The Girl Who Loved Ligers

This past weekend, a friend and her 14-year-old daughter joined me for what I believed to be their first yoga class. I arrived early to stake out the back row with mats, blankets, blocks, and straps. The back row not only allows for anonymity, it provides the best vantage point to see where to put the body parts.


Photo credit: Andy Carvin. A liger and its trainer, Dr. Bhagavan Antle, at a Renaissance Festival in Massachusetts, USA, October 2005

My regular “spot,” a thing Leigh Anne, the studio’s owner, doesn’t allow, is in the middle of the room under a six-foot-high window that begins half way up the wall and reaches to the ceiling. Laying on my back, I can see tree tops against an ever-changing sky; standing, my view expands to a row of well-appointed Victorian houses.

My friend, Jan, is a graphic artist and an awesome single mom who does tons of community service. We met for the first time last year when a mutual friend died. Through that same friend, I actually met her daughter, Emmye, a few years earlier. As a little girl, Emmye was memorable for her ability to balance on a three-foot in diameter exercise ball for for extended periods of time, and for her fascination with Ligers (a lion/tiger mix) and the potential for their domestication in Atlanta, Georgia.

Now several years later in this Saturday morning yoga class, I glance over to see a 14-year-old Emmye balancing on her hands in crow pose, something that takes most folks a lot of practice, not to mention strength training, to master. But Emmye springs into it. She is the crow.

I was pleased that mother and daughter smiled a lot and seemed to enjoy the 90-minute flow class, which is my very favorite class of the entire week. It’s generally taught by Leigh Anne, who reminds the class to focus on what we can do, not what we can’t.

After class, the three of us went downstairs for brunch at Dakota Blue, taking a table on the sidewalk.

“So what did you think?” I asked, expectantly.

They both nodded in approval. “Yoga is like a sneaky workout,” noted Jan, who is also a walker. One minute you’re following your breath, doing nothing more than sweeping your arms down, around and up to the sky in a sun salutation, the next moment you are balancing on your butt in the shape of a boat, or balancing on your toes in the shape of a diver about to jump off a boat. That’s when you notice a drop of sweat rolling off your cheek and begin to feel the effects of the oxygen level in your blood rising.

Emmy smiled big and agreed. She had had fun, too. She told me she’d never balanced on her hands before—the nearly perfect crow pose she’d demonstrated in class was a first attempt.

The physical practice of yoga was originally intended as a preparation for meditation practice, to build the body to be strong enough to sit for long periods of time, I say because I think I know something, which is always a mistake.

“I learned to meditate in 6th grade,” Emmye interjected, as if we were discussing the year she learned to ride a bike or the year she got her first training bra. I was impressed with the Atlanta Public School system. Or maybe I was impressed with the efforts of a local Girl Scout troop, or just an aware child on Google.

“So you know how thoughts are formed … ” I began.

Emmye politely stopped me from talking down to her. She not only knew how thoughts were formed in the human brain but also how beliefs and habits were formed and erased.

You do not need more than a few seconds to stop and mediate, Emmye explained in expert fashion. It doesn’t require props like pillows or tea candles. You don’t have to meditate for 20 minutes or an hour or any set amount of time. It can be done if you need to clear your mind and have 10 seconds to spare, this new high school freshman told me. She would just “dead-eye” an object and block out her thoughts. She particularly liked to meditate when she ran and would dead-eye an object in the distance in front of her.

I smiled listening to Emmy talk, her fresh young face without a hint of makeup or guile. A morning person who ordered chocolate chip pancakes as if there could be any other choice. An A-plus Algebra student who finished early, then helped others solve for XYZ. Dream job: sports psychologist, a role Emmy told me she would use to help people believe in themselves as a camp counselor had done for her years ago.

The morning left me feeling hopeful beyond my usual physical yoga high. If a 14-year-old can layout the path to inner peace as if it were child’s play, then world peace can’t be far behind.

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