by Jessie Horness
At the end of many of my yoga classes, I give a little final adjustment. Often it’s just a mini-shoulder massage. If I have time, however, the attention to the resting, hardworking bodies in front of me is more complete, beginning with a touch to the feet. For my students, the experience is a brief (but very welcome) foot rub. For me, it’s a show of respect, an extension of the Indian tradition of touching the feet of the guru. My students, after all, are my teachers. In touching their feet, I remind myself that I owe them endless gratitude and respect.
Nowhere is this more true than at Blooming Lotus.
I started working at Blooming Lotus in January, on the recommendation of a friend. The one-room studio, located in teeny, tight-knit community, is choosy about its teachers. Before I could teach there, I had to audition, teaching a class to the owner and several of her most devoted students. Within minutes of my arrival, one of them said something sassy. I responded in kind. It was love at first sight.
In April, the owner of Blooming Lotus announced that she was going to have to shut her doors. A yoga studio in such a small community had proved unsustainable. It took about a week for the students to rally together in search of a solution. A meeting was held – everyone brought a dish to pass, and we sat on the floor and talked about what it is that makes this particular community special. By the end of the meeting the students had decided to take the studio into their own hands. The owner agreed to stay on as a teacher and advisor, but she wanted to take the summer off. I can think of few times in my life when I have been more honored and humbled than the day my students asked me to step in.
Most of the students at Blooming Lotus are women. They are some of the craziest, most spirited, passionate women I know. My life since they entered it is something like an Amy Sherman-Palladino show. Here are all these brilliant, vibrant characters, relating to each other with deep love and familiarity, and I stand there like Sutton Foster, just trying to hold my own. They are warriors, these women. Which makes our one constant battle a bit ironic – Virabhadrasana, often translated as Warrior Pose.
Stand up. Place your feet about three feet apart and try and lunge into your front knee. Doesn’t go very far, right? Now take them a little farther apart and try again. Now farther. Faaaaarther. Have a little more space to sink into that knee and hip now? Feeling pretty springy and spongy? I thought so. To do a proper Virabhadrasana (or Crescent Lunge, or Parsvakonasana, or any lunging posture) you’ve got to be willing to take up some space.
I have thought up every way under the sun to express this to my Blooming Lotus rock stars. The exercise you just did (probably mentally, but still) they have all been through at least once. I’ve created preparatory flows and constructed enough imagery to write a volume of poetry. I have gone so far as to stand next to each student and direct them like a backing up truck: “Wider, wider, still more, wiiider, okay good, stop.” “You bought the mat, you may as well use it!” I exclaim, “Take up some space in the world!”
You see, that’s the kicker. These women, sassy characters that they may be, have spent decades in a world that constantly tells them they shouldn’t take up space. They have been subject to years of diet ads and fashion spreads insinuating that they should be trying to shrink as much as possible. Beyond that, they are of a generation told that space in the public sphere, in the workforce and in politics, was not for them. Some were told to stay small beneath their glass ceiling. Some reached adulthood before anybody even got in the building to see the ceiling was there. Even with the fierce sense of self each of these admirable women possesses, they are still conditioned to take up as little space as possible.
I learn more from my “students” at Blooming Lotus than they will ever learn from me. I am always the youngest student in the room by about twenty years, usually more. I have no wisdom for these women – in fact I find myself receiving it. All I can do is spend my time trying to show these amazing ladies just how strong they are. When I teach, the mirror is always the back wall of the classroom, not the front. I don’t want my students scrutinizing their reflections. I would rather reflect back at them just how incredible I see they are. I have nothing to teach them, but I can be their mirror, letting their light bounce off of me so they can see it reflected back at them. And what I see is a group of women warriors.
Women warriors who deserve to take up space.
Jessie Horness is an Ashtanga practitioner and yoga instructor (though she is happiest as a student) proud to live in beautiful Northern Michigan. Off the mat, she loves playing with words, whether that means writing them or reading them, and exploring the world on as many adventures as possible. The path to her heart is paved with witty conversation, quality music, and vegan milkshakes.