Happy 14th Anniversary Main Street Yoga!

MSY logo plain 1

This Thursday, March 1st,  is the studio’s 14th anniversary.

I remember buying the mats and the blankets. Ordering and putting together office furniture, designing a logo and ordering a sign, setting up a bank account as a DBA (Doing Business As).

It was this new, exciting venture, full of risk, full of hope. We were giddy with fear.

In terms of the money, it was a business, but it felt more like a daring adventure. We had a, “Let’s run it up the flagpole and see who salutes” attitude about it.

We had our doubters, too. Especially among our families. There were a lot of good-natured pats on the back, a lot of “good for yous,” a lot of smiles of forced optimism.

Because we were total newbies at this. What did we know?

For my part, all I knew was that I had returned from yoga school on fire. I had found it. My it. My reason for being. My why. My thing. Finally. At 50.

Late bloomer? Yes. But not dead yet. And then this amazing space had appeared, poof! Like that, out of nowhere.

And just like that. We were in business.

I was the teacher. G did the business.

I offered early morning class, noontime yoga, after school yoga, 5 o’clock yoga and 7 o’clock yoga. Five classes a  day. Six days a week.

Nobody ever came. To any of them. Most of the time.

On the days when nobody came, yet again, I’d sit on the big windowsill and watch cars at the red light. Sometimes people would walk by on the street.

Somedays my traffic meditation would be disturbed by the photographer next door making noise with squeaky toys to get little kids to smile for their picture.

One day I watched a man eat a whole Big Mac in 5 bites in the time it took for the light to change.

One day when nobody came I considered going down, unfurling my mat on the sidewalk and doing postures there, to attract attention, and hopefully, interest.  I thought better of that, though. People around here were leery enough of yoga as it was. I didn’t need to go down and validate anything eastern and crazy and contortionist.

Once, the ladies from the public library asked me to come and give a talk about yoga. But please, they asked, could you not say the word yoga?

(I agreed. I even pulled it off. To this day, I don’t know how I did it, but it was my most masterful feat of legerdemain, ever.)

I knew the reason people weren’t coming to yoga was because they had the wrong idea about yoga. I knew their ideas about it were both wrong and nuts. It was going to be up to me to de-nuttify yoga for the people of Mansfield. It was going to be my unstated mission.

I wanted them to understand, most of all, that it wasn’t a challenge to their  religious beliefs.

That was the main sticking point for most people.  At least at the beginning.

They were Baptist or Presbyterian or Methodist. They weren’t into Hindu voodoo patchouli Hare Krishnas chanting om. No. We’ll have none of that.

But, they had also heard that doing yoga  could make them less creaky. And even less cranky. Was it true?

Two people came. Then four. Then a little group of eight started coming consistently and regularly on Wednesdays at 11. They formed themselves into a group. They came to know each other, though they would only see each other at yoga. They came to like each other, and ask about each others lives. They were all retired. That’s why they could come at 11. They’d go to yoga then to lunch.

And then other little groups began to form, and I would ask them questions about their lives and how they felt, and then I’d go and developed classes with them in mind.

And that’s how it came to be that I am still doing this 14 years later. The groups are larger now. Nobody’s worried about yoga clashing with their religion. They kinda laugh at such an idea.

We laugh a lot in yoga theses days.

Yoga has become different over the years, because they’ve become different and I’ve become different. Yoga has to keep changing and accommodating itself to the changing, morphing lives of the people who practice it.

As for me, I don’t sit alone in the window too much anymore. But sometimes before or after class, I’ll sit there and stare out for awhile. Nothing’s changed very much.  People still eat fast at the light, drink, smoke, blare their music on sunny, warm days.

I have a chalkboard on the sidewalk, now, in the spot 14 years ago I thought about spreading out my mat. It advertises Main St. Yoga. I hope people parked or walking by will be intrigued enough to walk up the stairs.

Yoga brings people together. It gets, and keeps us breathing. And laughing.

Happy Anniversary, Main Street Yoga. Long may your freak flag fly!

The Yoga Lounge

Just as the last student left my Happy Hour Yoga class this evening, my daughter called from Portland, OR.  I was just finishing up at my desk in the lounge, so it was perfect timing.  I kicked back into one of the comfy Poang chairs in the lounge and had good long chat with one of my favorite people in the whole wide world.

In one of my favorite places in the whole wide world.  Here, for anybody who has never been to my studio, is the lounge where people congregate before and after class (and sometimes waaaay after class, to have great conversations, or to just shoot the breeze.

Yoga Lounge

The studio itself is in the next room and that is where all the transformational magic really happens. But a lot of good times have been spent in this room, too.  If you’ve never visited, you should.  We’ll drink tea, sink into the Poang’s, put our feet up, and just chill.

Happy Friday, everyone!

 

The Story of Main Street Yoga, part 7 (end)

Shiva Rea, the famous Vinyasa yoga teacher is reputed to have said when someone complimented her teaching, “I am just the river guide. The real teacher is the river.”

