I’ve always been a big proponent of the school of thought that you can’t be an effective parent if you are not taking care of yourself. One method that I used to take care of myself for a few years was yoga, specifically, power vinyasa. As a man in my early 30s when I first started doing this form of yoga it was easy for my ego to wrangle. The form of yoga was fast, active, in a hot room, physically challenging, and the rooms were typically filled with very attractive people.
After a year of doing this form of yoga, I came in contact with a teacher, a yogi named Rolf Gates. This guy had the ultimate guy’s yoga resume: a former military man, strapping physique, found himself on a curious path in his early 20s, then eventually found his way through yoga. I could listen to this guy.
Whenever my work and child-rearing schedules would allow I made it to Rolf’s classes. What I found with Rolf, however, was more than sweat and an increasing ability to stand on one leg. Rolf helped me feel.
A great yoga instructor not only exposes his or her students to the poses of yoga, but to their hearts. Through opening our minds to feeling all of the little creaks and groans, tweaks and twinges of our bodies we become aware of more than just our physical presence. That physical immersion becomes an awareness of the connection between our minds and our bodies. That immersion leads to moments when we can let go, when we can become conscious of the tension we’re holding in our shoulders, or lower backs, when we can relax our bodies, and subsequently our minds.
Eventually exercising this connection leads to an ability to use our minds to relax our bodies at will.
As life meanders down its path often times our daily routines change. Our family’s life path moved us out Boston, where Rolf taught. A few years later, however, schedules allowed me to get into the City for an occasional class, but life’s journey took Rolf out of Boston.
We eventually moved to the West Coast, a place where you would think we would have no problem finding yoga classes. True yoga classes abound, but finding the same balance in the same kind of yoga that I had done in Boston was difficult. There were two yogis who taught in the town where we moved, but the times when they taught made it difficult for me to get to the classes.
One day recently, an email came across my computer; it was from Rolf. It was a mass email to those who had subscribed to his website to follow his travels and travails. Rolf and his family had settled in Santa Cruz, CA: not next door to us, but only an hour away. Instead of teaching at a studio every day, Rolf had taken to traveling the country, and to other countries, visiting studios, running seminars and retreats. Once a month, however, he teaches at a studio in his new home town.
This Wednesday, Heather and I took advantage of his moving to Santa Cruz, and arranged for a school-night, mid-week, date night.
We drove to Santa Cruz in the late afternoon and arrived at this wonderful cooperative arts space, with high ceilings, steam radiators, and exposed beams. We saw Rolf’s wife first. So many years had passed and yet there was recognition between us all. We spoke. We reconnected.
Rolf came in to teach the class. There was a brief acknowledgement, but there was a class to teach first. There was still a reconnection.
When in the moment, truly in the moment, unexpected emotions sometimes surface, particularly when you have fallen out of practice of being in the moment, which is very easy to do in our over-scheduled lives raising children and building or maintaining careers. Hearing Rolf’s voice, going through some of the familiar patterns of his class, I was very overcome, almost to the point of tears – happy tears – that I was getting back to a process that had helped me to connect my mind with my body, and was instantly helping me to reconnect.
Quickly, however, my emotions settled as I worked hard to be in the moment of the class, which is when I became very aware of a change. This was Rolf. His voice. Many sequences of the poses were the same as those of the classes I had attended years prior, but there was a difference. It was more tempered. It was more compassionate. While I was sweating, and my muscles were chattering in certain poses, there wasn’t the same intensity to the class as I had remembered from the years before.
Some of it, I know, was my own change of perspective. I am now 43. But some of it I know is because Rolf is now 45.
What was always so wonderful about Rolf’s classes were the stories that he used as themes for his classes. I’ll never forget one class in Boston just after Warren Zevon had died. Rolf used a phrase that Warren Zevon had used in an interview before he died as a theme throughout the class, and as a small tribute to the artist. Enjoy every sandwich. A simple little phrase, but compelling on many levels.
I ran into Rolf and his wife in an airport one day. He said how he and his wife were so taken by a line from the movie Finding Nemo: we were all parents of young children at the time. The line was Dory’s little mantra, “Just keep swimming.” He said how he had been using that in his classes. Again, something so simple, but something that works on many levels.
For this class on Wednesday his theme was alignment. Akin to chiropractic alignment, he was talking about how we align ourselves: our spines, our ribs, our hips. He talked about how our alignment is such a metaphor for how we approach life, and it is.
After the class Heather and I reconnected with Rolf. It was wonderful: thirty minutes of talking about the differences between the East Coast and West Coast, the beauty of raising children, and the satisfaction of striving for a balanced life. We talked about coming down to visit with our kids, about connecting further, and finally parted ways until the next month when Rolf will teach again.
Heather and I left and found a place to sit down for a quick sushi dinner, and followed by a drive back home to relieve the baby sitter. But as we sat for dinner we looked at each other and commented how it was one of the best date-nights we had had in a long time. We connected with our selves, and in turn, with each other. We were in better alignment, and after a great yoga practice felt more balanced. Coming here each month would be our little gift to each other for the foreseeable future.
When we got home and I saw our kids sleeping in their beds I was proud of them. I was happy to be where I was. I knew I had obligations approaching the following day, and a busy day and couple of weeks to follow, but I realized I would take each day as it came. I would prepare myself for them so I was ready for them when they happened, but I would stop the pattern of worrying so much about what was not yet there.
My life had become so much of taking on too many obligations, and taking so much time worrying about being over-obligated. Yoga had allowed me to remember that regardless of how much I had to do, at the moment that I was acting upon my obligations I had to remain balanced. I can’t finish everything at the same time, I can only do my best at whatever is in front of me at that moment, including parenting my children.