Walking to yoga one morning, I was dismayed to see the sidewalk right outside the building I was entering being torn up. “This is nice for yoga,” I commented to my friend, Takako, over the jarring drone of a jackhammer.
Inside the studio where Angela Pashayan was leading a class in the Yoga of Devotion, the jackhammer penetrated the walls, rising from the street below. It might have been dulled from its two story climb, but it was still loud enough to be annoying and Angela had to raise her voice as she led us into meditation.
There was no ignoring the aural distraction outside the window, yet remarkable, without yelling, Angela was able to speak loud enough for us to hear her. Instead of competing with the grating noise from below, she encouraged us to use the vibrating sound as a tool of focus; to break up stuck thoughts in our minds and loosen tightness in our bodies.
As we progressed into asanas, Angela guided us to “jackhammer” away resistance. The imagery was empowering as I imagined petty worries turning into dust. I felt the stiffness in m y right shoulder being chipped away, dissolved to bits like the cement on the sidewalk, the ache eased no longer of service. In warrior, the jackhammer’s steady plummeting actually helped me sink into the powerful pose, drawing strength from the incessant hum, breaking through my own self-defensiveness.
When we reached savasana, the jackhammer suddenly stopped, as if in reverence to the dead of corpse pose. Tears of release flowed as I lay on my back through meditation. Like the old, stuck cement, I was able to break up and throw out old aches and pains, resentments and frustrations that needed to go. Everyone agreed that the class had indeed been a powerfully, moving one.
In her classes, Angela often talks us through affirmations in the unique Bhakti practice that she has developed. She encourages us to set our intention in prayer pose, to acknowledge our past when looking back in twists, expressing gratitude for where we’ve been. Reaching up and out in warrior, she guides us to look forward and reach out for our intention, to see it and realize it at our fingertips. And, just as the jackhammer is was a tool to tear up the sidewalk that day Angela used it as an instrument in her teaching. What would normally have been an annoyance in any yoga class became the sound of healing. In parting, Angela encouraged us to use all external distractions as implements in our yoga practice.
As we left the building, the workers were already laying new cement on the sidewalk. I almost stepped in the smooth, wet pavement before some miraculous reflect sent me jumping over a newly laid square. One of the workers paused to kindly move a barrier out of our way as we filed past.
One of the things I most appreciate about Angela’s classes is the imagery and visualizations she presents which work as affirmations for me. Two years ago, I was diagnosed with coronary artery disease and had to have a procedure to remove and prevent further artery blockage. I saw Angela soon after I got out of the hospital, tired, bruised and a bit depressed. I also felt somewhat defeated that, as an advocate of holistic health and a physically active vegetarian, I had to undergo such drastic treatment. I was also pissed off at all the meds I’d been prescribed. In addition, I wondered if, despite all my efforts to live a healthy lifestyle, the arteries would again become clogged. My cardiologist had explained that my condition was hereditary and that my liver produced excessive cholesterol.
Angela gave me a CD of “healing music” and visualization. Knowing my background in swimming she told me to visualize myself swimming through my arteries to keep them clear. Hers was some of the best medicine I took. I continue to listen to the CD, I continue to use the visualization and I continue to practice yoga. I’m feeling very well these days and have been able to cut back on medication. My cardiologist told me that if all her patients practiced yoga she’d be out of business.
The metaphor of the jackhammer from that class has stayed with me for a long time, just as yoga stays with me long after I have come out of an asana. For that reason I am devoted to Yoga of Devotion.
Angela Pashayan is the founder of Yoga of Devotion, a philanthropic yoga organization serving the needs of children worldwide. For more information, please visit www.yogaofdevotion.org.