I can remember back to one of my first Yoga classes in a studio apartment of my teacher. There was a candle lit, only a few of us in class; those same few that got together for chanting and meditating together. The studio was by a schoolyard, in a relatively quiet place and it had a cozy, homey feel to it. It was there that I was introduced to these different shapes of which I didn’t know yet their latent potential to stir and spin wheels in me that hadn’t been greased in years. I was about 16 years old, in the start of high school, feeling divided from my body with a longing to return. I kept practicing.
During my second year of college I stopped going. It wasn’t fulfilling me and I was ready to explore so I left, for Colorado, to farm. I can remember doing Yoga there, the stretches I knew from my practice before. I would meditate in the green house and be engulfed by the smell of holy basil. It filled the air, and still to this day the smell of that and tomatoes brings me right back to that land. Dry land. I stretched there, not only in my body, but in my potential, in who I thought I was. And yet I was still running, running from something I didn’t know would follow me wherever I went. I was running from me and I was always right around the next corner, there, to meet myself. I could only get so far.
Upon my return back to Massachusetts, where I was born and raised, I decided to go to Yoga school. I was 20 years old and it was an immersive program. There, at Kripalu, I lived in a dorm room with 20 other female presenting folx and it was like a college experience I never got living at home. Except there, there was practice, lots of practice, and saunas and steam rooms. It was also here where I had to begin the process of facing myself straight on. It seemed inevitable. Some of what we were asked to do brought to the surface old unprocessed wounds that lived on under my skin and now were screaming for help. They needed my attention and I was learning how to turn inward more deeply.
For years, I had a daily practice of my own. It was around that time, after leaving Kripalu, that I sat my first Vipassana. The sensations in my body from sitting for hours on end, but also those familiar ones, that feel like a squeeze at the throat, a constriction in the heart, a tinge in the side; they were all there sitting with me. They were all asking to be felt, so there could be some type of resolution and liberation to what had been stuck in place. It was a journey, and still is to this day.
I was sitting, moving my body, breathing, chanting, all in a room in my parents house where they so graciously let me make my own room of prayer. It was apart from where I slept and I would go there to practice. To turn inward. To feel myself and attempt to create a spaciousness in my tissues, in my mind, in my heart. I think, then, I wasn’t as sure of what I was doing as hindsight supports me to see more clearly. I would go with others, to sing together and at times I would cry. Cry and cry. I wasn’t sure what was happening but there was a feeling of releasing. Did I understand? No. Did I want to? Yes. Was it necessary? Not really. It was happening, and that’s all I needed to know.
Fast forward about 10 years as I write today sitting in a snow globe, feeling the safety in my body, the aliveness from toes to head, and the attention that is resting inside. Last year as this time I was in a 3 month Yoga intensive, and after having already practised for over 10 years, my relationship to Yoga was turned upsidedown – as both student and a teacher. For the first time I was consciously asking myself: what is this practice? What is my relationship to my body? What do I hope to get out of this? What are my expectations of Hatha? Sure, I was likely addressing these prior but not with awareness. Now, I was answering my own questions, in a deep pool of reflection.
Many people think Yoga and think Asana. Posture, shape. That is an aspect of what Yoga is. For me, Yoga is a way of living life. It is a way to embody myself and become big to co-create with the force of her Shakti. To let myself be moved by Her, a willing dance partner. Yoga is moment to moment, in the choices I make, in the way I speak, to myself and others, in the way I conduct my life. It is freeing myself of limitations – good and bad, right and wrong, this and that, all the thought forms and personality aspects that aren’t really me. And yet, I still live in this world where there is apparently 2, duality, the paradox of life as suffering. At times, it feels so odd. And yet, how do we begin to live the practice so it isn’t just something we do but rather we be yogis and yoginis. Yes? We take it in. We emenate. Breathe by breathe. Can it cut through some of the divide?
And as a teacher, as a student – what are the responsibilities? The expectations? We are all both, are we not? Teacher and student alike. Yasodhara Ashram, where I most recently completed a second Hatha certificate course following the 3 month program encourages the students to become independent. Is not a noble teacher one that is able to let there students go? To teach themselves, to discover, to be sovereign, knowing that the teacher is there, right there, as close as this next breathe.