I was invited by a yoga teacher in town to attend a yoga class in exchange for performing some music during Savasana at the end of the class. I have done this once before, and it was wonderful.
This time, it felt wonderful in the doing, but it came with an unanticipated opportunity to practice Brahmatcharya—restraint.
The studio space was long and narrow, with well-loved wood flooring, a wall-length mirror, bright blue paint on the walls, and intricately patterned, metal panels on the ceiling. The acoustics were remarkable. I could feel an eery, energetic echoing of my voice bouncing off of every surface as I sang.
As I played, I periodically opened my eyes to look around the room. The teacher sat smiling peacefully in a cross-legged position, her face turned upwards. I could see her body swaying gently to the rhythm of the music. I heard quiet snoring. Otherwise, all was quiet, and people lay still on their mats.
After class, the teacher and some students thanked me for sharing my voice. My heart felt full and peaceful. Just before leaving, an older woman came up to me.
Can I give you some advice? She asked.
Sure, I responded, wondering if I had sang too loud and disturbed her meditation.
The critique she offered was unexpected and astringent.
The first song you played was appropriate for an older audience. The second song was not. I received some particularly bad news this morning. Don’t tell me to find my voice.
Whoa. My head must have jerked back as the words hit my face.
Ok, I thought. Keep your cool. Don’t get your ego involved. This is not about you.
And I responded, I’m sorry the song did not speak to you. I think music does not speak to everyone in the same way, and that is ok. I have played it for Savasana before, and it has been well-received. I played the song for my dog when he was dying, and he got better. Yoga is similar for me. Sometimes, it opens things up and I wind up feeling worse than when I began. I am not going to stop playing this song, but if you are here next time I will make sure not to play it.
Next time, it might not affect me the same way.
Ok, I said. She seemed to have needed to vent something, and I was an easy target, so I listened and let the caustic energy drop between us.
You do have a beautiful voice, she said before leaving.
I followed her out the door and crossed the street to my own car. Getting in, I felt tension in my body. I asked my body what was going on.
Was the tension from being taken by surprise? Was my ego slighted?
No. I didn’t think so. Sure, I was not expecting the feedback, but I thought it was good that the person felt comfortable communicating what she was experiencing.
I met my sweetie for lunch and told him about the interaction.
I think what affected me most was the delivery of the words, I told him. It made me remember to really think about the way I communicate with people, and it reminded me of the Niyama Saucha—purity. One of the women in my yoga class interpreted Saucha with regard to spoken communication as the need to “taste your words before you speak them.” Another mentioned the importance of thinking about the way your words are being heard.
Words can be offered as an invitation for a dialogue or an attack. I have offered both in my life, and I much prefer the way my body feels with the former. This particular feedback was not an invitation for dialogue, though I opened the window nonetheless. It was a shutting down, and it felt like an attack.
Plus, I continued debriefing to my partner, she had no idea what I may have struggled with in my own life, people I may have lost, etc. Maybe, she saw my pigtails and thought I was much younger than I am, and I was an easy target.
My youthful visage inhibits many people from taking me seriously as a scholar, performer, person.
I still feel a bit unnerved as I write, but I recognize that this person may be struggling with something incredibly painful. Now that I have processed it, I feel ready to let it go. And I feel that I want to send a prayer to this person to help her through whatever path she is beginning.
I also feel thankful that music, like yoga, can evoke such powerful emotions. For me, this is a great part of what brings meaning to life, even if it isn’t always what I think of as traditionally pretty.