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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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Camper Life

When I was a kid, I’d always leave the kitchen cupboards open. It drove my stepdad insane. Now that my whole living space is about half the size of that kitchen, I understand why.

Lesson 1 of camper life: Always close the cupboard doors.
Lesson 2: Sweep. Two, three, four times a day. Work pants live on the porch.
3. Everything has a home. Always put a thing in its right home.
4. Basically, don’t make a mess.
5. Go outside.

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They match!

Between the farming and the paddling I’ve been sleeping like a dead person when I do retreat to my cozy little trailer. My body is feeling it, for sure. Of all the things I thought to pack for this trip, I’m very grateful I remembered a foam roller.

It occurred to me that if you don’t know how to be grateful for what you do have (and that can include a bright yellow piece of foam), you won’t notice when you finally get what you’re after. You’ll keep making the future responsible for your happiness when the honey’s been on your fingers all along.

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Cheesin’ on my first paddle of the season

So, WWOOFing. It’s awesome.

We start work most mornings at 7AM, and it’s pretty sweet that my commute is all of a step off my porch. I head into the house for some breakfast and then Stephanie, my host mom, and I go out together. Trish, who works on the farm full time, usually pulls up shortly after. Some mornings we harvest for restaurants; sometimes we seed or transplant or clear beds. The chickens get fed, eggs collected. The sun is up and hot in just a couple hours.

Stephanie is amazing and nothing less. From her I’ve been learning about soil health, gut health, medicinal herbs, essential oils, sourdough, kombucha making, DIY cleaning supplies, homeschooling, hard work, and patience. She’s a phenomenal farmer, cook, wife, mother, and mentor. Nothing gets her ruffled.

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Sometimes the best cell reception is on the tractor

I am Soaking. This. Up. I don’t yet have words for how grateful I am to spend my days this way. Even in a few moments of homesickness I am stuffed with Thank You.

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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.

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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.

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On Finding Courage

Instead of a New Year’s resolution, I like to pick a word. This year’s is courage. From David Whyte:

Courage is a word that tempts us to think outwardly, to run bravely against opposing fire, to do something under besieging circumstance, and perhaps, above all, to be seen to do it in public—to show courage, to be celebrated in story, rewarded with medals, given the accolade. But a look at its linguistic origins leads us in a more interior direction and toward its original template, the old Norman French, coeur, or heart.

Courage is the measure of our heartfelt participation with life, with another, with a community, a work; a future. To be courageous is not necessarily to go anywhere or do anything except to make conscious those things we already feel deeply and then to live through the unending vulnerabilities of those consequences. To be courageous is to seat our feelings deeply in the body and in the world: to live up to and into the necessities of relationships that often already exist, with things we find we already care deeply about: with a person, a professional future, a possibility in society, or with an unknown that begs us on and always has begged us on. To be courageous is to stay close to the way we are made.

There is courage in leaving home and traveling to unknown places, but there’s greater courage in venturing inward. It takes bravery to investigate our own hearts—to hold up our most deeply held beliefs for questioning.

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I’ve operated on fear most of my life. Fear told me that people would reject me unless I never ever ever ever messed up. It told me that my dreams probably wouldn’t work out, so why bother? Fear swallowed my self-trust and sent me scouting for danger even when—especially when—everything seemed to be going my way. It made me critical and cynical.

I’m over it.

But undoing habitual patterns is hard. Freakishly hard. I designed this trip to help shake me loose—to propel me inward as much as forward and to force me, with so much unfamiliar, to notice and question the parts of my inner dialogue that hold me back from doing the things I really want to do.

Every day you get to choose. You can accept knee-jerk, fear-based reactions and you can blame something or somebody else for how crappy you feel. You can berate yourself for not doing or being better, and you can wish that things were different.

Or you can look for possibility. You can sniff out a learning. Laser your attention on how much you already have and what you can give to a situation. Then you give it. This is courage.

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Tomorrow I head to my brother and sister-in-law in Virginia. After a few days with them I officially leave my comfort zone for Tennessee.

 

*I should probably put it out there that this is not a “proper expression” of Warrior III—my head, hips, and heel should be in a straight line—but the photo had so much more feeling than the “correct” one, I couldn’t help myself. Sometimes correct is boring (except when incorrect gets you hurt, so please be careful with your body).

 

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On Intrusive Thoughts

#HonestyAlert: I have these things called intrusive thoughts. My mind will hit upon a worry and then bring it up over and over and over and over again, whether I’m cool with that or not. The negativity piles up and piles up until wham, panic attack.

When I experienced this for the first time last year, I had no idea what has happening. It was total paralysis.

But the internet is awesome, and I found a counselor who works with this particular sort of obsessive anxiety.¹ From her I learned that the conscious mind prefers to panic over things that it perceives as within its control rather than deal with the muddy stuff below the surface—the stuff that really hurts.

Panic is an indication that it’s time to get quiet and investigate on a deeper level. Easier said than done—we avoid stuff for a reason—but when I accepted the idea that my anxious thoughts weren’t 100% true and started looking underneath at what was really causing the feelings of powerlessness and hopelessness, things got really interesting. They also got much, much better.

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My left hamstring’s been feeling a little funny for the last two weeks, and a few days ago my anxiety latched onto it hard, panicking over the chance that it might get worse and render me useless for farm work. I did due diligence in ruling out injury, and then I realized just how relentless and negative the thoughts had been.

Oh, right.

It’s way easier to obsess over physical symptoms than drop down into the big groundlessness that comes with leaving home.

Seeing the chiropractor did help. But so did a big dose of self compassion. Taking some photographs. Talking to Mark. Cooking up a vat of sausage-tomato soup with my cousin at the shop. Sitting on the porch this morning, listening—being here, rather than camping out in an imaginary future. The hammy feels great today.

This won’t be the last anxious thought of the trip, and that’s a good thing. When we stop being so scared of it, anxiety becomes a pretty awesome teacher.


¹ If you are any combination of anxious, sensitive, and creative and have ever experienced intrusive thoughts, do yourself a favor and visit Sheryl Paul.