The weather was beautiful today, the sun shining bold and clear, the air boasting just a hint of impending fall. The temperature outside was like water when it comes directly from the tap, neutral yet refreshing. I teach Yoga on Saturday mornings and then I have the rest of the day to myself. I love starting the weekend by leading others in a positive early morning exercise experience, and I have a particular fondness for the people who take time from their weekend to attend. Yoga wakes up the heart, like a jump start to the internal motor, and it attracts people who tend to be intellectual, sensitive, health conscious, and lead interesting lives, so I enjoy getting to know every one of my students. When the class is finished and people disperse, my Saturday stretches out like a long roll of banner paper inviting me to finger-paint; I can be messy or creative or just dabble for fun. Yes, Saturday’s lately have been good for my soul.
Yoga classes unfold with certain properties, or at least mine do. In case you haven’t taken a yoga class, or at least not one of mine, I’ll describe it. I begin by asking everyone to lie in a supine position on the floor and I proceed to give a guided relaxation meditation. This aids the centering process and helps transition the students’ mind from their busy day to the internal place where yoga thrives. Students then sit cross-legged to begin some breathing exercises and a gentle warm-up. No one opens his or her eyes. I keep my voice meditative and smooth, trying to use words and a tone that will stroke them into relaxation. Once warmed up, everyone shifts to knees for a transitional warm up and I try to touch everyone, my hands gentle on their backs and ribs, or the back the neck. This exercise pushes into downward dog where we experiment with gravitational pull and circulation and I usually do some talking (I teach a great deal about yoga while guiding the class– I never just run through the paces) Finally, I maneuver everyone to a standing position (Tadasana) and we begin sun salutations to create internal heat. This leads to a more rigorous asana practice (the physical poses and movements most people associate with yoga.) An hour later, we end up back on the floor for Savasana, which is 5-8 minutes of deep relaxation in a reclining position. I share a reading, usually a poem or short paragraph from literature about nature or personal truth. I tend to offer readings from Mary Olivier or Rumi fairly often, but I try to mix it up. I’m guilty of having favorites, and usually the reading is reflective of my mood unless someone has said something to me in conversation that touches me, in which case I’ll choose a reading I hope will be poignant for them.
Anyway,during these 5-8 minutes I always pause to watch my students. I like witnessing their bodies melt into the floor in total stillness, embracing rest so willingly after an hour of physical effort (and unlike many yoga classes, my class never stops moving and I continue to transition students from one pose to the next without ever dropping energy, so it is quite a workout.) As I was saying, I like watching their bellies rise and fall as they breathe deeply and the sound made in the room from their oo-jai breathing (sort of like the sound you hear when you put your ear to a seashell). It is calming & peaceful.People fall into such a deep state of relaxation and the stillness is so great, it’s like the room fell under a spell casting everyone into a meditative slumber. Everyone but me, of course, and there is something neat about being the one person wakeful and aware in a room filled with passive consciousness. I eventually reintroduce movement with three light rings on Tibetan chimes. Everyone sits up with his or her eyes still closed and I lead the group in pranyana exercises, (deep yoga breathing techniques.) The class concludes with a small bow and we say “Namaste.”
I don’t do many “om’s” or chanting, at least not at this time, because I’m careful to keep my classes “laymen” friendly. That probably sounds funny or wimpy, but I want to make yoga an enriching, soothing experience even for the skeptical and/or yoga-novice, and so I don’t do anything that will jar people from their trance-like state with thoughts like, “How weird is that?” But when my student’s get more comfortable with basic yoga practice, I’ll begin adding oral sound and short discussions of philosophy now and again.
Anyway, sometimes while my students are lying still, my eyes shift around the room and land on something abstract. My mind wanders.Today, I stared at my peacock feathers arranged in a jar like a flower bouquet in each of the three windowsills. I also have two large arrangements of feathers at the front of the room by shelves where I place more lit candles and my poetry books and chimes – it’s sort of an alter, though I hate to call it that, because the term dredges up thoughts of religion or worship. This artful setup is really just a defined front of the room and a station from which to teach.
The room is lit with small pin spots that shine on the cream colored walls and highlight some small, thought-provoking framed messages –words like, “Balance”, “Calm”, “Peace” and “Nature” – corny, I know, but very pretty all the same. A neat area of shelves is set up in a window inset on both sides of the room, one filled with over 30 Mexican blankets, the other filled with yoga mats, blocks,straps, sandbags, satin eye bags, bolsters and other props for students to use– all in purple of course (a tribute to my FLEX history). Across the front of the room is a long, natural wooden banister (because the yoga loft is actually just a balcony over the studio lobby.) Colorful, abstract art suggestive of bodies in motion is hung high on a wall opposite from the balcony and spotlights are aimed at these too, so students focusing ahead while balancing and/or maintaining yoga positions gaze off into beautiful images that almost float beyond reach, subtle enough in context that they don’t actually stir thought, but they keep the mind focused in a way a blank wall would not. It’s quite a lovely environment, if I say so myself.
