Off the mat

October 19, 2011

I stood in the studio last night and the night before amongst a crowd of yogis as we like to call them. As the teacher I walk around the room and teach while Anita adjusts and assists. I do play music but usually not until Sun Salutation B. Sun salutation A is then illuminated by breathing.

It’s this magical sound of oceanic like breathing, a reverse whisper. It doesn’t happen in synch nor should it, and becomes the sound of the ocean if you will. Like waves rolling up onto the shore and then washing back.

So much happens on that rectangular mat. So much. It has nothing to do with me…… I am just calling out poses.

At Breathe it’s all very simple. It’s not about who strikes the best pose, in fact there is no best pose. I can’t do many of the poses I teach, hell I would need a surgeon to take flying pigeon but I can teach it. I can’t bind in side angle without dislocating a shoulder but I can teach it. It’s not about copying me (good lord god help you if you do that) it’s about listening with your ears and never with your eyes.

You didn’t need to see it when you were five and had that connection to who you really were. That connection was lost by that seed of doubt which was dropped into the lake of you and rippled out too far. Too powerfully. Then you didn’t just naturally move, you questioned it.

On the mat you find it again.

The frist time you walk in you seek out the most flexible looking girl or guy and decide that is who you will copy, since the teacher seems to be walking around drinking her coffee. (Or maybe that’s just me). Then you follow yoga girl and begin to criticize yourself because she seems to have just stepped onto the mat and knew everything right away and wow she is  flexible and wow am I not. Wow I really suck at yoga.

What you didn’t know is that five years ago when yoga girl walked into my class she not only couldn’t touch her toes, she cried through her first 10 classes. She didn’t have the strength to take chattarunga much less even take it on her knees. What you don’t know is that you can’t suck at yoga. It’s absolutely impossible. It’s the one thing in this world that I agree that everyone plays and everyone wins.

If this were about winning there would be yoga competitions.

Trust me I tried to win it for years.

Once when I was at a yoga workshop the teacher kept flipping up the back of my mat when he walked by. WTF???? What was he doing? I would come out of the pose and fix it. I didn’t like wrinkles, I liked it smooth. Then he would push my yoga tote off the front edge of my mat. WTF? Why was this asshole picking on me? What did I do? I would show him. I’d do 8 push ups when he said one. I would hold longer, deeper, further, I would survive when he tried to break me.

After class he walked right up to me and said “Did I piss you off?” I nodded. HELL YES, what the heck? “Good.” He smiled. “You need to learn to live with wrinkles.”

Ah, another lesson in the yoga treasure box. Trust me I have many. I like to learn the hard way. Then I get to pass those humiliating lessons on to you. Not humiliating…. humbling.

Just when you think you have arrived at the top of the mountain…. you realize you have only begun the climb.

I began to learn to live with the wrinkles of life. Nothing is going to be perfect. I have learned to live with the perfection of imperfection. And love it anyways. I have learned to love that one person. You know…… we all have that one person in our life who represents poison. There will always be that one person who surrounds you with hate and tries to drop the seed into your water. Go ahead. Drop it in.  Many people do. You will see that the wrinkles and ripples will be there and I will still just stand in the middle and smile. Because I have learned the lesson well. I learned it on my mat and it flowed right off and into life. I have learned that person is the one you need to love the most. They need the most help.

And that should not be interpreted to say I am perfect. Next to the definition of imperfection in the dictionary is my picture, trust me on that. I am not here to be perfect, thank god because it’s an endless tireless impossible climb to something that does not exist on this earth.

What a freaking relief.

Geez…… yoga taught me all that? Sure it did. Cost me a lot less than laying on someone’s couch dissecting the intricacies of my childhood and why I had such a terrible time with an eating disorder, so much that it still haunts me today. I know why I had it, I know the intellect of it all…… I don’t need to verbally walk through that on a weekly basis, it’s in the past.

I need to stand on a rectangle mat  a few times a week. When you learn to connect you body and your mind through something as simple as breathing….. magical things occur. The naysayers think that’s hokey. Good, let it be our secret.

Try this for me…… when you step outside today take three deep breaths. Stop right where you are. Three deep breaths. Notice how that changes your energy. That’s no accident. Breath is energy. It’s the energy of life. t’s the first thing you did when you were born and it’s the last thing you will do before you die. It’s the one energy you have some control over. There is a reason people always tell you to take deep breaths.

“But Mary my life’s too complicated and screwed up for yoga to help me.” Yeah I tried that too ages and ages ago.  More people would try it if I put in a pill.

Man I’d make a million.

As a teacher I have those days too, where it’s all I can do to walk through the door and stand in the middle of a group of people and teach. Give us three sun salutation A’s where we shut the door, jack up the heat and breathe. Energy and mood are shifted. The door to us gets opened, you finally stop trying to copy what flexible yoga girl does and slide a block under your bottom hand in triangle.

Then you suddenly realize that by bringing the floor a little closer to you, there is actual room to rotate around your spine. Your heart finally does shine onto the ceiling. Geez…. why were we so intent on reaching for that floor again? Oh because yoga girl was doing it. Well screw her, this is me and my body and my mat.

Then a whole new world of awesome opens.

Oh man yoga can be such a powerful thing.

As savassana began I looked around the room last night and you could just feel the energy radiate from this yoga community, this Kula as we call it. So much happens in these four walls. So much happens on that mat. It’s what you all teach me that makes this all so worth it.

While I am thinking of it…. if you have not heard the news, breathe is opening a third location downtown Rochester, next to the Eastman House. It’s a beautiful little mansion (do those words go together?) and we are opening on November 14th. November 12th we are holding a “farm to table” benefit, to benefit the SEVA challenge.

Click right here for more information.

I play the same song at the end of class in savassana. This is the most beautiful song I have ever heard…..



  1. Thank you thank you thank you! Great way to start the day!

  2. beautiful! thank you!
    had a beautiful sunny cold run, a great swim and now this while i recover.
    thank you

  3. I HATE those damn wrinkles in my mat! Makes it hard to concentrate. Must learn to live. with. wrinkles? 🙂

  4. I soooo resonate with what you said, Mary. Totally. Wrinkles, ripples, lumps they all add to the mystery that is life – on and off the mat. I hope I never stop learning from my yogic life which flows off the mat and out the door, whether or not I’m on my knees 🙂 I never knew there were so many animals until I started yoga! Of course, many I’ll never do too but that is the beauty of yoga – the effort NOT the outcome!

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