Friday, February 18, 2011

Listening for my teacher's breath

It took a while for the idea to sink in that yoga class is a group activity.  A long time, like the first couple of years when we were taking classes in gyms. Then, each mat was an island with at least a foot of empty space around it.  No touching.  Heaven forbid.  In that context, on each floating island a yogi does his or her own poses, alone in a room full of others.

That works for some people.  It worked for me in the beginning, way back in the beginning when I was looking for a purely physical practice.  Chanting?  Gross.

Gradually though, under the influence of other teachers, Anusara classes, the class truly became a group activity, something which we are choosing to come together to do together.  We line up the front edges of our mats, we stand next to each other, we don't mind if our hands brush on their respective ways up into the air.  The mats are cozy-close sometimes, as the room expands to accomodate more friends and we contract our personal space to make it possible.  The joke is always that I'm happiest now if the mats are actually touching, if we fill the floor, wall-to-wall with one big connecting uber-mat.

It's true.

I think about this a lot, my own progression in the practice from a time where I would rather have died than touch my neighbor, to now, when I'm positively jumping around with glee at the start of a really packed class, so excited to have all these people practicing together, cozy cozy cozy.  To now when I'm so sorry to be missing the really huge community classes this weekend while John Friend is in town, these classes where there are 250 of us in one big room, with probably an inch around all sides of each mat.  Cozy!

Because now I do think of it as us.  Us practicing instead of just me.

That's funny, right?  But there's a way, when we practice together, that we become a super-organism or perhaps that we remember we ARE a super-organism, when we're breathing together, moving together, growing together.  Like a colony of ants or bees, or cute furry creatures if that works better for you.

When this works optimally, when we really merge, those are the times I listen hardest for my teacher's breathing, no matter how many people are in the room.  I like the exercise of going super-quiet -- which can be so challenging when I'm so excited, so surrounded by people I adore whom I've just jumped all over, happy dog, in greeting -- and being able to pick out the sound of her in-breath when it's time for us to chant together.

The chanting -- the oms, then the invocation: that's the initial threshold we cross, the melding of the super-organism, when we put our voices together into one sound.  Doing this well together means listening, singing together truly, making one sound out of many voices.  It means not out-Om-ing everybody, but listening and singing along.  No karaoke, no solos.

When it works, it's hard for me to keep my eyes dry.  There's something so thrilling about hearing my own voice and everyone else's at the same time, bringing my part to the big sound, making something together.

And underneath it all, the sound of my teacher's breathing is the anchor, the queen-sound around which we organize, the quiet that precedes the group voice ringing out.

I never could have imagined the many, many blessings and opportunities and friendships that yoga would bring me, here in my dotage.  Perhaps none is more precious than this simple gift of a group of people coming together to do something together, to connect our little island lives into one shared experience, mats touching, hearts for sure.  I wish this deep and simple happiness for everyone. It has given me so much.


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