Black Men Smile™ present: Yoga in the Rain with Yoga Mike
A RAINY NIGHT IN GEORGIA
by Yoga Mike aka Mike Massey
Photos by Shai Dawn
My 41st birthday is 4 days away...
I feel this strange buzzing energy simmering inside of me. I'm fresh out of the security screening at Boston's Logan International Airport. Trying to return my belt to its proper place. I'm headed to the gate to board a flight to Atlanta GA. To be quite honest, I am somewhat distracted because of extreme frustration. I've been calling "Larry" for three days now and no answer. Larry is a childhood friend whom offered to accommodate me when I arrived in Atlanta, when we spoke on the phone a few weeks ago. He specifically told me not to rent a hotel because he "had plenty of space." Now in the final hour it seems he is unreachable. Now the average person would've just rescheduled their trip or just decided to go off in a entirely separate direction. Not me. I often say: "I'm too stupid or stubborn to know how to quit." This is a perfect example right in front of me. So I stand tall and board the flight not sure where I will rest my head or even shower.
Wait, did I mention that I'm a full time yoga guru?
Oh yeah I really do this!
So in this very moment as I settle into my assigned seat on the airplane I realize this is a true test. I slip my headphones on and begin to listen to a lecture by Manly P. Hall on YouTube to keep my mind focused on productivity and not on the taste of panic in the back of my throat.
The two biggest myths I've encountered as a yoga guru thus far are these:
1) yoga isn't much hard work
2) yoga gurus don't get frustrated or angry
In response to myth 1
Yoga is harder than it looks. Especially running a yoga business, while not "looking" like a real yoga teacher (whatever that means - but those of us who face that treatment know exactly what I mean)
In response to myth 2
I can't speak for all gurus but everything I feel comes with a magnification of the senses. So something like frustration is 10 times stronger in me than most. The best part about that is I have all of the tools to redirect the frustration at a moments notice if need be. Such a skill is definitely something that takes devotion and a daily practice for me or anyone to maintain.
Well, regardless I finally land in Atlanta. I venture to the baggage claim and I call my biological brother Chris. I tell him I've arrived in Atlanta and I would be by to see him shortly. As I jump in my ride I also contact my metaphysical brother from another mother: Keith, to let him and his wife Trina know I'm in town as well.
As I pull up to Chris' crib I'm delighted. I haven't seen him in about a year-and-some-change, since the last time he came up to visit the family in Boston. A month prior to this trip our childhood friend Dre had moved in with Chris to pursue a new career in Atlanta. So it was a reunion of sorts. The feeling was right. As I dropped my humongous duffle back against the counter in their apartment I began to rifle through the bag looking for a phone charger. As I removed yoga equipment from the duffle, Dre stands a few feet away smiling. I ask him what's so funny? He says he is surprised by the items poking out of my duffle. Of course there are a few yoga blocks, yoga straps, and a yoga mat mixed in with my belongings. We both look at each other and start to bust out laughing.
I realize now what he's getting at, why the smiling and then the laughing. If this were 15-20 years ago much different items would've been in that bag. Items that could've gotten us all in trouble. I decide to take a ride with Dre to catch up. He asks: Do I want to go out? He reminds me of my glorious days as a younger man when I lived in Atlanta. We rehashed nights when I was guilty of dropping $1000 or more in the strip clubs or out on the town.
In the present moment for some odd reason I have no desire to do anything but hit Kroger and get some fresh fruit and simple items to snack on. We return to the bachelor pad. Chris and Dre have to settle in for the night. They have jobs to attend to in the AM. Chris offers to accommodate me for the night. I decide to crash at Keith and Trina's spot. They're married, so I know their household feels and resembles my own living situation much more than the bachelor pad Chris and Dre share; so I make my exit.
As I shower and change into more comfortable clothing it seems things didn't turn out that bad considering just hours ago I had no idea where I'd shower or sleep once I arrived in Atlanta. For now lights out. Rest up. I have lives to save when I wake up.
My 41st birthday is 3 days away...
The reason I wanted to come to Atlanta wasn't to just visit my friends and family. I'm sure you were able to deduct that from the previous paragraphs. I wanted to come to Atlanta to link up with a wonderful soul I had met in Boston while conducting a yoga class for a Palestinian solidarity retreat a few months earlier. This wonderful soul is named Carlton. Carlton and I practiced yoga and shared pieces of ourselves at the Women's retreat. He invited me to see what he does down at Emory University. I chomped at the bit. Now I am here!!
On my first full day I decide scout the yoga scene a bit on my own. I pop into this upbeat spot in Buckhead called Atmasphere and I practice with a Latina sister named Kymmi - she's a cool soul from New York. We clique. Later that day I check out West End park. I had to check it out because Carlton and I are planning to do a free workshop for the hood the following day. The weather forecast says rain. Funny thing is as soon as I sit down on a bench in the park it reminds me of Malcolm X park in Roxbury, my home. Only to discover moments later that West End park hosts Atlanta's Malcolm X festival, and all of a sudden I'm no longer worried about the rain. Hmmmmm.
Later in the evening I meet up with a brother I admire through Instagram: Blackyoganerd. We meet up for some evening yoga and swap notes, experiences and stories.
These encounters start my wheels spinning. It never amazes me that in mostly every city I travel to, the hood has little or no access to yoga or even factual information about the benefits of yoga. Atlanta doesn't seem to be different.
Now that doesn't mean there aren't all types of awesome people on several levels, looking to create a cohesive relationship between the residents of the hood and awesome yoga instructors like Kymmi, blackyoganerd, and myself, as well as facilitators like Carlton. Actually Carlton and I have discussed this topic in depth, back and forth during the weeks leading up to this trip. So our vision is to create an experience in the hood where the people who call the hood home are exposed to yoga.
