Yesterday I prepared for a bearded dragon funeral that never happened. Thank God. My son’s beardie, Blades Beauvais-Abney, a four-month juvenile bearded dragon of ambiguous gender, had been on a hunger strike since last Wednesday. Which would be a big deal for anyone, but seemed especially alarming for a creature about the size and weight of a cereal bar. When the crickets he normally pounced on like a tiny, heartless velociraptor started crawling all over his listless face, we mobilized from worry to action. It was unsettling to watch an instinct predator let his prey waltz all over his nose. Fundamentally disturbing in the same way that seeing your parents cry feels deeply disturbing, as though a foundational shift in the universe had upended the natural order of things.
The veterinarian who squeezed us in felt his tiny tummy, noted his color, discovered and confirmed maleness (surprise!) and told us not to sweat it. Apparently Blades was shedding his skin for the first time in his young life and was simply too freaked out to eat. Molting stress, it turns out, is a pretty normal thing for young lizards. The young lizards, however, don’t know how normal it is and a few of the more high-strung, nervous types decide to limit all movement and bodily activities, even if it means sustaining life, until the whole thing just goes away.
You can imagine it, right? I mean, even with our big(ish) human brains, wrapping one’s head around the idea of something like menstruation is a pretty wild thing. For Blades and his chia seed noggin, going from enjoying a nice sit on his heat rock to noticing that all his skin is falling off had to feel pretty apocalyptic.
So ride it out, the vet said. She said I could try him on some pureed sweet potatoes or, horrifyingly, small cockroaches. “They love cockroaches!” she chirped. “HmmMmm,” I said and wrote down “SWEET POTATOES,” underlining it twice. Henry and I left the vet’s office, relieved and giddy, headed home with our pale and skinny – but alive – beardie, rather than a euthanized one in a shoebox as I had feared.
In the same day, as it happened, I hit the crux of a tension that had been brewing at the yoga studio where I teach. A volley of emails had been ponging around for the better part of a month, negotiations and counter negotiations on things such as admin support, class schedule, average number of clients and who uses what props. But we weren’t really talking about those things. We were really talking about their notion of the value I and my class brought to the studio, and my own notion of that value. And because our estimations did not match up, we kept circling, around and around. The owners telling me they couldn’t offer admin support, me requesting we move the class to another time, them saying that was not possible, me pointing out that my Iyengar-trained group shares thousands of dollars worth of props with the studio, them countering that actually they were doing us a favor by storing the props for us. We were both contributing to a vibe that, in short, sucked. I complained to a friend, in my most calm, centered yoga teacher voice, “THE LAST FUCKING PLACE there should be drama and stress is in yoga.”
My yoga class is special. (Or special to me, I’m learning painfully.) I had inherited the class, along with a fellow teacher, from one of the world’s few master Iyengar teachers who had retired in Shreveport, Louisiana of all places after teaching and establishing Iyengar centers around the world. She was a true guriji, a hardass master teacher who could see straight into my heart, my tight shoulders, the place where I would hold back from really trying or where I clenched my jaw and hardened my eyes – and from that vantage, would exact a transformational change from me. I had practiced for nearly 20 years before coming to Karin, but had never, not in Los Angeles, nor DC nor London, found a teacher as masterful as she. And thousands of people felt the same way I did.
Karin was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer in both lungs, a freight train of a diagnosis that railroaded her in six months. Before she died, she asked me her in her no nonsense way to continue her classes with another teacher in our group. She was on oxygen in her bed, giving me her last class and I was 6 months pregnant and weeping from the enormity of the gift. I kept apologizing for crying, knowing she was not a crier, and she said, “you deserve this.”
At the time I thought “this” meant her last few classes and her trust in continuing to teach with her discipline, I did not know then that what I was being given was the community of people who would be glued together through our shared grief and awe in what we had possessed. “This” was actually a group of beautiful people would continue to come to my and my co-teacher’s classes, even though I was a pale facsimile of Karin, every Saturday for years afterwards – preserving this tiny culture of practice that she had instilled in us.
When things started to get a bit wonky at the current studio, it was the community, the communion, of these people that grounded me. I watched Cheryl, a long-timer with shoulder and hip issues, help a newcomer set up for a chair shoulder stand, transmitting kindness and a piece of Karin’s knowledge through this forum we stubbornly persist in continuing every week.
I thought about the way that grace is transmitted by all of us showing up for each other, for what we shared together, as well as for our own selves. I thought about how teaching yoga, even more than practicing, transcends me – takes me out of my own self while I remain hyper aware, crystalline, clear. In teaching, I feel like I am hitting a note, just right, and it is ringing out and reverberating, clear and strong. I realized that I was committed to teaching and if to no one else, then to this group. Iyengar is different. Iyengar is weird. We can be tedious. We use tons of props, spending a long time on anatomy and alignment. We’re kind of a cerebral bunch. I think it’s a great, safe and challenging way to practice, but not everyone agrees.
On the phone with a friend yesterday morning, I was going through how I would negotiate going forward, how I would remind the owners about how they had courted me and my co-teacher to bring our group there and promised me a weekly class in addition to the group’s class, which had never fully materialized. I was going to remind them of this and ask that that be honored. My friend gently asked me if I was saying this because I expected them to agree and give me another weekly class.
When she said that, something shifted. She was very tenderly asking me whether I wanted to bludgeon them over the head with my feelings in order to get what I wanted or to enter something on the godforsaken record. For the record. I saw how I was trying to force it, to force what I wanted on someone else. When I was little and couldn’t make a Rubik’s cube work, I would peel off the little colored squares and re-stick them on to make the “win.” They were crooked, of course, the edges peeled up where I had bent them. It was unimpressive and unconvincing to everyone else, and frankly – not very satisfying to me either. So, when I paused in that conversation, I felt the all those little red and blue and yellow squares line up, tight and neat. What if I didn’t convince them of my worth? What if we just shared different opinions on that score? What if there’s nothing personal here, just a situation that is not fitting in the way I had imagined.
In the pause, I remembered that nothing good comes from saying anything “for the record” and that I cannot make someone appreciate me any more than they do – or at least certainly not by arguing it. There had been so much stress and anxiety in trying to fit my brand of teaching into another’s idea of teaching. And like a too small pair of pants, it was uncomfortable. The more I tugged, the more twisted up it became and the more harumphy I got.
Like a psychic wedgie.
I felt tremendous relief from not having to convince them that I am great and should have another class. I could shed that too small skin, this thing I was trying, so unsuccessfully and with so much consternation, to make fit, and look for something else rather than continue to be eaten up by my tiny freaked-out reptile brain.
I called the owner, told her we accepted their terms for our Saturday class and that I was planning to teach a weekly class somewhere else. The call lasted 90 seconds and was actually pleasant.
Then I hung up and went out to buy a frozen yogurt and new yoga pants. You need new pants when you molt.
Epilogue: Sadly, while Blades the bearded dragon survived molting stress, he later succumbed to a calcium deficiency and passed from this earth. Also, those new yoga pants didn’t work and to be returned. …But whatevs! – Henry has a new reptile and I am a lot happier having loosened the white-knuckled grip on what I thought ought to be, even if just a tiny bit.