Without the dark

Much like my journey toward so many practices that create balance and joy in my life, my path to yoga has been full of stops and starts. Realizing that a practice will lead to a more easeful, sustainable existence does not mean that I am able to instantly and seamlessly weave it into my life. Making space to embody the practices that open my heart and lift me up is a process and certainly one with more than a few bumps along the way.

My first introduction to yoga was a Bikram class that a friend invited me to attend with her at least 15 years ago, maybe more (yikes!). She suggested that I drink a lot of water beforehand, but I definitely did not hydrate nearly enough. After the class, I was dizzy for days and thought that yoga might not be for me.

My second introduction to yoga was an Ashtanga class that another friend invited me to join with her. This one was a better fit. I was a teaching assistant in France at the time, and though I understood only a fraction of the instructions (all in French), the tone and lilt of those fluid French words were a soothing balm to my anxious soul, and I left each class feeling like I had experienced a full system reboot. There was a deep focus on yogic breathing and meditation in the class, and I found myself practicing this breathing when stress would inevitably settle back in to overwhelm the calm from my reboot. That class and those breathing exercises saved my system from crashing time and again over the course of the school year I spent teaching in France.

Upon my return to the United States, I had the desire to continue studying and practicing yoga, but I lived in a very rural area of the Pacific Northwest where finding a yoga instructor seemed like an impossible task. At that time (the stone age of 2005), there was no internet available where I lived in the mountains, not even dial-up (I know, how did I survive?). Plus, my super nurturing, maternal side kept inviting more and more critter companions into my fold. There was little room to breathe, let alone practice yoga, in the pseudo-renovated barn where I lived with these creatures and my partner at the time.

And so, yoga went to live on the backburner in the recesses of my mind, not forgotten just hibernating for a while. A while turned into several years until nearly a decade had passed (yikes again!).

By this time, I had moved to Alaska, Arizona, Massachusetts, and back to Arizona once again, all seeking a more balanced, sustainable existence in the process. One evening, my new partner and I attended a talk he had heard about that was given by a Prescott College alum who had spent the previous three years, three months, and three days on silent retreat in the Chiricuaha Mountains of the Southeast corner of Arizona. I was completely drawn in by his talk. Here was a deeply spiritual person who was also completely raw and human. He was funny, sarcastic, and honest, and his words shot straight through my heart and soul and into that tiny nook where yoga had taken up residence (by this time, yoga had built a comfy home, complete with decorations, and was quite comfortable and willing to continue life in my subconscious).

After the talk, I went home and looked up the bio and background for this inspiring fellow, Will Duncan, whose teachings I have continued to learn from in the months and years since attending that first talk. It turned out that he had attended a yoga teacher training on this path. At the same time, a friend who had been traveling in yoga on her own spiritual path told me about her experience in a 200-hour yoga teacher training (YTT). She told me that is had been so much more than learning asana. It had been a full body and soul experience.

At this point in my life, I was searching for just this kind of experience. I had earned a PhD in Sustainability Education with a focus on self-sustainability. Ever since, I had felt like I was floating somewhere in limbo, not sure of my next steps in continuing to try to create balance and ease in my life. I had left a permanent job with the government and moved to Arizona for love and a chance to pursue my own path. I just didn’t know what that path was meant to be as yet. Perhaps, yoga could help me to discover my next steps?

I began searching for teacher trainings in the Prescott area, and I found several. They were all thousands of dollars, which my bank account was not primed for after leaving my job and moving myself and my stuff thousands of miles from Massachusetts to Arizona. I inquired into possible scholarships, and I was gifted a generous reduction in price by a teacher at the Lotus Bloom Yoga Studio. To this day, I am beyond grateful for this incredible gift that she gave to me. Moving through a 200-hour YTT with this teacher and a kula (community) of women completely shifted the course of my life, inside and out. The study of asana, sutras, yamas, and nyamas began on the mat but quickly shifted into an embodiment of living a more honest and real life in my life off the mat. The experience became an extension of the path I had begun several years earlier in my time as a doctoral student, a path toward creating a more balanced and sustainable existence. Like the beginning steps of this journey, it was bumpy and anything but smooth. I am not always graceful in learning to recognize, embrace, and advocate for who I am and what I need for my own health and wellbeing.

It is not easy to take the vulnerable and honest versions of my self out into the world beyond those nooks and crannies within, and I don’t always do a very good job. In the process of sharing these tenuous truths, I have hurt people I care about and lost friends. While it can be stormy, however, I continue to move through the storm to the place on the other side where anything and everything is possible.

Yoga has given me the courage and the strength to continue on this path. For someone else, it might an entirely different practice. Maybe, it is rock climbing, running, cooking, healthcare, or something else. If you have a passion or a tiny spark of light tucked away in the corners of your being, I encourage you to breathe life into that flame and follow it. You never know what brilliant possibilities you will discover in shedding light on the dark.

After all, without the dark there is nothing for the light to burn away. (Clare, City of Fallen Angels)

Namaste and bon courage, my friend.

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