What do I want to say here and when do I want to say it?
These are questions every writer needs to ask, probably on a regular basis. They’re questions every yoga teacher asks, pursuing the practice with the students looking expectantly up at us from their mats. Hell, they’re questions every single one of us should ask as we move through our lives, alongside, “Is it true, is it kind, is it necessary?” My mother, Eighty-eight, used to insist to a much younger me that I could say anything in the world as long as it met those criteria.
The publication date for this post is July 8. That’s the birthday of a woman I’ve known since we were nine years old, from the days I spent in boarding school in southwest England. I am reminded of one moment from those years every time I offer my yoga students the opportunity to rest lying flat on their bellies, arms outstretched to tee, heads turned softly to one side. I call it Lying-on-the-Grass-Asana in memory of one day when I was eleven, my daughter’s age. I walked across the playing field to the English meadow at the far boundary of our school. I may have sat for a while, watching the rounders game on the field, but at some point I decided to lie down, flat on my stomach, stretch out my arms to hug the earth and turn my head gently to one side. I was aware of how big the planet felt, how small I felt, and how right it all was even so.
When I left Dartington Hall to return to the states for junior high, birthday-girl Abbie and I became steadfast pen pals. Letters flew across the Atlantic, sometimes not even answered before the next one was written. Move after move I have toted with me the collection, such that just now I was able to walk down to the totally cluttered disorganized basement and put my hands on the box: letters from Abbie.
Today Abbie is a writer for Media Wales, the mother of three growing children, and the wife of a producer for the BBC. Modern, adult life has, to be sure, adjusted our communications. We stay in touch via Facebook posts and occasional email messages. But I still try, once in the summer in honor of her birthday and once around the holidays, to write her a real letter. It makes me feel at the same time in touch with my friend and my younger self. When I receive a birthday letter from Abbie, I make an occasion out of reading it. A smoothie or a cup of tea and a patch of grass under a tree somewhere and I travel back in time to the meadow where we used to romp when we were free after classes.
Abbie is an amazing flower in the meadow of my own making. That’s a phrase I used for the first time, the meadow of my own making, while I was teaching at the corporate site where I lead yoga practice three days a week. It is precisely the kind of hippy-dippy flowery phrase that yoga teachers say, words strung together meant to soothe and ease. One of the students in the class smiles all the way through, even when she comes up against a pose she doesn’t like. Meadow-day it was a hip opener that we deceptively propped with a blanket and then held for a long time. I commented on Stacey’s persistent smile, and another student suggested perhaps it was a grimace and made a pained face. “We don’t do face yoga,” I quipped, quoting one of my favorite teachers. “Why not?” the grimacing student, a man, asked. “It might help, you know, lift everything.”
What I meant was that we work on keeping the face serene when we practice. What he meant was, is there a practice that would do for the face what the Asana do for the body? I had once done a little investigating and found, as with so many self-improvements, a dazzling array of promises on the Internet. I told him I’d dig in a little deeper, but in the meantime everything that we do reflects on the face and he should step deeper—and the phrase just arrived—into the meadow of his own making.
Sentimental, sure. Then again, that’s why they come to see me. And the day of this class was a day when it was entirely too easy to believe in the meadow. A pleasant 80 degrees with a light breeze and glorious yellow sunshine accompanied me on my fifteen-minute drive over. I walked in and asked for requests—our usual Friday practice. Savasana came the first response, without missing a beat. The silence that followed was an assent. They were tired today, okay. But what else? The pose suggestions came along. Pigeon said one, Rabbit from another. Heart-openers requested another. Shoulders please. A bunny and a birdie and a nap, I said. Sounds like we’re in a meadow today, and I asked them then to come onto their backs, knees bent, soles of the feet together. After a few breaths they started to ease the knees together and then open them back out again, a slow flying butterfly, and visualize the next flower, and then the next, and then the one after.
Which is all to say that the meadow came spontaneously, from the energy in the room. Closing our eyes got us out of visual impact, away from the feedback of the face and into the body. I sprinkled the meadow imagery throughout the practice, never sure if I was laying it on too thick. At the end, tucking their blankets around them in Savasana, I invoked my new phrase again, inviting them to rest in the meadow of their own making. As I walked the room, rubbing my hands together and placing them on their shoulders, I watched them relax and bloom, the flowers that they are.
When asked what the decorations would be for his famous Black and White Ball, Truman Capote replied, “The people will be the flowers.” And I am so lucky, I think, that in my meadow there are so many flowers: friends, like Abbie, who I have known for nearly forty years and those I’m just getting to know; yogis who smile even when they don’t relish a pose; strangers who respond to the bright orange of my car with delight; Eleven and Fourteen who are thriving this summer; Eighty-eight whose wisdom I cherish; people who have yet to walk through the door and join the Radiant Om Yoga community.
So, what do I want to say on this particular day? I want to say that my heart is full of gratitude, and that I’m glad I’m a yoga teacher and can get away with inviting you to skip through the meadow of my own making, to lie on the grass with me, to let go of the world for just a little while and realize at the same time we’re in it. This is it. And it’s good.
Happy Birthday Abbie! This isn’t a real letter, so I owe you that, but it’s from my heart and in honor of your birthday and the new thunder moon. To Abbie and all, thank you for sauntering along with me, Rxo