In 1999, I began teaching a yoga class 10.45 every Saturday at the Santa Fe Spa. It was a great room to do yoga at the end of the building with a padded floor and windows along one wall facing the mountains. Over the six years I taught that class, the weekly attendance went from 10-15 students up to 60 students some weeks. The Ashram was only thirty minutes away, but this was the only class being taught in Santa Fe. The regular students would bring their out-of-town guests, just like they would bring them to an interesting museum. It was where I met Matthew, a good friend for the last 25 years.
I did enjoy the challenge and fun of teaching this class and gave my best all those years. When it became clear I was going to Europe to live, I announced to the class I would be leaving soon and probably not return. I informed them another teacher will come each week to teach the class. At the end of the class where I made this announcement, a woman comes up to talk to me. She had come nearly every week for the last six years and sat in the same spot every time. She was committed, but by my observation, not a very good yogi. She seemed to not be able to follow instructions no matter how carefully I explained the movement.
On one occasion in the second year, while giving instructions to the class for the posture, offering encouraging words, keeping attention to the time, and generally doing what a teacher should do, I decided to help this woman struggling with the posture. Being such an excellent teacher, I continued giving the instructions while slowly standing, then gliding over to this woman, silently bending down and getting her attention. I then showed her the correct movement. She followed movement and was now doing the posture correctly. I gracefully stood up gliding my way back to the front of the room to my seat, while feeling especially pleased with myself at having managed everything so well. I sat down, looked out at the students and when my gaze fell on the woman, I was shocked to see she had forgotten what I showed her and she was again, doing the posture incorrectly. Thinking I knew better, I did try this once more, with an equal lack of success. After this, I left her to make her own experience for the next years.
During all that time this woman never spoke to me or did anything to draw attention to herself. Now she was standing in front of me thanking me for the class. She then says it was the most important thing in her life these past years. I tried to remain neutral, but there must have been a hint of shock on my face. I thanked her as she took my hand in both of hers and holding my hand for a few seconds, wished me continued good fortune. Then she was gone. I said my farewells with other students but the impact of this woman was still very present with me.
It was many days later I could put her down in my mind. She had taught me a most valuable lesson. Never judge a student or anyone else based on my own beliefs. All the time I thought she was a terrible yogi who never got the postures right, she was making an experience of great importance for her life. I was truly humbled by learning of my foolishness. From that day forward, I have worked to not judge anyone for any reason. I still have more practice, but am mostly satisfied with the results of my effort. I sometimes joke that if this woman managed to have such a tremendous experience doing the postures wrong, what might have happened if she had done them right? Of course, it is a silly question since it still involved judging.
It is easy to judge another, especially based on our own preferences. Acceptance is divine. I remember a bumper sticker, (small notes we used to put on cars back then) that read, ‘Celebrate Diversity’. This is something beyond tolerating or allowing. To celebrate gives us access to greater creativity, more resources, and a lot more fun.
Photo: The yoga room was on the far right on the building in the photo of the Santa Fe Spa.