What do pickled peppers have to do with yoga?
Nothing… and everything.
One of my teachers, Lynn Burgess, a student of Rodney Yee’s and the owner of Yoga From The Heart in Sarasota, FL, often begins her classes by reading aloud a short passage from one of her favorite books.
Lynn will sit at the front of the class, cross-legged in Easy Pose, or facing us in Virasana, with the book open in her lap, and in a soft, gentle voice she’ll read aloud an excerpt of poetry or prose.
On this particular morning, she opens The Offering of Leaves by Ruth Lauer-Manenti and begins to read a story that Ruth tells about making a trip to a local farmer’s market.
There Ruth sees an elderly man buying two dozen or more peppers.
Curious, she goes over to ask him why he is buying so many peppers.
He tells her that he likes to pickle them.
When his wife was alive, he says, they used to pickle everything—peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, etc—but now he only pickles peppers.
I sit listening to this story and feel impatient. I want to begin moving. I want class to start.
But I also feel curious, intrigued by the story, and can’t help wondering about it.
Why is my teacher starting our class with this passage? What does a story about pickled peppers have to do with yoga?
So, I sit with my impatience and listen and soon begin to understand.
Pickling is something that the man used to do with his wife before she died. It was their practice. And now, although his wife is gone, he continues the practice of pickling without her.
I realize just how much he is devoted to the practice, and I see why. It is because his act of devotion imbues his life with meaning. It can bring back his wife’s memory, too, if only for a short time, and it can remind him of the pleasure they took in each other’s company.
And so I listen as Lynn continues reading about Ruth, who drives home from the farm stand and tells her companion about the man and the peppers, and then goes on to tell him how it makes her sad to think of the old man living alone, pickling peppers, without his wife.
But she also tells her companion how meeting the man with the peppers has given her a deeper understanding of the meaning of devotion, and made her more aware of how to live a life fully devoted to what’s important.
As Lynn reads us this story, her voice contains the same quality of kindness and care that she uses throughout class as she walks between our mats, taking the time to adjust our poses, to help us learn how to become devoted to our practice.
I stretch and twist and bend, listening closely to her voice—not so much to the words that she says but to the quality of tone and pitch and breath—and it sounds almost as if she has become the narrator of the story, as if her life was changed, too, by the encounter with the man and the peppers.
How I love when my yoga teacher shares a story that touches her heart.
And I love how Lynn’s questions—“how do I become more devoted to my practice, more sensitive, more open to life?”—bring a different quality to my practice.
It was a class that started with a story about pickled peppers.
But it was really a story about yoga and learning how to devote ourselves to what’s important in our lives.
Practice Journal: Ask yourself the questions that my teacher posed in class that morning. How do you become more devoted to your practice? How can you become more sensitive to the needs of others or to your own needs? How can you open more fully to life? And how does yoga help you? Try to answer one or all of these questions in your journal. When you’re ready, open your journal and begin. Write: 10 min.
To find out more about The Offering of Leaves by Ruth Lauer-Manenti, visit: