February 17, 2011

Tractor Yoga

The first time I was exposed to Yoga, at eighteen, I didn't even know it. I was taking a week long modern dance workshop with the wonderful instructor Diane Black from Los Angeles and having the best time! Diane was like a tiny, smiling, jet black-haired sparkplug, was incredibly encouraging and in tune with the core elements that can bring out the dancer in everyone. In essence, a truly gifted teacher.

At the beginning of each class she had us lie down on our backs, stretch out our legs and raise our arms above our heads. Grabbing the left wrist with the right hand she had us stretch toward the right and breathe into our left sides, then she repeated the same on the other side. It was a foreign concept to 'breathe into' some part of the anatomy other than the nose or mouth, but I used my imagination and tried it. Diane had us go through a number of similar exercises all the while breathing deeply into various parts of our bodies. By the time we stood up ready to dance we were thoroughly warmed up, in perfect balance and aware of and alive to every part of our bodies. I had never felt that way before when dancing and it made everything better. I was more alert, my reactions to instructions were quicker than ever before, my body more limber and strong, or at least so it seemed to me, and thus my confidence rose in my own ability to express myself through the various movements. Three years ago, when I started attending yoga classes instructed by my friend Mike I recognized many of the same poses and breathing exercises from Diane Black's classes twenty-odd years before, and I was immediately hooked. 

Mike holds drop-in yoga classes in two locations in my town, in a multipurpose studio in the Fitness Center and in the viewing lounge of the riding stables where my eldest daughter rides and works with horses.  I prefer the large, airy room which overlooks the riding arena because it's quiet even when people are riding below, the lighting is adjustable and warm, and there is plenty of room for everyone to spread their yoga mats on the wood floor and stretch out.  The room at the Fitness Center is okay too, apart from the concrete floor and harsh lighting - though Mike usually turns off the flourescents and lights candles instead - but it can also feel a bit cramped if a lot of people show up. 

Last evening I went to the stables, arrived early and claimed a good spot in the back row.  One of the great things about Mike is his approach to yoga.  As well as being a certified yoga instructor, Mike is also an artist, a designer and builder, so yoga is something that is just part of what enriches his life and keeps his active body flexible, strong, and limber; he is eager to share what he knows with all of us.  He also has a great sense of humour and often ends the class, after we've meditated through the savasana and done our three 'ohms', with a joke.  There is no yoga-snobbery about his class, though he certainly challenges us each and every week.  The usual attendees of the class include a couple of school teachers, a Swiss chef, a librarian, a dairy farmer, a jewellery designer, and me.  We have a lot of fun, especially when we lose our balance in the tree pose (hands raised above the head, body perfectly aligned, with one foot raised in a variety of positions) - "It's windy in here!" says Mike.  Last evening's was another great class - a thorough warm-up, a good variety of poses, and I even managed to the accomplish the 'wheel pose' with a little help.  We ended the class, as always, with savasana, which is when everyone lies down on their mats, hands with palms up a little away from the sides, feet a little more than hip width apart, eyes closed, lights lowered to minimum.  The room becomes very quiet and we are encouraged to slow down our breathing, meditate for several minutes and 'relax, relax, relax...' 

Cue the tractor.  With an earth-shaking diesel roar, the tractor raked the sand of the riding arena.  Around and around it went like a Zamboni cleaning the ice between the periods of a hockey game.  So much for relaxation...I got the giggles.  Mike started to say 'calming' things like, "Feel the roar of the tractor as you relax your fingertips, your toes, your forehead."  More giggles.  We all tried in vain to remain meditative as the tractor carried on roaring and raking below us, it's hard top just visible like something out of a cartoon through the large viewing windows of the room.  Usually, at the end of savasana, when we are all off in our own worlds, Mike gently brings us back with the ringing of a special kind of bell, softly at first and then slightly gaining volume two more times.  When he rang the bell last night, barely perceptible above the roar of the tractor's engine, I really lost it.  Mike rushed through the rest of the 'coming gently back to awareness' part of the class, laughing too, but with a tinge of annoyance.  (I'm sure he will be having a word with the stable manager.)

All of us were now up, adjusting our various versions of the lotus position, and ready to chant our three 'ohms' - apart from Richard, the dairy farmer.  He had fallen fast asleep. 

"Richard!  Wake up!"  hissed Joe, the Swiss chef who occupied the mat just in front of him.

Richard got up and in a bit of a daze said, "That tractor put me right to sleep.  There's no more relaxing sound in the world!"  Spoken like a true farmer.

