“A little step may be the beginning of a great journey.”—Jennifer DeDonato
“Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your heart. Who looks outside, dreams. Who looks inside, awakes.”—Carl Jung
I recall when the stack of books arrived on my doorstep in December 2017. I could feel their physical weight within the box and within my gut. Uh, oh. Who did I think I was? What sort of thing had I placed myself into? Where did I think this would ever take me? When did I think I could find the time for this? Why did I ever think I could do this? How did I think I could ever learn all of this material?
All of my self-doubts, insecurities, fears, and uncertainties burned to the surface via my red face and icy cold hands as I slowly lifted each new book out. Then, the aroma of new books filled my lungs and the crisp, shininess of each cover glimmered in the light above my kitchen table—my “home office.” One thing was for certain, as a 30+ year educator, I DO savor the sight, scent, feel, and even the sound of pages turning when casually flipping through new books—each filled with the promise of uncharted waters, stories, and journeys. At least there was comfort and familiarity with that.
Then came January—the first weekend of training with 19 other so-called strangers, in an unfamiliar location, with unknown instructors, and wait, what? —No desks, tables, chairs, or other types of furniture! Everybody sits on the floor on mats, blankets, cushions, or any combination of the three? Are you kidding me? At age 52, how was I supposed to survive Friday evenings and daylong Saturday and Sunday sessions like this? I was ready to bolt back out to my car as tension tightened my belly but froze my body in place. This was yoga teacher training at Brown Dog Yoga, Huntington, WV. It was my choice, but how on earth would I ever get through it?
Yes, even at my age, sitting on the floor, with continuous practice, is not only possible, but good for your posture muscles!
I thought of one of my favorite and charismatic video yoga instructors, Bryan Kest, best known for his work with Power Yoga. He had a saying onto which I had latched in the early 1990’s: fortitude, tenacity, breath. These three words had often been the mantra that powered me through many life and fitness endeavors. I would utilize the strength of those words once more in order to power my way through this training. Little did I know then, those three words would be replaced with other, more meaningful and much softer phrases.
One such phrase was, surrender, seek, soul-search. Learning to surrender to the moment, to events as they are, to life as it is—is a skill for which I am still learning. My desire to seek truths, knowledge, and understanding began to evolve over the eight months of training/study, and it continues to grow even now. Additionally, looking inwardly and learning to honestly soul-search was, and often still is, a painful experience because of the truths I am a master at hiding from myself, but if I am to grow, then I must continue to do this.
Practice, progress, breathe, has also become another utilized phrase. Yoga is not just a form of exercise (Although it is a GREAT form of exercise that anyone can do!) —it can be a way of life with practices and applications for both on and off the mat. Make no mistake, though, it is NOT a religion. My 200-hours of training and study is not the end, but only the beginning of a practice that I intend to continue for the rest of my life. I now realize I have MUCH more to learn and apply in order to evolve.
Thus, I can no longer think in terms of “perfection” or “arriving,” as I used to do when I trained for a marathon, sought a degree, attempted to lose weight, and so forth. With yoga, it’s about progress. Yes, I will most likely falter, waiver, and perhaps even fall. The important thing is, like the old saying from my childhood, “try, try again.” Allow those mistakes and so-called failures to teach me lessons and further my progress towards understanding. Age, injury, career, and any other role that life has assigned to me cannot impede my inner-work, unlike my former short-term goals. Personal growth and progress never has to end as long as I practice, study, and/or reflect.
Breathing comes into play because I am a breath and tension holder. Part of my make-up, if I am to be honest, is to feel “in control.” As an educator, writer, parent, and so forth—that feeling of control has ruled my life—I, frankly, still struggle with it. Letting go of the feeling of control requires faith and deep breathing. And, while I do not want self-discipline to be confused with what I am writing about, the act of holding expectations causes me to hold my breath and grip tensions throughout my body—such as neck, shoulders, belly, etc.– when life events don’t go my way. Deep breathing reminds me to let go and rest in my faith that life is as it should be, and a MUCH higher power than myself is in control. No amount tensing up body parts is going to change outcomes.
Finally, one of my dear teachers, Katrina, recently offered me a new mantra: forgiveness, FAITH, and fearlessness. Learning to forgive myself of my self-defined failures will thus lead to more forgiveness of others. We all make mistakes; it is the humbling part of our humanity. Fear of so-called mistakes will freeze and stagnant my inner growth. Thus, I must continue to rely on my faith in order to increase the act of forgiveness and move throughout the rest of my life with fearlessness.
Yes, it is true, I entered yoga teacher training in order to teach yoga—which I am now officially certified to do. However, I walk away a different and very grateful person, with not only a deeper understanding of yoga, but also a deeper understanding of myself. Additionally, I am now connected to group of gifted and unique individuals with whom I shared this journey.
What does all of this mean? I am not sure. I do plan to teach yoga. I also plan to continue teaching my students at St. Joseph Catholic Middle School, continue writing, and continue on this path I started at BDY. I am also still wife, mom, daughter, sister, cousin, friend, and so forth. Yet, I now realize that none of these things are truly who I am. At the very core of who I am, I see a child of God, a Divine creation that is not only within me, but also within each of you Dear Reader, and every other human being on this planet. As the book of Genesis described, we were all brought into the being with the “breath of life,”and we will continue on this earth until our last breath is uttered. It is my intention to utilize this gift of life to offer moments of positivity and upliftment to others. I will NEVER be perfect, but I can move forward with Grace. In the words of Anne Lamott, “I do not understand the mystery of grace—only that it meets us where we are and does not leave us where it found us.”
P.S. I am eternally grateful to Katrina and Rich Mailloux as well as Tina Chabot and the members of the 2018 YTT tribe. Thank-you, thank-you, thank-you. Namaste.
Lucy, the brown dog, visits us on our last day of Yoga Teacher Training!
Katie Arnold, one of my dear classmates, took a selfie of the two of us for her Instagram album. She, like the rest of the 2018 YTT tribe, is a special and gifted individual.