The greatest gift you can give your self

Anne Marie Blaire reminisces and plans for the future.

As Jerry was reading the announcements in class last night, he was telling students that he (and many of us) first took Tim Miller when we could barely do the poses but Tim found a way to work with our bodies and capacity at that moment.

I wanted to chime in “It’s the best gift you’ll ever give yourself. You’ll never regret any time in Tim’s presence. And you’ll learn you are capable of great things – including laughing at your self when Tim points out “skinny side and chubby side” when you find binding in one of the Mari’s easy or difficult (chubby side).

I held off interrupting because I was for the first time a bit sad about Tim’s upcoming visit. This would be the first Tim Miller weekend workshop (+ bonus teacher training days) I would be missing in nearly 10 years. My brain switched to wondering if Tim was really going to Copenhagen this summer and whether I will have found a yoga studio in Paris where I could host him. I had much to accomplish if I was going to get Tim to Paris this summer, but the practice was in front of me and the moment to “chime in” was gone.

I can still remember my first Tim Miller workshop. It was intimidating! The room filled with 50+ students many of whom I didn’t know since they had traveled from Michigan, Illinois, Kentucky, Pennsylvania and other parts of Ohio for the workshop. Clearly many of these long time practioners were more flexible than I was. I would soon learn many floated lightly through the transitions and balanced in poses like Titibasana with ease. I stayed focused and on my mat. The Friday evening session was easy, I broke a light sweat but thought I can do this. I’m not sure what I expected “Tim Miller” (aka Mr. Miller if you’re Yo) to be like but clearly he was this world-renowned yogi; he would likely have a persona, which would take up the room. But that was not the case, I found this California Surfer looking guy, with a quiet voice and demeanor, verging on shy and a bit nervous in front of the large group gathered to study with him. He was as humbled by our attendance as we were by his instruction.

Day Two, Saturday morning Primary Series aka “The audition” as Tim calls it. It’s just the Primary Series with a handful of more back bends. I found Tim’s pacing and counting invited my body to open up in ways it had not opened before; things which had been challenging or inaccessible were suddenly more accessible. No he didn’t sprinkle magic fairy dust and I wasn’t suddenly “super yoga girl” but I was so completely present on my mat, my mind wasn’t drifting, I didn’t once glance at the clock (yes, even teachers get bored within their practice from time to time), I was just happy.

As we rounded the corner to the finishing series, I was DRENCHED in sweat. I soon learned that Tim compared backbends to pancakes “The first one you toss out” and “The more you do, the easier they become”. And he was right, my legs were stronger and more engaged, my back finding greater ease and extension and I was perspiring so much my face was drenched. “oh my god, I’m sobbing”. I stopped and realized that my face was covered in tears, I wasn’t in pain, nothing was flashing in my brain to cause me any discomfort. My body was shaking and I started to panic, wondering if anyone had noticed? Thankfully, I was secure in the back corner of the room next to Jerry and I knew he wouldn’t be fazed by what was happening. I pulled myself together and went into the lobby, found Brooke and continued to cry. Again with no idea why. I was used to being in control (at work and in life) but whatever was happening was beyond my control. I made my way back into the room for savasana and had a deep and restful savasana. Martha and Linda both had thoughts on my “experience” and when I called my wise cousin JoJo at lunch she simply said, “you let go of something you didn’t need. There’s no need to question it. Go looking for something”. Jojo is wise!

Tim found me after lunch, Martha had shared my experience with him and without knowing me he said “The backbends created some opening, this is good,” channeling his best Guruji voice. I smiled and he gave me a little hug as if to say it was ok. I received in that moment more compassion and fatherly love than my own father had been capable of. The shy man, with the voice, which sometimes quivers, had become my teacher.

Later that afternoon, Tim played Asana Doctor and we all watched and learned as students would ask questions about difficult poses, tight spots in our bodies or seeming limitations. Tim introduced us to his favorite adjustments, PNF or eccentric stretching which was about the only thing that would penetrate my quads of steel.

On Sunday morning, we practiced Suryanamaskara C – Tim’s improv practice which draws upon the finer points of the Primary and Second Series. It was challenging and fun. Tim taught us pranayama with retentions, which were scary for me but I felt like this guy was not going to give us something we were not capable of handling. We finished the session Tim passed out song sheets. Ok I went to Catholic school and had to sing, I’m not so much a singer but I took the sheet and waited. He pulled out a magic box (his harmonium) and began to play the most beautiful chords. I felt my body shift again and as we chanted I began to weep again. This time, I wasn’t freaked out but I felt secure in the space Tim had created and I welcomed the tears knowing I was simply letting go of something I didn’t need anymore.

Much like Nils, my dog, knows exactly when morning is breaking, noon and 5pm because his belly tells him so, I know Tim is coming when the beautiful crab apple trees begin to bloom along 3rd Avenue between Perry Street and Neil Avenue on my short drive from Grandview to the Studio. It’s as if, overnight we go from winter to ushering in Spring with Tim’s arrival. The trees go from barren, to green and then explode with white flowers –“it’s Timmy Time”.

During the first few years, I would always snag the spot in the back row, by the door to the lobby. A friend joked that I must always have my “exit strategy” and she was correct. In the early years, I thought perhaps he might not notice if I was using only half my effort for the backbends, but then I quickly realized he found me (and everyone else) in the room exactly when I needed a little more encouragement, assistance or an adjustment for my “chubby side”. My strategic spot has allowed me to sneak in a few minutes late as I’m not a morning person, or duck in with an iced espresso or tea after lunch without disturbing the group, it’s also made me the “official lighting girl” for ten years. Each class as we begin to settle for savasana I’ll hear Tim request “Anne Marie will you dim the lights” and after “Uncle Timmy” read us a bedtime story for savasana and we would surrender to our mats, the bowl chimed and again the voice “Anne Marie, lights please”.

