I have applied to many jobs and programs of study in my life. Written applications often include an essay section with questions that ask the applicant to describe the experience that inspired them to pursue a career or course of study in that particular field.
Suffice it to say that these were not my favorite questions by any stretch of the imagination. They were a struggle. How could I remember a single moment that inspired me to study education, sustainability, music, etc.? Had there been a single moment or was it more a culmination of little ripples, creating inspiration like a domino effect? Did I struggle because my desire was not as pure as someone who could remember a pivotal moment that was so earth shattering that they knew without a shadow of a doubt that they must become an astronaut?
In hindsight, I realize that while love and passion may strike us with an arrow from Cupid himself, inspiration and devotion can be a process and also a choice. Consider the analogy of hiking in the Northeast. There is a lot of uphill slogging through dense forest. It’s beautiful and difficult. Why continue: the promise of a view, perhaps; stubbornness of will; a feeling that your heart is being pulled by something as yet unseen? Even with the magnificent view, you still have to turn around and go back down, which my knees will tell you is no cup of tea.
Even with the inherent pain and challenges in the romance department, I tend to fall in love pretty readily. My heart has been drawn to many pastimes that have become deep passions. I cannot say for certain why or how the passion began. I have heard many adults say that young people don’t know what love really is, but at the tender age of five, my heart was pulled to the piano. It was love at first sight. I have been in love ever since, though I have shared an on again, off again long distance relationship with my beloved piano.
I did not fall instantly head over heels with yoga. In fact, the first yoga class I attended was one recommended by a friend. It was a Bikram class.
Drink lots of water, she had cautioned. I drank what I thought was a lot of water, went to class, somehow survived, was dizzy for many days after, and promptly decided that yoga was not for me. I was in my early twenties at the time.
I didn’t practice yoga again until my mid-twenties. I was teaching English in the Northwest corner of France in a town in the region of Brittany (Bretagne). A fellow teaching assistant invited me to join her for an Ashtanga class she had signed up for.
Why not? I thought, and I went.
My memories of the class are pretty foggy, but I do recall the complete easing of tension I felt as I listened to the teacher all out instructions in French.
It was so soothing, particularly the large focus on what the teacher referred to as yogic breathing. I practice this yogic breathing on a regular basis, and I believe it was in great part what saved me from the stress of living with a teaching assistant from England with whom I did not get along. By the end of our time together, she had started hiding the toilet paper and calling me names like Eco-Warrior because I was not crazy about recycling. I guess there could be worse names to be called.
I remember loving yoga and fully intending on continuing to practice after leaving France. When I returned to Washington State, however, I couldn’t seem to remember the poses with enough confidence to create a home practice. Plus, my life in the states was filled with many distractions – Labrador retrievers, chickens, a partner.
So, yoga fell to the way side for many years until I went to a talk at Prescott College (I had long since left Washington at this point) and listened to a fellow named Will Duncan talk about the time he spent in the Chiracuahua Mountains of Southeast Arizona on a three year, three month, and three day silent meditation retreat.
I listened, and I was in love once more. I wrote down everything he said, at least as much as I could capture while also trying to listen. His insights and stories were funny and accessible. I wanted more.
I went home and looked him up online. His bio showed that he was also a yoga teacher.
There it was again. Yoga!
A dear friend had just completed a 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training (YTT) in India and had a life changing experience. She wrote to me that the training was about so much more than asana (pose) practice.
Life changing sounded good to me. I have realized over the years that I feel most alive when I am in a space of learning in community with other people who wish to go deep. I think I am just a deep diver when it comes to my passions. It’s all or nothing, and I prefer the all.
I signed up for a 200-hour training in my community that was just about to begin, and I dove in fully. It was not all roses, I can tell you that, but there were moments of complete clarity, grace, and love. I became part of a community of women who were asking the questions I wanted answers to, women who were real and struggling. I wanted to be real as well. Hiding from my inner demons wasn’t working.
It was an intense seven months, filled with physical and psychological stretching. I did handstand at the wall, something I never imagined I would ever be able to do after dislocating my shoulder in college. I cried. A lot. I felt loved and accepted by the women in my kula (community).
It was hard work. When I practiced asana at the studio, I often counted the minutes until it was over. I did not always feel blissful in poses. More often, I felt agitated and exhausted. Yoga was hard work!
The bliss tended to come after a class had ended, and it was because of this feeling that I kept going back to yoga. I wanted to push my self, to effort, to see how far I could go, and to feel the exquisiteness of release when I was finally able to surrender.
If you don’t do something uncomfortable, you’re never going to expand your edge, Anusara master teacher Jaye Martin told everyone in his recent workshop at the Tree of Life Yoga Studio a couple of weekends ago.
I think that I live to expand my edge. My path is to put myself in uncomfortable situations in order to recognize and appreciate times of comfort.
That isn’t to say that I don’t enjoy comfort, especially after a period of discomfort, but yoga makes sense to me.
