A little over two years ago, in the wake of losing a job in a very nasty way, I discovered yoga. One of the messages which helped me heal from that unpleasantness was the message of "letting go of that which no longer serves." It did not serve me to dwell in anger. It only kept me from moving forward.
I also found it very healing to develop a practice in a discipline which teaches its students to honor their bodies meaning that whether I can make the same shapes as the instructor or the folks next to me isn't important. It's important that I am listening to what my body says is good for it and I am the only one who can know that for sure. Yoga helped me develop trust in listening to that inner voice. This was healing in both physical and emotional ways because I had struggled with back problems serious enough to send me to a neurosurgeon many years ago. I had limped through various forms of rehabilitation only to have certain health care providers suggest that when I complained of pain it indicated an unwillingness to work on my part.
I kept telling them no, I was experiencing serious pain which was setting me back rather than moving me forward. I hasten to add I worked with great endurance and perseverance to regain the use of my hand and arm after demolishing it eight years ago. It ain't a lack of willingness to work...it was not being shown proper form to have the work be effective rather than harmful. Yoga gave me a sense of proper alignment so I could work in ways which allowed me to increase strength and flexibility while avoiding injury...because I was listening to what my body told me in the process.
In so doing I was empowered to listen more carefully from day to day and even moment to moment. I had teachers who explained that just because I could do a certain pose yesterday didn't mean it would happen today. Conversely, not being able to do something yesterday didn't mean it was beyond reach today. I needed to greet each time on my mat as a new experience, without attachment or expectation. This message became critically important when I was diagnosed with cancer less than six months after beginning a yoga practice. The nature of my health problems created wild swings in my metabolism and energy levels to the extent that it wax impossible to predict how I'd feel on any given day. It was a crash course in advanced listening. Sometimes I'd have to stop in the middle of class and just take a rest while others continued working vigorously. I was ok with that. I was even encouraged when other students said seeing me in a resting pose gave them permission to do the same when they needed it.
Yoga also helped me find a place where I could quiet a restless mind. My mat became the place for dropping out from between my ears and into mindful movement and meditation. Yogic philosophy tells us yoga is not just exercise for the body but a union of breath with movement and the body with the spirit. I found that on my mat. I shed anger with God and people. I found a greater ability to listen to the messages my body was giving me and the still small voice, conscience, God, the universe, whatever you want to call it. It all came together in union as intended. It got me through some dark days and helped me increase health both mental and physical. It made me want to know more and to be able to share it with folks who might want to learn too so I enrolled in the teacher training course.
Teacher training has been at turns, amazing, fulfilling, overwhelming, frustrating, wonderful, inspiring, and infuriating. Two weekends of it have been downright upsetting. This past month's training made me want to burn my mat and never get back on it again. Part of the frustration is due to having to become familiar with styles of yoga which I do not connect to at all, which I find far too physically demanding. Although the message "honor your body" remains the same, that I even have to take a class in a particular style feels dishonoring and yet I have to find a way to learn the style even as I do not push myself to the point of injury. It's a challenging balance to find.
The other aspect, which pushed me over the line recently, was topics which opened up huge trauma triggers for me. Between the physically demanding style I was learning and the distressing topics I felt as if I were losing the safe space my mat has always been. It felt as if my mat were being invaded or usurped, as if I no longer had a right to honor my own body and my own spirit by giving it what it needed. I was wrong, of course, but just like Dorothy had to learn that there's no place like home, I had to be reminded that my mat is MY mat and my practice is MINE.
I am 46 years old. I've come to yoga late in life and after considerable physical trauma. I do not need to have a practice which looks like that of an athletic 20-something. If I do, great. If I don't, that's great too. The point is, I have a practice. It doesn't matter how vigorous or how gentle it is. It matters if I am finding a union of breath and movement, of body, soul, and spirit. It matters if I derive pleasure from my practice and want to engage in it, not whether I can put a foot behind my head or do 62 chaturangas in a vigorous Ashtanga class (I can't do either).
The last training weekend I had damn near every trauma trigger tripped. I was reeling. I was a gaping, open wound sitting in a corner weeping through a class. I was broken and depleted and yet asked for more....which has so often been the story of my life. I was angry because MY mat is not the place for that. MY mat is where I heal from all of that. MY mat is my safe place. I wept because I was afraid I was losing MY mat. Then I remembered, it's MY mat and no one gets to tell me what My practice on MY mat looks like.
I reclaimed my mat by staying off it for two classes. For one class I sat in the corner just working to find my breath while others worked physically difficult poses. For another class I stayed home. When I returned, I went to the class taught in the style that speaks to ME. I worked in the way MY body told me felt right. I dropped out of my ears and into my body working a slow, meditative pace which allowed my mind to find the rest it needed.
When I teach I want to remember to empower my students to listen to themselves on their mats. It will be my job to tell them what they need to know to be safe. What they do with the rest of my instruction is up to them because it is their practice, not mine.