After my first year of teaching full-time it became clear that I needed to explore more of the river.  My students seemed happy enough with my “guiding” but if I was to keep them interested and coming back for more, I needed to grow as a teacher.

So I enrolled in the 500 Hour Advanced Teacher Training at Kripalu and finished the modules the next year.  As a Professional Yoga Teacher, I now knew a lot more of the river, and even though most of my students weren’t ready to “shoot the rapids,” I could guide them safely through, if they ever wanted to go for it.

The studio started to take off the second year.  I was now consistently making the rent and people were “hearing about me” through their friends.  But the “tipping point” came in April of 2008.  I had read about a big studio in NYC doing a “Yoga Challenge” for 30 days.  The idea was to challenge students to practice every day for a month so they could see how a consistent daily practice could transform their lives. I thought, “What the hell.”

So in April of 2008 I did “Thirty Days for Thirty Dollars.”  I challenged my students, and anyone else in the community, to shoot for a month of yoga, or at least to coming more than their typical once-a-week. Just to see what would happen.

Over 60 people signed up.  I taught 3 classes a day, 7 days a week.  It was mad-crazy. People who had never stepped on a yoga mat signed up, as well as people who had been practicing for years. They came at 6 in the morning and at 5:30 after work and there was even an overflow crowd at 7.  Classes were packed. There was a lot of BIG ENERGY in that room.  Lots of powerful “Oms” and big Audible Sighs.

I remember one day in particular, about halfway through the month, coming into class and everyone was all happy and chatty and it took a while to settle them in, help them drop into the practice.  But once they were into it, it was magic.  I felt it, and more importantly they felt it.

And as the class proceded, this magical “something”  kept growing and building, breath after breath, pose after pose, until savasana, and even after savasana.

Before they all left, I said,”Man, It feels like a real yoga community in here today.”  And Sarah, in the front row said, “Ya think??”  And everyone laughed, and then, (get this) they applauded.  Not me. No. They applauded themselves, as a community. And that day everything shifted, everything jelled, everything came together.

Now I’m a few weeks away from the 3rd Annual Yoga Challenge at Main Street Yoga.  People keep emailing me, “Is it too early to sign up?”  And I keep emailing back, “Yeah, wait another week.”

As for me, I am still learning about this river and all its currents and twists and turns, with Yoganand, my first teacher.  I am making my way through his Pranakriya Yoga Teacher Training one class at a time, and I’m in no rush, because I know the slower you go, the more you see.

There is a yoga sutra that, loosely translated, says, “Pick one way and follow it.  Don’t keep changing teachers and directions.  Follow a path all the way to the end, even if sometimes it feels like you’re going the wrong way.” I’ve decided that Yoganand’s way is the way I want to go.  He’s a master. There is absolutely no question in my mind.

Now, one more time, let’s take a look at the building where all this magic takes place:See those 5 windows on the second floor?  The big one in the middle flanked by the 2 narrower ones on each side?  That’s all Main Street Yoga now.  In May of last year I added another room to my lease. I made a “Yoga Lounge” out of it, a hang-out for my peeps.  They can sit and have tea there and talk before or after class.  They can meet each other informally throughout the day there.  It’s a homey room with chairs and plants and magazines and books.

Main Street Yoga is growing.  I am growing.  I am still learning the ways of the river and how to guide people safely through the swells and the eddies of their bodies, their minds, and their emotions.

I am still not making that “living wage” I was all obsessed with 6 years ago when I first set out on this journey, but I am making one hell of a life.

The Story of Main Street Yoga, part 4

A LIVING WAGE

I loved being a stay-at-home mom.  It’s a good thing, too, because I was one for a 18 years.  The only time I didn’t love being a stay-at-home mom was when I wanted to buy something and my husband didn’t.  If there was a disagreement about money, he always won because he made all the money.

So when I wanted new furniture or to remodel the kitchen he would say, “If that’s what you want, get a job.”

(Ouch.)

Trouble was, there was no place to get a job, except paper hat places, and we didn’t need the money that badly.

But it galled me this, “Get a job” thing, so one day I decided that I would get certified to teach HS English.  It would mean taking 30 credits of Ed classes on top of my B.A. and then I would “get a job.”  A “living wage” job. Then I would remodel the kitchen, or, something.

I thought I would be good at high school teaching, too  My daughter’s friends loved me, and would always say that if they could just hang around me for a week, they’d increase their Vocab score on the SAT by at least 50 points.

So I held my nose and choked down 30 credits of the most imbecilic Education classes imaginable, and then started subbing.

But every day I’d walk my dog up the hill and think about what Jenny said about teaching yoga.  I never once fantasized myself teaching The Scarlet Letter to 11th graders.  Instead, every day I dreamt of teaching Downward-facing Dog and meditation to a room full of yoga students.

I told my husband what Jenny said, and I told him that I wanted to go to Kripalu, too.  Not necessarily so I could teach yoga, but just so I could go deeper into my own practice.  He thought I was being impractical and ridiculous.

