I recently received an interesting, somewhat unsettling, and conversation provoking text from my good friend Monica. I met Monica a couple of years ago when I lived south of the Mason Dixon line. She and I developed a wonderful relationship. Monica is an ambitious, kind, compassionate woman. She is no stranger to meditation and the practice of yoga and although she has her share of doubtful and down days, she gives herself fully to helping to make this world a gentler and more tolerant place. She created and ran a phenomenal donation-based yoga collective which provides space for community members to practice together, regardless of financial situation. I was fortunate to be an active participant of this collective both as a student and a teacher.
About the time that I moved to Worcester, Monica packed her dog and her belongings into her car and headed west. She recently landed in a small western town for the summer.
The text, sent to me and a mutual good friend, read:
”So I walk into this yoga studio new to me. The owner is teaching and I go to roll out my mat in the front row. She stops me and says, ‘This is a level three class and I think you should stay in the back (she pauses ‘cause I’m looking at her like wtf). You know you might not understand my verbal cuing and you can at least look at what other people are doing.’ I think I asked, ‘So is your cuing a lot different than in any other yoga class?’ She said, ‘No.’”
(My friend moved to the back. As a yoga teacher I am thrilled when a student rolls out his/her yoga mat in the front row. Maybe from now on, when the majority of students place themselves in the back I will change the orientation of the class so those in the back would now be in the front. I have actually done that and it causes a moment of discomfort but I am told that quickly dissipates. Front, back, right, left … it’s just a space. We can try to hide from out bodies, our feelings, our thoughts, but eventually it all surfaces.)
Back to the text …
“So after class she said I was welcome to come to class and to put my mat anywhere in class. I guess I passed whatever test she had. So weird and unwelcoming.”
The class, according to my friend, was not all that difficult – ‘’just Ashtanga based with a couple of short lived inversions and a crow.” We surmise, without even knowing the studio owner, that her ego reared it’s unappetizing head and caused her to abandon, or at least to forget for a moment, ahimsa, the yama of non-violence. Ultimately yoga is about letting go of the ego and stepping away from narcissism. But owning a yoga studio in our capitalist society may require some ego and narcissism. As Bernie Clark, a yin yoga master, said when discussing the similarities and differences between yin and restorative yoga, “It is a question of degree.”
Monica went back to the studio for another practice. She is not one to be dissuaded by anything or anyone. It turns out that the studio owner and Monica have mutual friends. Each and every one of us are connected in some way or another. All the more reason to practice ahimsa, to let go of the ego as much as possible and to offer kindness, patience, and a welcoming smile to strangers and friends alike.