By Liz Lowe
A few months ago I put my eye pillow back in rotation. With its perfectly weighted little beans on my eyes I rested. I placed my hands on my belly to begin to cultivate a relationship with this person growing inside me. As I inhaled the sweet smell of lavender I was immediately swept away to The Mindful Body yoga studio on California St in San Francisco. It was the fall of 1999. Our senses have an intense connection to our memories and at that moment I was 22 and had just completed my first asana class. It is here that I met my first yoga teacher, Michael Cooper. At the end of each class he would place an eye pillow on each of our eyes and I would immediately surrender to the earth beneath me. I was introduced to yoga by Hilary Kinloch. She gave me a book, The Power of Yoga by Beryl Bender Birch. I read. Reread. Highlighted. Underlined. I did yoga alone in my house with a book and an eager appetite. I did this for a bit over a year. After college my girlfriend and I decided to drive west and I took a chance emailing this amazing author hoping to get a list of teachers in either Colorado or California I should begin my studies with. I assumed an administrative assistant would send me a generic email. I received back the warmest, most inspiring email from Beryl and my life changed forever. She gave me Micheal’s name, among others. I spoke to him on the phone once or twice before I drove across the country. Upon arrival to The Mindful Body during the Indian summer San Francisco so lovingly offers I was greeted by Michael Cooper and his twinkling blue eyes (not unlike the jolly ol’ elf I am waiting for this Saturday night). I knew then I was in the right place at the right time.
Michael and I had tea together. I attended satsaang at the ashram where he lived. I took his classes every day, sometimes twice a day. Most life altering was him introducing me to Glide Memorial Church on Ellis St. Michael was raised Christian and I, Catholic. As he mystified me with stories of some far east land, taught me how to chant and stand on my head he more importantly told me to “love Jesus how I know how to love Jesus” as we discussed the difficulties I was having with my relationship to my family and my church. Glide awoke every cell in my body. More than any yoga class, meditation or kirtan. It was more than Sharon Stone holding a baby a few pews away from me. More than the packed house of EVERY spiritual walk of life listening to the Christian words. I saw bindis and yamakas, sarongs, saris and izods. Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus and, yes, atheists all gathered here. Maybe it was this same versatile group singing along with a choir and a band born to sing and play their love for God. Maybe it was the hugs instead of the handshakes when it was time to offer the sign of peace. Maybe it was that all of these people stood in a line for blocks and around corners to commune. Yes, I think that was the simultaneous heart-warming-spine-chilling moment: driving up to see a line of people that would rival any rock concert. Twice. When we left our service there were more lines of more diverse people around more blocks waiting for the second service of the day.
I write so much here about Michael before I move on because I have lost him. I think. When I moved back home he gave me my favorite book. His tattered, beloved book. He inscribed it. We spoke a bit after I left. I wrote him and he wrote me. Years passed. A few years ago I heard he was very ill. I tried, pathetically, to find a connection to him. I failed. I forgot. The eye pillow sent me in search again and I reached out to a teacher in San Francisco that I have never met. He wonders, too, what may have happened to this man he also has the pleasure of listing as a first yoga teacher. He will, hopefully, get back to me with an answer.
I could go on for days about Michael. I could fill books with stories of the first few years after San Francisco that I spent studying and then teaching with Beryl. She lives her yoga. She is company you feel lucky to have and want to have often. She practices what she preaches. She ordered a beer on a 100 degree night in NYC after we co-taught our first class on the upper east side and I, still awestruck by her and yoga in general, fell in love. She gave me blessings to go off and study with others and always welcomed me back. She taught me moderation. She repeatedly said a great teacher teaches with the hopes the student will surpass them in knowledge, inspired to know more. She is yoga defined and I love her.
Donna and Tracy have created a sacred space. This space sees one character after another step in front of a class and inspire. I am amazed at the group of teachers that bless this studio with their time and passion. This blog has been a forum of honesty. Beautiful people have shared stories, private feelings. Think about what you bring to your own yoga mat. The days you feel awful. The weeks of struggle, fear, sadness. The anger you carried in from an argument with a loved one. A shitty night turned into a gloomy day. Grief. Now think about having to step in front of an audience of people waiting for joyful inspiration in the midst of it. Crazy, right? I can’t count how many insane conversations I have had with a teacher or two in the back office right before one of us steps into the studio. Or how many tears have been shed. Or curse words sworn.
We are all teachers. Someone has learned something from you. He or she may think of you often. Your imprint has been left.
Wayne Dyer rocks my world. Natural Awakenings printed his 5 Intentions for the New Year. The first one is “commit to at least one daily experience where you share something of yourself with no expectation of being acknowledged or thanked.” Each of the teachers at SYJ sits in front of their audience with an interest in sharing. We hope we move someone, anyone, maybe two. We give ourselves to the moment, to the class, in an honest attempt to pass on something that has helped us on our own wild ride. Today, after class, a student I haven’t seen in a very long time thanked me. He rushed to get to the studio in hopes to hear my centering and it was exactly what he needed he to hear, as if it were it meant especially for him. Another student, who I love dearly and can say what she pleases to me in good friendship warfare, interjected and said, I was hoping she would stop talking and just say get into down dog. She made me laugh. He made me smile. My day started off pretty damn good.
After I finish writing this blog I am going to write a few more emails to try to find Michael Cooper or a story about him. I am also going to write Leslie Abbatiello a thank you note. She was my 12th grade English teacher. She gave me a D on my first paper I wrote in her class. I had never seen a D before. I met with her after class a few times and she tore apart my writing. She demanded something of me I was too lazy and afraid to offer. I got an A in her class. She wrote me a stellar recommendation for college that makes me cry when I rifle through that box of papers. I ran into her when I first moved to New Haven. A year and a half ago I moved a few blocks from her. She has met my son. She is on my mind and I want her to know it.
Opportunities can be missed. If you are moved to reach out to someone I challenge you to do so. Be courageous in your conversations knowing a spoken word of yours may forever change the life of another. Offer yourself. Seek. Learn. Teach. It is a cycle not unlike your breath. Most importantly, express your gratitude.
Merry Holidays to you all.
Happy Birthday to Donna and Tracy this 21st of December.