teaching

The Breaking of the Shell

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On weekends I prepare for a work day. I rise early, I try to sit quietly, when there’s enough time, I eat a breakfast—usually liquid, so I don’t run the risk of it backing up on me during inversions or uddiyana kriya—that will sustain me through the morning, and I get dressed and walk the half-mile from my home to the yoga studio where I practice and teach. I plan what sequence I’ll be providing, I scribble a couple of fast notes, and then I practice. I almost always take class. It’s hard sometimes for folks, even my partner, to conceive that a yoga class is a part of my work day, but on this day it is. This is one of few days where my schedule permits me to study with my teacher before I have to teach, and I can think of few things better as a means of preparation for teaching. Joining his class allows me to practice without having to think so hard, to hold my own space: I get to surrender myself to his sequence and his energy, and contribute to, and ride, the wave of prana that I’m creating with others in the room. I get a chance to get my mind right, and to relax the clinching or desire of being able to do a pose well enough. When something pressing comes up, like a day-job meeting or a family obligation, I’ll sacrifice that early class, but I hate doing so. Not practicing before I teach changes the class I’m able to provide on that day.

One Saturday morning, I arrived early. The studio is often a popular place on weekends, buzzing with laughter and gossip from folks who have the time to come out and socialize before and after their practice. I found a friend in a quiet corner, and sat down beside him. As we started talking, I began to take my jacket off, and noticed, quite out of the blue, that my neck was tingling, just this side of an ache. It was as if I’d somehow gotten whiplash in the ten seconds it had taken me to unzip my burgundy hoodie: in 360 degrees, my neck was buzzing. It wasn’t quite pain, but it wasn’t pleasant, as if it was trying to decide if it wanted to hurt.

As surprising as it was, I kept chatting with my friend for a while, and then prepared for class. As we began, the tingling began to change, to deepen and sharpen. My muscles began to tighten, and during class my range of motion became smaller and smaller.

During the practice, my teacher coached us as we moved from chaturanga dandāsana to urdva mukha śvanāsana, “Press the tops of the feet down, open the heart, let the head drop back so you’re upward facing…” I tried it, and my body, clear as a bell, responded, nah girl, we ain’t doin’ that shit. My neck gripped, my traps clenched, and I couldn't move. The voice of my body was so clear, I looked around the room,  sure someone else had heard it. But the rest of the room continued onward, tucking toes under, lifting hips up, and lengthening spines into adhō mukha śvanāsana.

I suppose I should count myself lucky that my body sometimes communicates so clearly. But on this day it just felt obstinate. The next time we did a sun salutation, I attempted to jump back, and as safely and as lightly as I landed, I felt a tremor run up my spine and my neck spasmed. Okay, no more jumping today, I said to myself with a frown. I tried to shake my head gently and release tension, but even that was painful. By the end of class, the pain was real. I could barely turn my neck to look over one shoulder, lift my eyes to the ceiling, or let my chin drop toward my chest. Everything had seized up. I was angry. I really wanted a strong practice, wanted to enjoy the wide range of movements I move my body through, even when in my teacher’s class, I often find myself banging into my own limitations. I really wanted to feel like I was doing something! But the pain in my body restricted that range of motion to quite a narrow path.  When my teacher put us in śavasana, I stepped out of the room and took a quick dose of Arnica Montana. I returned to the classroom and rolled up a blanket behind my neck, hoping that the extra height would give my neck a place to loosen and relax a little gripping. No dice. I taught the next class class that way, unable to swivel my head in any direction, feeling tense, tight, achy, and struggling to breathe deeply.

This is an old pain, a pain I’m familiar with, that I’ve struggled with on and off for close to 20 years. I’m not sure when it began. I wish I could chalk it up to something, like a car accident, or a traumatic injury, but nothing I’ve experienced is so profound that it would make sense. I have noticed that when I feel overheated, or when find myself in situations of conflict, when I feel my buttons of abandonment or overwhelm being pressed, that it tends to flare up. I used to wish for healing, to be free forever of this pain. It makes it difficult for me to practice headstand and feel safe. I’m not so worried about whether or not I can balance; instead I’m worried about taking too much weight on my head and doing myself significant, permanent damage. My relationship to this pain is enduring, for better or for worse.

