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Thursday, April 05, 2007

teaching from the heart

last sunday, i attended two (yes, i can be pretty compulsive) anusara yoga classes. and by all accounts, they were fairly momentuous occasions for the teachers as well as for the students in both classes.

my first class that day was ross rayburn's class at bala yoga. it was to be the last class he would ever teach at that studio; in fact, it would be the very last class ever to be taught there. bala was shutting its doors, and it offered just that one class on their last day of business, which just happened to fall on april 1st -- april fools' day.

ross's class was packed; so packed that one bala regular remarked that she had never seen that many students fill the large asana room -- ever. there were barely six inches of floor space between yoga mats, which meant that we quickly got very friendly with those beside us. there were many familiar faces in the crowd, including other bala teachers as well as teachers from surrounding studios. once ross signalled that class was about to start, all conversation ceased as everyone waited to hear what he had to say.

"april fools!" ross exclaimed. we laughed nervously, hoping that there was a chance that bala's closing was nothing but a nasty joke. but how to explain the missing fixtures and boutique items in the lobby? and the clearance table with everything marked down 50% or more for a quick sale? and a very emotional ginny biddle, co-owner of bala, sitting quietly on her yoga mat at the back of the class?

in true anusara fashion, ross started by talking about the theme for the class, which obviously had something to do with bala's closing. so when it came time to chant the om's, followed by the anusara invocation, there was no need to ask us to raise our voices; we all sang from the heart.

ross's class was clearly a level 2-3 class. he had us doing all kinds of arm balances and advanced bends and twists. and yes, even the much-expected handstands. and it was the variety of poses in his class that reminded me about why i enjoy taking anusara classes; it's all about challenging myself and feeling empowered by what i've accomplished... and maybe even hopeful about those poses that i still have to work on.

there were the usual demonstrations by other students as well as the partner work. we did pose after pose after pose. the class seemed to go on forever. and i was loving it.

but as all good things eventually come to an end, we finally found ourselves resting in savasana. and when we all came back to a sitting position after that period of restoration, instead of keeping our eyes closed, ross asked us to open our eyes. and seated in front of the class beside him was marc holzman, another bala (and yoga inside out) teacher who was still recovering from very recent heart surgery. the class happily applauded, expressing relief that marc seemed to have weathered his ordeal quite well.

by now, many in the room were teary-eyed, including ross himself. he thanked everyone in the room -- ginny, the teachers, the students -- before bidding all namaste. we all hugged one another as we made our way slowly out of the room and out of the studio for the last time.

after a quick trip home for a shower and a fresh change of clothes, i headed for my second yoga class for the day: elsie escobar's all-levels class at swerve studio. her class was going to be videotaped so she could submit it as part of her anusara certification requirements. so while i was initially hesitant about being recorded and looking 15 pounds heavier than usual (5 pounds of my post-holiday weight gain plus the dreaded 10 pounds the camera seems to always add on), i decided to be there for her just because it sounded like something fun to do. not only that, but i still felt guilty about oversleeping and missing her birthday yoga class at lululemon BH last february :(

unlike the somber class that i had taken earlier in the morning, elsie's class was very upbeat. this time, she tied in april fools' day with the childhood pleasures of playing games and having fun. with that in mind, the entire class revolved around exploring the asanas, playing with them, and still managing to have a good time.

while i know that elsie had probably rehearsed over and over again what she was going to say as well as what she was going to have us do, it all came across so naturally. if she were any bit nervous that afternoon, she had us fooled; she appeared very relaxed and in control. for the ninety minutes that we spent with her in her "sandbox", she teased us, she joked with us, she dared us to do things that pushed us to our edge. and we all laughed along with her as we played a yoga version of follow-the-leader.

elsie was very hands-on during the class; she was constantly walking around the room, adjusting students as needed and pointing out better ways to do the poses. she tweaked me a few times during the course of the class (and no, i didn't purposely do things incorrectly just so i could show up on camera); sometimes it elicited an aaaggh, sometimes an aaaahhh... it clearly showed that she was paying close attention and knew her stuff.

all in all, i give elsie an "A" for her anusara instruction skills. i just hope her graders agree with my assessment :)


Blogger Elsie said...

Seriously honored that you wrote about your day on April 1st. Thank you so much for taking the time to share with everyone, and really, hats off to you for doing 2 classes that day :) I had 2 others there that did both the classes, you guys are dedicated! Thank you so much Joni, and of course...Great to finally meet you!

12:34 PM  
Blogger joni said...

hi elsie --

have you thought about podcasting that class? it was great!

10:14 PM  
Blogger 180360 said...

Wow. Those classes sound amazing. I wish I had the assortment of studios you have in LA.

3:14 PM  

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