Ducks in Water

While teaching my weekly yoga class at a gym a few things ran through my mind; I should ask for a raise, maybe I should retire, I’m gonna eat so much Chinese food tonight. These thoughts in that order. Other thoughts, too, but they were mangled and improperly positioned in sentences.

There are constant eruptions in this class. Two teenage sisters in the back row have both a combative and playful relationship (I forbid the younger one from hitting her sister to get her out of savasana, the resting pose at the end of class).

There is an individual with an intellectual disability who is particularly agitated and loud, complaining that she doesn’t understand, isn’t doing it right and can’t seem to find the pose. The interruptions from the back of the class are directly related to this other person’s inability to be calm and focused.

It’s my job to help her if I can in all ways that I’m able. It’s also part of my job to work with any handicaps folks might bring with them to class. I don’t so much feel crowd control is in my job description, but I might be wrong.

About half way though this class I had to separate the girls in the back. I felt angry that I had to be that person, “Okay, come to the front of the class please.” I felt like Mrs. Henderson in the 6th grade. Also, I felt a headache coming on and thought maybe a nice, salty MSG laden Chinese feast might help in the emotional eating department. By the time these folks landed in savasana and I turned out the lights I wanted to cry. I don’t think I ever worked so hard in yoga class, least of all to control myself.

While all this was going on I wanted to remain calm, to understand more is going on beneath the surface of these interpersonal dynamics and to remember not to take any of it personally. Also, I totally wanted to scream, perhaps clawing my face and rolling my eyes back into my head as I did so.

Picture this…a mallard floating on a still lake, both scenery and fowl epitomize tranquility. His emerald green head and yellow bill are reflected in the mirror-like surface of the water, beneath which his pumpkin bright feet paddle for all their worth, giving the water hell and all currents be damned!

Above the water his soft gray wings rest against his smooth body. The sun warms the top of his round head. Dark clouds gather at the horizon bringing gusts of wind to ruffle the single up-turned tail feather. The water swirls behind his body which seems to glide across the water with the same effortless grace afforded ice skaters and the rare few who have walked in outer space. But under that water he’s working like a Trojan for that smooth sailing, easy gliding appearance that is too good to be true.

This mallard is cool and pure frenzy in the exact same moment. I know exactly how he feels.

I’m studying the Yamas and Niyamas, the first two of the eight limbs of yoga. These first two “limbs” are how we ought to act in relationship with ourselves and the world around us if we want to have any kind of peace. This week I’m trying to look closely at “Satya” or “Truth” and the creative ways in which it can be both applied and misused in daily life.

I thought of me and the duck.

If I feel tense, crazy and like I want to eat an entire sheet cake in the closet but I portray someone who is able to deepen the breath and react from a calm, cool and collected place, is this a lie? And is it a lie if I manage to actually act from this place of coolery and collected-ness even while I imagine walking out and sending in a substitute teacher for the month? Is it hypocritical to portray poise when I feel like a lunatic?

While pondering these questions in my journal I decided that a nice middle ground would be to compose something and share it with my peers and fellow professionals. The first thing to establish is that I’m not the first person to feel like this; crazy and controlled at the same time. Also, I figured it’ll be sort of a confessional so if it was a lie, also, now it’s the truth. The Duck’s Honest Truth!

Because it’s a gym I don’t chant “OM” at the beginning of class, nor do I emphasize meditation or pranayama (other limbs of yoga we can talk about later). I don’t know why I decided that gym yoga didn’t need to include these things, especially since it does now – as in the next class (and every class thereafter) we are chanting, sitting and breathing before anyone even thinks about downward facing dog.

Starting tomorrow the gym gets the same treatment as the studio. Chanting and gathering the energy of the space and circling it round the participants by intentionally drawing their focus inward might be just what we all need there. Certainly it can’t hurt. I may kick like hell but I don’t plan on swimming away.

(For more on this topic I highly recommend The Yamas and Niyamas by Deborah Adele)

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