I have a complicated relationship with yoga, and a little back-story might be necessary here: I’ve had eating disorders (primarily abstaining, caloric reduction) from about when I was 16-22. For a time they, and my yoga practice, were tied. My sophomore year of college (age 19-20), I was going to a heated power vinyasa class every day. I can’t say that what I was doing then was the “yoga” that I practice today. It was exercise resembling yoga, while listening to Britney Spears or Bon Iver remixes. It was a studio mirrored on all walls, causing my already out of control dysmorphia to shoot through the roof.
Classes ended in May and I went home to Los Angeles for the summer. When I came back to Portland in August, my friend informed me that the hot studio was out, Yoga Union was in. I was secretly relieved. But while I went, and took several classes, I put up walls. I felt trepidation. I felt the warm vibrating heart of a true practice, a community of love and self-love and I recoiled. I wasn’t prepared. It would take so much work. I couldn’t tune out and sweat for an hour with a hyped up instructor repeating the same things over and over again, day in, day out. I was on the brink of touching something deep, I felt its energy. It would force me to look at myself, to see–I was terrified.
I said I was “taking a break” from yoga. I got further from myself, and found an odd comfort in dissociating. I made new friends, girls with high tequila tolerances. I was atrophying. I was taking adderall and not eating much, again. My good friend and then housemate was doing the 200 hr at YU; she talked about it and again I saw that thing, that light. Still, I was intrigued, but far from ready to approach it.
The next year (my last year of college, age 21-22) was the same, but better; I lost myself in someone else. I was ecstatic, but all my love and devotion poured outward. When it ended a year and a half later I felt like the thinnest sheet of paper.
The point of all this: I spent years trying frantically to sustain and nourish my relationships while neglecting the relationships of my mind to body, body to mind, spirit, soul, whatever you choose to call that “it.” That essence that makes you, you. The place where all your selves intersect. I was running from it, or rather seeking confirmation of it from sources outside, sources who can only feign knowledge of it. Sure, they could see my wellspring, but how could they know it?
I had to leave and come back. I didn’t go back to practicing until after I graduated college. Even then, I went infrequently. I had to wait until another heartbreak. I was angry, I was numb. I started attending more classes, primarily out of a self-righteous place. What I was met with was what I had seen before, in part: a beautiful community, steeped in dedication and mutual respect, true studentship. I felt ready now. I felt ready to throw myself on the shores of this new continent and feel.
There are problems for me in religion, certain kinds of schooling, certain kinds of yoga. Dogmatic thought, rigidity, hierarchy. Idolization of a guru or teacher. Searching for the answers outside your true self, your center. When I get quiet with myself, I know what I want. The main reason why I felt so sure in choosing this training was the fact that I’ve done private sessions with Annie. That she’s shown me true healing happens from someplace deep inside, someplace nameless. I knew I wasn’t signing up for a teacher training to be able to get into crazy instagram-worthy inversions or “be super flexible.” I signed up to witness the magic that is as simple as breath. To study the interfaces of the body, the skin of language, its texture, quality, effects. To connect these threads.
As I knew she would, Annie leads an amazing program. I can hardly explain how, because I am still trying to make sense of it–this paradise/playground for body-nerds and all of us still waiting on our acceptance letter from Hogwarts. We come here to play, to be wild, and also to be perpetual, devoted students. In simplest terms, the YU teacher training is about each person becoming a unique type of teacher. This program understands that we all come here from different paths, and we all hope to glean different things. We all have our own voices, and the training celebrates this diversity rather than try to homogenize them. Above everything else it does (you will learn about anatomy, alignment, pranayama, sadhana, how to theme, how to sequence, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg), the teacher training program at YU re-introduces you to your own brilliance, the fact that you have deep inner wisdom and are, in fact, “enough.” We are learning from each other and ourselves.
This simple statement (yes, you are brilliant!), while so intuitive, is actually pretty radical for a 200 hr teacher training. Most people I know who’ve received this certification elsewhere do it by spending 20-30 long days having information and sequences drilled into their brains. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, but there’s a reason that, on the one hand, the number of 200 hr teacher training graduates climbs steadily every year, and on the other, quality instruction is hard to find. This has been frustrating as well, and simply another part of the practice: understanding that most people aren’t really going to grasp what I’m doing here. Do I even fully know what I’m doing here? Part of the process is dismantling everything I thought I knew. I am learning to be with my body. I am re-learning what is is to be human.
