What is Yoga?" Although I heard her query, my eyes and attention were tightly riveted on the smallest of creatures, an ant I think, crawling around on the hardwood floor. He crawled to this and then that side of my mat. As I watched him all I could think about was how tiny his body parts were....a mouth I'd need a microscope to see, a set of miniature eyes, teeny weenie legs, an itty-bitty ant "heart" pumping life-sustaining "blood" throughout his itsy-bitsy little bug body!
When it came my turn to answer, I shifted my gaze back to class and offered, "For me, yoga is the belief in something bigger than myself." I added, "It's grasping the big picture without getting hung up in the minutia." As I spoke, all I heard coming out of my mouth was, "Blah, blah, blah." Others in my class answered that yoga is breath, prana, energy.....
When I began my yoga training some 5 years ago I would have answered, "Yoga is about getting into downward dog, making sure my heels are flat on the ground and learning how to use a 3-part breath to calm my body." I knew nothing about yoga then. Without a doubt, the physical moves (asanas) and learning about my breath (pranayama) are essential components of yoga, as is meditation. But to my genuine surprise when I really think about yoga, I see that for me, it is really about how I am in my life. The 8-fold path holds great meaning for me. The Yoga Sutras make so much sense. Am I kind, centered, self-aware, mindful, organized, disciplined, generous? Or am I not? Do I take care of my body and my home and those around me? Or not?
I am a self-identified reluctant yoga teacher. Strangely, my 1/2 decade of yoga study has all been within the structure of an adult yoga teacher training program (becoming a yoga teacher was optional, thank heavens!). The fact that I have not wanted to teach is even odder as I have happily taught every grade level from Kindergarten to graduate school and think of myself as a pretty good teacher. Furthermore, I am 6 months away from certification as an adult yoga teacher at the 500-hour level. I am already a 200-hour certified instructor, certified kids yoga instructor and certified to teach yoga in the schools. Yet, I think because yoga has always been such a deeply personal experience for me (the psychology and philosophy aspects of it, in particular), I just haven't felt moved or motivated to share my skills or my experiences. Being a yoga student has been just fine with me.
Ah, the ever constant fact that all things change! Some time last winter I was told about a young student who was regularly rushed to the hospital for extended stays, missing school and in great pain when her stomach shut down and it shut down when she was stressed. Another girl, I learned, was so jittery and anxious that she could not close her eyes at night before going to bed. And whenever she went to the doctor, which was frequently given her illness, she was given tranquilizers. These kids were suffering. They needed to learn how to manage stress and develop better relationships with their bodies. They needed to learn how to quiet their minds and find some sort of peace. I had a skill that might help. Despite my initial hesitancy, offering to teach these girls yoga was the most natural thing in the world.
And so, the spring of this past academic year I happily taught yoga to kids once a week, on Friday afternoons. I named it Joyful Kids Yoga. We hold class in the music room of an elementary school. It's an open and free-wheeling space, full of good vibes. Friday afternoons...I'm tired, my students are tired, and yet once we begin yoga we are all so grateful to join together, have meaningful discussions (loosely based on the Yoga Sutras), move around, play with different types of breathing, meditate and then create a work of art. My young yoginis are a hand-picked group of academically talented, sensitive kids and/or kids with serious medical issues. I didn't set out to compose this group this way, but it is who we are. They are all girls between the ages of 8 and 11.
On a peaceful afternoon last spring, as the warm and wonderful sun was shining through my bedroom window, I picked up the Bhagavad-Gita. It was Mother's Day, a somewhat sad and melancholy day for me as my mother recently passed away. I turned to the Bhagavad-Gita, perhaps for comfort? Engrossed in the story of Arjuna's enlightenment, I thought again about that tiny little ant crawling around the yoga room on this and then that side of my purple yoga mat. If there is a God, I like that idea that he or she is everywhere (as the Bhagavad-Gita tells it) and in that I think I would like to revise my answer to the simple question, "What is Yoga?" At this point in time, I would answer that:
"Yoga is like that little ant. I am like that little ant. Yoga, to me, is about being present enough to notice the tiny little insect with its tiny little beating heart, circumnavigating my yoga mat as I sit in a group of budding yoginis, young or old, pondering the deep meaning of yoga. Fundamentally, yoga, for me, is also about how I lead my life and in that, it's about passing on this ancient wisdom which has been so meaningful to me, sharing all that I have learned with my little Buddhas."