Missives from the Mat 13 — Children and the Adults Who Still Are

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I’ve been inordinately blessed. I used to think it was luck but then I realized that it was not quite that simple, it has been more than me showing up at the right places at the right times. I don’t know who came up with the phrase, “make your own luck” but I like it.

When I roll back to look at the groundwork that has been laid out to bring me to this moment it’s a little astounding.

I harken back to my first yoga teacher, Vicki, whom I’ve always respected and admired. After being in her level 3 class for a year or so, I asked her, “Do you think I’m ready for vinyasa [flowing yoga, more aerobic]?” I didn’t want to leave her class, but she didn’t teach a vinyasa. She was honest and kind and said, “Yes. I do.”

I garnered the guts to attend one on a lark; I intentionally missed one of my Vicki classes at the studio to squeeze in a vinyasa class as a make-up on a Saturday morning. The standard teacher for that class was one Vicki had used as a sub for her class, and I really enjoyed her, so I was excited to see her again.

When I opened the door to the studio and stepped in, I saw that the teacher I expected to be there was not there, but rather another teacher.

I was confused. I almost considered leaving. People don’t like surprises I’ve found, and I’m a people.

But I carried on and took down a mat from the shelves, reached for a strap, grabbed a couple felt blankets and a pair of blocks. I didn’t know what I was in for, and with this new person, I really didn’t know what I was in for.

I loved it. I instantly loved the teacher and the class, as soon as it began. I loved the challenge of the flow which demanded both concentration and meditation, the marriage of breath and movement in a more fluid and contemplative way — there was no getting attached to any one pose in vinyasa, that was the best part. This substitute teacher had an impishness, kindness and an energy about her that I was so pleased to encounter.

So I was hooked. I returned to my Level 3 classes with Vicki, and dreamed of adding the vinyasa to my life. But then the bottom fell out of the economy in 2008 and $240 for 12 weeks of once-a-week yoga was a luxury; it was time / I had no choice but to buy some DVDs and learn on my own.

“I like you better when you practice yoga,” my husband has come perilously close to saying. What he’s actually said instead is, “I can tell when you’ve not practiced…”

It was also around this time of year when I first taught the sixth graders at the elementary school for eight weeks as a volunteer, so I was definitely feeling stressed because, natch, sixth graders totally know more about yoga and breath than I did at that point in my life after practicing yoga for ten years. (I sit here eyerolling with contempt at my inadequacy issues… how they cripple me…)

As spring grew longer, the pool season was opening and I procrastinated on getting out ducks in a row for the early bird prices (I swear I don’t know how this family would function without me sometimes). Usually I mailed it all in early but that year I didn’t. On the last day, I went to our neighborhood central office to submit my family’s pool registration and as I was leaving, there on a table beside the door was a flyer, “Spring Yoga with Kelly…” held in a location that was in walking distance of my home, and not in a studio in a creepy parking lot between a 7-11 and a loud restaurant. The classes were half the price, offered during the day when the kids were at school and then… THEN … I saw the picture of the yoga vixen on the sheet and I just about flipped, “THAT’S THE VINYASA SUB!!!”

OOOOOOOOH I was thrilled.

I dashed home and sat down to tap out an email to her to learn more about her classes and to also ask her if she was indeed the vinyasa sub.

Yes! The classes were ongoing and she was the sub!

OOOOOOOOH I was so excited.

But I was sad too. I loved Vicki. But I needed to save money. But I loved Vicki. But she was the sub… I needed to make a change.

I changed. I wrapped up the classes with Vicki and then jumped ship like a coward and started going to yoga TWICE a week near my home (I even walk[ed] to class every now and then!) and was still saving money. I was like velvet. My husband was so pleased.

Fast forward several years, a blossomed friendship with Kelly, a maintained friendship with Vicki, a mentorship with both of them, and too many downward facing dogs to count and I’m now a bona fide certified yoga instructor who put forth an intention, made a few shifts and have become the manifestation of what happens when you get out of your own way. (If I could just get that writing a book thing to feel better…)

So what have I learned? With teaching little kids:

1) they will point at you and then burst out in unmitigable laughter at you when you make the mistake of wearing a shirt that reveals your belly-button during tree pose. And there’s nothing you can do about it. They absolutely will not stop and eventually, you get over your self-consciousness, you figure out that it’s pretty funny, and keep things moving along.

2) they will tell you that they hate a pose and instead of trying it, they will opt for child’s pose on their mat. They don’t care, they are pure and real: if they think your proposal of cobra is a stupid idea, they’ll tell you that it’s a “dumb pose” and just curl up and wait.

2a) they will also learn to say, “it’s not my favorite pose, I’ll sit this one out” when they call poses “dumb” after a few instances.

3) they will start giggling when you say to them (when finding a scowl upon their faces) “Don’t smiiiiiiiiile. Donnnnnnnn’t smiiiiiiiiiile….” it works every time.

3a) they will also test you by frowning just to get the “don’t smile” challenge going.

4) they love to be sniffed out of svasana by a chocolate Labrador puppet named “Teddy Dog” and if you request that they not make a peep when they rise, to respect their friends, they will keep their sweet mouths zipped.

