yogi – theatre artist – mom

15 Lessons I (Re)Learned in My Yoga Teacher Training

I started this blog post in the last week of my yoga teacher training at YogaSport (a Baptiste affiliate). I had just been in an accident at work that left me with a fractured foot that sidelined me for the last week of the training. Normally – before doing the training – I would have completely freaked out “Seriously, it’s my last week of training to be a super-calm, Zen yoga teacher!!!! What the f@*k???” But, I didn’t respond that way. Because of the accident and the calm I experienced in the midst of it, I began to see just how much I’d shifted during the training. That calm was all the more pronounced because 8 months earlier, I’d been in roughly the same situation with a broken hand and didn’t handle that nearly as well.

It was actually last fall when I had the cast on my hand – having just walked away from what could have/should have been a fatal car accident – that I decided to do the YS Teacher Training. In the 8 weeks I was forced to navigate the world with limited mobility in my hand a lot of anger came up for me. Forget about the fact I should be happy to be alive and that my now-fiance was bending over backwards to take care of me – I was angry about everything.  Things that had nothing to do with my hand or the accident set me off – and having a broken hand “justified” me taking those feelings out on everyone around me.

Until it didn’t.

Watching how my attitude affected Brett, I knew I had to do something drastic to shift my view of myself and my life and to reclaim some sense of calm I know I had at some point in time. I made the choice to sign up for yoga teacher training before the cast was even off. I’d practiced yoga on and off for 20 years and knew that if anything could help heal me, it was immersing myself in a physically and emotionally demanding practice like the Baptiste-inspired training at YogaSport.

People think that teacher training for yoga is all about poses and anatomy. Believe me, there’s lots of that. In fact, I may have had a very non-yogic, stabby moment on my third day of anatomy, but that’s a post for another day. Self-reflection is a big part of it, too, especially for a Baptiste-inspired training. Now, with the training a month and a half behind me, I’m nearing the end of physical therapy for my foot. I’m slowly finding my way back onto my mat, and, in doing so, am reflecting on the life lessons I (re)learned while in the training:

1) When I surround myself with emotionally healthy people, I feel healthy and happy, too – While this is a “no brainer” I sometimes find myself sucked into the latest office drama (and, I work in theatre, so that drama is dra-ma-tic). During Teacher Training I spent more time away from the office and surrounded by people focused on finding their happy place. It was freaking awesome.

2) And, the antithesis to number 1: some people or the situations/environments/circumstances they exist in are emotionally toxic for me. It’s okay to leave with grace and compassion – During the Teacher Training, I identified relationships that cause me unending anxiety, anger and stress. And, while I feel compassion for the people involved, and even like them, I have begun the process of placing some distance between me and the environments they create that make me so unhappy. It’s been slow-going, but intentional, compassionate and thoughtful. And, I’m already feeling some sense of relief.

3) Meditation helps me to know myself and understand what to do next – Life in the 21st century is all about over-stimulation. Taking 15 minutes in the morning to sit in silence with myself not only gives me a sense of calm as I start my day, but also gives me dedicated time to be with myself, to listen to my heart and to know what next step to take in life.

4) Don’t sweat the small stuff – and it’s mostly all small stuff – I lived in New York City for the better part of 17 years. By the time I returned to Texas in 2012, my parasympathetic nervous system was in a constant state of fight or flight. Life in NYC is hard. Really hard. And, somewhere along the way even the smallest things took on monumental significance. My constant state of high alert was abruptly shattered in November of 2012 when, after moving to Dallas, the apartment I was renting  was burglarized. They took everything. Literally everything. While I wouldn’t wish that experience on anyone and there are still moments I miss some sentimental piece of jewelry that was taken, the lesson was clear: Something really tragic could happen at any moment. Anything short of tragic is small – too small to spend sleepless nights over. I forget that lesson from time-to-time. Over the course of Teacher Training, I was reminded of it.

5) Each time on the mat is a new practice and each day is a new day – In a Baptiste practice, the sequence is generally the same. We always begin with Sun Salutations, then move into the Warrior Series, then Balancing, etc. So, it’s easy to compare one day’s practice to the day before. My body doesn’t feel the same from one day to the next and some days getting through 75 minutes in a heated room feels like nothing short of a miracle, while others I feel like I could go for a run after. Same thing with life. Some days, life feels really hard. Some days, I’m in “the zone”. The good news is that the next day and the next practice are a new canvas.

