February 17, 2011
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.