Do You Need Any Props?

This post inspired by “Skating on the surface” over at Recovering Yogi.

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.

P90xgym

“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.

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Posted in non-asana, satya
6 comments on “Do You Need Any Props?
  1. Stefanie says:

    Thanks for writing this and for quoting my Recovering Yogi post! This is a great treatise on kindness – my only religion.

  2. Autumn says:

    Unfortunately, I’ve been guilty of the (silent!) consternation when someone is late to yoga. I’m always inside all HEY I BOTHERED TO SHOW UP ON TIME AND THIS IS YOH-GAH AND I’M HERE TO ZEN OUT AND YOU ARE DISRUPTING ME, which is, like, so not yogic in any way. (On the bright side, I don’t enter a class at all if it’s already started, but I do see why people do.) I’m going to remember this story as a way to overcome that bratty little New Yorker inside of me who somehow believes time is money, because it’s not. Thank you for the reminder. I’d so much rather be the yoga-person who gives the genuine smile (I mean, I’m not a teacher, but people can feel energy) than the icy “how nice of you to show up” smile.

    • Tori says:

      I still feel that way too in some cases. In the same class (not the exact same day, but the same ongoing class), we had a couple of people who were regularly showing up substantially late (closer to 10 minutes). After the third consecutive week, the instructor did talk to them (after class, while folks were leaving, not when the whole class was listening) to let them know that if they couldn’t make it on time, then maybe they needed to find a different class.

      It’s a tough call sometimes. Because I do think habitual tardiness demonstrates a lack of respect (not necessarily malicious, but maybe of the thoughtless/clueless variety) for the instructor and the rest of the class. But sometimes, life (and traffic! and construction!) happens.

  3. R. H. Ward says:

    I have been guilty of getting annoyed at a latecomer (particularly when his opening the door caused a cold draft, and then he didn’t shut the door or replace the… beanbag-draft-guard-thing. And it was cold out!). In the studio where I practice, though, it tends to get crowded often and I feel like people are usually pretty supportive, rearranging mats to make room–it’s a studio where 10-15 students is a comfortable number but I’ve seen as many as 25 fit in the room.

    Doing my teacher training, we have to attend at least one hatha yoga class per week, and on the one weekend a month we have our intensive session, the Saturday morning classes get really packed. Some people choose to roll their eyes and be annoyed at the teacher trainees packing into “their” class, while others choose to have fun with it, make room, and enjoy the different energy the trainees bring.

    I’m starting to teach a small yoga class at my home, so from the teacher’s perspective I can appreciate that it would be nice for people not to be late. I will have room for maybe six students if I don’t roll out my own mat and if we move the porch furniture, so a latecomer could be a real issue, but we’re talking about my actual friends here rather than people who pay me, so I think it’ll be okay. First class is tomorrow so we’ll see!

    • Tori says:

      Good luck with your class!

      As for lateness, I think it depends on a variety of factors. I mean, obviously, it’s preferable for students to always be on time. However, I’ve practiced in some studios where arriving at 5:25 (or even 5:22) for a 5:30 class would be considered “late” and some studios where it might be considered “cutting it close” but not actually late. i also think there’s a difference between, say, a single instance of being 2-3 minutes late and repeated occurrences of being 5-10 minutes late.

      Also, in terms of my own personal reaction, I’ve noticed that how the late student reacts to said tardiness affects how annoyed versus welcoming I am. For instance, I’ve observed (and been once, as written about) folks come a bit late to class, participate quietly in opening thoughts before setting up, and then setting up in a way that minimized physical disturbance. On the other hand, I’ve also observed (but not been) someone walk into class the same bit late while still — at street volume — talking on their cell phone.

      I’m not sure if this is the correct way to articulate the difference, but it might be a matter of respecting the fact that class has already started, even if one is late.

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