I’d love to be able to tell you that the practice of yoga teaches you to work with your body as an ally, a partner in your life and how you move through the world, and not as a resource to be mined, or an object of oppression, or an obstacle to manipulate into submission, to overcome. I’d love to tell you that, but I'm not sure it's true. When I look closely around the classrooms I practice in, I see some bodies that are longing, that are striving, working as hard as possible. Some of us come to yoga seeking healing from pain, looking to build strength and grow our capacity. For some of us, the physical practice of yoga is another place where we push push push, go go go, demand 110%. There is no ease in this kind of practice, there is only effort.

Pain has been a big part of my practice. I don’t have any complex diagnoses, I don’t have an autoimmune disorder. But I also have been taught to demand excellence from my body. I have learned that with enough effort, stringency, demand, and the sheer, brutal power of my will, I can make my body what I want it to be. This doesn’t feel like an accurate context for knowing my body. My body doesn’t like it when I demand from it; it tends to rebel. I’ve tried to demand postures from my body, like Urdvha Dhanurāsana or Pincha Mayurāsana, I wind up with injury that causes me to back off and rest. But this demand from the body is what our world teaches us: our body is under our control, and is an object to be controlled, rather than a partner in our existence. As a woman, my body is not a temple, nor a manifestation of the divine that I can explore and enjoy for all the things it can do, all the ways it can change, not a gift for me to enjoy and share as I deem right. It is a tool for attracting attention--usually from men, whether or not I’m attracted to them, or even heterosexual—and it’s a tool I have limited ownership over; it's an incubator for breeding the next generation, and if I can't breed, then what use am I? How I adorn my body dictates how others treat me, and if they treat me like shit it must be because I did something that indicated that I wanted to be treated like shit, that I thought I deserved to be treated like shit. This can include walking, smiling, not smiling, drinking in public, drinking in private, laughing, being alone, being with friends, wearing short skirts, long skirts, being covered from head to toe, being single, being married, being young or old, being poor, being wealthy, being friendly, being nice, being mean, being quiet, basically just being.

Marginalized bodies, bodies living with or recovering from trauma, bodies dealing with disease, sometimes these aren't the safest, easiest bodies to live in. But when we are able to bring our bodies to the mat, without judgment, with observation, with one eye on discipline and one eye on compassion, we can learn and grow to love ourselves more deeply and completely, and to care for ourselves in a way that serves us continuously.

I want to move my body with delight and safety and ease through the world, but sometimes it's hard to; sometimes the threat to my ease and safety feels outside my body, and sometimes it feels inside. Wrestling my mind away from judgment and self-loathing can be just as challenging as being brave enough to feel free to walk down the street. (Because, this is not an exaggeration, some days, it really does feel threatening as a woman of color, to walk down the street. I resent it, and I demand the right to be free in my country, in my city, in my neighborhood; and I also feel, at times, at risk.) Resisting the external demand I feel on my body, and working with the pain that I feel, sometimes my practice changes shape. I can't always count on being able to unroll my mat and throw down: sometimes I come to practice hurting, and I don't want to push through the pain. I want to work with it, because it may be temporary, but so is ease. 

If your practice is anything like mine, sometimes you have trouble staying present in it. Sometimes you get distracted thinking about what else you have to do today, or (my personal fave) what you're going to eat when this is over, or maybe how that last pose went for you, or what pose is coming next. Pain brings you immediately to the present moment. it won't let you move away, it won't let the balloon of your mind drift away from the steady grasp of your hands into the sky or down the road. It holds you present, it Keeps You Here. 