Recently I heard an interview with a Vancouver yoga instructor.  He was offering classes with heavy metal music playing.  He said the concept was to train people to learn to block out all noise and distraction, the idea being that if they could meditate to heavy metal or other distracting noise, they could do yoga and meditate anywhere and in every situation.  I suppose there is a certain wisdom to that theory...it obviously works for Richard.  There is also something called Laughter Yoga.  I got a taste of that last night...and I think it works for me...on occasion. 

The pose pictured above is the single leg raised wheel pose.  Fitting, for tractor yoga don't you think?  I also want to thank Kate for the Stylish Blogger Award (at right).  I am honoured and cheered by it!  I will pass it on to seven worthy recipients in my next post. 


  1. That looks like a gymnast mid-walkover. I could have done that in my teens, not so sure about now. I'm impressed.

  2. Jen: The amazing thing is I couldn't manage it in my teens at all, but with yoga (and mind you, I got up on my head and then Mike helped me up the rest of the way) I'm getting there!

  3. All farmers have Tractor Porn. They get magazines by the hundreds about John Deeres, Massey Fergusons, Hot Strong German Mercedes/Fahrs and Deutz. So when your title flagged in the side bar I didn't register until I was sipping a cuppa. I nearly choked with laughter and tea when the picture of tractor yoga formed in my mind.
    Well done on the post. Beautiful word pictures.

  4. Thank you Vince! Glad you enjoyed it (sorry about your nearly choking on your tea, though :)

  5. ha. that is awesome...the tractor puts my boys to sleep...i have wanted to try yoga but have not yet...hmmm....

  6. I love this Rebecca! I started taking yoga classes a year ago, and we had a woman in our class with an assisitance dog-in-training. She (the dog) was crated during yoga and was pretty quiet, but the last class she attended she was given a bone to chew and we all went through savasana with the sound of slurping and chewing! It was great....
    (I have never tried the wheel pose!)

  7. How interesting. Your classes sound so productive for physical and emotional wellness. Funny reference to the welcoming sound of the tractor. In the midst of a cold winter I look forward to a little tractor activity in the nearby fields in a few weeks.

  8. Brian: I think it must be true for most kids that grew up with the sound of a tractor running in the fields. I did not, so I am at a disadvantage :) Try yoga - especially when you get to be older and a bit creaky - it's great. One of the instructors here is in her 70's!

    Anne? Great story! Ours used to be punctuated by a bit of barking by Mike's standard poodle Ocho, who knew when yoga should be over (Mike sometimes went over time) and would stand at the bottom of the stairs and let him know it was time to go!

    Paul: I would agree that our yoga class is an all round healthy experience. The tractors here have been spreading manure...a welcome sound? Well, the sound is fine, but I'm not so sure about the smell :)

  9. I found this so interesting and it struck a familiar chord. I take a Pilates class in a church hall. It is a lovely space in a modern church but unfortunately there is an open stairwell to the church entrance above and sometimes when people are talking it comes echoing down to us below. They seem entirely unaware of our presence. We often get the giggles. I am most impressed with your wheel pose. I think yoga and Pilates have some movements in common but I haven't been introduced to anything like that. Our teacher is starting a ballet inspired Pilates class soon and I am curious to try it.

  10. I have never taken a yoga class and am very intrigued. I have enjoyed Pilates on occasion and like it very much.

    Tractor noise...we hear a lot of that in our parts...don't think it would put me to sleep though! ;)

  11. I have never heard a negative thing about yoga. Never! I really must give it a go!

  12. Lucille: I have never tried Pilates, but I'm sure it is very good - I suppose ballet inspired Pilates would involve plenty of 'tucking in the tailbone'. Thanks for sharing the bit about your class' background noise...funny :)

    Jill: I once took a friend to yoga but she found it a little to 'out there' for her. You do have to let your mind go, but I find it to be a gift from our South Asian friends to our frenzied society!

    Modern Mom: You should! It really is great because, as I explained to someone who is now hooked, it's like stretching, strengthening, meditating, and stress busting all at the same time. It's the only exercise class I know from which I can go home completely ready for bed!

  13. Wonderful how African dance is all about the earth, while European is all up on the toes. And the east all about the belly.

  14. You've sold me! Now I just have to figure out how to fit it in my schedule.

  15. Oh I am so behind on my bloggy travels. I read this last week on my "mobile device" but I can not comment on those things. Stumpy fingers.

    Anyhoo...I have never done real yoga, but I have a dvd. Not the same, I know. Not at all. But I can stand for a good stretch. In fact, I think I am due. Just yesterday, Jonah old me I walked like a "rock monster."

    Okay, I am going to try to get to your next post soon. Promise!


I'd love to hear your thoughts. Thanks!