The Show CAN Go On. Even If You Don’t Hit The High Notes

images (2)After years of near-daily yoga practice, I’ve come to appreciate the crappy practices almost as much as the good ones. The practices when I can’t hold a simple one-legged posture worth a damn (usually first thing in the morning, before coffee), or when yesterday’s rock solid pincha mayurasana (forearm balance) topples over into an ugly and unexpected back bend. But that’s yoga. It’s PRACTICE. Not performance. No one has paid to see me. No one is counting on my poses to provide entertainment value.

So when midway through the second set of an all-acoustic performance by Citizen Cope last Friday started going sideways (no pun intended, even though Sideways is one of my all-time favorite Cope songs), I got a little jittery for the guy. After struggling with a few songs, he stopped and shared: “sorry guys, I’m just not hitting the high notes tonight.”

Tough break. Especially as this was an all-acoustic performance, and we all came to savor his equal parts angelic, hoarse, pleading, and commanding pipes to bring home the extraordinary lyrics he is famous for. And unlike my crappy day yoga practices, he was here to PERFORM. And had a whole theater of fans expecting to be entertained.

But here’s what’s interesting, the harder the notes got to hit, the more we fell in love with him. The more we wanted the night to continue. Because as he showed us, it’s not just about hitting the high notes. The show CAN go on, if you bring your heartfelt presence and love to your fans, like Clarence Greenwood did. Here is, in my mind, what makes this man a star:

1. He didn’t bail on us. He is a star in the alt-music world, with legions of fans who will follow him anywhere. And if he had apologized and called it night at the first missed note, most of us would have understood and wished him well. But he didn’t. He chose to finish the job, and give us what we really came for – a chance to connect with this authentic, awesome, and talented musician and human being.

2. He showed humility. “You guys are probably feeling a little embarrassed for me right about now…” he chuckled. He was able to make light of the situation, and soothe our deepest fear – the thought of not hitting our own high notes under pressure.

3. He rallied our support. Who doesn’t want to feel needed? Especially when called upon by a bona fide rock star?? He engaged us in a few songs, encouraging those who knew the lyrics to belt it out, knowing we had his back. I was so moved that I even belted out a few ‘la la la’s’ for the unfamiliar tunes.

In sum, this will go down as one of the best shows of all time. And next time I miss a note on my mat, I’ll shrug it off, plug in my Citizen Cope yoga playlist, and keep on going.

Namaste!

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Hands On: The Missing Link In My Teaching

Since I started teaching yoga a little over a year ago, I’ve spent a tremendous amount of time as a student – taking workshops with master teachers, immersing myself in an advanced week-long training (in which my daily cup of Joe was considered contraband), practicing to podcasts while scribbling down cool cues and sequence ideas, reading books, blog posts and, currently, attempting to leaf through BKS Iyengar’s “Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali” without nodding off.

Because I’m so crazy passionate about all this, it never feels like work. Even if I have to sneak in a few packets of Starbucks Via Instant in my yoga bag. But one area of my teaching that needs constant attention is the Art of Assisting. Non-yogis reading this may be wondering what the heck is ‘artful’ about ‘assisting’ some odd human position, but those in my shoes know how powerful a good assist in class can be. Powerful on so many levels – it allows the student to feel the possibility of positive growth. To get a little taste of what it would be like to embody a pose they never thought they could achieve on their own.

I’ve recently been taking an Anusara-based practice (think long, deep holds with every alignment cue explained in excruciating detail as you wait and wait and wait for the teacher to let you out) as part of my learning. My extraordinary teacher (Naime Jezzeny at Dig Yoga in Lambertville, NJ) is a master at the Art of Assisting, using firm hands but a lighthearted humorous approach to move us into poses we thought were reserved for Yoga Journal cover boys. Last week he guided me into king pigeon. “Those are YOUR toes!” he cheered as I momentarily brushed my back foot with both hands. Astounding.

Now I know it’s gonna be a good long while before I reach for said toes on my own, but the power of this assist made me realize how vital it is to get my hands on my students to give them an amazing experience in class too. But this is a challenge for me. For most of my life, I’ve shied away from touching people. I don’t really know why, my family was always affectionate, but if I had to dig deep and spend a few hours pondering this on the shrink’s couch, I’d probably arrive at past issues I’ve had with self-confidence and self-worth. The yoga is clearly helping.

I attended Baptiste Art of Assisting at Sid Yoga (another awesome studio you must check out) in Baltimore last month, and spent three straight days digging into 70 bodies in every pose I know. This was an awesome entree into this wonderful art, and I’m slowly getting comfortable applying what I’ve learned in my own classes. But as this is truly an art form, my work continues, and I’m determined to weave this missing link into all my classes, so every student can leave with a strong sense of what is possible for them, both on and off the mat.

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