In morning classes, light streams in through the bamboo shades over the windows, highlighting the iridescent colors of the peacock feathers. Today, the fans were on and all the hair-like feather wisps beneath the round eyes of the feather stalks rippled in the same way wheat sways in an open field. I was mesmerized. I adore my peacock feathers because they are not something I just went out an bought for decoration, but something I collected from my very own, beloved pet, Elmer (named so he will stick around, unlike my last male peacock, the traitor who took off the first chance he had). The peacock feathers are symbolic of my choosing an interesting life, or at least, trying– go ahead and laugh, that is my romantic view of them. They always bring to mind the striking pet I have so enjoyed raising and observing. He wanders naturally around our land but always returns to roost at night and when he sees me drive in to feed the poultry, he runs, his gate awkward and stiff like the roadrunner in cartoons. Love that. His cry is piercing and dramatic, a sound that seemed so odd when I first heard it, but now will forever be a part of me, just as the vibrato in a good friend’s voice – a sound that brings you pleasure, even if all you are hearing is a short “hello”.
Today, I actually counted how many peacock feather eyes I could see from where I sat and noted 53. I smiled remembering that as a middle schooler, I had two peacock feathers in my room that I bought at Spenser Gifts. I thought they were so cool that I couldn’t resist allocating a chunk of babysitting money to buy them and those feathers became my prized possession. For years I kept them in a prominent place in my room, believing they added elegance and whimsy to my dullchild-like surroundings. When I was a teen, I remember giving my boyfriend a backrub and ending it by stroking his skin with those feathers (Ha, even then I was a sensation monger who loved to share. If my mother only knew.) What would I have thought back then if someone whispered in my ear “You will have all the peacocks feathers a girl could want and then some when you are 50.” In my wildest youthful dreams, I’d not have guessed how or why. But I would have thought it dang cool.
I have a huge bouquet of peacock feathers in my office at home now too, and they blend perfectly with my muted green walls and shelves loaded with eclectic books. I’ve given single feathers to friends as a memento of a visit, and recently sent a handful with Denver to the yoga school where we both received training. A few ended in Mark’s art & craft supply room for future projects.
I never would have guessed how dense a peacock tail is until Elmer molted and I received his windfall gift. The feathers come in all lengths depending on what area of the tail they were originally positioned in. The center of the tail offers three-foot long straight stalks, but the sides developed shorter stalks with a natural curve. Some are just a foot long with a big,dramatic eye and a few stalks are crescent shaped with half an eye, a graceful arc that looks like a paisley print. Nature designed these variations to fill in the edges of the impressive bird’s display, and the accumulation of all these shapes and sizes makes for some awesome arrangements, I must say.
Elmer’s tail is now short; perhaps 12 inches, and thick with dozens of eyes spurting out like a closed fan close to his body. Each month the tail gets longer. I suppose by spring it will be trailing the ground behind him, ready to be spread like a fan for his ladylove. What, I wonder; will I do with next year’s feather harvest? Put peacock feathers on top of gifts in lue of a bow? Place a hundred loose stalks in a tall stand next to my yoga mats and other merchandise for sale so dreamy teens can buy some for their rooms? Perhaps I’ll just find a hundred friends to give them away to? Ebay? Maybe I should spread love in the form of peacock feathers everywhere I go, leave them like a signature for friends and strangers, kind of like Zorro did after he made an appearance. Ooooh, the possibilities are endless.
Years from now, when I am long gone from Georgia and Elmer is nothing but a memory of an interesting phase of life I went through during my midlife years, I suspect I’ll still have a collection of peacock feathers in my home. We are nothing more than the accumulation of our life experiences, and each of us has mementos that we carry forward as tangible evidence of a life well lived. Now, peacock feathers have become one of mine. They symbolize pets, and life adventure, and yoga, and how it is always possible to add elegance and beauty to your life, despite where or how you might be living in the moment.
A month ago, I bought myself this lovely large scarf that was green and the print if you looked up close, was simply a scattering of peacock feathers. I was thrilled to find it and I thought it suited me. When I recently went to Florida to choreograph a piece for a very respected and dear student, a dance I planned using a big scarf as a prop, I bought three others just for her. But at the last minute, I chose to give her the peacock scarf. I don’t suppose she thought anything of it or ever will. But it meant something to me. I watched her dance, so strong and passionate, marveling over my contribution to her talent and remembering my many years as her teacher, and for some reason, watching those peacock feathers fly through the air in her hands seemed just perfect. It was like watching the the most precious experiences of my life fuse together to create something striking and glorious.
Now, when I look at the feathers in the yoga loft, I think of dance students as well, and how we all pass on gifts in life, some obvious and others more subtle. And I think of the gifts I’m been fortunate to receive. From birds, from friends, and from simply embracing a rich and reflective life.