While I first came for the asana, I quickly learned I was fascinated by the philosophy and Indian folklore too. As a devote of Hanuman, the Monkey King, Tim loves to tell the story of Rama, Sita, The Demon King and Hanuman who saved the day. I’ve fallen for the monkey and all of the fantastic, epic stories that illuminate life lessons and provide guidance for navigating the world.

Tim was a devoted student of Pattabhi Jois (aka Guruji), and for the millions of students who never had the opportunity to study with Guruji, Tim brings to life the essence of his spirit with compassion and a respect for tradition. As one of Guruji’s early American students Tim was entrusted to transmit the practice, pranayama sequences, philosophy and epic stories to future generations. To meet him, you sense he has never taken this responsibility lightly.

And while I cannot recall, recite and translate all of the yoga sutras, Tim’s thoughtful approach to imparting the essence of Patangali’s Sutras at the start of each morning has guided me to understand another philosophical approach to humanity and our role within the world – one that makes sense to me. His extensive study of Astrology provides yet another layer of perspective for where we are in the lunar/solar cycle, how it impacts our practice, lives and interactions with others.

In the way you adore (endure) your Uncle’s silly stories or a professor’s jokes, no matter how many times I hear Tim “re-use” his material or Guruji’s, it always brings a smile to my face, a lift to my navasana and a sense of strength. I was taking a class in Paris this summer when someone tried to use Tim’s line “As Tim Miller says, “ Why your boat sinking?” I laughed. At the end of class I told Charlie, “If you’re going to impersonate Tim, impersonating Guruji, it should sound like this.” He laughed and promised to work on his Gurugi/Timji intonation.

Tim is like a one man circus! He draws you in with the physical practice, tells you a really great story, invites to you to breath with intention and then offers beautiful music and a chance to join him in paying tribute through the vibrational quality of chanting. And all of that is included with the price of admission!!!

Over the years I’ve come to regard Tim not only as my teacher but a good friend. I’ve traveled to Chicago to work with Tim and flown to Tuscany twice to spend a week practicing yoga with Tim (drinking wine, eating really well and meeting other amazing yogi friends of Tim’s was the icing on the cake). While in Tuscany the first year, my mother fell and was suddenly nearing the end of her life. It was the practice and the space Tim and my new yoga friends held for me that carried me through the week, 3000 miles away from my cutie, and prepared me to practice the ultimate in non-attachment.

I woke last night unable to sleep with a million thoughts going through my head; I reached for my iPhone and checked my email. To my delight an email subject header said “Paris in July”, I couldn’t open Carol’s email fast enough. Carol (Tim’s wife) was writing to tell me Tim had been invited to teach a weekend in Paris en-route to a week-long workshop in Copenhagen this summer.

Ahhhhhhh! I was instantly elated. I had just told someone “I’m going to need to work on Carol and see if she’s ready to learn French and explore Paris with the same level of enthusiasm she embarked on her Italian adventure. It appears I didn’t have to do much other than “think it” and Timmy in Paris is happening.

I joyfully dashed off an email alerting Carol of a great site to find an apartment and sent a note to my friend and former yoga student who had moved to Paris to share the good news. I suggested to Carol that we begin introducing their daughter Leela to French food now, in hopes that she will fall in love with Paris and French culture as I had and ask her dad to bring her back to Paris every summer (autumn, winter or spring would work too).

The sadness, which I’d felt just eight hours earlier when I thought about missing Tim this spring, disappeared. I was excited for PARIS to meet my yoga teacher and for Tim and Carol to bring a sense of family and familiarity to my new world.

I thought about which students I really wanted to share the gift of Tim with this year. Last year I recruited a few Modified Primary students to take the leap and trust me, it would be the best gift they could give themselves. They not only survived, they thrived. They understood Tim and why he was a special gift to our yoga practice and our YOHI community. And like friends who share an appreciation for the same things, I have discovered an amazing group of friends whom I cherish from near and far (MI, CA, WA, NY, Italy, Germany and Sweden) because of our mutual respect for Tim and his teachings.

As I started to drift back to sleep, I wondered what students of mine and the center’s would have their first Tim experience this April?

And who would take over my role as the “lighting technician” ??? Maybe Jerry will hide out in the back row this year?

Jai Hanuman

P.S. And when Tim tells you “We’re going to honor Hanuman with our backbend practice by working through the various names of the Monkey God, don’t freak out. While there ARE 108 names for Hanuman, the most he’s ever made us do was 13. And I survived to tell about it!

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2 Responses to The greatest gift you can give your self
  1. Jennifer Gebhart

    Anne Marie, I was mesmerized by your story and even though I do not practice Ashtanga on a regular basis and would be scared to death to attend, your story made me want to sing up right now! Thank you!

  2. Heike Katharina Schmidt

    While still hesitating to go to Copenhagen for some organisational reasons reading your article reminded me of the friendly and comforting smile he gave me some 10 years ago in New York where I was attending Gurujis Workshop in Puck Building. I was so intimidated: the first time in New York, all this stylish people, all this athletic yogis and looking in Tim Millers face was reassuring somehow and ever since I wanted to meet him and practice with him.
    Thanks, I’gonna book now!!
    Keep enjoying your practice,
    greetings from Germany, Heike