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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.

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?

Preparing for the Road

I don’t know my blood type, but I’ll be shocked if it isn’t type A. I leave in thirty-three days. At one point, I had four to-do lists (now I’m down to two). I’ve budgeted down to oil changes.

In mid-March I pack up and head to see family in D.C., Virginia, and West Virginia. I’ll hit Tennessee by April to WWOOF for a month, then mosey to the Ozarks to spend two at a yoga school. Afterwards it’s off to Colorado by way of a southern detour through White Sands National Park, then north to Wyoming to meet up with friends. Plans get fuzzy after that, but I’m hoping to spend at least a month WWOOFing in Montana before heading northwest through Washington and Oregon. Eventually it’s south to Santa Cruz, and then…?

Everything could change on the road. For that reason, detailed preparation feels both a little silly and also grounding. Things that are mostly complete:

    1. Figure out how to fit a year’s worth of clothes, books, and gear in my car.
    2. Remove my car’s backseats. This one I owe entirely to my boyfriend (see also #8 and #13). No #vanlife for me—I’m bringing too much equipment to fit a bunk.
    3. Sell the stuff that I’m not painfully attached to.
    4. Pack the stuff that I am painfully attached to for long-term storage.
    5. Donate the rest.
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      I’ve moved over thirteen times in the last six years, but transience can’t seem to stop me from nesting.
    6. Replace my old paddle board with an inflatable. Toting my board inside the car rather than on top should save (some??) gas.
    7. Research insurance. This is the really, really fun part of going on an adventure!! I had to find a new auto policy to cover me in all 50 states. While I was at it, I got my personal property insured (mostly camera gear). Insurance feels like a rip-off/bullshit, but I’m sure I won’t feel that way if a dickhead swipes my whole life out of my car. Least favorite to-do list item by far.
    8. Replace my blown out car speakers. Did you know that cars are actually just Legos?
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      Car guts
    9. Back up my data—I’m leaving a hard drive at home.
    10. Finally get zippers fixed.
    11. Buy things. As much as I’ve been trying to get rid,* there were still things I needed/wanted: a new lens, a National Parks pass, just a couple of books…
    12. Work freelance (see #11).
    13. Learn how to not get lost in the woods.
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      Orienteering training
    14. Narrow down my wardrobe. I found Project 333 right before getting started, and while I haven’t gotten my clothes corralled to just 33 items, I’m not far off. This shedding/streamlining feels very good.
    15. Somehow stay sane amidst the news cycle.
    16. Meditate. 10 minutes a day, every day. It helps. A lot. Yoga, too.
    17. Cuddle with the dog.
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      Maybe even more necessary than the yoga

Things still on the list:

  1. Learn how to change a tire, check my oil level, and check my tire pressure.
  2. Build a platform to even out the car floor for easier storage and maneuvering.**
  3. Do my damn taxes.

I’m not someone who easily uproots, but in what’s difficult is growth.

See you in March!

*The theme of preparing has definitely been STUFF. For a while the Kinfolk/Marie Kondo-fueled minimalist movement made me feel really shitty about my things, but in the process of assessing what I’ll keep and what I won’t, I’ve determined that it’s OK if your belongings feel like a piece of who you are. It’s also OK if you can’t afford to throw away your stuff. Ask yourself the hard questions that you need to in order to get rid of what isn’t worthwhile: Why am I holding onto this? What do I believe this thing will give me? What does this thing represent? Do I really use or need it? Ditch what feels stale and embrace the rest.

** By which I mean watch my boyfriend build me a platform to even out the car floor for easier storage and maneuvering