Choosing to Smell Flowers not Bull

Ferdinand-the-bullYesterday I got challenged in my yoga class. And not in the way you would expect.

I started doing “Hot” yoga about six months ago. This was actually shocking to me as I normally dislike hot anything. But, back in September, I decided with my birthday having just passed I needed to try something new. So I headed over to “Modo”-a studio that created their own brand of hot yoga. And to my surprise I found my body responded positively to the class. The heat made me more mindful and my concentration more focused. The only way I could make it through a class was to pay attention and breathe, effectively shutting up the committee in my mind who try to distract me every chance they get. I also found the atmosphere of the studio and its instructors light and upbeat with a certain level of structure (no latecomers allowed, strict adherence to the number of the people in the room etc) I find calming.

What I also find interesting is the male to female ratio at Modo. Surprisingly close to half the class is male. Having done yoga for over 25 years now seeing this many men in class is wonderful. I think many of the more “masculine” guys need to feel like they are getting a workout to walk through the door. With the added heat they feel its a workout but are also reaping the many benefits beyond the physical of yoga along with some of the meaning behind the practice.

But along with my happiness at seeing the guys in class there are some more typically male behaviors that can come through on the mat. And often times it pains me to witness it. Being a yoga teacher myself I want to walk over and help but that isn’t my role in this scenario. And, often times if someone is struggling, there is a lesson happening. Stepping in could potentially negate that process. Unless of coarse the person may hurt themselves and that is when you should give gentle guidance. But again, not my place in this situation.

So when one particular man decided to lay his mat next to mine I had a moment. He is an older gentleman and comes quite often to class. You can’t miss him because you can hear him. It sounds like the old north wind just swooped in the room blowing a gale as soon as he enters. It pains me to listen to him. The last time I shared class with him he was two mats away. His face was bright red most of the time with eyes fixed and hard. There were moments I feared he would pass out. Out of concern I actually spoke to the teacher privately afterwards. Many in class, both men and women, breathe with such ferocity it can sound like an angry bull. Its not a calm breathe, its a breathe of panic, of trying to push through something uncomfortable. And the old saying is true “what you push against only gets stronger”. This is the opposite of what yogic breathe is meant to be.

I have found the best way to make it through a hot class is to keep my breath even, steady and quiet. Its counter to what many are taught as Ujjayi breath or “ocean breath” seems to be the norm now. Ujjayi is translated as “victorious” and I think it has been taken to the literal extreme with people now trying hard to make breathing audible to everyone around them. This is not natural or meditative. And especially not good in a hot yoga room. Patanjali, author of the ancient yoga sutras, instructed breath be “long and smooth” but he never mentions loud. I’d like to know where the idea of audible breathe came from.

So when this man came in and dropped (literally) his wallet, water and mat next to me I panicked, sat up and scanned the room for a place to move to. I remembered seeing him dripping and flailing last time and was afraid being next to him his energy would invade my space and ruin class for me. I saw an empty spot and pondered relocating when something within told me to stay put. I was reminded that the experience we have is due in large part to the outlook we go in with. Now Spirit put this man, who I was concerned for last time I saw him, right next to me. It was an opportunity.

I decided in that moment that, no matter what, I would practice with authenticity, stay grounded and use the power of my own energy to keep the peace around me. And if you make that commitment for yourself it can carry over to the people around you.

The bull breathing intensified as class began but I didn’t allow it to bother me. I kept my own breathe calm and internal. It was a particularly hot day outside and the room was warmer then usual and the class full. I chose many times to stop, squat and place my hands on the floor to connect with the earth. I also vary poses often, choosing to do things more suited to my own body when the class does something I don’t feel is right for me that day. And the beautiful thing was I noticed the man next to me at one moment stop, squat and put his hands down on the earth the same way I had just done. And later I noticed him follow along with another pose I had chosen to do as an alternate. There is something within him that recognized the good Yoga can do for him, and he isn’t giving up.

We are all a “work in progress”. For some of us our struggles are out there for the world to see, while others the work is more internal and deep. But the courage this man has to keep going, to keep coming back and to keep trying in his own, very unique, way can be an inspiration to any one of us who are looking towards transformation. I feel his showing up in my path gave me the opportunity to reevaluate a automatic response that was habitual and unproductive. I got the chance to move beyond my comfort zone. And once I did I got to experience the difference it can affect within myself as well as around me.

Patience and compassion expands when it is practiced, and just like Yoga-it does a body-and soul- good. Next time you want to run from something, stop a moment and ask yourself why. What lesson could you be missing if you negate the process? Ganesha, the Elephant headed God of Hindu religion is the “remover of obstacles”. Often, to remove an obstacle it must be placed in front of you first so you can find your way through it. So, next time a wrench gets thrown in your plans, ask yourself did you request that wrench and remind yourself your outlook sets the tone for the outcome.

And maybe those “Bull Breaths” will morph into meditations under a tree sniffing the sweet scent of flowers like one of my favorite literary characters “Ferdinand the Bull”. Even bulls can change.

Namaste’ & Love

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