I tell students not to practice to the point of pain, not to push through pain, and I mean it. When something hurts me, I don't want to do it, and I believe that if we blind ourselves to the messages of our body (I'm hungry, I have to pee, Ouch!), that we position ourselves for greater and more lasting discomfort, dysfunction, and potentially, disease. Practicing with pain is something different. In a monograph of guidelines and practices written by the Ashtanga Vinyasa Ann Arbor community, led in some part by Angela Jamison, she writes, "It's a practice, not a performance. Modify for pain or fatigue if they actually arise. You might be surprised: they may have just been in your head."  

(Just as a sidenote, I need to take a moment here and totally fangirl over Angela Jamison. Though I'm familiar with Primary Series (and respect it deeply) I'm not an Ashtangi, but if I were and if she'd have me, I'd make an annual pilgrimage to Ann Arbor to practice with her. I have learned so much from her about practice, about paying close attention and what we do and why, and I LOVE the way she writes about the intersections of yoga, economy and society. Her work consistently asks me to step up my game. Deep, deep bow.)

She continues, "....For what it is worth to you, here is my personal practice. When I have been injured or ill, I still roll out the mat. I sit, lie or gently move, focus on the breathing, remain calm, and feel the energy in my body. This (1) maintains the practice habit. It also (2) focuses attention on perceiving energetic and physical experience, teasing this apart for emotional reactions, and thus significantly alleviating my suffering. (Shinzen Young says Suffering = Pain x Resistance.) This practice of coming to the mat even when there is great difficulty is (3) often fascinating, and sets a new baseline for future gratitude for my body. I sense that (4) doing this helps me recuperate faster. Studying pain with curiosity and care, not pushing to try to make it disappear: this is what I mean when I saw that it is OK to practice during injury or illness."

This is the energy I try to bring to my practice when I'm hurting, and though it complicates my life, I'm grateful for pain because it has lessons to teach me: about how to rest, how to practice, and how to listen closely. When I'm not hurting, I take ease in my body for granted and pay less attention and push more. 

(I've been talking pretty exclusively about physical pain in this context, and it's important to acknowledge that emotional, mental, and psychic/spiritual pain is as real--and as prevalent--as achy knees and shoulders. They're often connected to one another. I highlight physical pain in this post because it's what's been taking my attention most clearly. I think perhaps the same kind of discipline, compassion and curiosity could yield meaningful results when dealing with pain located in the mind, heart, or soul. It often has for me. )

All this to say that the body is not a traitor, even when it behaves in ways we wish it wouldn't. Your illness or injury is a meaningful teacher just like mine is for me. So don't be mad that your body won't do what you wish it would. Marvel at what it will do. Be grateful for what it has to say, and listen closely. Work together. Work cooperatively. Be patient. Release attachment to results and for gawd's sakes who cares if you can do dwi pada sirsasana. Can you spend a week with your family without wanting to kill them your yourself; can you acknowledge your privilege and use it for someone else's good; can you say you're sorry; can you forgive? When these practices come with more ease and less effort, we'll know the yoga is doing something.

 

And a woman spoke, saying, "Tell us of Pain.

And he said:

Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding. 
Even as the stone of the fruit must break, that its heart may stand in the sun, so must you know pain. 
And could you keep your heart in wonder at the daily miracles of your life, your pain would not seem less wondrous than your joy; 
And you would accept the seasons of your heart, even as you have always accepted the seasons that pass over your fields. 
And you would watch with serenity through the winters of your grief. 
Much of your pain is self-chosen. 
It is the bitter potion by which the physician within you heals your sick self. 
Therefore trust the physician, and drink his remedy in silence and tranquillity: 
For his hand, though heavy and hard, is guided by the tender hand of the Unseen, 
And the cup he brings, though it burn your lips, has been fashioned of the clay which the Potter has moistened with His own sacred tears. 

Kahlil Gibran, "On Pain"

Yogi-as-Saboteur

Under the Green Line, 11th St., Chicago circa 2014.  

Under the Green Line, 11th St., Chicago circa 2014.  

