I am taking yoga from an Indian woman named Shosh who has no idea she is teaching me how to LIVE.
Shosh is her nickname, not her real name. She is part Indian and her given name, which I could not for the life of me speak properly let alone spell accurately means …. “Strong Deer.”
I just call her Shosh.
She is a stunning creature and one look at her will tell you why she carries that name. She has a graceful, peaceful gait with piercing eyes. She is lean, strong, confident, and gentle all at the same time.
Her long black hair is always swept up in a loose pony tail, a gentle natural curl throughout and gray roots growing in around the crown. The roots looks 50 but the body, a modest 23.
People love her. She doesn’t ask you to love her, or seem to notice whether you do or don’t, but you can’t help it.
I began coming to this studio last month when I woke up one morning and my intuition said, “Go to Yoga.”
I’ve long since been a huge fan of yoga, but that doesn’t mean I go. Well, maybe once every six months I’ll catch a class at my neighborhood gym. It’s like being a huge fan of New York City, but never really setting foot in the Burrough. You like the idea of it, but until you’re inside, you really don’t know what it’s all about.
That day I followed my intuition and I did what I was instructed–I went to Yoga in a real studio.
Taking yoga from a person who uses it as spiritual practice versus taking yoga with the exercise only “gym” approach is the difference between dining at a gourmet, five star restaurant vs inhaling a burger from a fast food assembly line.
It is a gourmet way of exercise. Slow, concentrated. Planned, it seems, for decades and served with regal exactness.
It is deeply transformative and though it’s ‘exercise’ it is first and foremost a SPIRITUAL EXPERIENCE…and then a physical one. Afterwards, every muscle aches with fatigue, but the energy in the body is so supremely high that even the ache somehow feels blissful.
You know you’ve been to yoga when your legs and arms are trembling, your mind is clear and you feel in love with the whole entire world.
I knew yoga would change my body and I sensed it would clear my mind, but I had no idea what it would do for my religion.
I’ve been a Christian for about 25 years and I’ve been a Yogi for about five minutes, and I kinda stink at both of those practices.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to be hard on myself, just real. I’ve been at the self love thing long enough to say with honestly that when it comes to most aspects of myself I feel somewhere inside the range of “Alright to Damn Good.” I like the way I look, I feel like I’m a good mom, and I’m confident in my business….
But I suck at being a Christian sometimes.
And when I go to church, it doesn’t seem to help because I often leave with more intense feelings of, “I am terrible at this,” than when I first got there. And it’s not until I’m alone and grounded back into my own self, where my spiritual certainty emerges again and I recover.
For six more days.
Until another Holy, Insecurity-Inducing Sabbath rolls around to say Hello.
This has been my common experience of church attendance for several decades now. And it’s not the people there, or the church itself, it’s me. It’s the way I process the information that I hear.
And yet Shosh, the Strong Deer, my present day Yogi New Age Saint, is teaching me a different experience when it comes to spiritual practice.
The first day I showed up at yoga, I was a mess. I was in a healing crisis. My body ached with so much pain of a recent emotional injury that I could barely hold a pose. My downward dog looked more like a squirming pig with it’s face in the mud.
While in the child’s pose, all I wanted to do was melt into the fetal position. My shoulder’s burned with pain of a restless nights sleep and my head ached with hurt and anger. I could barely hold any pose for longer than 30 seconds and when my body broke from the position, I’d just sit on my mat in a cross-legged meditation style, close my eyes and breathe long slow breaths through a quivering mouth.
I happened to be in a room full of people that could do every single move Shosh was instructing–every age range and body type seemed to be proficient in this practice. Even the rugged, stubble bearded old guy who looked like he just climbed off of a back hoe, stopped at the bar for a beer, and then hopped on over for a little Yin Yang yoga. He could rock a Cobra pose, while I was laying face first on the mat gripping the floor, hoping that it would hold me and never let go.
I was a mess and stinking at yoga…even more than stinking at Christianity.
Shosh didn’t seem to notice. About 30 minutes into the class, the Strong Deer, glided over to me so silently, that I didn’t notice her until she was right next to me. She touched my shoulder with cool, sweet, loving fingers and said, “Why don’t we try this…”
She adjusted my blanket and my mat and two yoga blocks (I call these dummy blocks for people who need extra support), and magically appeared with another blanket. In sixty seconds, she had me laying backwards stretched out on the dummy blocks in a pose that was strange, and strangely comfortable. It was relaxing my back, stretching my spine and opening my heart chakra up to the sky.
When I had relaxed comfortably into it, she said, ‘That’s a girl.”
