This morning I met a life-sized, Asian Barbie doll. She just happened to be taking my yoga class. I have never seen a waist that tiny or a chest that large. The ginormous lips and the Botoxed face that did not move even a millimeter as I led the class through exercises to release tension from the jaw and brow were more than a little disconcerting. The fact that her own fake breasts literally smacked her in the face every time she moved into a downward dog had me staring on more than one occasion. Who was this woman housed in a fake body? And why was she in my yoga class? I was judging her. I was fully conscious of the fact that I was judging her, even when all of my training and personal beliefs rest on a cornerstone of non-judgment. What on earth could someone like this possible want out of a yoga class? Why hadn’t she hired someone to do private lessons with her? Why was I being the most unyogic yoga teacher on the planet and judging this poor woman who was practically get black eyes from a pose I kept guiding them into? Why couldn’t I stop staring at her unnaturally tiny waist, liposuctioned legs, and perfectly, surgically shaped ass?
In the lobby after class she asked if she could upgrade the single class she had purchased for the new-student-trial-membership. I took care of her account and when I looked up from the computer I saw her crying. I know better than to ask people who are crying or look distraught if they are okay. People love to give me their life stories without any prompting. Asking, in my experience, has led to far more hours of listening to stories I never wanted to hear in the first place in far greater depth than I had ever hoped for. Instead I opted for a concerned look. Let her know I have noticed she is crying and I care, but keep the lid on the can of worms. She looks at me through her tears, her face holding the same expression of no emotion it has had for the last hour and says, “My papi died 21 days ago.” I tell her I am sorry, I’m glad she came to class, and it is important that she do things to take care of herself. I brace myself for more. I prepare to learn all about Papi. And then, thankfully, she puts her sunglasses on, thanks me for class telling me I am a really good and kind teacher, and walks out the door.
As she left I felt like the world’s biggest schmuck. Here I am teaching about compassion for the self and others in a yoga class of all places and I spent the last hour judging grieving, human Barbie. I was reminded for the umpteenth time that you cannot judge a book by its cover. We just don’t know what path someone is on, or why they are on that path, and it is not for us to judge. None of us are perfect (well, some people have enough money to make their exteriors pretty damn close to perfect). This woman made me really pause and think about all the little ways in which I unconsciously judge the students who walk into my classes. Sometimes I go past observing and noting what is, crossing over that fine line into a place of casting judgments, good, bad, right, wrong, better, worse. Part of my job is to accept these people just as they are, to honor the fact that they are doing something positive for their bodies and souls. I am there to do more than guide bodies through movements and help people find the correct alignment to ensure they do not injure themselves in poses. I am there to create and hold a space that is safe, open, welcoming, and free of judgments, because only then can true exploration of the self begin. And that is, after all, what yoga truly is, a way to explore and connect with the self on a deeper, more genuine level.