“I am a pilgrim on the path of love.”
~ Swami Kripalu
“I am a traveler of both time and space”
~ Led Zeppelin
Those of you who know me in real life know I took a big step this summer… I participated in the 200 Hour Yoga Teacher training at Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health. Yep, I’m a yoga teacher!
I have never been prouder of myself in my whole life.
This was by far the biggest emotional and personal risk I’ve ever taken.
I kind of don’t know what to do with myself at the moment.
All I know is that I’ll be feeling the ripple effects of this experience in large and small ways through the rest of my life.
I know, whoa.
It isn’t a coincidence that Kripalu folks refer to going home after a retreat as, “reentry”. It feels like coming home from a different planet. I haven’t had this surreal of a homecoming since back in college when I returned from a semester abroad in the Netherlands. I remember standing in the streets of Boston, people rushing past me, and being aghast at the fact that they were all speaking English. For the first time in months, I could walk outside and overhear people’s conversations. I could read signs in public without having to struggle. There weren’t Stroopwaffles in the supermarket. Nobody in stores said alstublieft to me anymore. Instead of finding my way in and out of every train station in Europe, learning and absorbing everything new I could get my hands on with an insatiable hunger, I was sitting in my parents’ basement watching cable TV. I was so, so happy to see my friends and family again, to sleep in my own bed, to wear clothes that weren’t the same clothes that hadn’t been rolled up in a backpack for the last four months. But I felt lost, homesick.
Now I’m back from Kripalu. People don’t make eye contact the same way at home. Nobody says jai bhagwan to me anymore. Now when we om at the beginning of yoga classes, it isn’t the warm, healing om of my sangha around me, my community, 64 people from all walks of life joined together in unconditional love; it’s the om of a bunch of strangers I’ll part ways with after class. I am so, so happy to come home to the warm hug of my partner every day. I am so, so happy to be wearing clothes that aren’t made of lycra. I am so, so happy to be able to drink a glass of wine with dinner again. But I’m homesick, I’m lost, I miss my sangha.
I am profoundly different, the same, yet not the same, back in my “old” life again, unable to unsee the things I saw this past month or unlearn the things I’ve learned. I feel like I’m walking around in a museum of somebody else’s life, picking things up, pondering them, putting them back down again. Nothing quite feels like it fits. I was so eager to get back into the swing of things, but suddenly, the swing of things doesn’t quite fit me anymore.
There’s a lot of things I love about my life. There’s a lot of things that aren’t quite healthy. I’m trying to figure out what’s what right now… and it feels weird.
The point is, that I built my life around one idea of myself— and now that idea of self has expanded, widened, redefined. Who I was isn’t who I am anymore. I’ve stepped back into a life that was built by a woman who had a different sense of herself. And somehow that sense was smaller, narrower, restricted. It was a life built for someone who had accepted that her passions had to be in the periphery of her life, that big dreams were for other people, that health and self care came second to performing her “duties”. A woman who always felt like she needed to, prove herself and never quite felt like she measured up.
I know now that all of these ideas are false. I know now that there is nothing standing in my way. I know now that I deserve to follow my dreams. There is no need to compromise unless I create one out of fear. I know now what it feels like to be truly, deeply, completely happy. It doesn’t come from landing a hot job or a big promotion, or applause from people I thought were important, or even getting myself into that asana I’ve been chasing for years. It comes from knowing that I am enough, just the way I am, and I always will be. It comes from knowing that I don’t need things or approval to be complete.
So in the immortal words of David Byrne… how did I get here?
Yoga has always been a touchstone in my life, but before this summer I always thought being a yoga teacher was for other people. People who were more flexible than I am. People with killer abs, people who drink more Kombucha, people who don’t swear when they’re stuck in traffic. I didn’t tell many people that I was going to a training program. When folks asked what I’d be doing this summer I’d say, “I’m going to a yoga retreat in the Berkshires.” That way if I flunked out— if I couldn’t handle it— nobody would know that I was a failure.
Yeah, I know. Way to set the bar low.
I was terrified on my way there. I was coming off of a draining school year that had very nearly broken my spirit. My heart pounded the entire way on my drive out to Kripalu. I thought of a million excuses why I didn’t belong there. Now isn’t the right time, maybe in a year. I really just needed to prove to myself that I could get in. I’m not really that good at yoga in the first place. I’ll go, I’ll try it. If I don’t like it I can go home.