6) Everyone talks about the awesome results of change – whether it’s losing weight, shifting a mindset, beating an addiction or changing careers. But, change is hard. It takes work – Any positive life change one sets out to accomplish includes some really uncomfortable moments of stepping outside of one’s comfort zone and acknowledging the facets of one’s personality that aren’t so awesome. That process sucks, but it’s necessary. Some people turn back in the middle of the process – it’s easier to stay stuck in the known than continue on through the muck of the unknown. But when, on this journey, I was willing to ask myself some uncomfortable questions and then step outside of what I “knew” to be true and instead tried a different way of being or responding to people and situations, things in me shifted. And that shift in me was felt by those around me. Case-in-point, my work environment began to shift when, instead of getting caught up in the drama I wore a “No Complaint” bracelet and gave each of my coworkers one. The goal was to go 30 days complaint-free. Each time I complained, I publicly switched my bracelet. Some rolled their eyes. Others got on the bandwagon. Either way, months later, the atmosphere in the office was noticeably different.

7) Pausing before reacting is generally a good practice to live by – The Buddhist nun and author, Pema Chodron, wrote most eloquently on this topic in her book Taking the Leap: Freeing Ourselves from Old Habits and Fears. She talks about the habitual ways in which we react to a situation when we recognize in it something that caused us pain in the past. If instead of reacting from that habitual place, “…we could shake up our ancient fear-based habits by simply pausing. When we do that, we allow some space to contact the natural openness of our mind and let our natural intelligence emerge. Natural intelligence knows intuitively what will soothe and what will get us more churned up; this can be lifesaving information. When we pause, we also give ourselves the chance to touch in to our natural warmth.” Pausing in a moment instead of becoming reactionary is hard for me. But, I’ve been practicing it a lot lately. I’ve found that pausing, even for a day or more before responding, gives me space to respond from a non-emotional (or, at least, less emotional) place which is better for everyone involved.

8) I can’t always be happy. But in order to heal, I have to be willing to feel – Sometimes, life brings sorrow or pain or gut-wrenching anger or a terrifying combination of emotions that are as destructive as an atomic bomb. Those moments will pass. Sitting with the feelings is hard for me. But, when I observe with curiosity, I find they have lessons to teach me. This ties in closely with my meditation practice and the re-acclimation of my parasympathetic nervous system. When I’m not in fight or flight mode, when I take time to sit with my feelings and observe them, I find they pass more quickly and feel more cathartic than avoiding them would. Pema Chodron has another great book on this topic: When Things Fall Apart.

9) The Four Agreements is a really awesome book that should be required reading for every human being – In summary, if I am true and kind with my word, if I go about my day and don’t take other people’s baggage personally, if I ask questions rather than make assumptions and if I always do my best, I stand a good chance that I will be a contented human being. Read the book. Seriously. I can’t do it justice here. But, a day hasn’t gone by since reading it months ago that I don’t repeat one of the four mantras to myself and feel instantly at peace with whatever is happening at the moment. At the end of Teacher Training, five of us went to get tattoos together to celebrate. One wrote out in her handwriting, “Always do your best.” She then had it tattooed in reverse (mirror image) on her collar bone. Every morning when she looks in the mirror she sees the right image and is reminded of how important that one small but powerful goal is. Imagine if every day we all woke up and decided to do our best that day?

10) Forgiving someone who has hurt me is the best gift I can give myself – This one is tough for me. It always has been. And, I’m well aware of all the talk about how forgiving someone is actually good for me. Blah, blah, blah. But, it wasn’t until going through the Teacher Training and doing an excruciating exercise in which we wrote down in detail a situation that was causing us to be stuck in anger and sadness…and then, to our surprise, read it to another human being repeatedly for 7 minutes. Our partner then read it back to us repeatedly for another 7 minutes. Did I mention the word “excruciating”? Tears were flowing. Most often, we aren’t willing to discuss the ugly resentments we hold inside. Why would we? They are often too painful and we have come to feel too self-righteous in our victimhood to share them openly with anyone. It was a powerful exercise. Afterward, we went through and circled the facts in our writing. It became apparent, at least in my story, that the feelings of self-righteousness were driving the feelings of anger I felt toward the person who had caused me so much pain. Did forgiveness come immediately? No. In fact, some days I don’t think it’s come at all. But, for the first time, the story I had played on an endless loop in my brain for almost two years had a moment’s pause. And, in that pause, I was able to return to the four agreements. In that pause, I was able to say, “this person was hurting, this person was doing the best she could in that moment (regardless of my evaluation of that “best”), and my taking her actions so personally when they had nothing to do with me only exacerbated the situation.” Now, I have moments where I feel forgiveness. I know those moments will continue to grow in length.

