By Kate Connor
I think I made Pattabhi Jois roll over in his grave. I’m pretty sure B.K.S Iyengar awoke from a nightmarish sleep in a cold sweat, and every guru and yoga master I’ve studied with grabbed their mala and began praying, not knowing why.
Today, I had a private yoga session with my favorite student. We’ve been working together for almost a year, and I’ve seen this woman grow leaps and bounds in a very short time. Not physically, mind you – she still struggles with a downward dog – but emotionally.
We first started our private sessions in the wake of her very nasty divorce. With her husband just out of the house, years of stress were apparent in every inch of her body, both inside and out. She had pain everywhere, and couldn’t take a deep breath if her life depended on it. The lady had had a heart attack before the age of forty, for goodness sake! In those days, sessions were as hard for me as they were for her, and I often felt frustrated by her lack of ability to even try to let go.
In the beginning, meditations, (where I’d sneak in some massage and adjustment to sweeten the deal, like a babysitter out of her league), were interrupted every five minutes by a thought she’d burst her eyes open to vocalize – something she’d forgotten to do, a question, a comment, you name it. I felt like we were getting nowhere. However, after we’d finish, she would have a huge smile on her face and thank me profusely, saying, “I feel so much better, thank you so much.” Massage therapist-slash-yoga instructor-slash-divorce counselor is what I’d become.
And then somewhere along the way, something happened. For my part, I had to drastically change the way I looked at our time together to tailor it for her. The first ten minutes of her custom-designed session begins with pranayama on her back. I remind her to keep up the breathing exercises while I adjust her shoulders, massage her neck and dig into the knots formed all over her upper back. We take vocal cleansing breaths that often allow a “_______ is an asshooooooooooole…..” to slip out. About half way through the session, I give her a good lower-body Thai stretch. I may remind her to keep up the deep breaths, but often she has already fallen asleep and I let her stay there. As a single mom who needs rest whenever she can get it, her nap is also her savasana. We end with a hug, some talk about her latest court session, and I leave. It’s not your typical yoga session, but it’s what she needs, and it’s working!
I’m happy to report that a year on and the woman has completely changed. People, including her soon-to-be-official ex-husband, are amazed by how calm and collected she is through everything, how much grace she has when in court, and how happy she seems. “Whatever you’re doing, keep doing it!” they cheer.
And here’s where my greatest yoga sin comes in.
Yesterday we had ten minutes left, and she asked me (finally!!!) if there was anything she could do on her own to help stretch her hips and get into her sciatica. We were sitting in agnistambhasana, (also known as fire log, double pigeon, complete and utter torture… whatever you want to call it), and she was feeling it bad. She looked at me, agony twisted into her face, as I told her to sit in it for about a minute on each side. “HOW on EARTH?” She screamed.
“You like Millionaire Matchmaker,” I said. “Do all these painful hip stretches watching that.”
She was stunned, and the look on her face changed to that of a child whom I had just told could do their math homework while watching cartoons. ”Doesn’t that kind of go against the idea of yoga?”
My answer was simple, and I whole-heartedly believe this. There is nothing wrong with doing your stretches in front of the TV. If it takes your mind away from the pain, and gets you to sit in it longer than five seconds before talking yourself out of it, who the hell cares? Now maybe if your aim in your yoga practice is to clear your mind and tune in, the Millionaire Matchmaker kind of does that to you in all the wrong ways. But, if what you’re trying to do is force yourself to do postures you hate because they’re good for you, aren’t the benefits the same even if you’ve got the boob tube in front of you?
More than anything else, I’ve learned from this client that no one’s yoga is the same.
I may be able to go into a quiet room and practice the Primary Series with nothing but the sound of my breath to propel me and focus my mind, but goodness knows she can’t. She finally knows what to do to clear her mind and relax, and it usually doesn’t include any asana whatsoever. If the body is feeling good, your mind will benefit, even if you’re not working on the two at once.
“You know, just in this time that we’ve been talking about it right now I had completely forgotten I was sitting in this horrible pose,” she remarked. Other side, next topic. How was the custody hearing?
Maybe this makes me a horrible teacher. I don’t know and I really don’t care. If it takes tricking bodies into doing something by distracting the mind or visa versa, as least it’s working. Personally, I feel like if these techniques can get a stressed out, reality-TV watching single mom who’s deathly afraid to set foot in a studio to do yoga and actually see changes in her life, there isn’t anything wrong with that. Everyone’s path is different, and while we’re playing “Who’s the better yogi,” what would Daya Yama say about sitting on a mighty yoga throne looking down upon someone else for trying their best in a different way? I’m pretty sure there’s no yama that says “No TV watching.”
About Kate Connor
Kate first started yoga as a competitive seventeen-year old rushing through the Primary Series, ready to take on every “impossible” asana she came up against. Once she injured herself at the age of twenty, she finally found a little more than the physical in her practice. She got certified four years ago from a staunchly traditional Western teacher who was not her biggest fan, propelling Kate to stubbornly hold tight to her belief that everyone can do yoga, we shouldn’t take ourselves so seriously while we do it, and that it should be fun at all times. She can be found subbing around San Diego when she’s not trying hard to see out her dream of running away with the circus.