Today, I thought I’d talk about my yoga students. I won’t be using their names or specifics, of course, out of respect to their privacy, but I’ll talk about them in a general way, because the most unexpected and enriching benefit I’ve received from embarking on a yoga journey has been the interesting, diverse people I’ve met. Yoga classes (and I’m talking about the real deal, not health club fitness yoga, which is nothing like a serious yoga experience) draw a certain sort of individual, usually someone with an open mind, an underlying sensitivity and/or intellectual curiosity. In many cases, yoga students are seeking relief from the stress and pressures that are a part of our current culture. Yoga also draws people battling physical problems. It’s amazing how many doctors & physical therapists send people my way.
I have quite a few students who take class regularly to handle their siatica. One or two cancer patients. I have people with limited mobility in their neck, shoulders, knees or back, often from old injuries that continue to flare up or just because middle age is raking them over the coals.
Last week, a man came in who has muscular dystrophy. We talked before class and I learned his body gives out in different places as if there is a roaming weakness that circulates through his system. His doctor recommended yoga as a way to strengthen his body, though there will be times when he won’t have the strength or coordination to get through a class. My dearest childhood boyfriend, Joe, a fellow I dang near almost married at 18,was a guitar player. Some years after I last saw him I ran into his parents and found out he had muscular dystrophy, which caused him to lose dexterity in his hands. I’ve thought about Joe a great deal over the years, thinking his illness was the greatest tragedy. Music was his entire world and I can only imagine how frustrating this particular physical problem has been for a boy who had such vitality and lust for life. Thinking of Joe, I took to this new student immediately giving him a great deal of attention, working to make the class as restorative and helpful as I knew how.I hope he returns, because my assisting him felt poignant and significant, as if my efforts would result in someone helping my old friend Joe wherever he happens to be today. Is there such a thing as friendship karma transference? Hope so.
But moving beyond the cases of students with physical ailments, my other students are fascinating just for who they are. People living in the Georgia Mountains all seem to embrace life as an adventure, and as such, they lead interesting, diverse lives, and add to this the fact that the people who take yoga all seem to have a grace about them – warmth and a giving spirit, you have a recipe for some pretty terrific people.
One woman, a former teacher of Neva’s, started taking my class and one night out of the blue, she brought me a gift. A yoga necklace.Her husband collects flat, smooth river rocks when they go hiking and, for a hobby he paints them with precise detail and the loveliest designs and writes yoga words upon them, such as the symbol for OM, or “Namaste” in Sanskrit. He then drills holes in the decorated rocks and threads it through a cord or leather so it can be worn as a necklace. The finished product looks like a piece of organic, nature art. I was really touched by her unexpected gift and wore it often when teaching. Denver was jealous and kept pretending she was going to steal it, and when the student witnessed our banter, she came in the next week with a necklace for my daughter as well. And then, because everyone kept admiring our necklaces, she gave one to Mark and Neva and offered one to another student who expressed strong appreciation for the work. I told her that if her husband wanted to market his crafts, I’d give him space on my shelves to do so. Yoga students would love the opportunity to purchase one of these beautiful, original pieces to wear. But she said, “No, he only does it for the joy of creating something special. He prefers saving them until he finds someone unique he wants to give it away to as a gift.”
Only in yoga would you find people willing to turn down an opportunity to make a buck for this symbolic connection to others.
Another student walked in one day who paused at the door and said, “So, this is what happened to you. I had no idea you owned this place or even that you were a yoga teacher.” It just so happens she is a member of the bookclub I joined last season. About a dozen intelligent women have been meeting each month for over twelve years to discuss literature, and as you can imagine,I was delighted when I happened upon them. For about 9 months I joined in their discussions, but once I opened the studio, I was no longer available on Mondays when they meet. I asked to be kept on the Internet loop regardless, and I continued reading the books. I think book club selections are a good way to collide with really interesting books you would normally never reach for on your own. Anyway, this week she came in with the book they are currently discussing and she said, “I thought you might really enjoy this one, so I wanted to bring it by.” I thought it so sweet that she thought of me, and while I may not be able to have an involved discussion with the entire group about this story, I imagine I’ll be able to exchange a few insights and opinions about it with this fellow reading enthusiast.
Things like this make me feel as if my students are also friends. It makes coming to work a much more inviting prospect and I find myself more devoted than ever to bringing a great yoga experience to the table.
Yesterday a new student came in, a woman who was 64, who claimed she’s wanted to take yoga for years. She convinced her husband to give her classes for Christmas, but she wanted to come in for a trial class to be sure she really would like it before asking him to invest. She loved the class and so pondered the schedule considering how many weekly classes she might fit in, because her time is limited. She travels to Atlanta regularly for work. Naturally, I asked what she did for a living. She explained that she got an MFA in fine arts a few years ago thinking she would teach in a college, but that with the economy in the state it’s been in, there were no positions anywhere. So, she had to get a different job in the meantime.
