One thing we like about the stories that Erin O’Brien writes from Warwick, Rhode Island, for BoomerCafé is, they are about her life. Her adventures. Her endless quest to learn something new. Which is why we like what she wrote for us today. It’s about yoga. Be prepared to learn all kinds of words you never knew before. And maybe a few new positions too.
Scanning the small studio that summer day, I discovered I was wearing more clothing than the rest of the students. I removed my tennis shoes (with the orthotic inserts), looked for a campsite, and unrolled my yoga mat. As I sat cross-legged, practiced my breathing and focusing on my drishti spot — that specific focal point we use while holding a yoga posture — my cross-eyed gaze was interrupted by two latecomers, every bit the Southern Californian yogis: they were young, they were thin, they were tan (and I think they were even wearing Uggs boots, even though it was summer.)
“I’ll have what they’re having,” I thought to myself. Then I overheard them talking about last night’s bender.
I wasn’t sure what the two of them were expecting, but boy, they were in for a surprise. My yoga instructor was not your conventional yogi. When she arrived she placed her yoga mat, decorated with a picture of what I thought was an artichoke, in front of us. (I later realized it was a lotus.) A baby boomer like me, her playlist included punk rock versions of traditional Christmas music, soundtracks from spaghetti westerns, and maybe even some Frank Sinatra, depending upon her mood.
If a student couldn’t quite master a position — in other words, if our yogi noticed that someone was struggling, and about to fall over — she’d offer her encouraging phrase, “Good job honoring your body.” She’d always demonstrate an alternate pose to accommodate injured knees or aging hips. “Now, if those hips are ‘yours’ (as opposed to having been replaced). try this…” She knew if a vinyasa sequence (another part of focusing) was easy during one class, it might not necessarily be so the next time. “Honor your body.”
Sometimes we found ourselves engrossed in our poses, stretched to our limits, less like a rubber band than a wishbone on Thanksgiving, and our teacher would say, “Remember to breathe!”
Perhaps one of us was ruminating over a situation at work. The yogi presented her sage advice, inviting a view from a new perspective. She might share an anecdote, or advise us as she would in class if we were unable to maintain focus. “Stay on your mat.” It was a relatable metaphor.
In fact, she would randomly call out “Squirrel!” during the position known as a downward dog, where you’re on your hands and your feet with your butt in the air. She’d call it out to emphasize how easily it was to become distracted. Unfortunately, a new student, thinking this is what you do, began randomly calling out “Squirrel!” during the downward dog. She managed to get her to stop.
Then she would say, “Let’s travel the world,” using the names of the yoga poses in Sanskrit, demonstrating traditional Tibetan and Indian poses. I learned about the chakras, and she recited affirmations. At the end of class she invited us to join her in an “OM,” known in yoga as the sound of the universe. We bowed and held our hands as if in prayer, our fingertips touching our hearts, and with the word Namaste, which means “I bow to the divine in you,” she warmly bid us on our way.
I think of her this time of year, as I remember the summer I started on the yoga path, which has continued since moving from Southern California to Rhode Island. In my new yoga studio, there are two students who remind me of the newcomers to class that summer. They are young, they are thin, they are tan. My teacher is a baby boomer like me. The music is more traditional. When I carry my yoga mat, I also carry with me all that my first guru taught me.
Honor your body.
Remember to breathe.
Stay on your mat.