This weekend at Bala Yoga, I had the opportunity to lead a class to the live music of Yogi Steve Gold. Honestly, I did not know how this would work. Typically, I give a lot of pinpoint instruction, some of my Vinyasa sequences are complex to contain people’s minds to keep them present and in the moment. If someone were singing as I taught, then what? I would have to pare down my instruction considerably, not to mention think about what yoga I can realistically do so people can also enjoy the music.
The room was mat to mat, and mine was directly between two microphones. Full bound Ardha Chandrasana could end in disaster! But here is what I did know. It was obvious to me we were going to focus on the heart, combining Anusara-inspired concepts of being open to grace and taking advantage of what I felt was an inevitable outcome that thoughtful music provokes: that is intention and opening of the heart.
Being our first time actually speaking, Steve and I discussed how we liked to do things, and both agreed to improvise and keep it open. Steve and I, come to find out, used to practice together many years back at Kathleen Hunt’s Samadhi Yoga Center in Seattle.
Ironically, Kathleen was part of my teacher training that day, gently reminding me that the universe is constantly conspiring to build connections, operating from its own organic intention.
The studio was packed with many faces I had never seen. As I sat and initiated meditation I reminded myself of the intention I had set for the class, and thought, hmmm, maybe that would be a good intention for me, too. It serves in my best interest most of the time to step out of my own head and operate more from the heart though I loathe admitting this.
We started slow, taking our time, feeling the movement of the spine awakening as the music began to takes its shape. We led a string of graceful OMs with the group melodically, not methodically. This created an undulation of palpable energy as we set our intentions, the group dove into a modest Vinyasa sequence, simple in its composition, gradually introducing new elements and then allowing the student in second sets to repeat at their own pace as the music led them.
Steve’s style has a technical merit to it, but it’s simple in its arrangements and heartfelt in its expression. Our styles were complementary which allowed me to focus on what matters most: my students.
What I appreciated was the trust the group imparted to us in this collaboration of movement, sound, meditation and love. Arms were open wide, hearts were lifted, and people were present in the moment. At times we just stood arms open wide, completely still, the music working its way through body and through the room like a reaffirming touch. Brian Charlton helped me with adjustments so we could respond to the needs of the room and make sure everyone received that vital aspect of the group practice. We culminated into Urdhva Dhanurasana, the full wheel and I have never seen a room with such a consistently high quality set of wheels for a general public class. If what I suspected energetically in the room was true about hearts opening and inhibitions melting, it was substantiated in this moment for me.
One of my beloved students has struggled with getting her head up off the floor in her regular practice. She was working hard in the back of the room, as she always does, so I came up to her and let her know for second set, I would be back to help. At second set I stood just a bit behind her head and asked her to take a hold of my ankles. At first, she immediately went into her usual shape, pausing to struggle as if conditioned over time to do so. I gently reached over and subtly reminded her to activate her shoulders. Suddenly, she fully blossomed into her wheel. Then she got it on her own. I could feel this in my ankles. In her mind, she knew, she had this now.
Whispering, I said “Hold this as long as you want; I will stay here with you.”
She stayed right there, open and present, not collapsing in any way, physically or energetically. She owned it and wasn’t letting go of it! She had a confidence in her connection to a posture that I have not seen before. This was a personal highlight of the day for me; a moment where my heartfelt intention shone through.
The class was a nice reminder that simplicity can have power, if the intention is there. Kathleen Hunt led part of my teacher training later that afternoon, focusing on just that by deconstructing basic inversions, working mindfully in the smaller steps of things. How nice to combine the technical act of intentionality in yoga asana with a morning of simple songs textured with meaning.
It was a full circle kind of day for me, but I guess that is what a good intention is all about. You set an intention based on anticipated need or desire, make yourself vulnerable in your trust that the need or desire can be met, and be willing to set yourself on the course to learn what lessons or insights can be gleaned along the way.
Thank you to Steve Gold and band, Brian Charlton, Kathleen Hunt and all the amazing students and teacher trainees that made my teaching and learning that day so meaningful. Jai!