You are centering for your favorite yoga class of the week. You've set a lovely intention. Your breath is flowing and you're already dropping some tension from the week’s workload when “Late Lucy” finally makes it to class. Shuffling in to arrange her blocks and bolster, she nearly steps on your glasses as she whispers a few rounds of “Excuse me!” It’s the same every week, and as usual, as you re-draw your attention inward, you find your moment of ease is pretty hard to regain.
As a yoga teacher, I’ve seen this scenario play out literally hundreds of times. Sometimes I’ll see her coming and I'll stall my opening discourse until she lands, because no one can actually listen to what is being said amid her entrance clamber. I've watched whole classrooms turn to watch the “Lucy Show" as she bumbles her way into a round of oms or slaps her mat down at the front of the room because there are no other spaces left. An understanding instructor will give her a week or two of adjustment and understanding and bear the hubbub. Yes, her workday may have run late, the sitter didn’t show, and her commute may not have been ideal. But this is not the whole story when it comes to the chronically late.
An interesting article in Psychology Today offers a new perspective on why people choose to be late. (And, yes, it's often a choice.) A lot of people with "lateness habits" were interviewed and a common thread appeared. Simply put, they don’t want to be early. Whether it's because they feel awkward waiting or have determined that it's a waste of useful time, they choose lateness over earliness.
In a yoga class, if you're early there's the risk that you might interfere with your teacher setting up the classroom or that you’ll have to talk to the new guy. You may have to decide whether to stretch your hamstrings, hide out in a child's pose, or act like you're meditating.
The truth is, if you show up to practice yoga, yoga is, at its heart, about becoming a better person, a more mindful person.
In other perspectives, one psychologist with whom I spoke said that lateness is a form of self-violence, that lateness is a way to humiliate ourselves and reinforce feelings of inadequacy. (“Sorry! Excuse me, I’m such a mess.”) Another counselor told me that a sense of self-importance may have crept in. (“My time is valuable. I’m just here for the exercise. If I miss the first part of class, it won’t matter.”) But the truth is, if you show up to practice yoga, yoga is, at its heart, about becoming a better person, a more mindful person. What if there is more behind Lucy’s story? What if there is a bigger picture?
Eknath Easwaran coined the term “hurry sickness” in his book Take Your Time, and offered the idea that this is the culprit behind a prevalent lateness habit. “Have you noticed that when you try to fit more into a day, you’re likely to go through the whole day late? Trying to squeeze more in, we only squeeze time out.” He goes on to say, “We don’t have to live like this. People who are in control of their lives somehow manage to be on time without arriving hurried. They get things done without even getting flustered about it, while the rest of us, harried by the pressures of life, go from place to place, always just a little late and slightly unprepared. We have forgotten that it is possible to go through the day without hurry, tending to each matter as it comes without coming under pressure.”
In his talks, Easwaran offered this underlying key to being unrushed and on time: Start the day early with meditation to calm the scattered, hurried mind and set the tone for the day. Then there is enough time for a decent breakfast and less scrambling in traffic. The whole day seems to iron itself out. While it may seem counterintuitive to add something (meditation) to your day, those who practice say that as a result of becoming more mindful, they waste less time. The clearer focus eliminates the time consumption of having to undo and redo our work.
So perhaps the root of Lucy's lateness is neither a monumental ego nor the underlying drive to humiliate herself. As the Psychology Today article states, arriving late is a choice, but the cause of that choice may lie someplace deeper, with the fundamental nature of what causes a thoughtless act—mindlessness. Perhaps her lateness is the habit of rushing through everything in her day. She has forgotten about the others in her class because in her stressed state, her nervous system is hyped-up and her mind is focused on her requirements of the moment and not how her behavior is affecting others. This type of over-the-top busyness may make us feel more essential somehow, boosting a low self-esteem with the assumption that our own individual agendas trump the work of others. But there is also a confidence-boosting satisfaction in being mindful of those around us. Slowing down our pace can help us to both be on time and have more time for basic human interaction throughout the day.
Some things to do if arriving a few minutes early:
1. Make a friend.
2. Arrange a space where you would like to be.
3. Get to know your teacher.
5. Stretch a little.
6. Do a little pre-class .
If that sounds like too big of a step, just arrive on time. Sit in your car for a couple minutes if you feel uncomfortably early. Close your eyes and center before going in. (Your cell phone will try to snag you. Leave it for later.)
Starting a bit early will make "Late Lucy’s" experience a whole lot more yoga-like and there will be no irritated scowls or wedging her mat behind the teacher. Arriving to class on time may take some planning, but the benefits are well worth it. In fact, setting an intention 24 hours before your class (or meeting or event) will help you settle to bed earlier so you can rise with the sun, meditate, and create a sense of spaciousness throughout your day.
“Beginning of a great day begins a night before.”―Sukant Ratnakar
"In innumerable little acts of selflessness lies spiritual growth." ―Eknath Easwaran