I was 16 when I took my first yoga class, and my teacher was anything but the warm and welcoming stereotypical yogi that people picture. If I wasn’t a person with an easily ignited spark to right wrongs and change things, I would have given up right then and there. It took me a long time to realize why this was a fortunate experience. Yoga wasn’t my first love, but it is now one of my greatest loves.
Art was my first love. Open self expression on a personal level, drawing, painting, photography...creating was where I thrived. I was this way from the first time I picked up a pencil. I had an art teacher later in life who made me lose that love. I didn’t want to create anything for years. It was almost unfathomable to me that someone was capable of sending me into such a negative headspace that it would rob me of my passion. It was so oddly parallel to my first experience with yoga, and it re-ignited that spark to right all the wrongs. Subconsciously, that spark became a deep need within me to keep others from experiencing what I had experienced, and from having to feel what I felt. I didn’t become a bleeding heart vigilante or anything but I did graduate college with a BFA in Studio Art, and when the opportunity to be an art teacher came up, I jumped at it. I honestly believed that I could create an environment that was the opposite of what I went through. My students would have a place of solace and a feeling of freedom to create.
A baby, a failed marriage, and a personal life with more issues than Vogue later, and I eventually found my way back to yoga. It was a hot yoga class and it was the one and only thing I did for “me.” I needed the class to be hot and difficult because it felt like a lot of work and afterwards, a complete release. I felt like sweating it all out was taking care of everything and that was all the work I needed to do on myself. In every savasana I found myself with tears uncontrollably rolling down my cheeks and sometimes even a sob would sneak its way out. Savasana was/is a challenge because it was the only time when I was forced into stillness and solitude with my own thoughts. I immersed myself into the asana side of yoga and brought it home with me, thus starting my personal practice.
When the chance for me to become a yoga teacher came up, I again leapt at the opportunity. I enrolled in a 230-HR Therapeutic Yoga Teacher Training with that same mindset that I would come out of it and be the opposite of my first yoga teacher.
Not too long into the training I realized how much more there was to yoga than just asana. I was doing poses, but I wasn’t doing the work. I wasn’t challenging myself to grow at all. In my studies and research for training I came across the iconic iceberg photo that most people are familiar with. The teeny tiny white tip of the iceberg was sticking out of water and had the words “What people think yoga is.” The bulk of the iceberg was much darker, beneath water and It had the words “What yoga actually is" written on it. I was only working on myself at surface level where it was glistening and pristine. I wasn’t going in the darker areas, under the cold water where the real work is done or where those negative experiences and feelings were hiding, just waiting to be faced. It was like a lightbulb went off in my brain. I realized how much my drive to keep people, especially myself, from having negative experiences or feeling negative things was closing me up, shutting me down, and hardening my heart.
I could literally write a book about what happened between that epiphany and the present. But, the most important growth I have made is realizing the necessity to drop the ego, and to open my heart to vulnerability...to drop the idea that I can create the perfectly ideal atmosphere, void of negative feelings for any of my students of art or yoga. I know that even if you are the sweetest peach on the tree some people just won’t ever like peaches. I have gained the knowledge that my ultimate role as a teacher isn’t to protect but rather to provide, to the best of my ability, the tools and skills my students need and then to hold space for them while they get where they need to be and face what they need to face. Be it negative or positive, it is growth and part of a very important part of the journey.
I still cry in every single savasana and I know that’s okay. I am still challenged every day to keep my heart open. Heart openers, mainly backbends, are a constant challenge for me and I know that’s okay too. I’m currently about chest deep in that picture of the iceberg.
What pose challenges you?