Friday, February 20, 2009
The first time I assisted in the Gentle class at the Yoga Circle I thought I was in heaven.
What I saw there was a sharp contrast from what I had experienced up to then. Since graduating from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago I had worked as a gallery assistant, constructed sets for theatrical production, worked in a stock photography house, in a digital printing company, for a internet boom digital magazine, and done independent contractor work in graphic design and production management. I worked hard, and always felt like I had to do better. I had graduated in 1994. I didn’t have email in school then! I had taken a Photoshop course, and had a rudimentary understanding of digital art. So on the job I borrowed the manuals for Photoshop, QuarkXPress, and Adobe Illustrator, always teaching myself what I needed to know and more. I really enjoyed it, and yet it was also a stressful and restless time in my life. Some coworkers were generous and helpful. But there was a pervasive attitude that every person was paid to do their own work and that helping others was a pain-in-the-ass. So I worked hard to know as much as I could so I wouldn’t have to bother other people. I was in my 20’s for most of these jobs! People in there 20’s (or other ages) don’t know everything. Yet I felt pressure to do this, and to figure things out independently. And I was rewarded for my work.
Then I met Gabriel Halpern at a two-day weekend yoga workshop. I remember laughing and crying during his talks. On the first day he asked me to demonstrate Parsvottanasana (a yoga pose) in front of everyone. I remember asking, “Where do you want me to do it?” I would have done it between mats, or on any mat.
He pointed to one and said, “There is fine.” My legs shook in the pose. He gave some instructions about the pose to the class, and said (more quietly) to me, “Find out what is beneath the quivering, and do the pose from there.”
When I came in for the second day of the workshop, Gabriel walked through a group of people, right up to me and said, “If you were at my center (Yoga Circle), I’d guide you to be a teacher.” I didn’t know how to respond, but was elated and surprised. I wanted to teach.
So at the end of the workshop I waited in line to speak with Gabriel. Someone before me had some sort of pain, and I remember Gabriel taking off his belt to use it to traction her body. (I think that the next class had already started in the room where the props were.) When it was my turn I mentioned what he had said earlier and said, “I’d like that—I’d like to teach yoga. How do you suggest I go about doing that?”
And he said, “Come over!” So I did.
I took his class at the Yoga Circle that week, and started assisting in the Gentle class. And very soon after that I had my first opportunity to teach.
In the Gentle class students come with specific concerns they want to work on like a pain in the knee or back, scoliosis, depression, recovery from surgery, and any condition that might benefit from personalized work. Gabriel gives each student a specific set of yoga poses to do, and with the help of assistants each student does work specifically for them.
Assisting in the Gentle class has been a life-changing experience for me. At first I brought my way of working that I had learned in my life up to then of figuring things out myself. But, Gabriel showed me that he was there to teach me how to do this. He said that I should ask him questions, and I got the impression that it was his pleasure to answer them. And I have learned so much in the over six years I have been helping out. In fact it started me on my career as a yoga teacher. (This is an ongoing opportunity for yoga teachers, aspiring teachers, and caring souls. Contact Gabriel at the Yoga Circle if you want to assist in the Gentle class.)
Those first couple weeks I assisted in the Gentle class really blew me away. This was a place where people helped one another with their hands and hearts. I hadn’t experienced anything like it. I thought I was in heaven. It was beautiful, and healing. I remember sitting at the side of the room after class with my senses maxed out, overwhelmed with what I had experienced. I had helped a student relax and to do helpful yoga that they could do. I was in the honored position of opening my heart to hearing their suffering. And I hope I don’t loose you by saying this, but the room did seem to have more than the ordinary amount of illumination—a glow. I felt surrounded by love, and at the same time I wasn’t sure I belonged there. Then Gabriel asked me if I’d like to make this a regular thing, and I remember saying, “I think so.”