Why I yoga

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Photo credit: Rachel Garrison Photography 

I have now had a few full meetings with my yoga club students at the high school. I decided last year I wanted to start this club at school so students could experience something they may otherwise not have the chance to. So, without really knowing what direction I wanted to take, I went all in and took the first step.

The students were, of course, a little bit awkward, a little unsure, and a little bit silly – only 3 or 4 of the almost 30 girls that showed up have ever even taken a yoga class before. It’s understandable! But watching the students as I was giving them the background of yoga, the principles and the ideas behind why people practice yoga, and directing them through our first (very brief) practice together, I started to realize something. We had pushed desks to the sides of a classroom, the floors were dirty, their mats were awkwardly sprawled everywhere, and it was this really neat moment of realization. It reminded me why, after those first few yoga classes I took a couple of years ago, I couldn’t wait to come back to the next one.

People always ask me what got me interested in yoga – the truth is, I needed some serious stress relief because I was going through a terrible time in my life. I went with my friend Abbie who made me try a class even though I told her I hated hot yoga the one time I had tried it before. But the reasons I kept coming back, the reasons I decided to do teacher training and become a yoga instructor as well as a student, those are the reasons I love to share.

Yoga, at the very minimum, increases strength, flexibility, breathing, balance, and coordination. It is an ancient practice that has been proven to reduce stress, increase health, and improve quality of life. Yoga heals. It forces you to quiet your mind and shut everything else out as your ears eagerly await the next cue in class, or as you struggle with how the heck your right foot can go any farther back as you keep your body standing tall and your arms twisted up like a pretzel (elbows above your heart and shoulder blades expanding to either side, please). Yoga is a place where a community is formed the minute you step inside the studio, because no matter what your story is or why you’re there, you’re there. There is no “good” or “bad” in yoga. It’s about how you feel and your own relationship with your own practice. You can be successful every single day on your mat if you just show up and let go of whatever it is you’re holding onto for a little while.

I love yoga because it gives me a chance to see a different part of people than I would out in the real world. I get to catch glimpses of their vulnerability, see if they are competitive with others or with themselves, know if they like to dance to the beat a little in their downward dog, or if they have the type of practice where they seem to float on top of their mats (as I seem to clumsily flop around on mine). We say things like “Namaste,” or call out the fancy Sanskrit names of poses as we teach or discuss yoga practice, but sometimes we forget why we’re really there. Yes, for strength and flexibility…but also for sanity, self-love, quieting the mind, and a support system.

Yoga is for every body type, every age, every race, every ability. It’s for every person. I believe fitness and health in this country are way too expensive in general, and unfortunately, the same is true for yoga. But there are many community yoga classes that are donation-based, free yoga classes for special occasions, and many studios do a first class free setup where you can come check out the studio without any charge. YouTube has several, several yoga channels and there are many apps that can bring free yoga to you. The internet has free sequences and poses already. So even if you just practice 3 poses every day for a few minutes, you’re practicing yoga.

A wise person and one of my favorite teachers reminded me in class last night:  The pose is what you’re doing. Yoga is how you are being. Whether you’re a seasoned yogi or a brand new practitioner, the idea that you have to do yoga ‘right’ or be a certain way to come to your mat is the opposite of what yoga is all about. If you’re considering trying a class for the first time, my best advice is just to take that leap and try. Bring a friend, go by yourself, put your mat in the back if it’s more comfortable at first, and let yourself laugh when you lose balance and almost fall over. Even the most experienced yogis fall on their faces. It’s a humbling experience to practice yoga, so try it with an open mind and a willingness to fail…and you’ll succeed 🙂

Leap, and the net will appear.

Happy New Year!  I love this time of year – Thanksgiving, Christmas, the new year…so many opportunities to spend time with loved ones, get a little time off, eat delicious food, and enjoy festive decorations (most importantly, there are endless opportunities for soft clothes).  I’ll be honest…my Christmas decorations are still up.  I’ll get around to that this weekend if I HAVE to.

We went back to school yesterday, so I’m slowly trying to get back in the swing of things.  With the new year, I can’t help but think about 2015.  As cheesy as it sounds, 2015 wasn’t so bad, in the end.  I had stumbles, challenges, and despair, but I also found strength I didn’t know I possessed, hope in impossible situations, and light where there had been darkness.  With the start of 2016, I feel like where I’m standing is a wonderful place to be, and I can’t complain.  How much do we complain, when we have air in our lungs and shoes on our feet and roofs over our heads?  We have so few things to complain about when it really comes down to it.  Jobs, money, weight, wardrobe, friend drama…it all comes and goes.  We should be making New Year’s resolutions to be thankful for today, every day.  I have no idea what’s coming in 2016, and I really, really don’t mind.  The best part about life is that you  have the power to decide on good days and bad days, happy and hopeful or sad and regretful.  It’s okay to experience sadness, it’s okay to experience anger or stress or strife…but what makes a difference is the way we handle it and the way we let it grip us…or the way we let go.

Last week, I had my yoga teacher audition for the studio I’ve been taking my yoga training from.  I signed up at the end of the summer – a HUGE leap of faith for me, considering I could count on my hands the number of yoga classes I had taken up to that point.  My theme for my audition was about letting go and embracing the unknown.  Leaping into the unknown with grace and strength, and letting go of what we can’t control…something I still need to be reminded of all the time.

