Friday, May 27, 2016

First Yoga Class

Last Sunday, I woke feeling excited and a little nervous.  I had made an agreement with myself to go to a real live yoga class for the first time today.  I've been putting it off, mostly because it scares me little bit.  What if everyone is younger than me, or fitter than me, or slimmer than me?  Today's the day, I tell myself, no more excuses.

Truth to tell, I'm pretty excited about going.  I roll up my light green yoga mat and put it in it's little white bag, put on my loose-fitting pants, fill the water bottle.  And drive to the studio, which is in downtown Eugene.  As I pull up outside, I have a moment of angst, when I almost chicken out.  Everyone I see going in there is in fact, younger, fitter and slimmer than me!  I have to give myself a stern talking to; you've planned this, you are ready.  What finally pushes me out of the car is contemplating what it would feel like in the coming days, walking around knowing that I had let fear win.

So I go in, and introduce myself to the instructor.  He is a perfectly age-less man, taller than me, about six foot two, and very slim.  He tells me this is the right class for a beginner, and he invites me take a place anywhere in the large room.  But the studio is full of students already.  The only spot left is in the front row, right in front of the instructor's mat.  Oh well, I think, and walk courageously past row after row of yoga mats and spread out my own right in front of the instructor.

We begin.  And in no time, I'm moving through poses with the group and feeling a warmth and a welcoming that feels like a home long lost and re-discovered.  As I move with the group, I get to know my classmates, in a way.  To my left, a young man, very muscled, is always doing more than the instructor asks, and he seems very serious.  To my right, a woman about my age struggles a little. She seems very flexible, but her breathing is labored.  I think the class is challenging her.

Soon we are in savasana, and the instructor comes around and puts some oil on our foreheads.  We all sit up and he asks us to finish the class with some "Ohm-ing."  I did not expect the religious aspect of the class, the chanting and anointing with oil.  But it seems okay.  The Ohm chanting turns out to be especially powerful.  Done with fifty voices in unison, I can feel it vibrate in my chest and it is very soothing.

As I leave, I smile at a woman who is gathering her things.  She must be seventy years old, and she gives me a smile that is absolutely electric.  Outside, walking to the car, I feel like I'm two inches taller, and very confident.  My mind is clear as a bell.  And then it hits me; this is way I used to feel after a good climbing work out.

I'm going to come back next Sunday and take a harder class.

Yoga Morning

This morning when I rise, I can't wait to get to the yoga mat.  It isn't always like this, but I love it when the practice calls me.  I put on some Debussy and sit cross-legged on the mat, in front of my wide living room window.  The light is still low, the sun not yet up.  And it's perfectly quiet, except for Claire de Lune coming from the iPad.

As I start to move, my mind clears.  The cares of the day had begun to press into me, taking over my awareness.  But the joy of movement quiets these thoughts, over powers them; it isn't time yet to attend to these things, and there is nothing I can do about them right now anyway.

I move into cat-cow and do some rhythmic breathing, synchronizing with the movement.  From there, to the pigeon pose, and up to forward fold.  A slight smile spreads across my face, from the pure joy of movement.  I wind down into a bridge and finally, Savasana, for a few minutes until I stand, face the sun and clasp hands toward my heart.  The light is full now, the sun shining in my face.  I feel so grateful to have health, movement and positive outlook on the new day.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016


When my case manager comes into my office and tells me Mrs M is on the phone, my stomach sinks.  Mrs. M is legendary for being difficult to deal with.  I don't want the case manager to deal with her alone, so I've asked her to come get me when she calls.

Sure enough, when we pick up the phone, Mrs M. starts right in.  She's huffing and sighing at everything we say, as if we are so stupid it's just exasperating to deal with us.  Her words are a string of false accusation and hateful, personal insults.  I've dealt with bullies enough in my life to know that each accusation and every insult is bait.  The temptation to engage is almost overwhelming, but I know if I give her that, she wins.  Because she doesn't want to make a point or fix anything.  She wants to fight, and most of all, she wants to hate.  So I answer every hateful accusation and insult with further clarification about what we can and can't do, and what her responsibilities are and how she must meet them.

This is, as the Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron says, the place that scares me.  I suppose we all have our worst fears.  For me, it is being hated and falsely accused.  I also suppose that this is a fear that many people share with me.  As Mrs. M pours the hatred onto me through the phone, a small part of my personality stands back and watches as the fear runs rampaging through me, breaking all the china in the house that is my ego.  When Mrs. M doesn't get anywhere, she runs down and concludes the phone call with "is there anything else, Bob?"  Her voice is drenched with sarcasm.

When I tell people I am a social worker, often they put on a patronizing voice and they say "you must be so patient."  How do I tell them that the real theme of social work is not patience but courage?  Courage, because when you try to do something good, the first reaction many people have is to hate you for it.  And to be hated is a terrifying thing and a demoralizing thing.  That's why social work is hard.

And yet, oddly, being hated also opens the door to the state of Flow or mindfulness that I write about in these pages that is so very valuable to me, and to the human condition.  There is liberation in facing your worst fear squarely and merely watching it as it unfolds.  In the words of the great Pema Chodron in her book "The Places that Scare You,"

“A further sign of health is that we don't become undone by fear and trembling, but we take it as a message that it's time to stop struggling and look directly at what's threatening us.”

So this morning I'm raw and exhausted and I haven't slept.  I've spent the night looking the boogie man right in the eye.  And today I'm going to do some more social work.