I recently read an article about yoga and appropriation that left me troubled. On paper, it sounded right up my street. Written by a yoga teacher in Florida, it offered suggestions on how to make sure that in your practice of yoga (not just asana), that you're honoring "the roots" of the practice. It was a great effort, but I felt the advice on avoiding cultural appropriation was a little too light for my taste. "A little humility, a little reverence, goes a long way", she writes. Yes, absolutely true. But what the hell does that mean? The further I read into the post, the more I realized  I was frustrated because I felt the advice was vague, and I wasn't sure about the context from where it was coming. 

It took me a lot of digging in corners corners of the internet to discover that the writer identifies--at least in one particular post--as an Indian woman. But the writer didn't mention their identity in the context of the advice.  I wondered, why--on a blog on their own website (and also in the Huffington Post), in a discussion about the appropriation of a practice deeply connected to identity and nationality, that has been colonized and arguably appropriated by the majority culture-- why did the writer not identify as a person of color, and as an Indian woman specifically?

I mean, if I give this even a minute of thought, I can throw up guesses at why. Sometimes wearing a specific label in the public discourse of a specific context can get you questions you don't want to answer, get you ignorance you don't want to tolerate. Coming out as an Indian woman in a conversation about how not to culturally appropriate yoga might mean getting comments like, "Does tantric yoga really give you multiple orgasms?" or "What's up with that red dot on the forehead?" Right? and that's just the low-hanging fruit: I have no idea the ignorant shite that actually gets said to Desi folk who move in the context of yoga in the West. But I bet it would make me angry. 

As someone whose identity sometimes puts me on the margins in certain communities, I hate it when I'm asked to speak for the sub-culture I'm part of (depending on the conversation it changes), and it happens so easily. In my new favorite podcast, the two hosts were fielding questions from white listeners addressing the idea, "How can I, as a white person, be an ally to people of color?" Their answers were so thoughtful, and not a little impatient at having to answer the question AGAIN, and you should definitely listen to the podcast, but it boiled down to: Don't be ally, do ally. Read a book. Then read all the books.*** Talk to your people who aren't doing this right, or who aren't doing it at all. Keep your mouth shut and listen as often as possible.  People of color are tired of talking the talk to folk who don't and won't listen; white person, you wanna be an ally, stop worrying about the label, pick up your knapsack of privilege and use it to create some justice in our world. 

So maybe the writer didn't self-identify in her space as Indian because she doesn't want that part of her identity to encompass how she's working in that context. Or maybe they thought it wasn't relevant to do so. Or maybe there's some element of what's happening in cultural appropriation that this conversation is missing sight of.  

I don't have the luxury of choosing whether or not to identify. There are definitely times when I feel I can manipulate my racial identity--code switching, anyone?--but I don't forget about it, and in the world I travel from day to day, it's always there: an indivisible part of me from which I'd never want to separate. I feel a responsibility to bear witness to my experience, and out of it, to work for a world I actually want to be around for. My experience is complicated, hard to quantify, and it's also black, it's woman, it's cis: I cannot do otherwise. In spaces that are working to raise consciousness (and sometimes in spaces that aren't), I feel an expectation that marginalized folk who step to those spaces are at most eager, but at least willing, to identify. I need us to be seen, to take up space and not to shrink from what we need to say or do. 

So I read this post I mentioned earlier, a kind of "How Not to Culturally Appropriate", and then I read this piece, positing cultural appropriation as a symptom of our world's systems of privilege and oppression. It was fresh and insightful and smart and so powerful. It hit the notes that I think I was seeking in the other piece: a clear, penetrating look at the real damage appropriation does, and a challenge to tear down our own moments and actions of appropriation by seeking to destroy the systems of oppression that exist in our world.

