Earlier this evening, I decided that I was in the mood for yoga. I sauntered over to the nearby studio – one of the busiest in town – for a relaxing restorative class. As always, a large regal-looking statue of Ganesha (the Hindu deity who is purported to be the remover of obstacles) held court at the front of the class, surrounded by garlands of flowers, incense and candles.
Since I was lying down (and slightly dozy) when the lovely instructor from Oz spoke up, I didn’t have a chance to speak with her privately – as I am wont to do in a new class. As everyone but me sat with backs straight on their mats, teacher-T glanced around, asking if anyone had injuries. Here we were, sprawled about the top floor of the shala… about forty or fifty of us. I hesitated for a moment, then raised my hand and voiced my simple truth: I can’t sit, but I can modify the poses.
At which point, teacher-T did what anyone who’d heard this line for the first time might do: She politely ignored me and, shuffling herself around on the bolster, asked: What if you placed another bolster on top, would that help? Sensing the quiet echoing and wafting amongst the disbelieving (?) dozens of eyes surrounding me, I paused and said: Actually, I can’t sit at all, in any position. I have to hand it to T; she didn’t skip a beat, smiled, nodded and said something to the effect of: ok, we can check in later about that. Then, she let me be.
On my way home, it dawned on me that the same scenario (more or less) played itself out, at the same studio, with two other teachers, over this past week. The first time was the toughest: A couple of friends had recommended that I try out a beginners’ Pilates class. I hesitated because I know that the practice is all about using and improving the core – which, in my case, has been significantly compromised. I wasn’t sure if it would be possible for me to do most of the poses, nor whether it would be wise to attempt a type of body-work-out that might possibly cause further damage.
A pigtailed and elfin-like teacher, G showed up a few minutes before class, whereupon I approached her and briefly explained my injuries and limitations – including not being able to sit. I asked if I could watch the class for a little while to gauge whether I might be willing to try her next class. From G’s face alone, I quickly deduced that she was – what, affronted? Or perhaps shocked that I would ask such a question? – in any case, she seemed quite displeased at my request. Bottom line: she wanted me to pay because, even by merely watching, I would be absorbing her class.
I decided to overlook her puzzling comments, and see if she would allow me to watch for a short time nonetheless. Finally, she relented, but not without her face letting me know quite transparently that she was harrumphed… and that it was really not cool.
Fast forward to me crouching in the corner of the studio while G strode around the class, instructing those present how to place their mats and sit. She glanced over at me, as I tried to be as inconspicuous as possible in my crouching position, and in an almost bellowing voice, G blurted out: You can sit on that folding chair next to you, you know! All eyes – vwoom! – turned to me. Thanks, I said, but actually I can’t. Why not? was her somewhat miffed answer. It suddenly became patently obvious to me that she hadn’t heard what I explained earlier; either that, or…
Then, a couple of days later, I tried an Anusara class with a substitute teacher, visiting from Denmark. Blonde-haired N invited everyone present to gather around her – for what I realized is typical in Anusara, a little ‘talk’ preceding the class itself. (Here again, I’d forgotten to speak with N privately before class). While everyone sat up on their mats, I moved up quite close to N’s side, and crouched down with my back against a column.
N glanced over at me, smiled and suggested that I might want to get comfortable because it would be quite a long ‘sit.’ Thanks, I said, but I’m ok.. and I can’t sit. And then, as if I’d said something incomprehensible in a foreign language, N continued: You can grab a couple of blocks then, and use those.
I was, with N, at the front of the class, and could almost see the oh-so-many pairs of eyes on me. Oh no, not this again… Really, I said, I can’t sit at all. At which point, I could almost swear that I saw a look that asked: “what’s up with you?” before she turned back and faced the class.
And so, dear yoga and Pilates teachers everywhere: I get it. I get that you can’t wrap your heads around what I say. I get it that I might as well tell you that I can’t breathe – while you see me breathing in front of you; or that I can’t stand, when you can very well see that I am standing right in front of you too. I mean: does that even make sense? Does such a thing exist, not being able to sit?! How crazy… I know I might not always be as patient with you as I wish I was, but really.. I’m just doing the best that I can with the “reformed” sacrum that I’ve been gifted. And, believe me, I’m just figuring it out myself as I walk the uncharted waters of this path, my ‘new normal’ kind of life.
Here’s the rub – and no hard feelings! Really, truly, I cannot sit. Not in the traditional sense of the verb. And, would you believe it: my nonsensical-sounding impairment even has a name (finally: Sitting disability). You see, there’s simply not a whole lot I can do about it. Unless, of course, Ganesha will manage to clear up this little so-called obstacle…
Oh dear. I’ve seen those disbelieving looks. And I know I’ve said, “Hi Amit, let’s sit over here,” how many times? I know better. And I apologize for my insensitivity. Keep writing and reminding, please.
Tidak apa apa.. even my own family forgets 😉
Wow Amit, I don’t think I recall reading about this previously. What a big adjustment you’ve had to make. While it’s quite an uncommon thing, relatively speaking, I’m astounded by the insensitivity and lack of benefit-of-the-doubt displayed. Kudos for your attitude though!
For you Hayley (and others); on further reflection, I realize that much of the responsibility for their missteps actually falls on my shoulders; I need to remember, for their benefit and mine, to speak with teachers BEFORE the class so that neither they nor I find ourselves in this type of situation. If the ‘news’ of my invisible disability would come from me in a one-on-one (maybe not in G’s case but otherwise), then this scenario would hopefully not keep replaying itself 😉