First, this quote is pretty awesome:
As my teacher says…..yoga is learning skillful action, moment by moment. And most importantly, yoga should teach us kindness.
And it’s true. Yoga has provided me many lessons in kindness, many of them uncomfortable and most of them awkward. Such is the story of That One Time I Showed Up Late To Class.
For folks who are not familiar with Yoga Etiquette, this can be a Big Fucking Deal. At a number of studios, it’s enough to get the latecomer dirty looks from students, a talking-to by the teacher — privately, if one is lucky, or via passive-aggressive comment on the virtues of punctuality made in front of the entire class. In at least one studio I’ve attended, it’s a sufficiently egregious faux pas that tardy students are asked to leave and not return to that class. Perhaps the middle path to enlightenment is paved with little signs that say, “Be the fuck on time!”
So That Time I Was Late, I was not slightly, unobtrusively late. I opened the studio door, about 5 feet from where the instructor sat, in the perfect silence of everyone recognizing that class was about to begin. If I’d been two minutes later, I’d have walked in during opening meditation, and at least everyone’s eyes would have been closed. As it was, I was in the perfect position to have everyone’s eyes on me. Lovely.
Fortunately, I have read Miss Manners Guide to Yoga Etiquette (or, I totally would, if such a thing existed) and knew that the best way to save face was to come to a seat in the corner behind the instructor, allowing her to continue — and also allowing me a discreet way to slip off my shoes — with opening meditation. And I have to admit, I have no memory of what that particular meditation entailed, what pranayama we practiced or what words of guidance my instructor had for us that night. I was too busy glancing around the room for an open mat-sized spot and realizing that the class was completely packed. It had probably reached “full” status a half dozen people ago. I began to think my best option, my least intrusive option at this point, would be to turn around and leave. After all, I was legitimately late: It would be unfair to ask people who’d gotten their butts to class on time to crowd themselves in order to accommodate me.
We breathed, we meditated, we centered, we chanted. I do not remember any of it as I was too busy feeling like I must be completely in the way here. But as she was moving the class into their asana practice, my teacher smiled at me — in a sincerely “glad you are here” way, not an “I don’t know how to say this nicely, but you’re going to have to leave” one. She began looking across the room, checking, I can only assume, for a non-existent mat-sized space.
Somewhere near the back, a woman waved her hand.
Without being asked, about four people had reconfigured their mats, all sliding impossibly close to one another, so that there would be space for mine too. I swear there must have been fifty people in a room that comfortably holds thirty-five, yet people made space for me.
I tiptoed across the room, thanked the people around, me unrolled my mat as quickly as possible, and joined the class in down dog.
“Do you need any props?” the woman next to me, the same one who’d waved, whispered. She glanced up at me from under her armpit.
“What?” I asked, maybe still preoccupied or self-conscious. Or maybe it is difficult to hear through underarm acoustics.
“Props,” she repeated, shrugging her shoulder toward the prop shelf, which was right next to her. “You know, blankets and blocks and things. I can grab them for you; I’m right here.”
“Oh, um.” Truth be told, I couldn’t really fathom a situation where Someone (aka, me) had been a bother and in the way and had just generally ruined everyone’s Spiritual Yoga Experience, and still people were going out of my way to make sure I was included completely. “No, I don’t generally use any, but I’ll grab them if I need them later. But thanks for asking.”
Yogic Confession Time: In the dozen or so years I’ve been practicing yoga, I have listened to a lot of yoga-oriented spiritual wisdom, and the Flying Spaghetti Monster knows I’ve had a lot of physical and emotional struggles during my asana practices. Most of them, I forget within a matter of weeks.
This simple act of kindness has changed me more than all of them.