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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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We Could All Use A Little More Woo-Woo

We’re taught mythology as part of ancient history. Gods and goddesses, astrology, prayer, shamanism, mysticism, ritual, spirituality—anything that breathes of the supernatural gets relegated to the past that we’ve left behind. We’re “better” now, more “advanced” without all that. We roll eyes at New Age and scorn woo-woo as a bunch of emotional nonsense. Why?

Every advancement in technology has been a step away from the primitive. As our clothing, homes, travel, and work have gotten more comfortable and convenient, we’ve distanced ourselves more and more from a reality that humans used to live closely with: Death. This is nowhere more obvious than in the (awesome) advancements of modern medicine. We just don’t die like we used to. It’s gotten easier to pretend like we might not have to die at all.

Capitalism preys on this denial—couldn’t exist without it—since everything that the free market preaches is worthless when we’re gone. If you want to be accepted by the culture, you’d better hop on the death-denying train and start making some money. The life you can’t yet afford but that will definitely make you happier is waiting.

It’s a promise that offers control. There’s a reason we pursue wealth and status for decades, sometimes our entire lives. The path is straightforward and safe. It’s material, external. You can walk it forever and never have to face the messy stuff—you know, feelings. And yet we still hurt. We’re unhappy and we don’t know why.

Woo-woo work is emotional work. It’s healing, and healing—the confronting and stripping away of self-limiting beliefs—involves the death of how and who we used to be. Feelings and death? No wonder we write this stuff off. It’s straight up ego murder. It’s terrifying.

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For most of my life, I’ve snubbed all things spiritual. No chanting in my yoga classes, please, I’m here for the pushups kind of deal. The idea of God made me squirm. Love and peace was for delusional hippies; I was after progress and a raise. I hurt all the time with depression and anxiety, but I was achieving all the right things and so I told myself that my pain was wrong.

Pain is never wrong, and it’s not for sissies. We all have it, and pretending like we don’t doesn’t make it go away. In fearing and ignoring our hurt, we feed it. In facing it, we heal. That’s where woo-woo comes in. The tools ask us to reflect on our emotional world so we might make it a more hospitable place. And when we heal, we make room for others to do the same. We find compassion.

I’ll take that over a Cadillac any day.