I gestured to the new studio and said, “I know. I ended up doing that too.”
We talked a bit about the entire MFA experience, and then she explained she got a job working for the weaver’s guild of America. “This happens to be an organization focused on fiber arts, which is spinning and weav
ing and basketry and stuff,” she said.
I said, “I know, I do that too.” And we talked about spinning and dying wool, and how I raised llamas and angoras for awhile and had taken lots of classes on basketry, spinning etc. at the Campbell school (with a teacher she also happens to know).
Then she explained that what she actually does is edit the organization’s magazine. “It’s a periodical that features articles on fiber arts”, she explained.
“I know of it – I happen do that too. I’m a writer,” I said, and I told her how I had written a piece about spinning and submitted it to the New Southerner Literary Non-fiction contest and it won. I mentioned that it was selected to be included in the yearly anthology, and she said she’d love to see it someday. I happened to have a copy on the shelf behind me, so I gave it to her. (And just like that, my work is in an editor’s hands – not that she can do anything for me as a writer, but it sure is nice to share your words with someone who will appreciate them.)
Taking up the conversation on the llama issue again, she commented that her daughter has horses and teaches dressage and competition. “I took a few classes in that. I have horses too, but I’m really only interested in them for casual recreation,” I said. And next, our conversation slipped around to horse stuff and riding, until eventually it churned it back to yoga once again.
Another student of mine, who happens to take class about four times a week and is getting to know me pretty well, was listening in. After the woman left, she said, “I’m shocked. I thought you were just a yoga/dance person, but you can talk to anyone about anything. I didn’t know all that about you. ”
“We are all more than what we do,” I pointed out. “Or at least, we should be. “ But it occurred to me that that hasn’t always been the case for me. For many years, I was just what I did. A dancer. My journey in Georgia certainly has expanded my horizons in unique ways. I couldn’t have connected with that woman 6 years ago half as well as I can now. It seems I can talk to most people about anything now a days, but usually my half of the conversation is me asking questions. I love getting to know people beyond the surface. My family has a nasty habit of warning people before they meet me that I’ll know their shoe size before the evening is done. Makes people brace for my inquiry so it doesn’t occur naturally. Hate that.
Back to interesting students . . . I have a student who takes every Saturday when the weather is bad. He is about my age, and has a traditional job, but he is a river guide on the Ocoee in season. He also mountain bikes and hikes when the weather is good. I told him I was jealous, these were all the things I hoped to do when I moved here, but life sort of got in the way and my focus and resources were diverted to other things, primarily our homestead project.
“Never too late,” he said. “I can turn you on to all the best places to go.”
The very next day three woman took my adult ballet class and I found out they all work together as river guides too. (As I said, yoga draws active, open-minded people, but it tends to draw people who love nature too.) They range from 40-60 years of age and they are all single, full of life, and share the thrill of adventure. Two of the women also happen to be massage therapists by trade. Of course, I had to pick their brains about their work since I’ve been thinking of going that direction too, and they were very supportive and informative. Before we were done, they had promised to take me down the river as soon as winter breaks as well.
It’s funny. I’ve lived here for 5 years and my biggest disappointment has been that I can’t find someone, ANYONE who’s willing to get wet and dirty with me (my family is active, but not sporty in this particular way and it’s generally believed that when Mom suggests anything that involves a canoe or kayak, she’s suggesting a subtle form of torture.) Eventually, I gave up hope of having this kind of adventure in my life so I decided to go back to what I know, working & running a dance studio. But now only three months into my new project, voila, I have a fistful of potential river rafting friends. It just goes to show, fate works in mysterious ways.
There are other, wonderful students, such as myTuesday/Thursday morning crowd of 55 & up ladies. They are a very social, upbeat group and I start class ten minutes late because I hate cutting them off as they exchange happy news about their lives. I so admire them because despite the fact that they are aging, here they are, keeping healthy and vibrant through fitness activities and fun interaction with others. They kick butt in yoga class too, by the way.
Then, there are my younger students who are beautiful to watch with their lean bodies and flexible attitudes. And married couples who come to yoga together, which is a pretty romantic date if you ask me. I can’t help but think they must all have a rather active love life too, considering both man and wife are committed to fitness, and pursuing interesting things together. Got to appreciate couples like that.
The point is, I can’t point to a single yoga student that I don’t sincerely enjoy teaching. My workplace is filled with positive energy and interesting people who always greet me with a smile. When a person can say that about their job, they are lucky indeed.