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Still Alive

Sorry, blogosphere!!! I’m still alive. I’ve been way better about my Instagram than anything long-form.

My last post was about my teacher training in June, and in it I wrote that I was stoked to be heading back to the shala in October.

Well… it’s October. And I’m back at the shala gearing up to start the first intensive of our 500hr training. (I’m still stoked.)

In between then and now I spent two weeks living in a garden shed in the middle of a cow pasture in southern Colorado; a week with a bunch of rad young people and an even cooler farmer outside of Boulder; a few days trekking through the Wind Rivers in the most stunning country I’ve ever seen with my own eyes; a month on a bison ranch plopped down in an expanse of yellow prairie with town no closer than 30 minutes in either direction; and a week road-tripping through the PNW with stops for lakeside camping, catching up with old friends, and park exploring.

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I’ve felt a ridiculously wide range of emotions, some welcome and some that I was hoping I’d never have to see again. I’d heard it said that “no matter where you go, there you are.” I was kind of hoping to skirt around that… but life is life and I’m still me and fear and anxiety and sadness and loneliness aren’t going away. Maybe the best part of this trip hasn’t been the variety and the freedom but the grounding that comes with knowing that happiness isn’t necessarily the result of variety and freedom; it’s a place one arrives at internally, decisively, and independently.

It’s hard to believe how soon things will be winding down.

In one of those moment of fear I found myself wondering, “Will staying in one place and going back to work mean that I’m no longer this strong, adventurous, capable person?”

Bullshit.

If anything, this year has taught me better how to listen and how to act on what moves me. Circumstances won’t always be so ideal or so idyllic, and that’s OK—necessary, even. I’ve done a lot of growing this year, and it doesn’t stop here. Luckily, I’m not done traveling quite yet.

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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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Sustainable Farming in Southwest Virginia

Last Friday, I met my friend Kai in downtown (if you can call it that) Abingdon. It was a short walk from the historic Barter Theatre to the local brewery where we sat at a picnic table looking in.

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I know Kai because she WWOOFed at Taproot, my aunt and uncle’s farm in West Virginia. She’s done really cool work with refugee growers in Baltimore, and now she’s interning at TNT Farms, a cattle and chemical-free vegetable operation not far from her old job at the Harvest Table Farm in Meadowview, VA.

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TNT is run by Tamara and Tony. We spent most of our time with Tamara, whom I met frying eggs. She’s tall and lean with a long ponytail and an awesome, quiet grin. On top of her more-than-full-time work on the farm, Tamara is a yoga teacher who also works with Appalachian Sustainable Development. In the morning we hung flyers in town for a women-in-agriculture group she’s organizing. In the afternoon we helped her and Tony with their high tunnel frame. (“A big screwbaru,” Tamara called it.) We got held up when the bull and a few calves escaped the pasture and she went sprinting up the hill.

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Those two days left an impression—maybe because it was my first day of farm work and it felt amazing to be out in the weather; maybe it was the stormy view from the greenhouse, which sits up on a hill; maybe it was this badass woman in her shredded Carhartt living a life of her choosing. Not sure, but I was happy to be there. My trip nerves disappeared the second I stepped out of Kai’s camper and caught sight of the hills.

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Loco and three-legged Mischief

Early Sunday I left for Tennessee and the River House Farm. I’ve followed Melissa on Instagram for a while, and when I posted about my trip she offered to trade a night in her super cute airbnb for some farm help. She and her boyfriend Severian live in an early twentieth century farmhouse and grow veggies right out their back door as well as on a plot down the road. Melissa teaches cooking classes for local teenagers and hosts a supper club, too. I’m learning that this farming business is rarely, if ever, just farming.

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Chilly early morning at the River House Farm

Melissa has pretty much the most epic bathroom ever. After squatting for a few hours top-dressing vegetable beds, this tub was heaven. My body is still getting used to things.

THANK YOU to Kai, Tamara, Tony, Melissa, and Severian. Wishing you guys the best of luck with your seasons.

Now I’m here outside Nashville at an impressive no-till farm that I can’t wait to tell you more about. This is my little home:

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The one downside is that I’m a half hour from any decent wi-fi connection. More soon.