Two boys cower at the edge of the group, unsure as to whether they have just hit the nadir of uncool, or the jackpot. Even the odd collection of blankets and foam mattresses that the group has assembled seems uncertain about what it wants to be. Will this be a yoga class? A sleepover? A wilderness adventure?
Mr. Rubens, the teacher who has organized the class (which will, in fact, attempt to be a yoga practice) has given me two options—we can use a cramped, dark room in the school basement, where we are more than likely to suffocate; or we can occupy a somewhat larger space out on the open sports field, which is otherwise densely populated by adolescents exploring every possible approach to being obnoxious. I opt for the field.
The short opening mediation seems to go well. A gentle breeze tussles the leaves of the shady tree we’ve parked ourselves under. Most of the kids actually have their eyes closed (mega improvement from the eight year olds I regularly teach). Some of them are even sitting up straight, hunched shoulders furtively beginning to sneak away from their ears.
Time to start moving. Which is when I notice the large audience of pubescent males that has gathered behind my unsuspecting pupils. They slouch on the grass, arms crossed over their chests, waiting for something good to happen. It becomes suddenly clear to me that I’m going to have to teach a class without doing downward dog. Or forward bends. None.
It is my firmest belief that life always offers us choices. In any given moment there are a multitude of options available. The problem is, sometimes all of the possible scenarios are kind of shitty.
You can go over the mountain or around it, but you can’t always go directly through it. You can choose to obsessively haul your ass to the gym and swear off cake and beer, or you can choose to be a little bit jiggly around the edges, or any range of possibilities in between.
You can choose to get up obscenely early in the morning to meditate because you know it will make you feel good, and maybe slightly sleep deprived, or you can choose to go out celebrating with your buddies until obscenely early in the morning. Because you know it will make you feel good, and maybe slightly sleep deprived.
You can choose the dank, ill ventilated hole in the basement and have peace and quiet, or you can go out in the fresh open air and prepare for battle against pervy spectators with smartphones.
In the practice of yoga, we are sometimes confronted with a similar set of less-than-perfect options. You move into an asana and realize that your body just doesn’t want to go all the way there (not today, or maybe not ever). You can choose to back off and let go of the Yoga Journal cover-ready picture in your head, or you can push into the pose and risk injuring yourself.
The choice is always yours to make. In yoga, both on and off the matt, we learn to recognize the full range of choices available to us, we become present to the great measure of control we have over our experience of the life we are living. We learn to make our choices with awareness. This is not about value judgments, or about learning to make the “right” choice—when you decide to act consciously, there are no bad choices.
True, we may decide at some later point that we might have preferred the outcome of a different choice. But because we were awake in the act of choosing, that choice simply becomes a lesson.
Lessons are good. Back on the playing field, Mr. Rubens and I manage to shoo away most of the loitering boys. We do a yoga practice that is creatively free of downward dog. The breeze continues to dance around us, through us, with us. There are still some distractions—whispering and giggling, the odd flying soccer ball. But there are fleeting moments of magic. The kids start to move a little bit more assuredly. Their warriors become more confident, their sun salutations more graceful. There are moments were I can almost hear the tentative beat of 24 young hearts sounding out a little more strongly. I offer them an hour of my time, and an hour of my joy, and they accept it, in spite of the limitations.
When I show up for day two, we find a grassy spot in a nearby park, far away from prying eyes and raging hormones. Most of the girls have chosen to wear longer shorts.