I’m lying on my soaking wet towel after 90 grueling minutes of Bikram yoga. Hot yoga it’s called. They’re not kidding. 26 poses in a row in 102-degree heat. The room is small and we are packed in like Macys’ on Boxing Day plus it smells like high school gym class. I’m exhausted by now and ready to slip into a semi conscious state in savasna –corpse pose as it is aptly called. As the instructor who led us through this process gingerly steps over and around the dripping wet bodies careful not to step on any of us she commends our dedication and our hard work today and reminds us to take at least two minutes in this restful pose before we leave the room. Good for you for making yourself a priority, she says. And then as she wishes us a good day she closes by saying :
Or something like that.
Everyone else in the class dutifully repeats the syllables after her like a well trained choral group. I don’t understand her and feel I’ve missed something. I say nothing, thinking I’ll get it next time. In my second class I listen carefully for the word or words. It sounds vaguely familiar but I’m still not sure. I don’t want to be rude, so I intone some sort of matching syllable with everyone else, lest I stick out. I’ve progressed from silence to nonsense, which I’m not feeling is an improvement. I hate being left out and it feels silly to ask for clarification, especially when everyone else seems completely aware of it. I have flashbacks to when I was a hired section leader in an Anglican church, the high kind, where everyone knows the right series of responses for the service (and there are many of them). It took several months and some dexterity with their prayer book for me to cope at that church.
By the third class when I’m no closer to knowing what the instructor says at the end of class, I began to construct a high schoolesque story about this. Of course, I think, all the cool kids know what to say and I don’t. Obviously I’m on the outside. I’m not fitting in. I don’t belong. I can’t join the Bikram club, I’m missing the phrase.
Then one day it leapt into my soggy humid yoga brain that this reflective moment at the close of the hot yoga contained an Anglicanism. They are saying Agnus Dei I bet. I tried it out softly at the next class. It fit. It sounded like what they were saying, took the right amount of time and seemed to share the right number of consonants and vowels. And so I began to dutifully repeat Agnus Dei at the end of each class. The latin phrse meaning “lamb of god”. Now why that would be the end of class phrase I didn’t know, and it fit, and I felt less left out when I said it, so I repeated it for years.
Flash forward a few years, and I’m reading an article in Yoga Journal and I read an article about the word Namaste and the power of the power of it. I learned that it translates basically as I bow to you and you bow to me. It is a mini meditation where you access the divine in yourself and recognize it in the other. I love that. It is used as a greeting and as a farewell often in yoga classes. Oh boy Rebecca. Of course, they weren’t saying Agnus Dei, but Namaste.
As I took part in a karma class this weekend (admission was by donation for a local woman struggling with cancer) at my Bikram studio and I listened to fifty sweaty people mumble the closing phrase to the teacher on her way out the door, I wondered how many knew what they were saying. How many were faking it like I had. Or how many had come up with their own ‘Agnus Dei’ version. I also wondered how many people there who were saying Namaste even knew what it meant. It made me smile.
How many times do we just do what everyone else does out of rote habit and never question what it means or why we do it? How many times are we too embarrassed to ask the obvious question? Where else am I going through the motions and not connecting something in my life. Where has ritual replaced meaning?
Has the “I love you’ at the end of the phone call become perfunctory? Does the house have to be clean before I can practice singing? Do I need that afternoon coffee, or just the time to stop and pause for a moment? Maybe the coffee means nothing, but the time means everything. Where am I just going through the motions? Where do I need to ask “what is this and why do I do it?”
This question had great resonance for me as I’m currently commuting between 1 to 2 ½ hours a day getting my children into the school we chose. I finally had to ask myself-Do I need to live where I live? Why not live closer to the school? Can one house move be worse than the 10 or so hours I give up a week driving?
I don’t have THE answer I guess. But I think a big step is just to ask the question, and be with the possibilities that present themselves.
What questions do you need to ask?
Thanks for reading and by the way, Namaste.