“Now, Iyengar-Style Yoga, which is the genre I study, practice and teach, is something like ballet `a la Balanchine. And Balanchine is a name The Fairies know and respect. But he would have flunked them for insubordination. Getting Freya, et al, to the Yoga studio on time, with their mats, out of their shoes and socks (and quiet: let us not forget quiet), has proven . . . beyond this teacher’s skill set.” Elizabeth Boleman-Herring
Ruminant With A View
by Elizabeth Boleman-Herring
“What you are looking for is what is looking.” St. Francis of Assisi
TEANECK New Jersey—(Weekly Hubris)—10/8/2012—I’ve begun teaching Yoga to a group of middle-aged (and much older, truth be told) Russian/Highly-Secular Jewish “fairies,” whose families and businesses have come to rest in one of the so-called “Jersey Towns” near me, immigrants from cities and hamlets located hither and yon throughout the former USSR.
Fairies in the sense of “The Fay,” that is, as opposed to a non-PC-descriptored gaggle of The Garden State’s gay community.
For, the names of these new students of mine—Freya, Inna, Anya, Tanya, Mira, Nadya, etc.—sound, to my ear, like the titles of minor goddesses, sprites, dryads, dei loci—hence, fairies. Needless to say, roll call is reminiscent of Dave Letterman’s old joke about introductions (“Oprah, Uma. Uma, Oprah. Have you kids met Keanu?” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J-BJTE56I14). So many two-syllable names with feminine endings; tripping off the tongue like little bits of song, or monikers out of Tolkien.
The Russians certainly know how to name their daughters.
And here I am, at the head of the class—another middle-aged woman-Yogini—but bearing a name only Presbyterians could clap on a 6lb 4oz infant: Elizabeth.
“Do you have a nickname?” asked Freya.
“Yes, but not one I tell anyone. It’s ridiculous-sounding and it took me 20 long years to outrun it,” I replied.
So, it’s the whole enchilada—Elizabeth—and Freya, Inna, Anya, Tanya, Mira, Nadya, etc., every Monday evening at 7:15. Or, more like 7:45. Hard to get seven Russian ladies in a line, I’ve discovered.
Now, Iyengar-Style Yoga, which is the genre I study, practice and teach, is something like ballet a la Balanchine. And Balanchine is a name The Fairies know and respect. But he would have flunked them for insubordination.
Getting Freya, et al, to the Yoga studio on time, with their mats, out of their shoes and socks (and quiet: let us not forget quiet), has proven . . . beyond this teacher’s skill set.
Having taught adolescent Greeks, Arabs and Americans Journalism, Creative Writing, English Literature and Rhetoric, etc., for decades, you’d think herding a small group of middle-aged women through an hour and a half of asana wouldn’t present such a challenge. But Oh, Dear Reader, there you would be wrong.
No one is ever on time. Few arrive with props, or recall that they are still wearing socks. There is much animated conversation (in Russian) well into class-time, complete with much apologizing for such conversation (in English) well into class time.
And, last night, there was tea.
Inna, who had just returned to New Jersey after shepherding a group of travelers around Central Europe (she runs a thriving travel agency), had shown up in upper respiratory distress.
“Is there something in Yoga for this?” asked Inna, eyes watering, nose running, throat rasping.
Well, yes, there are restorative sequences (and I switched gears in the light of Inna’s predicament, to gave us all a restorative night), and pranayama (which we also added on).
But, there was also . . . tea.
Now, I have a list of rules (which follows) which I hand out to all beginning Yoga students. I even expect a few to follow them. But The Fairies are, well, another species, it seems.
Usually, consuming liquids during, or solids just before, a Yoga session is frowned upon. A Yoga class is not a tea party.
However, the weather (misty) and Inna’s sniffles seemed to call for tea and Yoga. “Just sips, Ladies,” I said. “Sips.” (This was immediately translated into Russian.)
Getting the tea made and distributed took some time. There were lots of caffeine-free options to choose from in the studio kitchen, and everyone wanted something different. I went with the flow, and ended up with a cup of Lemon Lift.
Beside the bricks and belts and blankets and bolsters, there were now dangerously unstable Styrofoam cups of steaming tea.
Two supported downward-facing dogs. One sip of tea. Move the teacups out of the way of feet; then, two supported forward bends, and another sip of tea.
No inversions. Everyone draped over crossed bolsters. More sips of tea. Bits of conversation (Russian), apologies for same; more sips of tea.
And, at the end, props gathered up, teacups emptied and placed in the kitchen, mats rolled out for savasana, students covered with blankets (extra blankets folded to cover their eyes in little “caves”) . . . and I sat back against the wall, in the silent and darkened room to talk them through 25 minutes of final relaxation: “With your next exhalation through your nose, let go of all thoughts of the past. Let go of the past tense, entirely . . . .” (Educated, multilingual women, one and all, they understand the language of Rhetoric—my references to past, present and future tenses—and follow along with me. Inna drifts off into sleep.)
Slowly, slowly, slowly, then, we all return to the present, the light, reality, and they roll out of savasana as instructed, to the right, resting their finally-silent heads on their forearms; pushing up from the floor with their left hands; coming to sit upright and conscious.
But, being Freya, Inna, Anya et al, they now break into applause and come forward to hug me. Noisily.
Mr. Iyengar would not approve of applause. Nor of tea. Nor of an hour and a half class taking roughly two and a half hours.
But, I dare say, Mr. Iyengar has never taught asana to Fairies and I, thank God, do, every Monday evening.
I’ve decided I like tea with Yoga, too, in sips. Perhaps The Fay are, in fact, teaching me a gentler, more human genre of Yoga?
“A Little Yoga Class Protocol”
1) Eat not large meals (and, really, when it comes down to it, eat not even small meals) for c. two-three hours before class. Nor shalt thou consume large quantities of liquid (whilst, for example, working out prior to Yoga). Doing so will give a whole new meaning to Upward-Facing Dog.
2) Sip only small quantities of water DURING class, if you must.
3) Bring your own, clean mat, to class and wash that mat every now and then. (Nose-To-Mat Pose will tell you when your mat needs washing. Heed thy mat! It lieth not, appearances notwithstanding.)
4) Thou shalt NOT sign in an hour early, go to Spin; then come into Yoga class late. Thy peers shall smite thee, surely.
5) Wear neither socks, nor shoes to Yoga class. Nor vast quantities of perfume.
6) Elizabeth herself shall smite your %$# cell phone itself (verily) if you don’t turn it off and stow it during class.
7) Come not to class un-showered, wringing-wet from Spin (or some such), and smelling not like a rose. Our props (bolsters, blankets) are absorbent, you may have noted. Eau-de-You is NOT what they were meant to absorb.
8) Chatter not during Yoga Class: your teacher cannot be heard over thy socializing. Ye are many; she is one: chatter before and after class.
9) Think, always, about the person(s) on the mat(s) next to you. Pelt them not with thy props, nor with thy limbs; nor cause noxious smells to emanate in their direct vicinity. (See No. 1, related.)
10) And, for Heaven’s Sake, do not come into class late, during the chanting of Om, and plop thy mat down/make lots of noise/etc. Thy intrusions shall be perceived as comparable to the predations of charismatic mega-fauna. Open the door, kneel quietly, and wait out the Om’s.
11) And, if you think this protocol is lengthy and odious, betake thyself to a YouTube of a B.K.S. Iyengar class, wherein unruly students are regularly smitten with sharp sticks by ruthless assistants . . . and be thou grateful for the gentle regulations above.