Setting forth on any path, we need to take small daily (or frequent) steps and also have a long term view of where we are going. Along the way, we learn, overcome obstacles, meet some of the same challenges again and again, and find the joy of living and relationship.
With over 20 years experience of yoga practice, as a yoga teacher I draw from my extended study with the founders of the Shadow Yoga school, life experience to describe some of the things that help me and give me insight.
Thursday, April 26, 2012
My Yoga Practice, Before it was Yoga
My Yoga Practice, before it was Yoga
legs, steel sculpture by Lita. 1995
Jim cleaned up pretty good. After I parked my truck on the dirt alongside his building,
and climbed the stairs to the second floor to his apartment, I saw he’d put on
a clean rugby shirt, and showed a noticeable absence of black grime in his
creases and pores. “I used Ajax,”
he said. “Yeh,” he said. “One day
I forgot to replace the soap, and I was in the shower, and no soap, and … I
used the Ajax instead! Works good!”
We went out for sushi.
“They always remember me here,” he said, when we were seated in the
restaurant, “because once the ceiling started leaking water, and I happened to
be here, and I fixed it.” Besides that, I thought: who wouldn’t remember
Jim? He was huge, with calves
the size of my thighs, a head the size of a melon, and had tattoos all over his
arms, and a big silver ring in his nose.
Plus, he had this cockney accent.
I’d never heard an accent quite like his, except in movies that involved
thick ladies, and old men in pubs, and priests and petty crime. He called feta
Actually there was something under-the-radar, and possibly
criminal with Jim. He was in the country illegally, and he did his business
in cash: metal fabrication for cheap. He undercut the legitimate working artists, and they
complained about it, but didn’t confront him, so far as I know. Jim rented a small industrial building
where he lived upstairs, and worked in the downstairs garage on European
motocross bikes and motorcycles.
He also worked in a metalworking studio that I shared, along with four
other artists. He made steel
furniture and stair railings and metalwork for restaurants and bars, which paid
him in trade. I’d picked him up at
his place because he had lost, or couldn’t get, a drivers’ license. He mentioned he’d seen a man shot in
the head in Spain.
At the sushi restaurant, Jim told stories that were better
just because of his accent and style of speaking. He paid for my dinner, increasing my suspicion (which had
begun with his cleanliness) that he considered this to be a date. We went to see a movie: not our
first. We had gotten into the
habit of seeing what he called, “hard man films”. We both liked Hong Kong directors, and Action films. In the
theater, he would suck from a massive cup of soda, straw in his mouth and his
eyes delightedly on the screen. He
would turn towards me and nod enthusiastically after explosions, and chase
scenes. The night of the
Japanese dinner, after I drove him back home, he popped out of the truck
without hesitation, making me think maybe it wasn’t a date, after all. The next day he was at the studio as
usual, obliviously blasting an old Pogues cassette tape while grinding through
several abrasive wheels, creating an incessant din and shower of sparks and
Sometimes we’d take a break and sit outside the studio on an
old bench, and have a paper cup of coffee from a stand down the street. “What’re you doing with your life,”
he’d say. “You Americans. Twenty-seven years old and fooling around with this
and that. Not me. I was making a man’s wages at the age
of eighteen! In the shipyards!” He
pointed out that my metal sculpture could easily be converted into a more
marketable lamps, or side tables.
Jim was practical.
Jim was trying to interest me in motorcycles. He said he’d teach me to ride one. “I have a nice little Italian bike at
the shop,” he said. “It’s like
you: little with big parts.” Here he was referring to my big arm muscles; big
for a 115-pound girl. He was
sitting in the office/entryway area of the shop, one tennis shod foot on the
desk, pushing his bulk back into a creaking, tilting office chair. Two kids, boys about ten years old,
walked up and paused in the open doorway.
They came by about once each week, looking for work. Jim would hand them brooms and metal
dustpans, and send them out under the tables and behind the welders to clean up
the sandy black piles of dirt that collected there from our grinding and
cutting. It was a task I wouldn’t
do without a respirator mask, but I didn’t intervene as these children
blackened their baby-pink lungs in Dickensian fashion. Jim handed me a stack of eight
quarters. “Give these to the boys
when they finish,” he said. “And stop by the shop on your way home. I’ll show you the bike.”
I did stop by that night. It was dark by then, and the big garage door was open, light
glowing out in an otherwise dark and silent row of warehouses and industrial
buildings. When I went inside
Emma, Jim’s dog, was lying on the floor, a bike was up on a table, and he was
doing something with grease and bolts, nearby. Another English guy was lounging in a plastic chair, smoking
a cigarette. Gina, a girl who
rented a room in the building, was cleaning a leather suit she wore for
side-car motocross, which is a sport where a team of two riders are on a
motorcycle, one of them hanging off \of the side. The one who hangs off the side does a lot more of the
physical work of the ride, and is known as “the monkey.” She was little, but I
was a bit in awe of the whole thing, and I mumbled a shy hello. Jim directed me to the bike he’d
wanted to show me. It was made by
whatever Italian company puts a big star on the body, between the handlebars
and the seat. I sat on it and
pretended I was riding, as the three of them looked on. Then they stopped paying attention and
went back to their various occupations.
I got off the bike, and settled into a chair near the dog, who went on
“There’s chicken, if you’re hungry,” said Jim. He gestured to some half eaten chicken,
lying on paper, which was, in turn, lying on the seat of a motorcycle. I wrinkled my nose.
“Where did you get it?” I asked.
“Texaco.” He said.
“Only place open around here.”
“Texaco!” I said.
I studied the chicken, as if he’d procured it from the moon, noting the
greasy flesh and brownish bone; crumbles of fried batter on the skin.
“Want some juice?” asked Jim, after taking a swig from a
plastic bottle full of bright blue liquid. It was the kind of “juice” sold in
convenience stores. Or Texaco gas stations.
“Nah,” I said.
“I don’t drink that kind of stuff.”
“Why not?” he asked.
“I just don’t,” I said.
“Try it,” said Jim “Try it and decide again.”
Nothing of this world has stuck with me. I have lost touch with all five of my
steel-working studio mates. My
welding skills are…rusty. I have
no idea what happened to Jim, and the warehouse where this took place is long
gone. The truck I was driving is
gone. My twenties and thirties are
gone. This was all years ago, and
years ago. But the one thing that
has stuck with me is that phrase: “Try it and decide again.”
Isn’t that the nature of yoga, to loosen our grip on who we
think we are and what we think we believe? To feel what it is in the present moment, to see where we
are and see clearly what we are now, not what we were yesterday, or who we believe ourselves to be?
Our egos cling to every notion of what we like, and what we
don’t like, and who we are. Slowly
we solidify into that idea of ourselves, and our options become smaller and
fewer. That night in the garage, with the European motorcycles and gas station
chicken, Jim offered me his blue juice, and he offered me a little freedom,
where anything was possible. Where
I might decide I liked blue gas station soda. Where I might decide to ride a
motorcycle and live above a garage.
Where I might decide I wasn’t a metalworker after all, I was going to
travel around the world and study yoga.
At any moment, even now, especially
now, you can say to yourself: Try it, and decide again. Even if you embrace the same choices
and things you’ve embraced before, if you truly try it, see things anew, and
decide again, it will all be that much more alive and real.