A Yoga Journey

The tagline of this blog mentions a yoga journey. It’s time to take off the running shoes for a post and instead solidly place my bare feet on the mat. 

Exactly 10 years ago, I took a yoga class for the first time. My then-roommate Carla found a class offered at the local rec center in our suburban Seattle neighborhood. I can’t remember the instructor’s name, but I will never forget her. She was an older woman and a new widow. Sometimes during class she told stories about her recently deceased husband, remembering her mate with joy, humor, and warmth rather than inconsolable grief. That impressed me, as well as the physical strength and ease she demonstrated in asanas (yoga postures) that my four decades younger body struggled to emulate.

I will always be grateful to those two remarkable women for being part of the initiation to something precious and vast that has gone on to immeasurably enrich my life.

Carla and I continued practicing when we both relocated to Fargo. We even took partner classes where we were the only platonic, same-sex pair. I was a step aerobics instructor at the Y, and slowly branched into teaching beginning yoga there. This time my mentor teacher, Maia, was almost 10 years younger. I’ll never forget her, either. Her youthful body could do the most acrobatic postures, but outside of classes this 22-year old was much more interested in talking about meditation and philosophical aspects of yoga than in drinking or clubbing.

Ten years after that first class, I am a Yoga Alliance Registered Yoga Teacher. That means I have completed nationally set standards of training. Mine was in idyllic Asheville, N.C., with a wonderful, loving, if not slightly maverick lead instructor, Stephanie Keach. The credential may sound official, but doesn’t qualify me as a yoga master. After reading dozens of books and attending many workshops, I still don’t know any of those.

Rather than any kind of expert, I usually feel like either an impostor or a missionary in my current teaching practice.  In Western culture worldwide yoga is burgeoning. In this small Southern town yoga is unpopular at best, making the couple of instructors unintentional missionaries. Fundamentalist Christianity, the religion commonly practiced, interprets its scriptures in a way that yoga conflicts with worshipping that belief system’s god. I have had students openly object to or laugh at class activities and protest when I use music with “foreign words that might be a negative influence.” The few local classes available, including mine, are painfully small. The bright silver lining is that those who do come are truly appreciative of the chance to practice in a structured environment.

The impostor feeling comes in because my own practice has been greatly downgraded to the role of Running Antidote for tight hamstrings and hips. With the closest advanced classes more than an hour away, my physical practice has regressed rather than improved. On the other hand, being a solo yogini (female yoga practitioner) has allowed me to discover the riches of a daily meditation practice.  In the last year I’ve learned that simply sitting still has the power to reshape and transform far more than the bendiest yoga party trick ever could.

I dearly love yoga, but without a community frequently struggle with feelings of stagnation and low motivation for practicing and teaching. It is easy to feel jealous of city-dwelling friends who regale me with tales of a great instructor or amazing new studio opening up down the street. And it can be easy to allow the ego to muscle in and wish for advanced students crowding into the studio for 90 minutes of challenging flow practice, rather than students who are limited by their physical conditions to the most gentle, basic asana practice.

Somehow, when I’m feeling my lowest yoga mojo is when I have the best classes.  Maybe my students will share a story about how yoga helps them, like the Wal-Mart employee who regularly practices child’s pose in the middle of the aisle when work gets too hectic.

Other times, I hear words coming out from a place I am not consciously in touch with and cannot take credit for:

  • “Find a way for your body to experience comfort and ease in this pose, even if it means doing  a completely different pose.”
  • “Let your breath drown out the space between your ears and bring you back to your true self.”
  • “Search for something in you that feels better from your yoga practice. Maybe it’s physical, or energetic, or emotional. With each inhalation, fan that flame with your breath and expand what feels good. As you exhale, send it somewhere in need of that feeling. Maybe within you, or to someone else, or someplace else in the world.”

and realize I am talking to my students, but I am talking to myself too.

Or the practice will end like tonight’s class. I felt the four students’ relaxed states permeating the space with heavy stillness. I encouraged them to come out of savasana to sukhasana in their own time, and observed peace and bliss on their closed-eye faces as they held on to the last few moments of tranquility. 

It is so humbling to, on a very small and amateur scale, catalyze yoga’s power and share it with others. In doing so, I replenish my own drained energy and renew the desire to  journey farther and deeper in the direction of the source.

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