Last week, we had an interesting experience at our studio. It impacted both myself and my fellow teacher who teaches the class before mine. We both wrote about it. The parallels are fascinating.
“This isn’t my first time to do yoga,” he assured me. I hadn’t asked, but he had told me regardless. I smiled and took him in. He was young. Maybe 20. Shoulder length, thick hair worn in dread locks. An attractive African American male with an unfortunate cross tattoo underneath his right eye. The size and nature of the tattoo indicated a possible background in prison. I became very aware of him as these dots connected in my mind. His smile was wide but it didn’t reach his eyes. Still, he felt innocent to me. I was curious about him. He began to set his stuff up in the front right hand corner of the studio by the cubbies.
I teach in a donation based studio. Our model is bare bones. We keep the overhead low so we, the teachers, have a chance to make some money doing what we’re doing. If we can pack the class, and it’s not easy, it takes lots of shameless work and marketing and social media time out the ying yang and more, but if we can pack the class, we can walk away with decent money. Meaning yes, we can make a living doing what we love. It’s brilliant. But it takes work.
Our bare bones model does not allow for a lobby. Our studio is quite simply one long, wide hallway with bamboo floors and cubbies at the front. There is a three quarter wall at the back. On the other side of the wall is a dressing room and a bathroom. There is also a stereo and a water cooler back there. That’s it. Simple. There is no software system, no computer, no cash register. When class is over, we ask that students donate $15 and place it in a box on their way out the door. It can be cash, check or credit card. We have a portable credit card machine for folks using credit. We stand guard by the box. Over time, we’ve learned that this is the best way to ensure that people are accountable and behave with the utmost integrity.
This class had 18 people. Our studio is comfortable with 20 people in it; the most it can hold is 50 and that’s extremely uncomfortable. My class plan was an intense one. It was heavy on the hip opening and heavy on the arm balances. I love both of these things and was allowing myself a little Friday fun.
Before class, I always get new people’s names. I jot them down in my notebook alongside my class plan. It’s my way of creating community. Usually after a few times, I memorize their names and I don’t have to ask anymore. Since I didn’t know my new dreadlocked friend, I asked his name. It was Wayne. He wasn’t the only new person. This time of year, there are always a few. I jotted down the other new names as well.
I taught the class. I was feeling a little under the weather (all my kids have been sick and passing around viruses at home), so teaching wasn’t easy. I was really pouring my love into it to keep my energy up. Wayne wasn’t exactly into it. I would describe his level of effort as half ass but he did keep up with the class and did not totally quit. I didn’t harass him. I’ve learned with newbies at donation based studios that sometimes the best thing to do is give them space and allow them to come to the table hungry as they are ready. I kept him in the loop, but I focused on the students who were confidently flirting with their edge.
At the end of class, I did what I always do. I spoke from my heart. I spoke of how difficult this time of year is for me as I approach the anniversary of my mother’s death. I spoke of how I fervently believe that Love is the greatest and most important thing in our lives. I noticed that Wayne was watching me, in fact, he was staring directly into my eyes. I spoke of the need to live passionately, with joy in each breath and with awareness of the beauty and love all around us at each moment. And then I wrapped up the class by bringing everyone out of savasana and wishing them well into their day.
After Namaste and a round of applause, I explained the donation based process. We always give a brief speech about it at the end of class namely because most students are usually yoga stoned and sometimes forget to pay because of that. Everyone stood to gather their belongings. Folks approached me as they often do after class. There was discussion of this accomplishment and that injury and this heart warming moment and so forth. There were hugs. I stood by the box as always.
Wayne looked at me and said, “You take credit, right?”
I said, “Yes.” (But I already knew he wasn’t going to pay. I’ve been doing this for a few years now. You learn to detect when someone isn’t going to pay — body language, forced smile, tension in the air…)
He said, “I have to run to my truck to get my card.”
I said,” Ok.”
I wanted to say, “Have a nice day. You’re not going to come back and we both know it. It’s ok that you’re not going to come back. We offer yoga here from our hearts. We ask for $15/class but we know that not everyone can pay that. It’s ok if you can’t. I’m just glad you have a little yoga in your life. We all need it. I hope it’s helped you.” But I didn’t. There were lots of people around and I knew he’d be embarrassed. I just silently wished him love as he left. Sure enough, he did not return.
This weekend, I received an email from one of the local studio owners. It was titled: African American man, Cross tattoo, short dreads, named Wayne or Dwayne. The body of the email explained that this man has been frequenting local studios and stealing phones and wallets out of the lobbies. He apparently arrives late and leaves early. The email was sent to all of the local studio heads. Many of us piped in with stories about him coming to our establishment. It turned out that we were one of the only places where he had not committed a crime.
When I shared this email with my fellow teachers at our studio, I was then informed that this individual had tried to attend the class prior to my own on the same day. He arrived too late. The teacher refused to let him in and he was very aggressive — refusing to leave until a male student attending the class sent him away. I was unaware of this transaction when I taught my own class. Had I known, I might not have been so loving towards him. I’m glad I didn’t know.
This teacher contacted me after she saw the email. She told me she felt horribly about sending him away. She’d been second guessing her own intuition and even her own motivation about not allowing him in. She was worried that somewhere inside she was racist. I know this woman pretty well. I’ve never detected anything like that within her. Yes, she’s young. But she is full of fire and love.
There are four major lessons I took away from this transaction with this young man:
1. Don’t be hard on yourself. The interesting thing about both the early morning teacher at my studio and myself is that we both went to a place of feeling guilty and bad about our behavior. I was convinced that my strenuous upholding of the usual rate had made this man feel poorly about his inability to pay. My fellow teacher was worried that perhaps she had made a bad call and was wondering if she was displaying shadow-side behavior in her unwillingness to allow this man to enter her class late. Little did we know, he was actually trying to rob us. Perhaps we shouldn’t have been so quick to be hard on ourselves. (A lesson I often preach and obviously am working on as well…)
2. Trust your intuition.
My intuition told me to be aware of this young man, and so I was. The early morning teacher’s intuition told her to be cautious, and so she was. Luckily, we both trusted our intuition. All too often in life, I see people who do not listen to their own intuition and rather do what is socially acceptable or what is expected of them. Sometimes this can lead to unfortunate circumstances. It is critical that we listen to that little voice within. Yoga is a great tool at helping us connect to that inner voice.
3. Set your intent.
One of the principles I am studying right now is the Power of Intent. I had set my intent that morning to be safe. And I am so glad that I did. Abraham-Hicks teach us that it is critical to set our intent at every segment of our day. They even break down our segments into bits like driving to work, preparing for work, working, driving home, preparing for dinner, feasting, preparing for bed, sleeping… They recommend setting your intent as you move into each segment. For example, before you drive to work, you would set your intent for moving efficiently with safety and ease and being joyous in the journey. And then off you go. One of the things I like about this practice is how present it keeps you. Yes, at first, it seems a bit cumbersome. But like anything, over time and with practice, it is natural. I encourage you to try this if you are not currently in the practice. It’s a bit shocking in how effective it is.
4. Be of love, for love, about love.
For there is really nothing else that matters. And yes, although this man may have tried to rob us, I still send him love. Nothing but pure love. Did my speech during savasana have an impact on him? Perhaps. I’d like to think so. Regardless, I will still now and always channel nothing but love towards him. I hope he finds his way and I hope that he is no longer stealing from others. It’s sad to me that he has resorted to this as a way of life. I wish him healing and learning and growth and expansion. I wish him prosperity and I wish him love.