5) they like to partner pose. They have absolutely no issues or social bullshit on their minds; they’re all about the fun.

they are building a tent for their carnival.

they are building a tent for their carnival.

6) they seem to make no connection whatsoever to breath and calmness at first. They look at you like you’re speaking crazy talk and then a few weeks later will tell a classmate who’s having a hard time because he didn’t get the mat color he wanted to “breathe deep and slow… you will feel better and then you can have the mat next time…” and you will find yourself blown away and they will have to fetch Teddy Dog to rouse you from your unintended svasana.

7) they will completely lose their minds if you forget Teddy Dog.

8) they “love to play musical mats because only the poses get eliminated, not the kids!” When the last mat is “safe” they all have to squeeze on to it or at least touch it. When this happens, it’s all about making room and fitting on instead of squeezing out and “fitting in.”

Making room for all during "take-off" for airplane pose after a game of "musical mats."

Making room for all during “take-off” for airplane pose after a game of “musical mats.”

9) they will come to the rescue with their stuffed animal in their backpack when you forget Teddy Dog. Then all of them will dash off to forage in their own gear to show you their each respective special buddies they have in their backpacks and you will smile so deeply inside with the memory of your own long-lost buddy you brought with you everywhere. It seems so far ago…

10) they get it. When classes end, they bum out because they really enjoy them, and when the session ends, they cry because they love you. They give you pictures of yourself with them that they drew because they wanted you to remember them. “Because you helped me learn how to feel good when I am feeling all spazzy or want to punch my brother.”

Teaching kids keeps me grounded. I love teaching both sets of ages, and each presents its challenges. Adults won’t necessarily pout if they don’t get the mat they want (they bring their own) or if I instruct tree pose. But some adults pose their own challenges and that’s mostly where boundaries are involved. I would be absolutely leading you astray if I said that some adult practitioners don’t confuse the “kumbaya / namaste” vibe of a yoga instructor with loose structure or lack of policies.

Also, some peoples’ appreciation of yoga (“whatever, it’s a social thing for me”) might not be mine (“can be life changing, I’ve learned so much about myself on the mat”); regardless, i will always prefer mine.

Case in point: I had a student who’s missed a few classes them decide to “gift” a class (that would be missed due to a conflict) to friend based on the premise that the classes were already paid for. I had no such policy nor had I ever heard of the concept. If I were a dentist, and a patient came in for a scheduled root canal but decided to bring along a friend who needed a cleaning “seeing as how the visit is already paid for” I think I’d consider giving the wrong tooth a root canal. I wasn’t thrilled with this “gifting a class” proposal either (and SINCE WHEN is “gift” a VERB?!), but to keep things kumbaya, I let it slide, along with the shot across the bow, “this class only; I won’t do this again.”

And would you believe it: the student ARGUED with me, “I already paid for the class… what do you care? You’ve got the money…” and so then there was this part of me that was “Yeah, I see that…” but the other part of me that said, “No, that’s not how it works. Your tuition is for you; there is no ‘sharing’ of tuition… ”

It got worse. The student triangulated and went to the guest who then was so moved by my reaction (calm, professional yet firm with the scofflaw) that she apologized for coming to class… (Yeah, because that was what I definitely saw coming…) But this triangulation didn’t happen until after the student sent me an email starting with “I didn’t mean to upset you” and closing with “I won’t bother bringing any friends to the new teacher in town…” so you tell me, which was the dig?

It got worse. I basically wrote back to the student and offered her a refund, but not until I told her that her tactics were offensive and her triangulation dysfunctional; that things had reached a whole new level of weird because of what she did.

Then, only then, she wrote back telling me “this is awkward now.”

Now.

Not when she basically pooped on the drop-in fee, and me professionally by treating a guest “on her” (me) without asking about it first.

Not when she decided to triangulate and spew her self-embarrassment and project it all over me and her friend (nice) by trying to justify what she’d done by telling me I’m unreasonable.

Not when she closed her note with a non-smear of my classes.

Only when I called her out on her deplorable behavior and her non-smear. Then. Then it was awkward. Awkward as ass.

We agreed to part ways. I offered to refund her fully, but she said I could keep the money. Ok. She owed me $15 of it anyway for the drop-in of her guest.

She should come to my children’s classes, she’d feel more at home. They can act like children and not feel weird about it; and then when she acts like them, they can call her on it.

So that’s what I’ve witnessed and I’ve learned. That children are children and some adults are still children.

Last weekend, I went on a glorious retreat with Kelly. It was really nice. I noticed a few things about myself: that I go inward with lots of new people around me in an intense environment; that I used to be really codependent and I’d feel awful if I stood up for myself, I’d be afraid that by asserting myself that I’d offend someone else and I’m thrilled to report that I’m not codependent anymore; that I bond with lots of women a lot faster than I thought I would, and it’s a subtle and deep bond; and that I’m grateful for all the bumps, cracks, detours, pitfalls, traps, and more I’ve endured because it’s all part of my story, and that story has made me who I am. I waver on this, it’s still pretty new, but I think I’m finally there.

Thank you.

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