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Thursday, December 14, 2006

feeling special

when i first got a gig as a work exchange student at yoga works on main street in santa monica, my assignment was to walk around the neighborhood and drop off studio flyers on front doorsteps. it was a good way for me to get some fresh air and exercise and an easy way to earn free yoga classes. the downside was that there was almost no human interaction involved (except for the time when i witnessed a dog attack in venice; the victim was visibly distraught over possibly losing her half-severed finger, and i stayed with her until the ambulance arrived to take her to the hospital). being the social animal that everyone claims i am, the solitude was a bit frustrating; i had to be content with merely saying hi! to mail carriers, delivery men, and the few other people i happened to walk by on the street.

so when marnie, the YW main street manager, asked me if i wanted to help check-in students inside the studio, i jumped at the offer. finally, a chance to interact with the public! all i had to do was stand by the computer at the studio entrance and scan keytags and/or type in names. and if someone had to pay for a class or renew their series, i was to direct them to the front desk. training took all of a few minutes; after all, i had a computer science degree and had worked the past 25+ years in IT :)

the extra check-in help was needed to handle the mad rush to sign in for the more popular classes, in particular, those taught by annie carpenter and vinnie marino. their classes always fill to capacity, with sometimes as many as 80 sweaty bodies crammed mat-to-mat into the windowless studio. this being LA, no one likes to wait in line, so the quicker the students got checked in, the better.

with annie carpenter being one of the lead trainers in the yoga works teacher training program in los angeles, most of her students are either teacher trainees or yogis who are very intent on furthering their yoga practice. she spends a good amount of time making sure that her students have proper form for each pose. she offers suggestions and adjustments, and everyone comes out of her class feeling like they've learned something new.

on the other hand, with vinnie marino's class having the reputation of being one of the toughest classes on the westside, he draws students who are there to push themselves to their limits. there is no chanting, no meditation, just pure physical exertion. he turns up the music once the class starts flowing, and oftentimes everyone's so wrapped up in keeping up with the poses that they're unaware of all the sweat that's dripping onto their yoga mats.

needless to say, after a number of volunteer stints, i became a familiar face to vinnie and annie. and with the number of work-study credits i was accumulating, i was able to take their classes whenever i wasn't busy studio-hopping and taking classes with the other teachers in town.

so it was sometime last month, when my back problems were preventing me from practicing strenuous yoga of any kind, that i happened to be checking in students for vinnie's class. my birthday was coming up and i had promised myself that if i made a concerted effort to take care of my back until then, i would "gift" myself with a vinnie marino class. and then it dawned on me: wouldn't it be great if i could take it on my birthday itself? but then again, with the event falling on the friday before christmas, there was always the possibility that he would be taking the day off to enjoy the holidays. i had to find out.

i walked over to vinnie as he sat behind the front desk and asked him if he was going to be teaching on december 22nd and told him why. fortunately, he said said that unless something came up, he was scheduled to teach that day. i marked my calendar and started the countdown.

as always happens during the holidays, i found out that my plans for my birthday had to be changed to accommodate other things. which meant that i wouldn't be able to take either his morning class at YW montana or his afternoon class at YW main street. with only two weeks to go, there was ONE chance for me to fit in his class. and it was tuesday evening.

after madly trying to finish up my work at the office, then rushing down topanga canyon and PCH for the 20-mile drive to YW main street, i finally reached the studio with barely enough time to find an empty spot in the room (which was almost full by then), change my clothes, and get back to my mat before vinnie walked in and closed the door behind him.

i rested in child pose for a while to clear my mind, then sat up and looked around. the guy to my left didn't look too bad. neither did the guy to my right. it was good to be in vinnie's class once again!

we went through a familiar series of poses -- sun salute A's, followed by B's, then by warrior 1's, 2's, 3's, triangles, twisted triangles, extended angles, side planks, half moons, and so on. my back was behaving itself, miraculously, and i was in my element. i was keeping up with the guy on my left and noticed that the guy on my right was quickly losing steam. while i know that yoga is not supposed to be a competitive sport (unless you're a bikram devotee), at that moment in time, i knew i was meeting the challenge and was darned proud of it!

... until we got to the balance poses, where once again, because of the dim lighting in the room, i couldn't find a steady drishti point and found myself struggling to remain upright... ok, so that's something i need to work on...

eventually, we found ourselves on our backs for the dreaded ab series of poses. and it was while i was lying with my feet up in the air, hoping that vinnie didn't notice that my hips and my back were not off the floor as he walked past that he stopped, tapped my feet, and said: isn't it your birthday today?

i was stunnned; with all the people that walk in and out of his classes, how could he have possibly remembered? i told him that while it wasn't my birthday yet, it was close enough, and yes, i was essentially celebrating my birthday in his class that day. he smiled and continued to move around the room. from that point on, it didn't matter what i did or didn't do; i was savoring the moment and doing only what felt good. forget trying to keep up with guy-on-left, who was still successfully executing one boat pose after another; i was choosing to do every other with bent knees and it was fine with me.

after winding down with a shoulderstand and some twisting poses, we rested in savasana. i closed my eyes, oblivious to the fact that the yogitoes towel i was lying on was soaked in sweat, and relieved that my back didn't give me too much trouble. i sensed vinnie walking around, then stopping right by me. he tugged on my feet, lifted my back, repositioned my arms, realigned my neck, then applied pressure to the middle of my forehead before walking away. ahh....

there's nothing like a little special treatment to make someone feel just a little more special... thanks, vinnie!


Blogger shinyyoga said...

wow, what a special class. the planets definitely aligned - happy birthday!

7:04 PM  
Blogger joni said...

thanks, stella, for your good wishes!

10:26 PM  

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