Like so many other systemic problems—police brutality, say, or a lack of diversity in film and television—cultural appropriation is a symptom, not the cause, of an oppressive and exploitative world order. And yes, these symptoms do reinforce the systems that created it (police brutality will reinforce the supremacy of Whiteness through fear and violence, therefore helping to enable more police brutality), but ridding society of any of these individual factors does not touch the systems of oppression that created it.
— "When We Talk About Cultural Appropriation, We're Missing the Point"--Ijeoma Oluo

So what are the systems of oppression in the yoga community? Drop-in and package prices that are prohibitively high? Studios that are inaccessible to the differently-abled? An absence of gender-neutral restrooms or changing rooms? Adjustment without consent? Using tools of worship as adornments of fashion? These are just the ones that I can see with my teeny vantage point; some of them, that I sometimes feel, are harder to articulate, and harder to wrestle with and uproot. How do I talk about the oppression that creates a space where I as a person of color feel both indelible and invisible at the same time, while I also feel at home in my asana practice? How do I talk about it so others will hear me? How do I reckon with the idea that teaching--an act which, at least in our society, inherently creates a kind of top-down, expert-novice, student-teacher dichotomy--requires me to share experience and information in a way that is grounded in a spiritual practice (yeah, I said it), that is not a part of my national or cultural heritage? How do I dismantle and transgress the classroom context so that I am not the expert in the room, but instead a servant to the students, and a compassionate, guiding witness in their individual and collective work?

This conversation about appropriation in the culture of how I do my life's work, how I earn my rent, how I serve--and initiate change in--my community by using a practice that feels at once mine and not-mine, well, it's a conversation I have with myself over and over. If I'm lucky, I occasionally have it with other yogis and teachers who are down for the cause as well, and if I'm doing my job, I have the conversation worth yogis and teachers who aren't down--this is harder but it matters. I get so excited about using yoga as a tool to dismantle the patriarchy, as an agent of subversion for the good of humanity. I don't think yoga is a rising tide that lifts all boats; I don't think that every class we go to is going to raise consciousness and  pursue/manifest justice and healing for all. But I think when we decide that our practice as teachers and students is also to subvert, to dismantle, and not to just open hamstrings and calm breath, we can begin to practice and to teach without appropriation. When we engage yoga as a tool of crumbling systems of oppression and equalizing systems of privilege, we can heal institutions and not just bodies. 

P.S. In the midst of drafting this, I watched Beyonce's "Formation" video and read a little bit about it, and I also watched that Coldplay video, "Hymn for the Weekend." Quite the spectacle in both, and talk about exploitative world order:  It gave me a  cultural appropriation headache. The best thing I read about it is here.

 

 

***Also, ohmygourd, in NO WAY, is this list exhaustive. There are so many I would add, not singularly in terms of black feminist education, but in consciousness raising. Maybe I'll put together a list in another post...

Teach to the Room

It had to happen eventually.

I went to teach class with my mat and water and lesson plan, and no one showed up. 

I sat on my mat for a short time, trying to exude welcome-ness--which just looks like me with my eyebrows raised and a bit of a goofy smile on my face--and when it became clear that I'd be alone, I turned off the obnoxious fluorescent lights and I practiced by myself.

I'm a young teacher, and I'm learning what it means to teach, and how to teach, by teaching. I'm new, and I don't know a lot, and I'm still crafting.

So I wasn't destroyed by the fact that no one came to class.

During my study, I asked Elesa Commerce what it meant to hold space for people. She blessed all of us, her students that day, and called us healers, medicine women and men who had a powerful responsibility--and maybe calling?--to provide room for healing, support and presence for anyone who'd ever step into our classroom. It is a big deal, what you're doing, she told us. When you cross the threshold of the classroom, it becomes your space. You're the container of the energy of class, you need to hold it with great consistency. Part of what you're doing as a teacher in this room is feeling people, she said. Teach to whoever shows up in the room.

This is the energy I'd take with me into the room. When I was so nervous I couldn't breathe or swallow, I'd tell myself, all you have to do is put the work out there, Jess. Prepare thoughtfully, teach compassionately, detach fully from the results. That's it.

I think an attitude like this makes it easy to receive an empty room. If you wind up being the only person in the room, then you (or I) can offer the same compassion, consideration and detachment to ourselves that we would to our students. 

