I’m a planner. Going on vacation? I’m happy to research the destination, compare flights, explore accommodations, find enticing places to eat, and map out a series of activities. Me and Excel? We’re good friends.
One night a few years ago, I was in the throes of planning a trip to Chile, stayed up too late and got cranky. Side note: I only admitted to the crankiness in hindsight. During the cranky period, I would have sternly said, “I’m fine!” Working toward enlightenment is a life long process, so I take solace in the fact that I have more time to observe my patterns! In any case, I said to my sweetheart, “Ugh. You need to HELP with this!” He said, “Happy to. And what would you do if I suggested where we stay during our trip?” I paused and begrudgingly replied, “I would plan the whole thing over again.”
All this is to say that I also plan the yoga classes that I teach. I always have a written sequence of poses with me, even though I rarely look at it during class. I make sure to bring awareness to the particular body parts needed for the more advanced poses. Working toward Urdhva Dhanurasana (Upward Facing Bow Pose)? We’ll open the shoulders, engage the abdominals, lengthen the sides of the waist, and so on.
Recently, in one such planned class focusing on backbends (including Urdhva Dhanurasana), we moved into shoulderstand as we were winding down. I walked over to dim the lights and surveyed the group to make sure everyone was approaching the posture safely. I saw something that I did not expect: tears. A student was crying while in shoulderstand. Although I know from both my personal practice and from teaching that emotions often surface, I was surprised that it happened during shoulderstand. I gave the student plenty of space to work through her experience, continued as usual and moved into savasana.
After class, she lagged behind as everyone else filtered out. We had a habit of chatting after class, and I wondered if she’d bring up her shoulderstand experience.
During our conversation she said, “Melissa, I was looking up at my toes during shoulderstand, and I thought ‘I love my feet!’ I felt strong and I thought, ‘Look at my feet up there! I love them!’
She went on to say that she had a history of eating disorders and body image issues, and this was the first time in years that she felt like she loved a part of her body. Her feet! She said she had never cried in a class before, but she felt overwhelmed by emotion and it surprised her.
I could never have predicted or planned for this. It had so much to do with the student’s personal experience, and much less to do with my planned sequence of poses. As a yoga teacher, I am lucky enough to provide a structure and offer space for people to experience emotion and discover new parts of themselves. That’s one reason why teaching and practicing yoga is so vibrant, so dynamic. It’s humbling to witness people putting themselves out there, both physically and emotionally. Moving through the postures in a room with other people requires bravery and vulnerability; it can be just as much an emotional process as a physical one. Everybody (and every body) has his or her story, and each student turns the page at his or her own pace. Once in a while, as a teacher, I get to see the page turn and it’s very, very special.
This was yet another helpful reminder that there is only so much you can plan in life. When you’re open to what comes, you can experience it fully, in this moment – the one happening right now. To quote guru John Lennon: “Before you cross the street, take my hand. Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”
So please. Right now, in THIS moment, love your feet! Take time to experience what is happening without a written sequence or organized plan. You will likely discover something new, and that is where the real growth happens.
Melissa teaches with a full heart and a generous dose of humor. Yoga helps her slow down, gain perspective, and find calm in hectic NYC, and she loves helping others do the same. She completed her 500-RYT certification through YogaWorks NYC under the mentorship of Chrissy Carter, and has pursued additional training in prenatal yoga with Carrie Parker, restorative yoga with Jillian Pransky and kids yoga with Asana Alphabet . She also studied at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, and is a certified Health and Lifestyle Coach. She’s currently embarking on her newest yogic journey: being a new mom. Check out more at melissabwellness.com.