Saturday, July 3, 2010

A Yogini's Plea: 86 the 3-2-1

Because I would always rather concentrate on something ELSE in yoga class (and anything is usually preferable to thinking about how much I hate side-angle pose), I listen very carefully to my teachers’ vocabulary. I’m a word person, and I pay attention to exactly what people are saying, perhaps just a bit too much.

Lately, I’ve noticed a new phrase cropping up all over town. Whether I’m practicing with 150 of my closest friends at Lake Calhoun or wilting on the pool deck with the other mommies at the Y, I am hearing it with increasing frequency.

The phrase is the yogic equivalent of foreshadowing, and it involves the teacher leading the class into an especially taxing contortion and then flicking a drop of ice water into our mutual hell-on-mat by intoning, “we’ll be holding for three … two … moving into side plank in one … ONE.”

I hear “3-2-1” these days even more than other yogic clich├ęs such as “take the biggest breath you’ve taken all day.” In fact, it’s far eclipsed such gems as “liberate your kidneys!” and “tighten that sphincter!”

Do I like it? No, Sam I Am, I do not like that three-two-one. It’s required several classes for me to figure out why, though, but the biggest reason is that 3-2-1 is a major in-the-moment killer. If I’m supposed to BE on my mat and BE in the pose, why are you telling me how soon I’ll stop being there? I remember my very first yoga classes with the Incredible Andrea Dishong, who would twist a class into a pose and then saunter over to begin a long workshop with one student on, say, optimum foot placement in Warrior One. In those early days, when I never went to class without falling over at least once, I would fell the panic right away: “Doesn’t she know we’re here?” I’d think to myself. “I am going to DIE in this pose before she remembers!”

Andrea, who insisted that yoga was about finding calm in chaos, remained capricious with hold times and revealed nothing about what was ahead. She was the chaos provider, not the helpful-hint giver. At the time I hated her, and now I worship her. This is not an Ashram-version of Stockholm Syndrome, but an indicator of her great influence on a new yogini. Sometimes we held a pose for a very long time. Sometimes one side was five times as long as the other, because that guy on the purple mat just could not figure out what she meant when she said, “Widen your stance.” Andrea had a Whitmanesque love of contradicting herself, and she was the queen of chaos.

She was right, and here’s why. Nothing happens in yoga that doesn’t have a lesson for me about my own life. As I hear those 3-2-1 teachers letting me know all about what is going to happen next, and as I watch a significant portion of the class jumping into the next pose before they’ve really been in the current one, I realize that there is not one experience in my life in which advance warning would have helped me out. It’s not exactly been 50 years of ponies-for-my-birthday and surprise parties, but there have been genuine pleasures along the way. I’m glad that I never knew about the next crisis that was brewing, and I’m equally grateful that I never had a heads-up about the small pleasures that lay just ahead on my path – the random times when I got to sit quietly in someplace beautiful, or the very few moments I could share with a much-missed friend who lifted my spirit.

You don’t need to tell me what’s next. I’m a full-chaos yoga girl, and I’m proud of it. Thanks, Andrea.

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