The more I taught high school, the more I knew that this was a path error.  I did not fit.  Not one little bit.  I knew it. My colleagues knew it, and the kids knew it.  It wasn’t that I was a bad teacher; it was that I hated school.

I hated the bells and the passes and the parent conferences and the staff meetings and the conversations in the lunch room and the assessment tests and what they call, “classroom management” which basically meant going in every day with a whip and a chair and making sure the lions stayed on their stools.

And then,  just when I was ready to surrender, throw in the towel, wave the white flag, cry Uncle, I got offered a long-term sub job.  Full time. With my own classroom. For a year.  And with it, “the living wage.”

My husband was thrilled.  I felt nauseous.  But I took it.  But I had my checks deposited into a separate bank account (not our joint one) and earmarked it for Yoga Teacher Training at Kripalu. If I could get through this, I was going to do what Joseph Campbell said we all need to do in order to be happy: Follow Our Bliss.

(to be continued…)

The Story of Main Street Yoga, part 2

MY FIRST REAL LIVE YOGA TEACHER

I started practicing yoga on my own when I was a senior in college in 1975-76.  I got the Richard Hittleman 28 Day Yoga Program book (I wrote about it here.) and started.  At the same time I was also filling out applications for grad school and taking the GREs.

I wasn’t going to grad school because I really wanted to. I was going in order to buy myself a little more time for the “Call” to come in.  It was one of the most stressful times in my life and the daily yoga practice helped.  A LOT.

During grad school I took up jogging.  And when I got pretty good at it, I started calling it “running.”  I would come home from my daily runs, take a shower and then do my yoga.  It was a winning combo.  Instant stress relief.

Then I’d go back and read Tristram Shandy.  I spent pretty much my entire 2 years in grad school reading Tristram Shandy.  With a little break every now and then for The Life of Johnson.

Graduate school was pretty much a two-year root canal. Without anesthesia. But on the bright side, I did discover that I hated academia, and that was good for future reference.

So this daily yoga practice became the saving grace of my life. I also flirted with the Jane Fonda exercise videos.  And the Kathy Smith step aerobics. I trained for the L’eggs Mini Marathon every year in Central Park, but at the end of the day, I would always return to my beach towel and my Hittleman.

Then one day, many years into this daily yoga practice, a real live yoga teacher pulled into my little one stop-light town. She drove a van stuffed to the gills with mats, blankets, and yoga straps. She held classes in a dreary church basement that smelled of candle wax and saurkraut and a bunch of people signed up, including me.

She had a 100-watt smile, a paste-on bindi, a little Buddha belly, and she reeked of patchouli.  She was the first real live yoga teacher I had ever laid eyes on. And I loved her.

I bought my first yoga mat.  I giggled uncontrollably when she would have us chant “Om” at the end of class, thinking to myself: You have got to be kidding me. Om? Om?? I was embodying every yoga cliche and stereotype I had ever seen.

And during class she actually walked around and adjusted us in the postures.  This was something I never envisioned as I did my beach towel yoga, and it was startling to find myself deeply in a pose, with my eyes closed, and suddenly feel her hand on my back.  Whoah!  Jump back, Jack!

“This was crazy,” I thought  But this was good.

But then the day came when Reetha (that was her name) made the announcement that it was becoming  really hard for her to make the weekly trek to our little town.  She told us we could come to her yoga studio in a different town, about an hour away, if we wanted to continue to practice with her.  I did want to continue. And I did follow her to her town.

Then I heard of yet another yoga teacher in a yet another far-away town, and I started going to 2 classes–on the same night.  I’d do Savasana with Reetha, then jump up, roll my mat, drive like a maniac through the night, and plop myself down in Doris’s class and start warm-ups.

And I did this for years. Happily.

And then there was Jenny.

(to be continued…)

Mission Statement

I am reading a book called Trust Agents now and there is a section on setting goals.  Chris Brogan and Julien Smith, the authors, are all for goal-setting.  How will you know where to put your energies if you don’t have a direction? they argue.

I understand this, I do.  And I agree with it.

But I’ve always been of the Zen persuasion when it comes to goals, and that is: Goal is path, path is goal.

In other words, I try not to be so focused on the goal, that I neglect the very life being lived right under my nose. Because really, it’s this person, this interaction, this conversation that constitutes my life.  People and situations, if they are viewed just as a means towards an end, or a goal, become de-humanized or de-realized. And I, by treating them this way, become just a punk.  A creep. A user.

That being said, I still think it helps to have a direction, a destination to steer towards. So I have been thinking of where I would like to see the studio go in the next few years and I have come up with a kind of Mission Statement.

Here is my first stab at it:

I want to create an active community of people who know each other, interact with each other, like each other, and who have some kind of spiritual practice whether it be yoga, or art, or gardening, or social activism or physical fitness. This community will see Main Street Yoga as a gathering center: a place to meet, share, plan, and give and get support for individual and collective efforts to make their own lives and the community healthier, happier, more vibrant, creative and prosperous.

This is my mission for the studio.  This is my goal.

(If you know, and practice at MSY, did I miss anything? Would you like to add anything?)