August 2, 2013

Less than Zen: Embarrassing Moments on the Mat. ~ Erica Leibrandt

photo: Marine Noclain

The life of a yogi is fraught with embarrassment.

There are, of course, the universal digestive issues. Let’s just say I’ve learned to eat very carefully before I teach. No bean salad for me! But often my students will be stricken mid-class. Generally, yogis have a silent pact to ignore this sort of thing, but every now and then it’s so obvious I find myself remarking: “No two ways about it guys… there’s a lot of farting in yoga!”

Then we have what is now called “wardrobe malfunction” (thanks Janet and JT for making that a permanent part of our national lexicon). The most mortifying for me—the time I did malasana (garland pose, an open kneed deep squat) in those Lulu pants that were recalled for being too sheer. As I faced the class, completely unaware that I was sharing a detailed picture of my anatomy, I wondered, why is everyone staring at my crotch? Time, a mirror, and the Lulu scandal would tell, but for the moment I remained blissfully ignorant.

Other wardrobe malfunctions have included the man with short shorts and no underwear, who, every time he launched himself into downward facing dog revealed his very hairless, very pink, and very tiny set of family jewels. As well as the guy who came wearing jeans which revealed his entire butt crack every time he folded forward.

Then there are the more bizarre instances like the one armed man and the weeping woman. The one armed man, a jolly fellow in his early 40s who had lost his arm in a car accident, dropped by one day and asked for help with his headstands. Now, I consider myself a competent teacher, but this one had me stumped (pardon the pun). I mostly stood by while he flung his body here and there with a remarkable amount of lopsided bravery, wondering how I could serve him better.

The weeping woman was just that, a crier. I’ve seen people cry yoga tears from time to time, but this woman cried throughout the entire practice. I’m not talking silent tears either; these were big wracking sobs. When I asked her if she needed a break, she simply shook her head and continued on. I spoke with her afterwards and discovered she had just lost her husband to cancer, so it made sense, but that didn’t make it any less awkward.

Far worse (for me at least) than tears and jeans and missing limbs, was when I was asked to speak at a senior center for which I had been hired to teach chair yoga (yoga practiced sitting in a chair, or standing using a chair as support) early in my career.

I was led to believe I would be handing out brochures, but when I walked in I saw a massive formal luncheon was underway. I glanced down at my decidedly informal yoga attire with dismay. Hundreds of seniors sat, clapping along to a Zumba instructor who was up on stage doing the Samba. The event coordinator came up to me with a big smile on her face and shouted over the music, “Okay, you’ll be going up next!” “Next what?” I hollered back. “Up there!” She pointed to the stage. “Just show them what you do!”

What I do? What did she want? For me to go up on stage and breathe? Even if she wanted something spectacular like headstands or arm balances, it would be totally inappropriate. That’s not what I was hired to teach and not at all what the seniors would be doing. Not to mention that I have terrible stage fright, and I was ready to wet my pants at the mere thought of ascending that stage.

“Is there anything you need?” She shouted now, swaying a little to the super charismatic Zumba instructor whose awesomeness was sure to make whatever I did suck even more. “A gun to the head,” I thought. But instead I said (because I really wanted the job and I hate letting people down), “No, no. I should be fine.”

I paced around backstage as the Zumba girl continued to charm her way into those senior hearts, wondering what level of hell I was actually in. In a flash of inspiration I started looking around for some chairs. No I didn’t have any experience, or music or props, but I guessed I could drag some seniors up on stage with me, put them in chairs, and fake my way through a mini-class.

Miss Zumba wrapped up to riotous applause and I could feel cold streams of sweat trickling down my sides. I peeked out from behind the stage curtain and saw her gathering up her things, so I started pushing out the chairs I had found onto the stage. I tried not to look at the audience and just focused on getting everything into place. The director popped up next to me, gave me a wink, grabbed the mike and introduced me to the room. There was a smattering of hand clapping.

I’d love to tell you what happened after that, but I basically blacked out. I mean, my body continued to operate but I have no idea what I did or how I did it. All I know is, when I was done, I was showered with Zumba worthy applause.

I wobbled off the stage and leaned against a wall to catch my breath. As soon as my heart stopped it’s spastic bumping, I made my way back out into the main room. There was a line of people waiting to meet me. A handsome old gentleman strapped into an oxygen machine ambled forward. “You were wonderful!” he said, tapping me gently on the wrist, “Just wonderful!”

Full of good feelings, I went on my way, ready to return the next week to start my class. From the reaction I had at the luncheon, I assumed I would have a good turn out. When I returned, I found the room they wanted me to use and saw they had the chairs all set up for me. “So nice!” I thought. I sat down to wait for my students and looked over my notes. The clock ticked. The hour came and went when class was to begin, and still nobody showed. Was I in the right place? I went downstairs and asked the man at the desk. “Yes,” he said. That was the room. After another 45 minutes passed and I gathered my things and left.

I went back the next week. Same deal. The third week, I dragged myself there once again with dread in my heart. Five minutes after start time I saw someone walking toward my room. Could it be? A real live student?

Alive, yes, but not awake. In rolled a sleeping lady in a wheelchair being pushed by her caretaker who whispered, “Is this the yoga class?” “Yup, it is,” I tried to smile. She looked at me apologetically. “Mildred falls asleep sometimes. Can we just wait and see if she wakes up?”

Well, Mildred didn’t wake up and I never went back after that. It was too awful sitting in that empty room filled with empty chairs waiting for students who never came. It was still cool to have faced my fears and when I pass the place now I gaze at it fondly.

So much of yoga is about facing our fears.

Our fears of looking ridiculous, of getting hurt, of not being good enough. The good news is, the more you look that stuff in the eye, the easier it gets. I can almost guarantee something devastatingly embarrassing will happen to you at some point during your practice. The question is, will you let a little gas, see-through pants or a roomful of lunching seniors block your path to enlightenment?



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Asst. Ed: Meagan Edmondson/Ed: Brianna Bemel

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