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Finding patience on the mat — and off

I always get to the 5:45 a.m. yoga class at least 10 minutes early, better to settle in and spend a little time in silence before the studio fills up. Today was no different, at least not at first. I stretched a bit before closing my eyes and taking up half-lotus, patiently waiting for our teacher to arrive. Soon. Shortly. Any minute now….

Every time the door opened I couldn’t resist the urge to open my eyes and see if was the teacher. Nope.  As 5:45  gave way to 5:48, then 5:50, and soon 5:53 (or so, based on my general clock sense), a few of us looked around at each other and shrugged. Surely it’s just as easy for the teacher to hit the snooze and oversleep as it is for any one of us. Lord knows I contemplated rolling over this morning before finally throwing back the covers and setting the day in motion.

Funny thing was, we all just sat there on our mats, quietly facing front in the darkness. One or two whispered questions, another got up to look outside, but, for the most part, we sat. We stretched a bit more and then continued to sit. No anger rising, as it might if we were standing in line at Walmart and the person in front realized she didn’t have her credit card. (Not that I have any experience with that sort of frustration.) No annoyance coming out in body language or sarcastic commentary, as might be the case in a traffic jam or a doctor’s waiting room. Nope, we just sat, perhaps a little confused or resigned, but not impatient or angry.

Finally one student got up and went to ask a Y staff person if he knew what was going on. They phoned the teacher who had, in fact overslept, and she asked if we’d be willing to wait 12 minutes. Most of us said we would. A few left, probably those who had to get to work sooner rather than later. The rest of us stayed, either stretching on our mats or walking the track or treadmills until the teacher showed up. And then we did yoga, just as if nothing were out of the ordinary.

How wish I could say I’d have that same attitude in so many other situations when I find myself growing impatient and frustrated. Why is it I can sit quietly in a darkened Y studio, knowing I may have gotten up at 5 a.m. for no reason at all, and not lose my cool when I lose it so easily at other times? It comes back to the heart of yoga, of course, and why we’re all there in the first place. We’re not just there to build muscle or lose pounds. We’re there to gain peace, to find a balance the normal world cannot give, and even a 20 minute delay in starting isn’t going to distract us from our appointed rounds.

So the question is how to translate that mat-based patience into everyday patience. Why can I sit and feel such compassion and kindness toward my yoga teacher — even at 5:30 a.m. when  I could be warm under my covers — when I can’t muster up even a fraction of that patience for the old lady driving 15 miles per hour down the back road to our house on a busy afternoon or the bank teller who disappears from the drive-in window for what seems like a half hour while I’m waiting to deposit a check?

Maybe it’s the deep breathing. Maybe it’s the God connection — because I am always in a state of heightened spiritual awareness at yoga, and even for the ride to and from the Y. Maybe it’s the unity I feel with the people around me, each one of us trying to do one small thing to make our lives better, to make ourselves better, not in a selfish way but in a real effort to live up to our true potential as human beings.

“Love is patient,” we read in Scripture. Today in our little yoga studio, that verse was palpable, and it reminded me that sometimes — often — love is a choice we make.

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