It is the week of Seafair, and whenever the Blue Angels come to Seattle, I remember the time when I was pregnant with my second kid and trying to find a few minutes of peace in a prenatal yoga class. The Blue Angels, as they screamed over the neighborhoods ringing Lake Washington, made this hard for me. So did my substitute teacher.
I wrote this post after that class:
Yoga class is supposed to be a place for me to learn about how to practice compassion and emotional equanimity. When I’m not pregnant and can attend the classes of my favorite teacher, Denise Benitez, I learn to practice compassion by watching her. She has been practicing yoga for thirty years, teaching for around twenty. In class, it’s easy to ape her attitude, naturally follow where she leads me. She reminds me that I don’t need to control everything, at least in that room, and shows me how to practice compassion for myself.
I don’t usually have to practice compassion for others in yoga class. Everybody takes care of themselves there. We know the routine. We turn inward. In a good class, you can just focus on your practice. A good teacher relieves you from the responsibility of taking care of her.
Today I took a prenatal yoga class with a teacher who was not good. She subs for my favorite prenatal teacher. Unfortunately for me, this teacher is also a doula and often has to attend births. Which means here comes Maia [not her real name], fresh-faced, busty, clear-eyed, and brainless. Maia reads aloud too much from books. She talks too much during meditation. She speaks in what someone must’ve told her is a soothing voice, but really makes me feel like I’m a kindergartener rather than a 33-year-old pregnant lady trying to get some goddamn spiritual fulfillment.
I have taken classes from Maia before (when my real teacher was out), and find that I turn them into something counterproductive. Instead of releasing tension, I fixate on everything that’s “wrong” with the class. It doesn’t take long for me to actually become hostile. Soon I’m in a state where there really is no way Maia could guide me into any sort of spiritual awareness, because I’m just going through the motions; I arranged for child care, drove and paid my drop-in fee to be there. I’ll be damned if I’m leaving.
Today I was in the agitated state I feel in firelogs pose (in which you sit with your shins stacked on top of one another), pretty much for an hour and fifteen minutes. I didn’t feel the need to practice compassion for myself. I had so much compassion for myself that I felt I deserved a better teacher, right now, and an air-conditioned studio, and the banishment of Blue Angels fighter jets from Seafair for the rest of eternity.
I composed a letter of complaint about Maia in my mind: "She is a lovely girl, I’m sure, but she clearly has no idea what she’s doing. Kindly get rid of her so I can have a nicer prenatal yoga experience. Yours truly, Cranky Pregnant Yoga Snob."
Really, what could one say? I knew she was a beginning teacher. She told us so, and also I recognize some of the New Teacher hallmarks, because I have displayed them myself in countless middle school English classes. Hadn't I wanted compassion from my students when I was struggling? I recalled how hard I had worked as a new teacher. How much I wanted to do everything right. How impossible it was for me to do very much at all right, because I was young and clueless and inexperienced. But damn, my heart was there.
And so, I had to admit, as I rolled onto all fours, was Maia’s.
I decided to abandon my mental letter of complaint. I settled into my modified pigeon pose and just focused on releasing all the tension in my hips. Afterward, Maia led us into what she called “vocalizing,” which was really a way to practice making the unattractive noises we would make while riding the waves of labor. This, I could use. I gave into it.
“Aahhhhhh,” I moaned. And with that came notion that this class was a chance for me to practice compassion for someone else when I didn’t feel like it. I did not relish the opportunity like I thought a good yogi should: The day was bleeding hot (no A/C, another thing to add to the letter of complaint), the Blue Angels were screaming right overhead, I had heartburn and my toes were cramping. If anyone deserved an hour of pure self-compassion, it was me.
But that was not on the day’s agenda.
So I dropped the attitude and kept breathing.