11) Sometimes what I resist is exactly what I need – My mother has always told me that I internalize stress. Stress manifests itself in my body in really terrible ways. I end up sick – really sick. Like strep throat twice a year sick. Like walking pneumonia, hospital sick. I’m not good at “taking it easy.” I’m always on the go and always have 15 spinning plates in the air at any given time while living in fear that I’m going to drop one. And, historically, I’m not good at talking about my feelings in healthy ways or asking for what I need from others. But recently, after strep throat and bronchitis put me out of commission for a while, I remembered that I need to slow down. Regularly. I’ve recently been thinking a lot about that and about why I don’t instinctively take time to recharge – really take time. Now, I’m trying to figure out how best to do that.

12) Know when to say “no” – We’re a breed of overachievers (see number 11 above). Whether it’s pushing ourselves physically to the point of injury and illness or taking on too much to do any one thing well, I need to say “no” more often. My body, peace of mind and time are valuable. When I treat it as such, I feel better and others treat me with greater respect. I’m still practicing this. There are areas of my life in which I have it down, and others which I don’t. I consider this one a work-in-progress.

13) I am enough just as I am right now – I took my first yoga class at Jivamukti in NYC in 1996. That’s 18 years ago. I looked into teacher training there and at the now-closed Om Yoga. Both times, I talked myself out of it: “It’s not the right time; I’m not in the best shape of my life yet; It’s a lot of money, etc.” I guess there’s one big gift I got from the car accident last fall: my “Give a Shit” broke. I didn’t care if I had put on weight since moving from NYC to Texas or that I had a broken hand. I knew the time to do the training was now. And, I’m so grateful I did. If we, especially we women, wait until we’re thin enough, pretty enough, or whatever-the-f@*k-society-says-we-need-to-be enough, before taking a leap, we’ll die without doing half of the things we want to. For me, as I look to the future, this also ties into numbers 11 and 12. I have two Master’s degrees and have worked in professional theatre for 15 years. I’ve held Director level positions, was involved in a Broadway transfer (that’s fancy-pants in NYC) and have all kinds of other kudos and endorsements from people in the field of performing arts. It might be time to branch out and do something on my own.

14) We humans need community – Again: the whole NYC thing. NYC is a beautiful, magical place. It’s also a soul-sucker. Over the years there, I forgot how important community is. I forgot how important surrounding myself with good, healthy people is. I was honored and humbled to do the Teacher Training with some supremely awesome women. Unfortunately, too often we women, to get ahead in the male-dominated society we live in, turn on one another like rabid dogs. It was so truly refreshing, inspiring and soul-nourishing to be in this community of women. And, that extends to the yoga studio we studied at. Taking a class there is a bit like the Cheers Pub where everyone knows your name. And, it’s awesome. I was reminded of how important it is to be a part of a community.

15) Be present – On the first day of our Teacher Training, there was a bin with a sign on it for our cell phones. It said something along the lines of “Babysitting Bin – Don’t worry, your phones will be safe.” I love that! But over the last few months I was reminded that being present isn’t just relinquishing a cell phone for a day at the yoga studio or not logging on to Facebook over the course of dinner. For me, numbers 1-14 above fall under this one. We have one life to live. Every moment we spend fretting about some stupid work something or whether the stationary for the event is an exact match to the decor; every moment we forgo meeting up with friends because we didn’t say “no” to some other inconsequential event or we get caught up in the negative talk in our heads or act from a place of habitual reaction instead of thoughtful, compassionate action; every moment we stay in situations we knoware unhealthy or we skip out on a moment of self-reflection to know ourselves as we are in this moment; every moment we do one of those things we are choosing something other than being present. And, while I don’t want to end this blog post with rainbow farts and butterfly wings, I was reminded over the last six months that the greatest gift we have to give the world, our spouse, our family and our friends is our best self. And when we choose to silence the voice within and continue on the hamster wheel without thinking, feeling or being our best self, we’re saying to God or the Universe or the f@*king Flying Spaghetti Monster that we’re not grateful for where we are and what gifts we possess. And, that, would be truly tragic.

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