I taught my first yoga class on September 5th, 2001 at 7 PM–the Wednesday night before the terrorist attacks of 9/11.
The class was not a total disaster, but it was pretty close. I was surprised that only two people showed up–my ego was a little bruised! I was also nervous, and had a hard time looking up from the script I had practiced for hours before class. Every word had been stolen from my favorite yoga show, “Inhale with Steve Ross”.
Needless to say, teaching that first class was not the gratifying experience I had hoped for. I left feeling embarrassed, and discouraged. What was I thinking? Are they going to fire me?
I promised myself that I would do better next time. I had an entire week to practice, and there was nowhere to go, but up.
Six days later, everything changed. I watched planes hit the Twin Towers, and the Pentagon (in my home town), on the same TV that had helped me script that first yoga class.
What was wrong with people? How could anyone do something so evil?
It felt like the world was coming to an end, and nothing would ever be the same. I could not tear myself away from the news for even a minute.
I knew I needed to prepare to teach the next day, but I didn’t want to. It seemed so silly, to worry about teaching yoga at LA Fitness, when firefighters and police in New York, DC and Pennsylvania were trying to find missing people.
Tuesday, 9/11, was a long day for all of us. The news was so awful, that I assumed (hoped) LA Fitness would be closed on 9/12, and I would not have to teach. When I called in on Wednesday morning, however, they were open, and I was expected that evening.
I walked into the club at 6:45 PM on 9/12, with a cassette tape marked “Yoga Mix”, notecards, and a yoga mat. I was surprised to find six people, yoga mats in hand, outside the yoga room. I didn’t think anyone would be in the mood to practice yoga that night, but I was wrong.
As my students rolled out their mats, I put away my notecards, and decided to teach from my heart. I shared quotes that I loved, and tried to keep the energy light. It felt good to be with people, and to look them in the eye. They were strangers, but we were all seeking the same things: comfort and connection.
We helped each other heal that night. No one cared if I called the poses by the wrong names, or that my sequences were all messed up. We were doing something that we knew would make us feel better, and we were doing it together. We were inextricably connected, in that little room.
I was still so new to yoga back then, that I didn’t understand why it helped so profoundly. I get it now, though.
Yoga purifies our mind and our spirit, as much as it purifies our bodies. The ancient teachings of yoga, known as The Yoga Sutras, tell us that yoga heals us by “…cultivating friendliness towards happiness and compassion towards misery, gladness towards virtue and indifference towards vice.”
Cultivate friendliness to happiness.
Compassion towards misery.
Gladness towards virtue.
And indifference towards vice.
That was what we did on 9/13 in that little yoga room. We turned our hearts toward each other, and our backs on the bad guys.
Twelve years later, I am profoundly grateful for the experience of teaching yoga after 9/11. It’s clear to me that what the world needed then, and still needs now, is yoga to purify our lives.
*Written in remembrance of all that was lost on September 11, 2001, and with prayers for peace around the world.