Friday, October 18, 2013

Get thee to the studio on time!

An old friend of mine shared some thoughts about punctuality. "Early is on time, on time is late, and late is unacceptable!" This was my friend's philosophy about getting her daughter to her youth symphony rehearsals on time. Or rather, early. Because if you want to truly be on time, you must arrive early.

In our yoga tradition, each class begins with the chanting of the sound om, followed by the Invocation to Sage Patanjali, who was the compiler of the Yoga Sutras, the essential teachings of yoga philosophy. It is powerful to experience the way chanting draws us together as a group of practitioners. Beginning students may not understand why we start each class this way, but they are easily able to experience the calm and focus that the sound evokes.

Unfortunately, students arriving late to class miss this important start to the practice. They are greeted by a sign that says, "Stop! Do you hear chanting? If so, please wait  until chanting ends, and then enter the room quietly."

In my early twenties, when I first discovered yoga, I often had a very difficult time getting myself to class, or actually anywhere, on time. It was a life skill I had not yet developed. I hadn't yet learned that arriving on time for a six pm yoga class means entering the yoga studio several minutes before six o'clock. Because we need time to take off our shoes, set up our mat in the yoga room, and maybe some extra time for changing clothes or using the bathroom.

Before I developed the life skill of arriving on time, I would always push everything to the last possible moment. If I knew I could bike to the yoga studio in fifteen minutes, and the class started at six, I would leave my house at five forty-five. So I would be the breathless, flustered person rushing into the studio and looking for a place to put my mat right when the teacher was getting ready to begin the lesson.

At some point I figured it out. I realized that it was more respectful to my teacher and fellow students to get my butt into the yoga room a few minutes BEFORE the official start time of the class. I figured out that my own body and mind were actually more receptive to the teachings if I had a little time to settle myself before the class began. And on a purely practical level, I noticed that stuff happens. I realized that I couldn't count on my path to always be clear. Someone might stop me to ask for directions, a road detour might appear, or even a delightful surprise, like running into an old friend, could cause a delay. I realized that it was my responsibility to allow for these possibilities, in order to still be able to arrive at my destination on time.

Now one of the practical aspects of teaching yoga as a livelihood, is that my paycheck is bigger if more students come to class. So I welcome late arrivals with a smile and a friendly, "Come on in!" But by starting my class exactly on time, week after week, month after month, and year after year, I hope to teach the importance of a punctual arrival.

All of us who embark on a yoga practice start with the bodies and minds that we have. We might begin yoga with a very bad back, a frozen shoulder, or a knee injury. Or we might begin our yoga practice with a depressed or anxious mind, a habit of being impatient, or a tendency to be late. In just the same way that a skillful teacher will work with a sore back or torn hamstring muscle, a good teacher will help her students learn to work with their own mental and emotional habits, including the pattern of rushing and being late. Often we can do this without even saying anything to the student, but simply by teaching with integrity, class after class.

Like a good story, yoga class has a beginning, a middle, and an end. It is best not to miss any of these parts.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Love Letter to Elmer Farm

It finally stopped raining today so I got on my bike to pick up my vegetables at Elmer Farm. Since I live in what is possibly the shadiest spot in Addison County (and I mean shady as in lack of sunshine, not in the illicit activity sense of the word) it's difficult to grow a garden here.

I feel so lucky that Jennifer and Spencer Blackwell took over the historic Elmer Farm to grow organic vegetables for our community. When I pick up my produce each week I can also buy locally baked bread and meat from another nearby farm. I can go out into the field and harvest sugar snap peas. And the flowers! Jennifer plants unusual varieties of all kinds of blossoms. Sometimes when I'm out in the flower field, cutting a bouquet alongside kids, moms, dads, and grandparents, I feel like I'm in heaven.

Growing all this delicious food is hard work. I bow in gratitude to Jennifer, Spencer, and their farm helpers, who spend countless hours in the muddy fields, coaxing this bounty out of the earth.

I usually run into several friends while I'm choosing my beets, cucumbers, and lettuce. I chat with Jennifer and Spencer and watch the kids chase chickens around the yard. The adults swap recipes while the children switch from chasing chickens to capturing frogs and setting them free in the kiddie pool.

When I get home with my heavy pack, I decide what to make for dinner. After all the rain, the river outside my house is raging. I watch it for awhile, in awe of the power of this huge amount of water pouring down from the mountains. Our existence here feels so fragile. All over the world, climate change threatens people who live near the water's edge.

How much of the damage being inflicted on our planet is caused by food production and distribution? Whether its animals fattened on feedlots, heavily sprayed vegetables shipped from California, or high fructose corn syrup laden beverages, the way most Americans eat is killing our beautiful earth.

As Michael Pollan, and other food experts, have pointed out, if you are poor it's hard to eat healthy. In the supermarket, the real food is all around the edges of the building (produce, meat, dairy, eggs). Pretty much the entire inside of the store is over packaged empty calorie "food" that causes heart disease, diabetes, and a host of other medical problems that are sinking the health of our country.

How beautiful would it be if every single neighborhood in our whole country had its own small farm? If we could all bike or walk to pick up our weekly veggies? If butchers, bakers and jam makers had a place to sell their wares? Think of all the green jobs that would be created if we could kick our addiction to industrialized agriculture, fast food, and empty calories.

John Lennon said it best: "You may say I'm a dreamer. But I'm not the only one." I hope someday you will join us, and all people can have healthy food to eat!