the nothing response

After yoga class this evening, I was getting dressed after taking a shower, and the changing room had pretty much emptied out. I was putting on my boots, and a young woman (20ish) said "Actually, ma'am" -- I glanced at her -- "Ma'am, there's a place to put your shoes out in the lobby, people don't wear them in here."

Now, in our studio, the rule is no shoes in the yoga room itself, but you are allowed to wear shoes into the changing room. In fact, most people who change and shower do leave their shoes with their duffel bags in the lockers in the changing room. There are also shoe shelves out front, which are mostly used by people who are already wearing their yoga clothes and who just want to dump their keys and shoes on their way into the room. So she was wrong about the studio rules. And she was wrong about what "people do" -- I have been practicing at this location for about five years, and I've seen lots of people wear shoes into the changing room. And I've never even seen this girl before. So I have the authority of experience (as well as age, underscored by her calling me "ma'am"). But I so didn't want to get into it with her. So I just did nothing. I didn't say anything, I didn't shrug, I didn't make a face. I just finished putting on my boots and coat and walked out.

I've often noticed that the yoga studio offers innumerable case studies for thinking about the relationships of individuals to community: we are each individually practicing the Bikram series, but the collective energy in the room can definitely help or hinder you as you practice. Each individual's choices impact those around them in the room, but some people are more aware of this than others. Some people are overly conscious of those around them, and some are oblivious to the disruption they are causing. You're supposed to stay focused on your own breathing, and your own practice, yet it is a very rare yogi who never ever notices anyone else's practice (whether it's irritation, competition, or admiration that is evoked). And there are rules -- once the class has begun, you stay in the room (unless it's an emergency -- or, as one of my teachers says, "if you're going to make a mess I have to clean up, you can leave"). No phones, shoes, or bags in the yoga room. No chewing gum. That kind of thing. These aren't so unusual in yoga studios I don't think.

But Bikram practice can seem very authoritarian to outsiders because it is standardized across all the licensed studios to create consistency, and because the teachers use a script during class. And I think that the heat and humidity in the room sometimes calls up the judgmental or complaining element in one's mind -- for myself, I've learned that if I'm busy judging myself or other students in the class, it's a symptom of a deeper imbalance. It's a distraction thrown up by the superego (or the left brain, or the monkey mind, take your pick of labels for that chattering voice). But it's not uncommon after class to hear someone complaining in the changing room that it was too cold, or too hot, or the microphone was too loud, etc. I think the critical brain can be so threatened by the meditative quiet that yoga produces that it works extra hard to keep running throughout.

I have great respect for the rules of my studio, and for consideration of the community. But I wasn't violating either of those things. Also, I don't like confrontation, I don't like to be told what to do, and I really, really hate to be unjustly criticized. She was wrong, and I was right, and my inner brat really doesn't deal with unfairness very well. The situation definitely pushed some of my childhood triggers, which might be why I turned blank. But since I didn't have a pithy remark available at the moment (of course I came up with several, long afterwards) and since I didn't really want to get all hierarchical with her when I'd just detoxified and meditated for 90 minutes, it was probably the best response.

I wish I could say my reaction was a carefully considered zen decision that would reflect her judging mind back to her as she tries to interpret my lack of response. But it was just a gut reaction.