When I was making the two-hour trek home after seeing the Dalai Lama speak several weeks ago, I was filled to the brim with happiness. I couldn’t wipe the goofy smile off my face. Every so often I’d find myself chuckling as I remembered the witty tidbits of spiritual wisdom he had shared, that ever-present twinkle in his eye underscoring the message.
At some point during the drive it occurred to me: “This is how I feel in Stan’s class.” Transcending the chuckle, I burst out laughing at the comparison. What could the demure, red robed, bespectacled leader of Tibetan Buddhism possibly have in common with the big, buff fitness guru at my gym?
The first time I went to Stan’s Friday morning cardio dance class close to two years ago, he was talking about a baby that had been born the day before. I assumed Stan was the father. His muscled physique and the jaunty tilt of his baseball cap gave him a youthful air that I didn’t question.
I was about to give him a hard time for coming to teach so soon after his baby was born. Then it became clear that he wasn’t the father, but the grandfather. Huh? OK, so when he took his hat off there was no hair underneath. But that’s a look for young guys too these days, isn’t it?
Before I could give it any more thought, the class began. Stan’s broad smile lit up his face and the entire room along with it. He seemed to be infused with the music as he led the first steps that would nudge our heart rates up progressively over the next hour.
Music transforms Stan. Before class, he appears to be soft-spoken–a big man with a quiet voice. Most of us are still half asleep when we shuffle in, and Stan lets us wake up gently.
The instant the playlist starts, however, something kicks in that electrifies the man’s presence. The huge smile triggers upturned lines around his eyes, the mark of a lot of laughing over the years. He twitches his head to the beat while the rest of his body parts move in disparate directions. It’s hard work to follow his moves, so much so that you don’t even notice that your heart is pumping at 90 percent of its capacity.
It’s a full sensory experience. The visuals are striking–a graceful, muscle-bound man moving as if he were a professional football player and hip hop dancer combined. I almost threw Richard Simmons in there as another reference point, but, despite their shared specialization in aerobic dance, it would be a slap in the face to Stan to compare them.
And then there’s the sweat, which starts to bead on Stan’s head by the end of the warm-up. His sweat-wicking baseball cap can only absorb so much, though, so he keeps a towel nearby both to dry his head every so often and to wipe up the big drops on the floor before we slip.
The sweat is multi-sensory as well. You see it flying off of Stan in front of the group, you feel it running down your own body as the class intensifies, and, with enough exertion, you can even taste the salty fruits of your labor when it streams down your face to the corners of your mouth.
Though the sweat is silent, Stan is not. Hearing him sing along with the music and burst out periodically with a “woo!” or “yeah!” or “that’s right!” adds another sensory layer to the experience.
I cannot stop smiling. In the early days, I was embarrassed by my lack of smile control. But then I looked around and realized that everyone else was smiling too. I love watching new people in the class struggle to stop grinning. Like me, they always lose the battle. Having felt that tension in myself and watching it in new students, it’s clear that we are not practiced in the art of unabashed smiling. Kind of sad, isn’t it?
I used to think that the exercise alone provided the mood boost. There is no question that cardio work, in particular, triggers chemical reactions in the brain that make us happier.
But that’s not all that’s going on in Stan’s class. I feel great after I run, for example, but it’s not the same as sweating through a session of high impact dance with Stan.
Stan’s inner light, his absolute presence, is what makes him an incomparable energizer. His aura is almost palpable. It is not only the exercise that lifts my spirits. Stan, himself, generates a contagious joyfulness that I carry home with me after every class.
I’ve had some amazing opportunities in recent months to attend talks by leading spiritual teachers–the Dalai Lama, Eckhart Tolle, and, just last week, Marianne Williamson. I’ve come away from those events feeling an odd combination of deep inner peace and high energy.
I’ve never discussed spiritual issues with Stan. I don’t need to. His presence leaves me with that same combination of peace and energy that the greatest spiritual advisors produce. I get my fix every Friday.
So yes, the strong, sweaty man you see in the photo above does have quite a lot in common with the Dalai Lama, even though he prefers sweat-wicking workout clothes to flowing red monk robes.
Are you lucky enough to have a version of Stan (or the Dalai Lama) in your life? I’d love to hear about it!