A summer or two ago I was browsing a local newspaper and saw an advertisement for a $5 sunset yoga class on the beach. Everything in that description appealed to me, so I penciled it right into my calendar. When I arrived at the small local beach for the class, however, there was nary a yoga mat in site. I asked a few beach-goers if they knew anything about the class – if it was perhaps farther down the beach, or had changed to another day of the week or time of night. No better idea from anyone.
After some initial disappointment, I decided that I’d practice on my own. “It’s a beautiful night, I have my mat, why not do just what I had planned to – minus an instructor and fellow yogis?” I thought. I had also been working at my computer all day long, and therefore had a strong desire to engage my physical body while also calming my mind. What can do that? Yoga, of course – and practicing in the pure, honest grandeur of nature can only enhance those effects.
I had one of the most enjoyable practices that I’ve ever experienced, breathing with the rhythm of the waves and absorbing the warmth of the setting sun. I was proud of myself for adjusting to the setback of the mysteriously absent class, because adapting to life’s inevitable unexpected changes has never been one of my strengths. Among yoga’s many gifts is that it can help us learn to do just that, such as the perfect ending to a nearly perfect practice or a soft-serve ice cream cone with my Mom on the way home. A great night!
I believe that this story clearly demonstrates some powerful truths that can greatly serve yoga practitioners and instructors. Firstly, there is incredible value in being open to the unexpected. Yogic philosophy teaches that refraining from being attached to what we think will occur can prevent us from being closed off to effective solutions, and even to act in ways that harm others, and ourselves when something significantly different ends up happening.
For instance, if my reaction to the mysteriously missing class had stopped at disappointment – merely because attaching to the expectation of it happening blocked my thinking from a worthy solution – I would have missed that incredibly enjoyable practice. Furthermore, if my disappointment grew into anger I could have huffed and puffed back to the car and stayed in a bad mood for the rest of the night. That negative emotion would also make it unpleasant for my mother and others whom I would have interacted with to be around me, and interpersonal conflict could have arisen. I think that it’s clear that what actually occurred, because I could separate myself from such attachment to be open to the unexpected, was infinitely better for everyone involved.
For yoga instructors specifically, that ability is essential for adjusting to the common and diverse unexpected occurrences that inevitably occur within their classes. For instance, an instructor could get creatively inspired to plan a class with an “awesome, kick-butt” Power-yoga type flow, then which moves into complex stretching postures – only to recognize in the first five minutes of class that he or she is charged with leading complete beginners.
Continuing with the advanced plan would most likely only cause frustration for both instructor and students, a lowering of his or her – and even the studio’s – professional credibility in the community, and possibly significant injury. With such high-profile recent events as a negligence suit against celebrity instructor Hilaria Thomas, as well as a growing social opinion that yoga is likely to cause injury, instructors’ strong duty to remain flexible towards the ability of the students with them in the moment is undeniable.
Other logistical and technical complications can call for yoga instructors to be open to thinking on their feet. Perhaps one plans a class designed to flow with a beautiful meditative CD – only to find a broken player upon arriving at the class. The instructor could either attempt to make it seamless without the music or come up with a new sequence on the spot – but for the moment the necessary technical advice, that was expected to be functioning, is not. Stopping one’s thought process at getting upset about that fact won’t help to deliver the obligatory service of the class about to happen as scheduled.
The needed space to practice is a similar element that is often compromised. For example, one plans to practice in the family home’s quiet living room alone – but his or her son needs the space for an important work or school project. One expects a hotel room to be large enough to practice, but it’s indeed not with three guests’ suitcases and a necessary extra airbed on the floor. One can adjust to these setbacks with a creative mind and a sense of fun.
With the first example, one could practice in an upstairs hallway previously thought too small to practice – focusing on Runner’s Lunges and Warrior postures over seated postures that might require more width around the body. With some innovative use of the close walls as props, this approach could even result in important alignment insights. With the second instance, one could similarly use the walls as well as the beds, bathroom spaces, and even the suitcases – molding into the space and letting the objects offer good information about elements of one’s own practice.
In this humble author’s opinion, such possibilities for effective adaptations to the unexpected in practice are infinite. Instructors and devoted practitioners alike can reap their benefits with practice of the Yogic ideal of nonattachment, brought from Patanjali’s timeless texts to the modern day. If instructors share the insights that they’ve reached in those skills, such as through direct advice and thoughtful responses to any student descriptions of impediments to their practices, they can spread that beautiful legacy.
All persons involved can consequently develop their abilities to creatively and effectively adapt to life’s larger unexpected challenges – including significant financial losses and serious health complications. Perhaps one unacquainted with yoga could compliment a yoga practitioner friend on that skill, who could share what he or she has learned about nonattachment from yoga – therein bringing another into the essential practice. From there, a cycle of creative communal adjustment to each moment as it comes could continue and grow – and, I believe, the world could spin around a little more easily as a result.