The yoga mats are full of silent, almost sleeping students. The soft breathing marks the stillness. The scent of sage and sandalwood waft through the room.
Then the thunderous rumble of big rig tires and hydraulics go past the front window.
Or the sound of a dog barking, its claws scurry back and forth come from the ceiling – the upstairs tenant.
This is common at Just B Yoga.
Some might say these “disturbances” are counter to a yoga environment or “vibe.”
Most yoga studios are sound-proofed for “serenity.” They install sound systems and sound-absorbing tile. They construct yoga rooms that seal off the outside world – often heavily draped or there are no windows at all.
Stepping into those spaces for yoga and meditation can feel like another world; magical nirvana world. One where the silence replaces the noise and the soft lighting replaces the sharp glare of our day-to-day lives.
We take it all in with deep breaths.
It’s what we’ve been craving – to turn off and tune out the cacophony of our lives.
We call it peace.
And we come to expect that there is where peace resides – in this void and absence.
We come to crave our yoga and meditation spaces and time to look and feel a certain way in order for us to “get in the zone.”
But guess what?
That’s manufacturing peace. And that’s an illusion.
Life has noise and harsh light. Life has screaming kids and traffic jams, long lines and rude people who flip you off. Life has stinky smells and loud barking.
These are not distractions. This is life.
And there is peace within life.
Yoga helps us find it, notice it and cultivate it.
Say you’re in a class and you’re in tree pose. You suddenly notice children walking by the front window. Some of them stop to peer into the window. Maybe they’re looking at you.
I’ve had a variety of responses from students ranging from irritation at the children, to irritation at me for not chasing them away, to blaming kids for making them come out of the pose, to … light-hearted laughter.
Which would it be for you?
Imagine you’re in a candle-gazing meditation.
You’re focusing on the light and trying to bring that gaze within and feet start stomping from the upstairs tenant. Maybe going up and down the stairs as they bring groceries in.
You return to the gaze and then they go down the stairs.
You return to the gaze and then they go up the stairs.
Notice your mind.
Did you get aggravated at the tenants? Did you get aggravated that there’s a meditation class that is in a space that has tenants upstairs? Did you start to decide you need to practice in a different place that can create the right vibe?
Or did you find your gaze and notice the disturbance and thank it for an opportunity to find peace within the distraction?
Yes, I said thank it for the distraction because that helped you PRACTICE.
And that’s the whole point… to practice meditation and the poses.
And inside of that we’re practicing: non-violence, truthfulness, self study, purity, compassion, forgiveness, willpower, insight… and more.
The disturbance creates a distraction from practicing all of those things, a challenge, an obstacle.
It’s easy to feel non-violent in a placid environment with singing cherubs.
It’s easy to feel forgiving when the lights are low and the room is saturated in lavender.
But what do you get to practice when a fellow student brings their 6-year-old to class because they don’t have childcare? The 6-year-old may start doing postures with the whole group but 10 minutes in she decides to color, or needs to ask her mom something. Maybe you didn’t hear the instructor very well at that moment. Did you get mad? Is her presence ruining “what you needed” from your yoga that day?
Or did you study your reaction and expectations? Did you use it as a way to not be distracted and find your will to focus?
Did you practice sangha – community – and speak to the little girl as class was ending and she offered to help put blocks and straps away?
The benefit of practicing in a studio is that it gives us community with which to practice and “fail” together. We get to see each other struggle with wobbling and falling and fidgeting. We get to support each other and forgive and try again.
Sterile, constructs of peaceful environments set us up to fail.
They set us up to believe we need to find that environment BEFORE we can begin to practice.
It’s a huge contributor to the lack of home practice.
Home doesn’t look like, sound like, smell like that perfect place where we found our bliss.
Then we focus on making our homes replicas of those places – replacing our practice with creating a construct when really all we needed to do was sit in the noise of our kids arguing, in the smell of the next-door neighbor’s cookout, with the nuisance of that dust bunny you can see – and practice sitting, practice being…. practice.
Asana practice isn’t about getting deeper into the pose, just as meditation isn’t about finding some elusive unicorn of peace by tuning out and shutting down.
It’s about being as intentionally present as we can and finding a comfortable seat in that present space, no matter how imperfect it may be.