Based on my own research and experience I realize that attempts to reach the folks in the hood have been made, resulting in little to no success. Understanding this I always look into and inquire as to who the instructors were and how well did they relate to the practitioners? In most of the failed cases there were instructors from differing communities with very different life experiences and perceptions than those they wished to serve.
I hold a RYS (Registered Yoga School) certification. This basically means that I've put myself in a position where I can teach others to become certified yoga instructors. So this trip right here is a step closer to seeing my purpose. I have to prepare people from the hood to teach people from the hood how to do yoga. I return to Keith and Trina's apartment extremely spent. After taking two hot yoga classes and checking out West End I'm ready to count sheep....
My 41st birthday is 2 days away...
The car service drops me off in front of Carlton's job. A big ass building with Emory written all over it. No. I'm serious "Emory" was literally written all over it. I walk into the reception area and let them know I have a meeting with Carlton. A few moments later I hear "YOGA MIKE!!" bellowing out from around the corner and Carlton emerges. We step outside stomachs growling looking to grab lunch. Soon a large golden chevy SUV pulls up on us and Carlton introduces me to his homie D. D is an artist, musician, hustler, and all around dope individual. We clique. We all hit little 5 points and find a place to eat. Afterwards we separate because we all have to prep for our free yoga event in West End park that night. While at lunch I got a text from my man Dirt. (His momma named him "Stevie" but our fallen comrade: Jaliek affectionately called him "Dirt" so I call him Dirt.)
I admire Dirt. We are from Roxbury. We came up in the roughest elements that one could imagine. However to date, Dirt is a certified Chef, and he also owns his own trucking and custom hauling company. I own my own yoga biz and yoga school. Not bad for two boys from the hood. Well, Dirt's telling me he just touched down in Atlanta from Virginia where he resides. He drove all the way in because his queen: Bambi says he needs yoga. The thing is: he only trusts me to be the one to introduce it to him. He confirms the time of the class then asks if we can meet up so we can get him his first yoga mat. It's on!!
Dirt and I pull up the the side street adjacent to West End park. It's raining cats and dogs. All I can think about is my uncle OG Johnny Woods signing his favorite song: A Rainy Night in Georgia by Brook Benton.
We refuse to let the precipitation stop us. Plus the basketball court has a tin roof. So we are gravy. At first I only see Dirt's Queen: Bambi pull up in her sedan. She's ready to work. She's our homegirl from Roxbury too. She resides in Atlanta now. So of course she's dressed in her Patriots gear from head to toe. Yeah our Patriots are fresh off of that Super Bowl win against the Dirty Birds.... but I digress.
We set our mats up and I start to feel nervous. Not too many folks are here. So I step into a corner a light a blunt. I self medicate. A few minutes later I see streams of headlights and people start joining us to escape the rain. Even my old friend Jawanda showed up from Thomson GA. They all have yoga mats!!! Dope!
Man listen. When I tell you I've taught thousands of hours of yoga, I tell no lie. This workshop; to date is the most raw and powerful session I've ever taught. To look across that basketball court, West End park, the hood; and see the faces of old friends and new friends adults and children alike feels so natural. I always say anything natural is right - anything unnatural isn't right. I feel right. This feels right.
I whip up my favorite restorative sequence and commence to restore my students and educate them on the benefits of yoga at the same time. The lighting, the sounds of their breath mixed with the rain dancing on the tin roof is hypnotic. The photographer circling us snapping shots got me feeling like the Jay Z of this yoga sh-t!!!! We wrap up and I know my work penetrated my students. A yoga guru always aspires to piece together a sequence that will penetrate the students body and soul. The proof is when the students don't want to leave after the session.
Finally I say goodbye to all the students. I hug my old friends. I hug my new friends and Dirt whisks me on to the freeway back to Keith and Trina's. I'm exhausted. I roll up a blunt on the way but I never even put it to my lips. Too tired. Time to count sheep.....
My 41st birthday is 1 days away...
I wake up feeling fresh like I'm 22yrs old again. Look over at my phone and there's a text from Dirt. I call him back. He wants another dose of yoga. His first time got him hooked. We meet at West End again for a lunch hour session. We rock a basic vinyasa sequence and we are joined by a local resident. This resident looks like she's seen the rougher side of life. Her name is Mamma Mae - well that's what she told us. Mamma informs us that she has no place to call home so she frequents the park for peace and ease. We practice with her and she too enjoys yoga.
I spend the rest of the day napping. Dirt calls me to tell me he's going to a cigar bar later with Carlton and the gang. I agree to go. Then I shower and take a walk in a cemetery. Cemeteries are pretty quiet and cool. I smoke that blunt I never got at the night before and finish my walk with some reflection and meditation on a bench in a quiet corner.
After a decent dinner, I call myself taking a nap. The nap last so long, when I open my eyes it's almost to catch my flight back to Boston. It's the crack of dawn...
My 41st birthday has arrived...
I'm 41. I feel 22, and I'm ready to spread myself and my gift all around the world. This is the best way to bring in another trip around the sun. Planting new seeds for a new harvest. I hop on the first flight out of Atlanta. Boston here I come.
After reading this you're probably asking:
Why did he have to include all of these extra folks into his story?
I did it to show you how a great idea and positive vibes will attract the people you need. Sometimes it will even eliminate those you don't need. It started with Larry letting me down, but ended with me linking up with old friends and making new ones. In this case old friends and new friends combined to make this experience a memorable one. I appreciate you all for this. I look forward to more work in Atlanta and around the world. I hope to see new friends and old friends and every turn.