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Teacher Training Takeaways

This is where I’ve spent the past two months—first as a WWOOFer, then as a yoga teacher in training. If all goes according to plan, I’ll be returning in the fall to continue with my advanced training.

I don’t know how to sum up everything I’ve learned so far, but here are some takeaways:

  1. None of us remember how to use our bodies the way they are intended. We sit and stand with our backs and necks rounded, putting undue pressure on delicate joints of the cervical and lumbar spine. By repeatedly sitting and standing this way, we tell our bodies over and over that this is the posture we want. The body compensates by taking load into the joints, creating tension and pain. The back becomes weak, creating a negative feedback loop: It becomes uncomfortable to align properly and comfortable to do damage. Then we go into yoga practice and wrench on our backs rather than work with the true range of motion in our joints. A neutral spine is your best friend, whether you want to do asana or just feel better in everyday life.
  2. If you do want to do asana, it’s essential that you carry a neutral spine into every posture. Advanced postures like backbend still require an internal awareness of neutral spine and the actions that help the body move toward it. This has humbled my physical practice hugely. It has also kept it safe. This is the first time I’ve practiced yoga so consistently and worked my body so intensely without injury.
  3. I have no right to the consequences of my actions, only the action itself. All I can do is act openly, honestly, sensitively, intimately, and generously. The rest is up to somebody else. The Universe. Spirit. God. Whatever you want to call it. I used to think this made me weak. Now I understand how much strength it requires.
  4. The only thing about me that has never changed is awareness. My physical body, thoughts, emotions—all have changed, some radically, with time. But this sense of a self, of consciousness, has always been steady. It’s possible to become aware of this awareness itself. When I do, everything goes silent. This is grace. It’s the most comfortable and freeing place I’ve ever been.
  5. Anti-fragility is the goal: steadiness of mind, strength of body, ease of being. Dedication and devotion are the means. “You don’t do what you want to do by doing anything else,” Matt says.

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There is a path in this for me somewhere.

I will miss waking up to the three horses whickering for their breakfast. I will miss the trail that winds down past Haleigh’s yurt and Sarah’s cabin before turning left and meandering up to Miles’ place with the epic view of Arkansas’ hills. I’ll miss the white-pebbled beach of Steel Creek and its turquoise water. I’ll miss laughing with Sarah in her garden cabin and swinging on the porch after dinner. I’ll miss the dogs: Skipper, Little Mama, Delilah, Cooper, Bella, Atlas, Scout, Baby, Poe, and Seabass. I’ll miss riding bareback through the woods with Holly. I’ll miss Matt’s hardass approach to kindness. I’ll miss the shady pavilion practice space and the support of my teachers and peers. I’m so glad I get to come back.

Tuesday I leave for Colorado. The unknown still scares the shit out of me. I don’t think that will ever change, so I just feel it now and keep going anyway.

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Postcard from Arkansas

In yoga teacher training—we’re closing out week three of four—we’ve been talking about how the will won’t ever be enough alone. Matt asks: “Have you ever noticed how even in your best efforts, you can’t live up to your highest ideals?” I had a lot of ideas about what and how much I’d be doing by now that I haven’t. That’s sort of the long way of saying I’m sorry for not writing.

Here’s the short version: Thanks to Tennessee, I know I want land and to grow my own food. Thanks to Arkansas, I know I want to know more about yoga and that I’d like to teach. Thanks to the road time in between, I know that I’m actually the kind of person I’ve always admired. I want to keep going.

Plans for the second half of the year are shifting a little. I’m still not sure about how much or when, and it’s that liminal space that makes me squirm—that damn Unknown. Still, where I used to freak about making the right decision, I think I get it now that they’re all right. They just go different places.

There’s a limit to striving. At a certain point it isn’t up to me and what a relief.

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Charlottesville

It’s been so nice to hang with my brother and sister-in-law in their beautiful home here in Charlottesville. Duke is at Darden, UVA’s business school, and I got to take class with him for the afternoon. It almost made me miss school… almost. I might like to go back to university one day, but for now I don’t need a campus to do my learning.

A 71º day begged for some outdoor yoga. I’m looking forward to lots more of this soon.

PSA: If you’re ever on the downtown walking mall, Draft is pretty sweet. 60 taps and they charge you by the ounce, so you can taste lots of beers. Fun!

Today I’ve got a 6+ hour drive to southwest Virginia. I think it’s only 3-some on the interstate, but ew, interstates. This feels sort of like the official launch of things, and I’m stoked.

On Projection, Compassion, and Yoga Selfies

I’d like to share photographs of my practice this year, which isn’t something I’ve done much in the past. I want to talk about why.

Images can be empowering, but they can also be exclusionary. There’s an ongoing debate about “yoga selfies” (photographs of yoga practice—they come in varying amounts of clothing). Do the images inspire people to get on the mat? Or do they fetishize the body and fuel the ego? Do their typical depictions of thin, young, white, and very abled bodies just push society’s message that everyone else is not enough?

My body fits the culturally praised mold, and until recently, I thought that meant I shouldn’t show it—that sharing images of my practice might make me self-centered or (way worse) hurt somebody. I don’t ever want to hurt anybody.

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There is shame in this kind of thinking. Women have been made to feel it about their bodies and themselves for a long time.

There’s also a tricky and fascinating thing called PROJECTION that I’ve been learning about. Projection is when we say, “You’re hurting me” instead of “I’m hurt.” It’s when we blame others for things in ourselves that we are afraid of or that we dislike. It’s an abdication of responsibility. I’ve been saying, “Nobody wants to see this,” when my hesitation to share really comes from a very long history of self-criticism—feelings of my own not-enoughness. I want to admit this because maybe you’ve done it, too.

First of all, this culture will tell you at every turn that no matter who you are, you are not enough. Second of all, I’m realizing that truly all I can control—and thus all that matters—is my intent. I will always share in the spirit of growth and kindness and truth, even when that space feels so vulnerable (kind of like now).

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Also, let’s be real: A selfie is a self-portrait, and artists—not just millennials with smartphones—have been taking self-portraits for a long ass time. Why are we so huffy about them now?

Yoga (and Jungian psychology, but more on that later) has been teaching me about compassion, self-love, and honesty. I want to share what I’m learning: that no one determines the kindness of your inner dialogue but you; that taking pride in your life and beliefs isn’t narcissistic, it’s vital; and that everything that you are and everything that’s happening right now actually is OK (political climate aside). No more shaming.

This is the practice. Sometimes it comes with a side of booty shorts, and why the hell not?