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Morning Yoga: A Teacher’s Perspective
Monday through Friday, braving the cold and early morning frost, a larger than expected group of tired morning yogis stumble through my classroom door. It is 6am. Time for imbalances, stiff muscles, and all the joy of morning yoga asana practice.
Over the past couple of months, I’ve come to realize that morning students are a different breed. Something like the night shift crowd you find at 7am ready to go home and sleep just as the rest of us start functioning. There is a certain amount of tired giddiness that pervades the air and often reflects the semi-verbal, “What was I thinking?”
The morning class is full of people running on their own clocks. It is 5:45 am as they start walking in the door. Many of them wake up at 4:30 just to make it on time. With pillows still lining the cheeks and many still in pajamas (literally), we stumble on our carpets and hope that somehow today’s balance will be better than yesterday. Oh, and don’t forget, when you’re done you still have eight hours of your real work ahead of you.
This is a group that oozes dedication, and maybe a little madness. Usually not the soccer mom or retiree (they come to my class at 9am); These are a breed that must be at work at nine and expected to sleep before eleven. I’m writing this from Columbus, Ohio, where yesterday’s high temperature barely broke freezing. The sun doesn’t rise until 7:30 and is gone long before most even leave the office. It is a climate that says, “You should learn to hibernate like a bear.”
But somehow this morning’s crew seems to have made strides in yoga and camaraderie that seem almost unimaginable once the sun rises. I don’t mean simply that they have become more flexible (they certainly have as demonstrated by two students touching their foreheads to their toes for the first time last week). This group seems to see the bigger picture of yoga. Maybe the struggles help them see the truth of yoga. I guess I mean, they see that yoga is something bigger than what we do in a yoga class… it’s bigger than what you do on your yoga mat.
This humble morning crowd has a link. Within days of our first class, the bunch of bedheads had created a distinct band of siblings. Some are younger, some are older, all have difficulty finding some semblance of a leg balance that at any other time of the day would seem too simple to argue. When a new student walks through the classroom door sleepy, the regulars immediately say hello and offer a few words of encouragement. The class begins and for ninety minutes persistence, discipline, and the will to survive take over (along with the usual comedy that comes with trying to stretch at 6am).
We finish with a few traditional minutes of calm and quiet. A short shavasana to recover, recover, and relax; a short interlude before the regular day begins. But this is where the real difference is found with the morning yogi.
While most people come to de-stress classes, that is, they recover from all the stress of the day. The morning crew saw the practice in a different light.
Many traditional definitions of yoga can be summed up as “steady mind”… and that’s exactly how this group treats it. For them yoga is not stress relief, it is stress prevention, maybe even stress removal. The early morning struggles and early classes travel with them throughout the day. For them, yoga is not stretching, or resting, or relaxing. It is practical for the upcoming rigors every day of their lives.
Get up when you still want to sleep. Face the cold when your house is still warm. Drive to class while others enjoy their coffee. Pull, push, twist, breath, sweat. Now do all these things and finish with a smile on your face and calm feeling in your heart. Something about this morning’s practice just seemed to have a different effect. All the early morning struggles just seem to make the rest of the day so much easier.
Early morning classes are not for everyone, but for morning yogis 10-20 who will meet me again before the sun rises tomorrow, thank you for always reminding me what real yoga is all about.
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