A Dharma Talk is used to open a yoga class. It’s used to set the theme of the class, share insights, teachings or philosophy. It is typically comprised of themes, subjects or issues the instructor is currently navigating or studying. Depending on how long the class is, the talking portion can last three and a half to five minutes. I have been in class with a very experienced, senior teacher and she spoke for about fifteen minutes. She had stuff to say. Anyone with sense in their head chose to listen.
Last weekend I went to a yoga event in Alabama. It was a celebration of a yoga teacher training graduation. Four gradates taught an hour and half yoga class to open the day’s events.
There were three women and one man. The man opens the class from behind a harmonium, a squeeze box type of instrument not unusual to yoga studios. He is sitting cross-legged behind the instrument. When he begins speaking on the theme of the day I really recognize he has something to say. He is practiced and prepared with the material.
The subject of the Dharma Talk is the Heart, the light of our being, the ability to be present and compassionate in the world without losing our bearings. He quotes his teacher, he uses poetry, personal stories and humor in his monologue. He talks for about twenty minutes, which are not part of the hour and a half class. There is a brief intermission when he is finished speaking.
The first five minutes the group of a hundred or more people are attentive and sitting with up-right posture. But then it happens; shoulders slump when it seems obvious this guy is talking for more than the unofficially acceptable three and a half minutes at the beginning of yoga class. I see heads lolling around, phones coming out, legs stretched out, bathroom breaks become contagious.
Most of the students present remain attentive, but I know that the majority of those who are twitching like Samantha’s nose are not reacting to the speaker or the topic. For the first ten or so years of practice it’s a struggle just to keep your ass still while you try to do the more quiet, reflective practices. I get it, any instructor whose been at it long enough understands it is hard to sit still. There is a whole practice devoted to just that!
What is interesting is that Dharma Talks as a topic have been on my mind lately. It intrigues me that I end up at a large scale gathering of practitioners and see the dynamics between speaker, topic and students magnified by such a large number and massive space (we were in a church gymnasium).
I could design a whole Dharma Talk around its very topic, which in a way is what blogs are anyway. So if you have a hard time sitting still or refraining from looking at your phone when you’re not wholly engaged with your body in headstand or crow pose, I have been thinking of you. This post is for you.
I know that sometimes when you arrive to a yoga class you may have just left an office where you sat at a desk for seven plus hours. I know your back might ache or your hips are tight or your mood is sour.
I know that sometimes, you have been standing behind a chair all day, curling, straightening, coloring and perming hair and smoothing wrinkles from crumpled personalities and sprinkling fabulous where you can. Perhaps you spent the day folding laundry or zooming around in your car in a lifestyle that is the complete opposite of #workfromhome. I know you need to stretch and move your muscles so you can remember what it feels like to move like an animal again, to breathe like the wind again, to flow like the river again.
I know this, these sometimes, because I have experienced feeling an urgency to get on with it, to begin movement, for the instructor to shut the hell up already! Because, as a student, I have felt itchy at the beginning of class, have been agitated and restless on my mat, I do not take it personally when I am leading a class and see you fidgeting, eyes rolling all over the room in desperation, your hand roving around for your phone.
I understand. Really, I do.
As a student, I have been in a class when the instructor was really on to something. They said something really pertinent to what was happening in my life even though they might not have known it. More than once an instructor has started class with an innocent reading or idea or by simply sharing something they heard on NPR and I suddenly felt less alone in whatever storm I was experiencing in my life.
When I am the one opening or leading a class I don’t know what is going on with everyone in the room. Rarely do I have the slightest indication of what is churning beneath the surface in the folks who come to my classes. I know they are there for a yoga practice and I just try to do a really good job. Part of that job is relating teachings to the best of my ability and sharing stories I think might be helpful. Part of my job is to say what arises and what comes from my heart, whether it’s funny, important or relatable remains to be seen. It is not my job to know if it lands anywhere.
You never know who that person is who needs to hear the thing, whatever it is that day. It might be you, but only later, after rolling your eyes back into your head like a wild horse crossing a craggy mountain in a lightening storm at the end of the world, do you realize that something you heard opened a dark space inside you and let a little light in.
It’s my job to share what I study. It is your job to pay attention.
Previously in this post I said how I know this and that about your day. The truth is I don’t know anything at all except that these practices work. I also know that they are not one dimensional, exclusively physical or easy. I know they are worth it. I urge you not to give up, especially on the stillness. It is there, it really is.
If you find yourself struggling with being able to settle into the beginning of your yoga class, here are a few things to consider.
If you feel frazzled or jangled when you arrive, consider taking a class later in the afternoon so you don’t feel frenzied leaving work or harried by afternoon traffic. Conversely, if the afternoon is a struggle, consider taking earlier classes like a lunch hour practice. Try different times and see if that effects your ability to show up mentally and emotionally as well as physically.
Be on time, or five minutes early. Settle down on your mat, make yourself a cup of tea, lie in Savasana. It’ll help ground you. Try arriving twenty minutes early and taking a nice walk around the block at a slow pace to center and ground the different facets of your being.
Eat light a couple of hours before practice. A heavy meal before practice can make you feel sluggish or drowsy. If you don’t eat enough it can make you feel un-grounded and focus can be a challenge. Experiment with what is right for your constitution. Try a smoothie or protein shake and see how that improves your practice.
Set an intention to bring all of yourself to practice. Ask the Universe to help unite your body, mind and spirit and see how this request changes your experience. Ask to learn something, ask to hear just the right inspiration that you need. And show up, bring all of you to the mat and shine.