Within the first 24 hours of being there I knew that not only had I made the right decision, I had made the best decision of my entire life.
There’s not really a blog entry, or even a series of blog entries that can really sum up the experience. Later I’ll do a less rambling, philisophical entry on what the training experience was like for those who are curious but basically, in a nutshell, besides all of the asanas and yoga philisophy and technique, which I’ll post about another day, this is what I’ve come away with:
Body Respect: I used to walk around feeling physically inadequate, detached, uncoordinated, but I have discovered a profound respect for my own body. No matter how flawed or imperfect it is, the human body is literally a miracle, my own body included. My body is fucking awesome. It guided me through the experience of yoga teacher training and never once let me down. I am so much stronger than I thought I was. I have never felt healthier or more complete. I will never ever hate on my body ever again. I will never go back to self abuse in any form, be it stress, dieting, sleep deprivation, what have you. This is huge for me.
Self Respect and Compassion: Swami Kripalu said that compassionate self awareness without judgement is the highest spiritual practice. This shit used to be really hard for me. Like really, really hard. If I’m not critical of myself, how will I grow and improve!? How will my lazy ass psyche get her proverbial slacker ass off the metaphorical couch and DO something with herself, y’know? I have learned to motivate myself with love instead of hate. Fear of failure is no longer my diesel fuel. My heart mind is now my guide, my compass in life. Again, huge.
Spiritual Connection: I’ve always been kinda meh about organized religion, and I still am. But I realized that I’m constantly looking for a connection to something larger than myself, to experience the infinite, to slow down and appreciate each moment in life, and that those simple things make me SO damn happy and grateful to be alive. Meditation is super cool. Meditation in motion is even cooler. Sharing a ritual with other like minded people is awesome too. I’m trying to find a way to make room for this in my life in a way that is authentic to who I am.
Taking Risks is worth it: All kinds of risks. I have vowed to make this the year that I will take more risks in every aspect of my life, creatively, personally, the whole nine. Doing what you love, expressing who you are, is always worth it. Even if you fall flat on your face it’s a learning experience.
Love and gratitude are where it’s at: Another tough one. I tend to hyper focus on the stuff I don’t like about my life. Who doesn’t? When I stop and think about what I’m grateful for in life, it’s kind of overwhelming. Like, if I really stopped and recognized all the stuff I love in my life, it’d be overwhelming. I’d be crying all the time. (And boy howdy, did I cry a lot at Kripalu!) And that’s kind of fucking awesome. Learn to find the diamonds in the rough. Today sucked but I love the way the puffy clouds look in the sky. I love that I live in a place where I can even see the sky. Sometimes my job is thankless, but when I think about all the students I have that blow my mind with how kind, creative, curious they are, I feel so goddamn humbled to have them in my life. Gratitude isn’t about perfection. It isn’t about settling for accepting the stuff in your life that’s crappy either. Love is big and small at the same time. Sometimes there’s one tiny nugget in your day, a smile, a small kindness, sometimes it’s overwhelming. I’ll take all the love that crosses my path. All of it is a miracle. That’s right, I used the M word. Try and stop me.
Your authentic self doesn’t have to impress anyone: My value doesn’t lie in my ability to entertain, educate or impress everyone I meet. Guess what? Everyone doesn’t have to like me. It’s not my job to make them like me either. Some people won’t dig me no matter how hard I try but you know what? Most people will. It’s not my job to sweat the ten percent of people I meet that don’t get me. I don’t need to change myself so that I’m marketable to every friend, co worker or student I meet. What am I, a breakfast cereal? I don’t need to protect myself by being snarky all the time either. I love a good snark, but I hate what a steady diet of it does to my insides. Is it so bad to just be genuine, to admit what I love, to share a conviction, to state a goal, without worrying that I’ll seem foolish to somebody else? What an exhausting way to live. I’m done with it.
So… what now?
I’ve made a commitment to live in a way that is true to myself, but I’m not quite sure what it looks like in my life yet. Some stuff will change, some stuff will grow and get bigger. Some stuff will probably stay the same. The most important thing is to listen to my heart, to not tune myself out when stuff gets overwhelming. So that’s where the writing about it comes in. The blog is back in action. You’ve been warned.