A student of mine recently said, “If you don’t want to sweat, don’t come to any of Sarah’s classes.” She said this as she was rolling up her mat on a Friday, right after my most advanced class of the week. Another student who overheard her comment in passing said, “Yeah, no kidding. I’m dripping!” I smiled at them and laughed at a job well done. I believe strongly in the purifying power of sweat! I love working hard. I love heating up from the inside out. I love melting and purifying and sweating it all out. And I LOVE to give that opportunity to my students. I have been called a hard teacher, a challenging teacher. People have said that my classes are intense. I didn’t used to think that was true, but maybe it is.
There is a time and place for arm balances, inversions, deep stretches, long holds, and power flows. There is also a time for long silences, slow folds, extended sessions of guided meditation and focused pranayama. I admit that sometimes it’s hard for me to slow down. Sometimes it’s hard for me to teach from a place of stillness, a place of slow and gentle movement of breath and body. Figuring this out is part of my journey and I get the chance twice every Monday to work on it. Gentle Yoga is the most challenging class for me because, I admit, my idea of gentle is often much different than others’ idea of gentle. To me, gentle means no arm balances nor inversions, but good grief, that is still not exactly gentle! I have to put myself in someone else’s mind, in someone else’s body, on someone else’s journey to figure out exactly what gentle should mean.
Not that that is so much different than what I do every time I teach a class. Each time I roll out my mat in the front of the class, I look at my students and take stock of the energy of the room, of who is there and what they like, of what needs need to be met that particular practice. More times than not, the class I planned gets thrown out the window (or least strongly modified) to fit the needs of that day. Teaching yoga is a job that requires enormous flexibility – but only a portion of the flexibility need be in the body. It’s about flexing the mind, flexing the spirit, flexing the boundaries. Sometimes, like Mondays for me, it requires flexing the routine.
See, I have been teaching a lot of somewhat advanced, somewhat challenging classes lately. I have started watching my mindset – I put on my yoga clothes and suddenly I’m planning which sequence to use to get into Astavakrasana, whether I should use the wall for Urdhva Dhanurasana or to do it mid-room, and whether to do Sirsasana or Pincha Mayurasana in class. It is almost Pavlovian. While I don’t salivate when you ring a bell, I do most certainly want to flip upside down when I put on my Shining Shaktis. As you can imagine, this doesn’t serve me well on Gentle Mondays.
I need to break the habit, so today I am teaching in blue jeans. I’ll wait here while you pick your jaw up off the floor. Yes, I’m teaching in blue jeans today. Twice, in fact. I have these amazingly stretchy jeans that are not quite jeggings (thank Elvis,) but are most certainly not yoga pants. They bend and stretch and flow just like my yoga pants but, in fact, are street wear. WHY in the world am I doing this, you ask. I’ll tell you why: I am cozy in blue jeans. I am gentle in blue jeans. When I’m not in work, I’m ALWAYS in blue jeans (or leggings, but those are too dang much like yoga pants to break the habit.) Blue jeans are my comfort zone, have been my entire life. They aren’t fancy. They aren’t advanced. They aren’t “look at me.” They are common, the clothing of the Every Man and Every Woman. They are a perfect way for me to break the habit, to put on the breaks, and to be gentle.
We often get stuck in ruts thinking we have to go balls to the wall every single time we are on our mat. Just because we can do 90 minutes of intense powerful flows and all the arm balances in the yoga book doesn’t mean that we have to, or even that we should. Ganga White talks about working at 40% of your edge – doing only 40% of what you are capable of – and letting your yoga be that of exploring what comes up when you work well within your means. Our yoga doesn’t have to be all that we can do. Our yoga can occasionally – or even often be – a tiny fraction of that. Yoga can be gentle. Yoga can be silent. Yoga can be perfectly still. Yoga can be everything and nothing.
And yoga can be forever in blue jeans.