There is a quote we discussed in class one yoga teacher training weekend:  “Leap, and the net will appear.”  So often, we wait to ‘be ready’ for something.  One of the best lessons my mother ever taught me is that if you wait to ‘be ready’ for something, you will never be ready.  You just have to jump.  Leap…and if it’s right, the net will somehow, every time, magically appear.  I liked the quote so much, I ordered some beautiful hand-lettered and painted wood slices for some of my dearest friends and some of my yoga people (please check out @between_lines_by_b on Instagram!  She is one of my friends from Meredith College and graduate school at NC State, and she’s wildly talented!).  Here is her Etsy shop.
leapquote

Today’s post is about the leap I took when I decided to sign up for yoga teacher training.  Some of you have asked for this, so it is informative, but also includes some of the ‘juicy’ details of training that you might want to know about.

Most importantly, I have spent several jam-packed weekends with a close group of women (and one man!) who have taught me so much.  I can’t express in words the gratitude, respect, and love I have for these wonderful human beings.  I have formed wonderful friendships and connections from this experience that I truly hope will last.  Each person in the group brings something different to the table, as we all do.  Probably my favorite thing about yoga is that it really is for everyone.  It’s one of those things, like music, food, or rooting for the underdog, that brings people together who would never have crossed paths otherwise.  I love that. 

Our weekends of training are intense:  8 weekends over six months of Friday 5-9pm, Saturday 8am-8pm, and Sunday 8am-6pm.  We get lunch breaks on Saturday and Sunday, but it is a big commitment.  Any place that you get training from will be different – some do the weekend format, others do weekdays, others go straight through day after day and knock it all out at once.  You just have to find the one that works for you and read reviews to see if it will be a good fit.  There are also many different lineages of yoga, so you will want to read up and see what type of yoga teacher training you want to take.  I was completely  new to yoga when I decided to join, and I honestly didn’t do any research on other trainings.  My friend nudged me to do the training with her, and I loved my studio so much I just trusted my gut and jumped in – I got really lucky because I can’t imagine taking training from anywhere else.  Still, it’s a personal preference and you should find what fits you best.

My yoga teacher training is through Hot Asana University (reviews on Yoga Alliance here).  The owner of the studio I practice at, Virginia Gallagher, created Hot Asana studio in Southern Pines and since then has opened studios in several other cities and states, including Hot Asana Durham, where I practice.   Virginia and Angela Hsu have led our training; they are two women that I have big love and respect for.  They are both so knowledgeable, kind, patient, and make you feel completely at ease.  My training was a 200 hour yoga teacher training focused on hot vinyasa flow classes.  I am trained to teach multi-level drop-in classes.  When I graduate January 10 (this Sunday!), I will be able to register with the Yoga Alliance to be a Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT 200).  Just like with teaching public education, the Yoga Alliance has requirements for continuing education and keeping your certification current.

Our weekends consist of so much information – we have covered yoga alignment basics, we have done clinics of every pose, learned some basic anatomy information, and discussed the principles of sequencing a class.  We have learned a 60 minute sequence that we can use and adapt, we have created our own classes, taught our training group our own sequences in the studio, and practiced yoga together each day we have met.  Other training information has included books we have read, meditation techniques and practice to learn to sit still with yourself, and a lot of deep conversations about life and how it connects to the eight limb path of yoga and just being a better person.  We have had spiritual and religion talks, energy talks, learned about our chakras, and have shared parts of ourselves with each other that are dear to me and close to my heart.  So much of what happens in yoga teacher training stays in yoga teacher training, but I feel like I have a seriously solid foundation in the principles of yoga, not just physically.

Through the 200 hour training, practicing yoga has become so much more for me than just going to take a class in a hot room and breaking a good sweat.  It has been a mind, body, soul transformation and it has forced even a lovey dovey, touchy feely person like me out of my comfort zone.  My spiritual journey has also gotten so much more complex since starting yoga teacher training.  It has made me really take a good look at myself, question some things, and stand fast by others.  Yoga is for the weak, the strong, the inflexible, the tired, the hopeful, the hopeless, and the faithful.  It is what brings us all to our mats together, no matter how high or low on our horses we are in the day to day.  Yoga reminds us that we are all connected, and that we need to respect ourselves and each other.  I think that anyone with an open mind and caring heart can grow immensely through yoga teacher training, even if there is no intent to teach yoga classes.  The personal growth and strength I have gained through these last few months is priceless.

I got the word on New Year’s Day that I will start teaching classes at Hot Asana studio in Durham in just a couple of weeks.  I was so delighted…not a bad way to start out a new year!  I feel really blessed (too blessed to be stressed, even), and I’m really looking forward to what the next little bit of my life will bring.  I took a few big leaps in 2016, making a huge relationship change, moving, going back to teaching, starting yoga training…and it has ended up to be such a blessing.  We should all take leaps of faith, even if we’re not sure we’re ‘ready’ yet.  Leap, and the net will appear.  If that isn’t enough to convince you…2016 just so happens to be a leap year.