I am a yoga teacher.
What does this mean to you? Perhaps it means nothing.
To me, it means everything.
I think the message of yoga has been lost over the years. The American idea of yoga is a fitness class, or as I've heard it been called before: "ass kicking stretching". The yoga that I know and love is a time to be alone with our thoughts. A time to be alone with ourselves to connect with ourselves. A time to breathe and be still.
I think the idea of being still, of disconnecting, of actually being present, is incredibly intimidating to most people. Not only is it intimidating, but it's also very difficult.
When the mind is calm, the asana is perfect.
The original purpose of practicing asana (the poses of the yoga practice) was to tire the body and quiet the mind so that you could sit comfortably for long periods of time in meditation. And although meditation is not always the purpose of our yoga practice, the goal is still the same: to tire the body and quiet the mind so you are able to leave your mat feeling better than when you arrived.
Yoga is simply composting. Taking the shit in your life and turning it into something useful. My goal as a yoga teacher is to create a safe space for my students to work out their shit. A space where you can be self-reflective. A space where you can embrace your true self.
Let's disconnect to reconnect, with ourselves and with each other. Get your phone as far away from your yoga mat as possible. In fact, you may even consider leaving it in your car or in another room. Take off your apple watch and fitbit. Make a commitment to get on your mat, and not just show up physically, but also be there mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, to the best of your ability.
Being a yoga teacher means that I am not a fitness instructor. I am not going to play your favorite pop song while I "kick your ass" with fitness moves that are sure to increase your heart rate while also increase your risk of injury. Yoga can be quite physically challenging, however, the saying "no pain, no gain" is not an appropriate way to approach your yoga practice. Let your heart, not your ego, guide you through the practice.
As your yoga teacher, my goal is to keep the practice simple and straight forward, while keeping my students free of pain. I am not going to ask you to find advanced postures when you're struggling with the basic ones. I don't really care that you want to do some fancy advanced pose that you saw Instagram in your very first yoga class. I believe that our yoga practice can teach us how to be a better version of ourselves. I don't believe that doing that fancy advanced Instagram pose will teach us that lesson any faster.
Also, let's not forget that the yoga that most of us know, is just asana, or the physical practice, the poses. The true practice of yoga can be done well (if not better) without the use of a yoga mat. Asana is just one of the Eight Limbs of Yoga (read about The Eight Limbs of Yoga to see how you can take yoga off of your yoga mat.) Just because you can survive a challenging yoga class does not make you a better yogi.
We think because we're working hard, we're doing something that works.
Truthfully, it doesn't really matter what motivates you to come to your mat and practice yoga because we are all inspired by different things. My yoga practice began because I was a runner. I wanted to find ways to be a better runner, and yoga helped me to achieve my running goals. Eventually I realized that yoga was so much more than a physical practice, and that's why I continue to show up on my mat every day. It's the reason I became a teacher; to help others feel good, too.
Maybe you believe that yoga will give you a six pack or maybe it compliments your CrossFit workouts. Maybe you practice because you are looking to meet a new friend or a romantic partner and you think that a yoga class might be a good place to meet people. Whatever reason you have to practice yoga is a good one. Eventually, your yoga experience may change, and your reasons for showing up to practice may change, too. I hope you embrace those changes, especially the ones that challenge you. When we're challenged by something, when we struggle, that is when we are most likely to experience major growth in our lives. Do your best not to run from your feelings of discomfort.
As your yoga teacher, I am teaching you to be more aware of your habits. I challenge you to look honestly at those habits to see if they really serve you or if it's possible to grow beyond them. If you can step outside of your comfort zone and explore your own potential, you will realize your future has unlimited possibilities.
I took a workshop recently and the teacher said, "I don't even know if it's possible for me to teach you yoga. Instead, I do my absolute best to teach you yoga techniques to help you experience yoga." When he said this, a light bulb went on in my head. Yes, of course! I am teaching my students techniques on how to experience yoga -- what a great way to describe what I do. It also means that there is no expectation for our yoga experience to be the same. We may both experience something completely different, yet we are still experiencing yoga. For me, my yoga practice is deeply personal; it is a unique and life-changing experience. All I can do as a yoga teacher is teach yoga techniques to my students, helping them to experience yoga, and open their eyes to see the world and themselves a little bit more clearly.
Finally, I want to share a quote from my teacher, Caroline.
"Why do we practice? Why do I teach this practice? I can forget, sometimes, day to day, what this is all for. Today, a student came in feeling unwell, sad mostly, and questioning her own beliefs about herself and her relation to others/another. I can't count the number of times that I've gotten on my mat feeling so sad or anxious or angry or whatever. She said, "What can I do, except practice? I have to just practice, right?" I said, "Yep! That's it. That's all we can do. It's what I always do, and it's always better after."
This teaching thing, sometimes it doesn't really make sense! If we look at yoga teaching as a business model, it kind of sucks, really, but I was reminded today, that I'm not doing this to get rich. My motivation lies in providing a quiet, warm, safe place to get on your mat and just "work out some shit"! I feel really grateful, and I feel a strong sense of surrender come over me! Eight years ago, after almost ten years of practice under my belt, this practice and a certain teacher brought me back to life when all I wanted to do was crawl under the covers and sleep. I had suffered a loss so great that I thought I would never come out on the other side. I know, though, that the only way through, is through, and this practice helped me breathe one day at a time!
This is why I teach! So maybe, I can give someone the same space to just breathe and be still...one day at a time!"
Amen, Caroline. Amen.
For those of you reading this who are not yet yogis, who are inspired by the practice, but can't quite convince yourself to show up on your mat, I challenge your doubts and your ego by saying this:
Saying that you can't practice yoga because you can't touch your toes is like saying that you can't go for a jog because you never ran a marathon. If you don't currently run, how could you expect to be a good runner? If you don't stretch (or practice yoga), how could you expect yourself to be flexible?
I don't believe it's possible to be good at something if you never do it. Of course, sometimes our previous life experiences work in our favor (or against it), but just getting started with any new activity is always the most challenging part. The key to success with your yoga practice, your marathon training, or whatever it is that you do, is to show up and begin. The key to success is to keep showing up, to keep practicing. With practice, anything is possible.
And remember, yoga is not just asana. You can always find ways to be a great yogi without ever putting your feet on a yoga mat.
Keep digging your well. Water is there somewhere.
I am a yoga teacher, a teacher of yoga techniques.
Join me on the mat and let's experience yoga together.