I am a writer, so predictably, the language piece is one of the most interesting parts of teacher training. And strangely, the most difficult. It’s easy for me to memorize anatomy, pose cues, sequences, but ask me to demo a pose and talk a student through it, and I freeze. I am forced to re-language. To come to terms with my internal landscape in the moment and relation with said pose.
We are learning to address the individual as much as the group. We are learning to look, to see again. There are artists, photographers, who make one body (usually the body of their lover) their muse, their inspiration (sometimes the same person, for life!). I am learning to be inspired and humbled by all bodies.
Annie demonstrates this practice to us, this seeing with eagle eyes. I am so serious so much of the time. On the final day of phase 2, she called each of us up to individually teach a pose, a sequence, lead a centering, etc. For each one of us, the piece she gave us to teach was inspired by her observations of us as individuals. I remember thinking, I hope she gives me something HARD to teach, I want to be challenged, I want to think. When it was my turn and I stood up there, she looked at me and said “Teach surya b, one breath per movement, and do it with a smile.” Having been watching me, she had given me a challenge that I needed. To shake out of myself, to crack a smile. There are constant reminders given that we all need different pushes, challenges, assists, just like no two students will ever be the same.
There are difficult, sticky spots in this training (spots that will be different for each person); it is not an easy thing to undertake. The same could be said of life. Sthira sukha. In this training there is structure, and there is sweetness. I am learning to be steady and easeful. I am held.
For most of my life, I’ve been labeled a “brain.” I excelled academically without trying very hard, but I did plenty of sports too: water polo, lacrosse, soccer, swim team. Never did the academic and physical cohere, merge, come together. I fell in love with yoga when I realized how it marries the two spheres, or can. It’s been proven to me how rare it is to find a studio that so fuses heart, alignment, intelligence, humor, and eloquence into an experience of group practice. Often times a studio offers either a good workout, or a wholly spiritual experience without attention on safe alignment practices; rarely do we find both. It’s why when students find Yoga Union, they tend not to leave. It’s why I never would have considered doing my 200 hr anywhere else. It’s why this program is challenging, revealing, exposing, breathtaking; because of this, not for everyone. There are no scripts here, and there is not always an answer.
In vulnerability, in the unknownness of our own depths, we are re-born. I am meeting myself anew every day. I am exploring what I think it means to feel whole.
When we are speaking of wholeness, of integration, what do we really mean. We could devote lifetimes to the question (many have). I am only speaking to my process, how I come to the eternal question that is practice. Yoga is my morning reading with a cup of coffee. It is not telling myself what or how or when to consume. It is me telling myself, I trust you. It is sitting in front of my window, other windows, coffee shops, in front of the page. Looking out at daffodils and sweet lavender. It is watching how people move, walk, hug, how their faces and postures tell me more than they know. It is telling myself, I forgive you.
When the body finds a happy equilibrium, neuroses fall away, become less important. My body knows itself better now. I don’t look at a gaunt underweight body in the mirror and think, god, I’m huge. I look at a body that’s healthy and alive, and no, the relationship isn’t perfect—I’m well aware that it might never be. Because we’re shifting things, we’re not static. We have limitations; we cannot evanesce. and we also have needs. Embracing the practice of healing through movement is the healthiest thing I could ever have done. I was so fixated on becoming this perfect image; but images are “fixed,” and because of this they often bear false witness to the living, breathing body.
For me, practice is trust. It is repeating but not repeating, giving ancient words fresh life. It is this kind of dedication and devotion. This rubbing of a precious stone, a bead in my thumb and forefinger over and again. It is, in months without markers, telling my period, where are you, come back. This is my body, this is my home.
In my teacher training experience, “yoga” ends up being a wholly different beast than I thought I knew. My experience, my practice, my knowledge has inarguably deepened, but at the same time, the idea of what yoga (or practice) is, has exploded—become diffuse. A million little atoms. I have a favorite poet who, in a lecture, talked about finding new ways to mean, new ways to image, imagine, express: We only know what things mean to us when we break them. Through the practices, I, my center, my it, is cracked open. I am beginning to work out what that means.