Mary, a naturally disciplined sort of person with an outgoing personality fit right into my T/Th 9:00 AM Level 1 class. She came regularly, learned to stand on one leg, made friends with other folks in class, asked good questions and gave me ongoing feedback about my teaching.
She told me about her first major breakthrough with great excitement. The night before, when she was cooking dinner, she reached to the top shelf in her kitchen without a step stool or without calling her husband for help. She said, “You know, I think this stuff might actually be working!”
“The other day, I waiting in line at the bank and I actually felt patient. I am never patient. Once I noticed how I was feeling, I thought to myself that it had to be the yoga. That is the only thing it cojld be."
“Yes. When I first started bird watching I didn’t do ducks. There are so many kinds of ducks, they can be very difficult to tell apart and I was already overwhelmed with all the other birds and how to keep track of them. So, when I saw a duck, I just told myself, 'Mary, you don’t do ducks,' and I wouldn’t worry about it.”
“I see,” I said, not really seeing at all.
“Well, there are so many cues you give that I have NO idea what they mean. When I first started coming to classes, I was so overwhelmed by simply being in a class at my age that I had no idea you actually expected me to do all those things you were saying, much less did I know how to do them. When you would say certain cues, I just told myself, ‘Well, that is a duck. I will let it fly by.’ But the amazing thing is that now, all these years later, when you say those same cues, I actually know what you mean, how to do it and I can feel what is happening in my body. Just like ducks.”
Just like ducks.
(Now, granted, there are some teachers giving some cues that do not make any sense at all because the teacher is not clear in what they want, the cue is given indirectly or in such esoteric terms that you do not know if you are in an exercise class or a guided visualization or if you are supposed to be astral projecting. Sometimes, the cue is a bad idea to begin with and the reason you don’t understand it is that the instruction bears no resemblance to any commonly understood notion of the pose. I am not talking about these kinds of experiences. I am talking about the experience where you actually do think the teacher knows what they are talking about but YOU do not know what they are talking about or how to do what they are asking.)
Instead of being helpful, everything the teacher says sounds like BS or like some kind of interminable run-on sentence. Some of us, at this point, get mad at ourselves and berate our ability to understand and go down the rabbit hole of not being smart, not as good as the other students who obviously know what is going on, etc. Some students, when the cues have moved beyond their abilities and understanding, do not get mad at themselves—they get mad at the teacher, blaming the teacher for being a know-it-all, a show-off, or insensitive to their needs.
No one told me Mary’s secret in my early years, so I am telling it to you now: Some cues are ducks. You can’t do them yet. Don’t worry. Let them fly by. Don’t blame yourself. Don’t blame your teacher. Just work on the cues you can access and do the actions you understand and can feel. Just like in birdwatching, you may eventually build a foundation and a set of understandings that will help you take on the ducks. In the meantime, enjoy the birds you are watching, take in the scenery of whatever inner landscape the yoga takes you to and keep up with one-legged balancings because high up on those craggy inner peaks, you will need them.
Keep the faith.
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"There is a light that shines beyond all things on Earth, beyond us all, beyond the heaven, beyond the highest, the very highest heavens. This is the light that shines in our heart."