The other side of the coin, of course, concerns, well, coin.  We're all trying to make a living, even those of us who teach yoga, with or without the glitz and  sex appeal. It's my understanding (and I don't know much) that in some corners of the industry, teachers get paid based on how many people show up to class. So if you're lucky enough to land the right spot in the schedule and draw, eight, 10, 17 students a night or week, then you make good. If you're in a less attractive slot, well, good luck. This phenomenon makes me kind of anxious. I'd really like to think less about filling the room with bodies, and more about preparing the students for a fruitful journey with their breath, their mind, their body, their consciousness. I wonder, is this the way it has to be? What's important about offering yoga as a service or experience, and what to we teach ourselves and each other about its priority when we price it this way? I'm not sure if this is a question about yoga or integrity or capitalism or what. I just know that when I begin to think more about how to draw people into class so I can make a decent wage, and less about how to use postures, breathwork and attention exercises to work mindfully with the bodies in the room, well, it bums me out. 

I'm privileged in that if no one shows up to my class, I don't have to worry about how I'll make rent or afford to buy medication. I'm fortunate to have learned to offer a great, grounded experience to a room whether it's filled with many people or few. I see the ads about how to "live the life I've always wanted as a yoga teacher!" on FB and I get twitchy. But I think of the running ragged and the jumping at every chance to teach that I assumed I'd have to do, and started to do, and I want to stay home, eat potato chips and watch Big Bang Theory reruns. 

So it would seem that, at least for now, the work in front of me is to continue to prepare, to continue to offer mindfully, without taking attendance, to continue to teach to whomever shows up, even if that's just me, and to trust that, as friends have said, my students will find me.

In the meantime, extra time to be still and quiet is always a blessing. 

Transitions

I recently finished my 200-hour yoga teacher training at Tejas Yoga. It was a really powerful day, an evening of reflection and connection. We're a pretty happy group of yogis...

My teachers gave us the opportunity to speak into the space and share what was on our hearts. Anyone who knows me knows that I generally don't shy away from a chance to share my opinion; but as much as I value words and their power, at that moment, language felt inadequate, so I stayed silent. 

But not here.

As a student, and a teacher, one of the most important learning tools is an invested and connected learning community. I wrote a paper about this idea at the end of grad school that argued, specifically in the context of creative writing, a connected community was seminal to producing quality work.

Learning is a really vulnerable process. We take for granted the process of teaching and being taught; education, even in its flawed state, is an accepted part of our societal structure. But there's a point where learning a thing stops becoming exciting and starts becoming something that's tinged with shame. "You didn't know that?", teachers exclaim at their students. Someone asks questions and no one puts up their hand because we're all afraid of being wrong. I've lost count of how many people apologize for asking questions in learning and professional settings. I'm sure I've done it.

It takes a lot of bravery to put yourself in a situation where you don't know a thing, to acknowledge you don't know the thing, and to be willing to ask someone else to take up the responsibility of teaching you: to make lasagna, to write a compelling essay, to teach a sun salutation or to change your oil. It requires a consistent willingness of the student to be vulnerable, to (potentially) look stupid, to try and fail, and to persevere. It also takes a sense of ownership about your own education. The best learning happens when the student is an active participant in the process; when she does more than just the homework, but when she takes charge of what she wants to know. (I learned this really late; if I'd known differently, I'd have taken so many more classes at NU). Still, learning takes a tender heart, trust, and the willingness to be vulnerable.

It also requires a level of commitment and gravity from the person you entrust to teach you: I want a teacher who's present, deeply knowledgeable of their subject, excited about teaching, and willing to challenge me without feeling they have to crush me into dust and then build me into a miniature version of themselves. Teaching is an act of service; there is no room for ego, no room for complacency or boredom, no room for haphazard commitment to the students or to the craft.

Finally, the best learning happens in a connected community. When the learning community is full of people who have an interest in each other, who can see one another in their vulnerability and humanity, and who matter to each other, as craftspeople and as humans, the alchemy of support, challenge and safe competition creates beautiful things.

