"That's the worst ever"

This post is about one of the best women yoga teachers in the world yelling at me.

Saturday and Sunday, I had the opportunity to study with this woman, Lois Steinberg, one of the most educated and practiced yoga teachers in the world. She's a longtime friend and colleague of my teacher, John Schumacher. She's also one of the foremost teachers in the fast-growing field of therapeutic yoga. John and Lois became the teachers and people they are by studying with the late B.K.S. Iyengar, who was one of the driving forces behind yoga globally in the 20th century. 

One can't understate the chasm between teachers like Lois, and John, and the majority of the yoga teachers teachers namaste-ing right now. For starters, Lois and John are likely in the last 25 years of their lives and have practiced yoga since their teens or early 20s. Compare this with many yoga teachers who train in a month, had no barrier to enter their teacher training (taken regular classes for a year? Great! Come on in), and are roughly aged 25. And, the only quality control in this unregulated yoga market comes from consumers, so as long as the teacher is "cueing" what the students want, the teacher keeps her job. It isn't about how much she knows; it's by definition about how many people she draws.

This is a whole topic I could riff on for as long as I could on politics, because how are consumers also students -- which of these is more important? -- but this post is not about that.

At the workshop, there were times when I could barely keep up. Mentally, physically, emotionally, even with my breath. It wasn't just that the poses were challenging; it was that Lois was a fire hose of information extinguishing the attachment to doing anything except exactly what she instructing at that very moment. I never felt stressed, just new and awkward and only sometimes in command of the material.

To be sure, there was lots of silence. Lois would issue a battery of instructions and then give us space to work at it. But when she talked it was so deep and clear, each detail connected so perfectly to the one before it. If your mind wandered even once you were basically lost.

Then the end of the workshop came. We were preparing for pranayama, which I love so much I took the entire yearlong course from John twice in a row. Lois walked by me on her way to someone else -- we were lying down in the shape from this post, using a bolster -- and she noticed I was moving my head from side to side. I do this as a habit when I lie down in savasana or in pranayama.

She stopped. She yelled: "Why are you moving your head from side to side?"

My eyes were closed. I froze. Eyes still closed, I paused, trying to think of a better answer than the one I knew would come. I said, very honestly, "I don't know. Habit?"

She retorted, yelling: "HABIT? That's the worst thing I've ever heard." And with that, she yanked the blanket out from under my head, refolded it, put it tightly back under my neck and head, which felt so good. Then she firmly pressed her whole body through her hands on to my outer shoulders in order to push my shoulders to the floor.

I'm still holding on to this moment, days later, because it taught me many things, especially in the context of a lot of other hard work:

1) A habit like that really is a bad idea because it's mindless. It serves no purpose.
2) I felt ashamed, small, and inadequate when she reprimanded me, but there's no need for any of those emotions. So I'm working on letting those go completely because WASTE OF TIME.
2) She did what a guru does; she dispelled mental darkness and expunged a bad habit out of me.
3) In that last, swift action, she shoved my heart open, and if that is what happens when you let go of a habit, I'll take it any day of the week.

So much else to say, but I don't even know if you're still reading. If you are, you might be glad to know I plan to try to go to a weeklong intensive with her in the Fall. I hope I can keep my heart open at least until then. :)

Kim Weeks