Monday through Friday, braving the cold and early morning frost, a larger than expected group of tired eyed morning yogis stumble through my classroom door. It is 6am. Time for bad balance, stiff muscles, and all the unenviable joy of morning yoga asana practice.
Over the past couple of months I have come to realize that morning students are a different breed. Something like the night shift crowd you find at 7am ready to go home and sleep just as the rest of us start to function. There is a certain amount of tired giddiness that permeates the air and often the semi-verbal musing, “What was I thinking?”
Morning class is full of people that run to their own clock. It is 5:45am as they begin to walk in the door. Many of them up at 4:30 just to make it on time. With pillow lines still creasing their cheeks and many still in pajamas (literally), we stumble onto our mats and hope that somehow today’s balance will be better than yesterdays. Oh, and don’t forget, when you finish you still have eight hours at your real job ahead.
This is a group the oozes dedication, and maybe a little insanity. Generally not the soccer mom’s or retirees (they come to my 9am class); these are a breed that must be at work by nine and hope to sleep before eleven. I am writing this from Columbus, Ohio, where yesterday’s high temperature barely broke the freezing point. The sun doesn’t rise till 7:30 and is gone long before most even leave the office. It is a climate that says, “You should learn to hibernate like a bear.”
Yet, somehow this morning crew seems to have made strides in yoga and in camaraderie that seems almost unimaginable once the sun has risen. I do not simply mean they have become more flexible (which they certainly have as demonstrated by two students touching their forehead to their toes for the first time last week). This group seems to see the bigger picture of yoga. Maybe their struggles help them see the truth of yoga. I guess I mean to say, they see that yoga is something much bigger than what we do in a yoga class… it is much bigger than what you do on your yoga mat.
This humble morning crowd has a bond. Within days of our first class the bedhead bunch had created a motley band of brothers and sisters. Some younger, some older, all struggling to find some semblance of one legged balance that any other time of the day would seem too simple to discuss. When a new student walks sleepily through the classroom door, the regulars immediately say good morning and give a few words of encouragement. Class begins and for ninety minutes persistence, discipline, and the will to survive take over (along with the normal comedy that comes with trying to stretch at 6am).
We finish with the traditional few minutes of calm and quiet. A short shavasana to recover, recuperate, and relax; a brief interlude before the regular day begins. But this is where the real difference is found with the morning yogi.
While most people come to class to de-stress, that is, to recover from all the stress of the day. The morning crew see the practice in a different light.
Various traditional definitions of yoga can be summed up as “steadying the mind”… and that is exactly how this group treats it. For them yoga is not stress relief, it is stress prevention, maybe even stress removal. The struggles of the early morning and early class travel with them throughout the whole day. To them yoga isn’t stretching, or resting, or relaxing. It is practice for the upcoming day-to-day rigors of life.
Get up when you still want to sleep. Face the cold when your house is still warm. Drive to class while other are enjoying their coffee. Pull, push, twist, breath, sweat. Now, do all of this and end with a smile on your face and feeling of calm in your heart. Something about this morning practice just seems to have a different effect. All the early morning struggles just seem to make the rest of their day so much easier.
Early morning class is not for everyone, but for the 10-20 morning yogis that will meet me again before the sun rises tomorrow, thank you for always reminding me what real yoga is all about.