I've been incredibly lucky, and deeply blessed, to be a part of two such communities in my life so far.The first was at Columbia College. I remember, the first class I took, the professor didn't have a syllabus on the first day (I think we eventually got it week 8 maybe?). He just sat down and started talking about censorship and communism, and I panicked. What have I done? I thought. There's no syllabus? What are we gonna do all semester? Oh my god, I've made a huge mistake. My uptight, organized Pitta personality flipped out. But fortunately, I discovered that his unorthodox manner was the introduction to a community of writers and artists who are dedicated, hardworking (and underpaid, Amen?) people who work tirelessly on their students' behalf. 

At Columbia, I learned how to look people in the eye. I learned how to listen deeply, and to read with attention. I didn't know this at the time, but I think I learned that ineffable quality of holding space. I learned the difference between good teachers and not-so-good ones, and I learned what happens when the learning community is bonded and connected, and what happens when it's loosely held together.

As a student at Columbia, I was grateful for the classes I had with writers I respected, and not just liked, and in awe of the teachers who were able to create these communities, even when things were confusing, unclear, or challenging. As a teacher there, I worked hard at providing the same experience for my students. I read a great, great book and got some great, great training from award-wining teachers and artists that made me better at my job. I learned some hard lessons, and when I screwed up, I sought wisdom, which was abundant, and tried to integrate those lessons. 

The other learning community was at Tejas Yoga.

By the time I got to Tejas, I'd embraced my nature as gregarious, intense and focused. I'd looked a long time for the right place to study yoga. My work as a writer and teacher made me interested in finding a learning community that was both rigorous and supportive. It'll sound pretentious (and maybe it is), but the gift about being exposed to such good teaching is that when you experience bad teaching, you see it right away. I've learned to recognize strong pedagogy. 

I think I knew Tejas was the right place at the end of my first class. At the time, it was a small studio on Wabash just north of Roosevelt, and I'm pretty sure I went one weekday after my afternoon class. Three hours and fifty minutes of reading aloud, sitting in crummy plastic chairs under fluorescent lights and engaging young writers is the perfect motivator for a little breath and movement. The class was 90 minutes of sweat and breath and sequenced postures that made me feel at once wrung out and energized. But the clincher was savasana. Near the end of class time, we lie on our mats in stillness and silence. My body fell deeper and deeper into concentric pools of relaxation. How long are we going to lie here? I wondered, just before I would descend into deeper stillness. After what felt like 30 minutes (but was probably about 10 or so), the teacher, my teacher, invited us to rise to a seat, and taught us a breathing and concentration technique to close the practice.

At the end I'm sure I was smiling. It was the first studio I'd ever been to--easily the first in Chicago--that valued deep rest, breathwork, and concentration as a meaningful part of the practice and not just physical postures. That communicated a lot to me about the integrity of the yoga being taught there by the owners, Jim and James. If I learned nothing else about them, with that first class, I knew, these were guys who knew their stuff. 

I was right. Years of continuing to study with them, and this last year of deep study on the practice and discipline of yoga has taught me so much, but has only scratched the surface of their knowledge.

I felt safe making myself vulnerable, and putting my learning in the hands of such teachers. Equally important to me was the group of colleagues I would work with. I began the training seeking a community, a cadre of people with whom I could talk about yoga things. My Mister, God bless him, is a patient and generous person, but he just doesn't care much about whether a full or new moon affects the physical practice. He just wants me not to get hurt, and not to be too tired to fold the laundry I promised I'd finish. 

What I discovered in the cohort of my fellow trainees-turned-graduates is a group of people in varying levels of practice and stages of life, but all of whom gave themselves to this process, and to this community. We encouraged one another, we challenged each other, we grieved together and we felt for each other. We mattered to each other. We recognized the vulnerability and humanity in each other, and in so doing, we cared for each other and connected around the shared work, the shared hardship, the shared growth. 

I'm (re)learning now that, as far as bona fide teacher training goes, Part One happens when I sit in the seat of Student, and Part Two happens when I sit in the seat of Teacher. That is as it should be. But the community of people around me for Part One gives me the confidence to step, certain and humble, into Part Two. If I ever become a good yoga teacher, it is due to the community of teachers and colleagues who made me one.