When I was a kid I spent a lot of time with my paternal grandparents. They lived on a small farm, which at night was extremely dark. Like a lot of young kids I had a fear of darkness, which I eventually grew out of. My parents solved this problem at home with a nightlight and when I went to spend the night at my grandparents, I asked my grandmother if there was also a light I could keep on. She told me that there was a magical light that would appear, but I had to lay in bed in the darkness and wait for it. So I did just that. Several minutes passed and it was true, eventually the room was filled with light. Of course I eventually learned that eyes can adjust to darkness given time, and pick up a lot of detail. The nightlight actually got in the way of that sensitivity. I think about this sometimes in my yoga practice. There’s so much we can miss if all we do is bright, intense things. If we want to experience some of the more subtle things it might be that we just have to sit and wait for our senses to adjust.
As I was leaving Seattle for Costa Rica this time, this is what I told my classes about subs:
A lot of us have that one relative who tends to tell the same story over and over again. After a little while, you still listen, ‘cause you love them and the story is relevant to you, but you listen less attentively. Then one day, they’re telling that same old story and another relative, who was there when the story happened, chimes in with a bunch of details you’d never heard before. Suddenly you become really engaged and the story becomes lively again.
Yoga classes are the same. Most teachers try and keep it fresh, but there are definitely a lot of things you’ll have heard before in the same way. Then in comes a sub when your teacher is away, puts slightly different words to it and a whole new world opens up, things you might not have seen in the same way before. Sometimes it can even be outright magical.
Why would anyone want to miss out on that?
I saw a train wreck last Saturday on the way to Lotus Yoga. A car turned left in front of the light rail and the train tossed the car onto the northbound tracks. (No one was hurt.) By the time I crossed the street to see if the driver was okay, he was already out of the car on the phone to 911. He kept telling me, telling the 911 dispatcher, the light rail driver, the cops how stupid he was. Pretty soon the Columbia City Facebook page was full of people calling him stupid too.
Thing is, having talked to him, he clearly wasn't stupid at all. He'd been distracted, his attention wasn't where it should have been. Lost, looking for his daughter's marathon, he'd been looking at his GPS, not the "No Left Turn" sign or the train pulling out of the station.
Research I've read claims the mind can't really focus on multiple intense tasks at the same time. Multi-tasking often produces lower quality results. Somehow we still buy into it though.
One thing I've learned from yoga is that quality goes up when we just focus on one thing at a time. It doesn't mean that I manage to do that consistently, but I have a feel for the magic that happens when I can pull it off.
All those little picky details, the focal points, the breath, the meditation, they're just teaching us to focus, not to be distracted.
Seems like that's something we can all use more of.
It always makes me a little sad when I'm checking in class for a sub teacher and people leave because it's not the teacher they know. I mean, I get it. The first time I ever had a sub I was injured in the class. He was too new, the class was too big, and back then I didn't have a lot of body knowledge. I've also had several other comically bad classes with a sub. I avoided subs for years after that first one. But then later I discovered one of my all time favorite teachers when she subbed my regular class at the last minute. You never know though unless you try.
Last week we had a well known teacher who used to co-own a beloved yoga studio come sub for us. A couple of people were going to leave because it wasn't their teacher. This time though I told them, "This is a special treat. I think you'll like it." They took my word and an hour later emerged with big smiles. Life might not always give you the experience you were hoping for but every once in a while if you're open to it, it'll give you something better, a moment so brilliantly expansive you might wonder why you ever placed so many limitations on it in the first place.
I had a yoga teacher I loved who sequenced from the Ashtanga primary series. There were a couple of poses I hated, so when one of them came up in the mix I would just leave and go use the bathroom. That particular studio’s bathroom is way down the hallway and when I got back the pose was over. Of course my teacher got wise to this, faked me out and started waiting til I returned to the class to do the pose I was avoiding.
I often see people do this in class: leave for the bathroom during handstand, get a cup of water during boat pose, leave early and skip savasana.
It's really interesting to look at resistance at some point and unpack it. One thing I've seen both as a teacher and as a student is the very thing that holds us back in life is often encoded in that moment when we want to skip out on a part of the practice. Does this happen to you?