It’s Tuesday at 5:15 p.m.
You rush from work to the yoga studio, park, sign in, change into your yoga pants, get your mat and props, and sit down just in time for class to begin. Yes, you made it; today you are not late. The teacher says hello, maybe shares a short story or a bit of yoga philosophy, what poses we are doing today and then class proceeds with a little mediation, the first quiet time of your day. You are happily in your breath. Then some one comes in and throws down their mat right next to you.
You say to yourself “that is so annoying, why has this person disturbed my inner peace!”
Sound familiar? Yes, we have all been the disturbed person and we’ve all been that student. I know as the yoga teacher that most of you try to come to class on time, and most of you make it. I also know things happen, your alarm didn’t go off, traffic, you can’t find your mat because your spouse moved it when they cleaned, it happens.
I really don’t like the feeling of rushing anywhere and I don’t like to miss any part of yoga class so I try to get there at least five minutes before class starts. I will even admit that I as the yoga teacher and as the student have been late, more than once. So I’m not talking to those of you who try and make it most of the time. I’m talking to those of you who are always late, always walk in two, maybe five minutes late all of the time.
I know what some of you are going to say: “Alice, don’t be like, so like rigid, man. Time is an illusion.” Or “Alice, just don’t let it bother you, yoga is supposed to relax you.” Sorry no, try again. Late is late. It’s disruptive, rude and we all can use a few minutes of uninterrupted stillness in our days.
Seriously though I do understand disruptions occur and part of yoga is to not get so annoyed when the person next to you is late. That is really the whole practice of yoga, to be so relaxed, calm, and centered so that almost nothing annoys you. I know. I’m not totally there yet, so I’m assuming most of my students are there yet either. So please try your best that’s all I ask. It’s important for a few reasons.
Yes it’s first of all it is disruptive to everyone in the room to show up late to class, the movies, a music performance, or to a wedding. It sends that message that you are more important, that you are busy. Maybe you just don’t realize that’s the message your tardiness can send? Ask yourself if your lack of taking five more minutes is really is an avoidance of having any down time or a lack of planning? Is it really that you don’t want to waste any time? I asked around and my friend Anna wrote to me that she realized she had a fear of being early to the studio. Then what would she do with that free time?
“If I am early I might have to sit quietly and wait,”she wrote to me on Facebook, “I might stop rushing around doing a million things at once and actually have to listen to my own mind, sense my own body and wait.” There’s a fear of what to do with those extra minutes.
Here is my suggestion if you do have to wait for class to start: sit quietly and wait! If you really can’t stand that and you’ve got all your props, went to the bathroom and still have time, do legs up the wall. Then you don’t have to just sit, and don’t feel awkward about maybe talking to someone you don’t know.
More importantly those first few minutes are about settling, it’s an energy thing. When different people come together to do yoga, all the energies from different places come together. We begin in my classes with a short mediation of 3-5 minutes. This can be hard, physically and mentally. You rushed out of work to get here, drove over and now your yoga teacher is forcing you to sit and be still for the first time in your day maybe all week. Your mind races, your back hurts, you can’t sit still. This is exactly why you need these few minutes.
When you come in from the busyness, you first need to drop in and relax. The busy energy needs to fall off before you begin the asana practice. The practice will start from this more relaxed place if you can let yourself settle for even a few minutes. This is why we do this, and this is why it’s important you don’t miss it. It’s for you and everyone else in the room energies to settle together.
Life is busy. Everything else in your day, except maybe sleep, is energy going out. You are at work, you are at home helping kids with homework, and you are in traffic between those two places. You hit the meditation like a brick wall. You’ve been going all day and now you can’t stop the doing and going. Ask yourself if there is any part of your day that is quiet? Is that why it’s so hard to sit? Is that why you are avoiding it? Are you late to avoid those uncomfortable few minutes?
I have a student named Florence at Lifestretch Yoga in Milpitas, CA who was late to class for about four years. She’s come to class regularly, one or two times per week, always late. She’d usually come in just a minute or two after class started. She’d come in, put down her keys, take off her shoes, put down her mat, walk across the room to get her props, walk back, get herself ready and sit, and then 30 seconds later we would chant “Ohm” and she’s missed the period. I encouraged her to show up a little more on time for years, over these years we became friends, a lunch here and there, and I noticed she was late almost everywhere.
Maybe two years ago we had a conversation about how it was disruptive to the rest of class, and I tried to explain to her about the settled energy thing. She was on time, for about a week. After that I gave up on her, just gave her the space to get it on her own, and she finally did.
Last week Florence and I had a long conversation about the Facebook cell phone incident, she was very supportive on my stand and was excited to see her yoga teacher and friend in the news. We talked about disruptions in general and she spoke about yoga class giving her a feeling of “syncing up with the community of yogis” and how it’s a shame when one person disrupts that flow by being late or picking up their cell phone.
She said she finally understood how important it was to come to class on time for her own energy and everyone elses. She actually thanked me for helping her see how important it was.
And this is my favorite part: “And you know Alice, “ she continued, “I’m more on time everywhere else to.”
Alice Van Ness is a teacher and writer in the San Francisco Bay Area. Alice has been teaching yoga since 2006 and practicing since the 1990’s. She enjoys yoga, Pilates, cycling, photography and the ceramic arts. She is currently writing a book about growing up and going to high school in Palo Alto.
She has been trained in the Anusara Yoga method but has not dated John Friend. Alice makes her classes fun, while challenging students to go deeper. She is a humorous, passionate, knowledgeable, and giving instructor. She works with students of all ages and abilities, teaching both children’s and family yoga. Alice has worked with children since she was a teenager and finds them to be a great reminder to stay in the present and have fun. Keep up with Alice online, on Facebook, or read her blog.