Jaye told us that it is in the release after the effort that we experience transformation. Just last night, I told my husband about having this experience in practicing handstand for the better part of the afternoon.
When I was in handstand, it was so difficult that all I wanted to do was come back down. But once I was down, I felt so good that all I wanted to do was go back up into handstand.
I think if we can just hang on for a little while and recognize that it is temporary when we are in a place of discomfort, the benefits of the release when we are finally able to surrender will create greater depth of character and greater ability to open our hearts wide to the world.
The word yoga means to yoke. It is a balancing act between effort and surrender. In studying yoga, I have been learning when to effort and when to let go in my asana practice and in my life beyond the mat.
It has been Anusara yoga, which has pulled most intensely at my sensitive heartstrings. Anusara is a school of yoga that focuses on principles of alignment for the physical and the spiritual body.
Anusara means to flow with grace.
I took a German studies class in my last semester of college with a professor I was told I had to take a class with before he retired. My professor told us over and over again that the only way to truly effect change in the world was through our own individual actions. We could teach by example.
His words resonated with the path I had chosen for myself. I wanted to make a difference in the world. I have since studied education and the environment in order to continue this pursuit, but it was not until I began studying sustainability at the PhD level that I started to realize the hypocrisy that can be found in so much of work that is done to save the world.
The world is in such crisis that people with great big hearts and a desire to save it bend until they break. I saw little balance in the lives of the people in my cohort in the sustainability education doctoral program at Prescott College.
I began cultivating the idea of self-sustainability for global sustainability. If I could create balance in my own life, perhaps I could be more open and available in a healthy way to create healing for other people and the world.
I have found echoes of this idea of balance in Anusara yoga as well.
As Jaye Martin told our class at the Tree, It’s pranayama, not trauma-yama.
He had so many phrases that traveled right through my skin, the many layers of fascia, muscle, and tissue to wrap themselves right around my beating heart. I wanted to print and post them all around my house so I would see them as reminders for creating balance in my own efforting.
It’s not about how far you go. It’s about how you go far.
It’s not about more; it’s just about enough.
My husband reminds me of this idea on a regular basis when I whine about something not being exactly as I want it to be. It might not be perfect, he tells me, but maybe it’s good enough?
In my efforts to understand and cultivate balance and sustainability in my own life, I have discovered that imperfection is akin to perfection.
Anusara yoga embraces and embodies this idea.
Perfection is already who are, Jaye told us. You are complete and full as you are.
Recognizing and believing in that perfection is another story, but it is one that I intend to continue writing. I truly believe that in writing and embodying my own authentic self story, I can give permission to other people to do the same. This pursuit, for me, feels like the most important way I can effect positive change in the world. It begins with my own foundation, with honoring and sharing who I am that others may do the same.
Does your foundation in your asana serve the foundation of your true being? Jaye asked us.
I know from many years of experience that trying to be someone different to please other people makes for a wobbly foundation. I know from taking the steps to create a more sustainable existence that it can rattle other people’s foundations, which is not always well received. I have a theory that when I make sweeping changes for balance in my own life, I become a mirror for the people around me. There are those who are inspired to look closely at their reflection, those who, if they don’t like what they see, take the time to imagine the changes they might make in their own life and who find the courage to set change in motion.
There are just as many, if not more, people who feel threatened and fearful of the mirror. Instead of practicing reflection, they lash out in response to their discomfort. They retaliate and place blame on the person that pushed them to their edge. That person? Me.
How have I responded to this retaliation and scapegoating? Sometimes with grace and empathy, but mostly, I try to run away.
A wise woman at an an ashram I visited on retreat for my final weekend in my first 200 hour YTT told my kula, I am not responsible for making other people feel comfortable. I am only responsible for me.
Jaye shared a saying from one of his teachers, if you are not living on the edge, you are taking up too much space. If you don’t do something uncomfortable, you are never going oto expand your edge. These words spoke to me on a visceral level because they are a reflection of how I wish to live my life. I seek discomfort to create comfort. However, not everyone wishes to live on their edge, and I think that is ok.
I have been studying self-sustainability for many years now, and I find the essence of this idea everywhere and in everything I do. The more I create balance in my own being, the more open my heart becomes to the world of beings around me. In everything I do, I work to give myself permission to be my authentic self. Then, I share my experiences so that others may feel safe to do the same.
In the words of Rumi, which Jaye shared with our class, Don’t hide your heart but reveal it so that mine might be revealed and I might accept what I am capable of.
My husband has told me many times, perfect is boring. I don’t want you to be perfect. I want you to be real.
So that is my practice: to be perfectly imperfect, to be completely me. It is my hope that in being fully me, I allow you to be fully you.
I am thankful for all of the people in the world who have encouraged me to be my authentic self and who have given me the permission and courage to create my own authentic foundation. From that foundation, anything is possible.