Yoga Wonderland CH 2 - "Drink Me" Practice Without a Yoga Teacher

The Loveliest Garden

Alice opened the door and found that it led into a small passage, not much larger than a rat-hole: she knelt down and looked along the passage into the loveliest garden you ever saw. How she longed to get out of that dark hall, and wander about among those beds of bright flowers and those cool fountains, but she could not even get her head through the doorway.

I had already frolicked in Yoga Wonderland, long ago, as a child diving into the pages of The Children’s Garden of Yoga. I knew what lies behind that tiny door. Intuitively, I knew the magic of wonder and play, and no White Rabbit or yoga studio class could give me that.

Behind that tiny door was a vast limitless land called Imagination. As a nine-year-old, Imagination is a very real place. When I went into mountain pose, I didn’t just pretend, I became Morla, the giant tortoise/mountain in The Never-ending Story. When I took eagle pose, I found myself riding the Luck Dragon, Falcor. In tree pose, I gathered berries and strung bows with the Ewoks of Return of the Jedi. Of course, my favorite pose, rabbit pose brought me to the Mad-Hatter’s tea table and the Queen’s croquet match in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

But as a grown up, the tiny door was too small for me to squeeze through. I remembered what that wonderland was like, but adulting had severely atrophied my sense of wonder. I didn’t believe Imagination was a real place anymore. The every day menial to-do lists of being a grown-up infected me with the serious bug that squashed my sense of wonder like a potato bug on the sidewalk.

I thought I needed a teacher to show me how, to teach me the rules, to give me the step-by-step instruction on what to do, how to do it, when to do it, and also what NOT to do. I had surrendered my imagination and wonder to an almighty power, Authority.

I was stuck. I didn’t like the yoga teachers around me, they scolded me for watching my laser light show in the mirrors. Like military drill sergeants, they drew very clear lines between right and wrong and made me walk the tightrope, leaving absolutely no room for meandering into wonderment. At the bottom of that rabbit hole, facing the tiny door, I didn’t want to go follow another rabbit. They weren’t fun.

“Oh, how I wish I could shut up like a telescope! I think I could if I only knew how to begin.” For, you see, so many out-of-the-way things had happened lately, that Alice had begun to think that very few things were really impossible. There seemed to be no use in waiting by the little door, so she went back to the table, half hoping she might find another key on it, or at any rate a book of rules for shutting people up like telescopes: this time she found a little bottle on it (“which certainly was not here before,” said Alice), and tied round the neck of the bottle was a paper label, with the words “DRINK ME” beautifully printed on it in large letters.

Like Alice found no use in waiting by the little door any longer, I found no use making the two-hour drive to take the same classes over and over again. I laid out my mat, and sat down next to it, afraid of what might happen if I stepped onto it without the guidance of a teacher. I went searching for a book of rules.

Being 2001, the days before podcasting and online video streaming, I bought a bunch of yoga books, CDs and DVDs. I left them on the floor next to my mat. I read them, highlighted them, watched the DVDs and listened to the CDs. But I didn’t get on my mat. Like Alice, I was hesitant to drink the potion. Would it poison me? If I did a yoga practice alone without a teacher watching me, would I hurt myself? Would I do it wrong?

I left my mat there in the middle of my living room. It beckoned to me every day. And every day, I sat down next to it, contemplating all the unpleasant things that might happen.

However, this bottle was not marked “poison,” so Alice ventured to taste it, and, finding it very nice (it had, in fact, a sort of mixed flavour of cherry-tart, custard, pineapple, roast turkey, toffy, and hot buttered toast), she very soon finished it off.

But my mat wasn’t poison.

Finally, one day I couldn’t take it anymore. I stepped on the mat, pressed play on the the old cassette tape player and let a man with a heavy Indian accent tell me what to do. With several deep breaths, I sucked down the potion. I drank my breath. And it felt rather nice, and odd, and weird, and curious, and pleasant, and not-pleasant all at the same time.

“What a curious feeling!” said Alice. “I must be shutting up like a telescope!”

After that first home practice, I too had a very curious feeling. While the practice itself was rather nice, the overall feeling afterward wasn’t so nice. I felt very small. Too small.

I felt like a kid again, but not in the sense of wonderment and imagination I remembered from The Children’s Garden of Yoga. Rather, I felt like a kid who didn’t know the rules, who didn’t know what I was doing. I wore out that cassette tape, playing it every day I couldn’t get to a studio. But there were lots of parts of it that I just didn’t completely understand. The more I practiced to the CDs and DVDs and books, the more I realized I didn’t know.

After a while, finding that nothing more happened, she decided on going into the garden at once; but, alas for poor Alice! when she got to the door, she found she had forgotten the little golden key, and when she went back to the table for it, she found she could not possibly reach it: she could see it quite plainly through the glass, and she tried her best to climb up one of the legs of the table, but it was too slippery; and when she had tired herself out with trying, the poor little thing sat down and cried.

I was small enough to fit through the door. But alas, like Alice, the key (my imagination) was still out of my reach. I couldn’t play in the laser light show of chakras and auras when I was alone. So I turned away from the tiny door, and went chasing after another White Rabbit, all the way to a resort in Mexico.

My next White Rabbit took me to places I didn’t think I wanted to go. I went straight from stepping over puddles of sweat (ew, gross) in the carpeted halls of a hot studio to an eight-day yoga teacher training bootcamp on the beaches of Mexico. And a bootcamp it was! This White Rabbit squeezed me through corners that weren’t exactly comfortable. Some of them even hurt, a lot.

Balance on my hands in crow pose, AND jump back to plank?