It was the sweetest phrase–“That’s a girl.” She said it to me all throughout the class like I was seven and I had just shown her a new drawing and she was admiring my skill as though she was Picaso and I was her promising under-study.
I laid back into the stretch and even though I was the only rookie in the room getting “yoga for dummies,” I felt loved.
Tears rolled down my cheeks at being so physically and emotionally vulnerable and accepted all at the same time.
I lay there on the blocks while the entire class moved from one new pose to the next and as she walked to the front of the class, I noticed for the first time, how she was modifying the moves of other Yogis to better fit their skill level.
Not so wrapped up in myself, I saw the real truth.
I wasn’t the only one who needed help. She was assisting all of us.
Then she said aloud to the group, to me, “This is your class. There is no right way to do this. You are here for you. Modify every move to fit your skill level. If you don’t, you will hurt yourself. And you came here to fulfill your own intentions.”
That class changed my life. Even though I spent a good amount of time resting on my mat, I left the class rejuvinated and somewhat healed and I soon realized why I was loving my class experience with yoga and why I wasn’t loving my class experience with Christianity.
It’s not Christ that I was having any sort of problem with, quite the opposite, as He was my anchor for being there, it was my limited understanding of how to practice.
I was struggling because I didn’t understand the principle of modification and altering the moves to fit one’s skill level.
You see, I happen to associate with an amazing group of Christian women and there are just some things I don’t know if I will ever be good at. For example, I work during the day and I don’t do things like visit nursing homes and hospitals. Truth be told, any type of physical care place wigs me out.
I want to like it, I want to be that lady who goes to visit sick people on their death beds and sings with choirs of angels while they find their way into the light…but I feel strange and if I even see any kind of tube going into any part of the body, I get really wiggy inside. Yeah, I pretty much stink in that whole department. Even if I didn’t work during the day, (which is just my excuse) I am really not good at it.
I also don’t take dinners to people very often. I feel hugely accomplished that my own family gets dinner from me nightly and I think this is a good pose for me to hold right now. Unless you want one of those hot and fast delivery pizzas, don’t put me on the dinner list (especially if someone is sick.)
While I’m pulling secrets out of the closet, I might as well admit that I rarely attend church related social activities, unless it’s for my kids. I still haven’t figured this one out, as all the people in my neighborhood church are absolutely amazing, but I still never get my ass in the building when it’s time. (Oh yeah, sometimes I swear too, and that’s not very Christian either.)
Of course, there are other things I am pretty good at.
I don’t care who you are, what you have done in your life, I will not judge you and you will never hear gossip fall from my lips when it comes to you. I rock that Christian pose like the back-hoe beer guy can rock the Yoga Cobra. I also can forgive tremendously deep injuries and I have been known to feel so much love for people, even total strangers, that tears will fall from my eyes because the love I feel cannot be contained inside my body.
In essence, I’m learning. And what I’m learning from Yoga is that my church can be a place of modification.
It’s Christianity on Dummy blocks.
Maybe Shosh is right about more than just yoga.
When it comes to Christianity, she might say, “This is your church. There is no right way to do this. You are here for you. Modify every move to fit your skill level. If you don’t, you’ll hurt yourself. And you came here to fulfill your own intentions.”
Like yoga, church is a place where people are stretching and still working themselves out. It’s a hospital for sick people, not a country club.
I like that. I can go with that. (As long as you don’t ask me to visit those sick people, cook food or plan parties… yet.)
I think the point of the whole experience is that I’m still here, still stretching and still going for the next pose. Some days I can totally do this. I’m in a peaceful state of bliss and I’m so happy just to BE HERE that I’m breathing in every delicious moment.
Other days my legs are shaking and trembling, and it takes all my energy to hold my place just a few seconds longer, and every once in a while, the child’s pose is all I’ve got going for me.
What I am seeing is that where ever I am, it’s okay. It’s my class. This thing has been created for ME to grow in a way that is loyal to myself….not for me to hurt myself performing in a way that is loyal to IT.
Progress happens with practice. Every day things that were once difficult are now a lot easier. I am a little more graceful and a lot more kind. My mind is clear, more present than ever before. I am more open, whole, and love with fewer reservations.
And hey, there’s a party at my house tomorrow night and 25 people from my church are coming over. Granted, I am not cooking any of the food, but it is in–my–home and I’m kinda excited about it. Never saw that coming.
“That’s a girl.” I can here Shosh say to me, “That’s a girl.”
And I know deep down, she’s right.
I’ve got this. On Dummy Blocks, floating in the air, or falling to the ground–I’ve got this.
This class is for me.