At some point in my life yoga stopped being something I did and became part of who I am. As I look back on more than two decades of yoga practice, with one exception, there was no magical moment of transformation or realization. Quite the opposite. Whatever happened was gradual.
I began yoga classes around 1990, finding yoga an interesting form of exercise at a time when I was also cycling, hiking, working out and taking aerobics classes at the gym. With all of my physical activity, I had grown used to lots of aches and pains. In fact, I thought that if at least one part of my body wasn’t hurting I was probably not being active enough.
But the yoga drew me in—into myself, into my body. As my awareness of my body became more refined, I began to discover how it felt to be better aligned. As I brought that awareness to my other activities it helped me to change how I moved. The aches and pains diminished even as I maintained the same level of activity. Perhaps I didn’t have to hurt to stay in shape.
Over time, I found myself devoting more time to yoga classes, fitting in several a week around an already busy life and a demanding career in educational research. The types of yoga varied, including Kripalu, Iyengar, Ashtanga, hot yoga and Hatha. As the physical practice expanded and deepened, the yoga put me in touch with a spiritual side of myself that I had not known existed. I joined a meditation group and began more actively to discover my own heart through meditation and asana practice.
My work life required much travel, so I found ways to include yoga. I took a mat with me, and requested rooms with enough floor space for yoga. Hotel staff tried to be polite about this strange request, and most of the time I was given a room with enough space. And, if not, I moved the furniture or changed rooms. I became very good at quickly sizing up the yoga-friendliness of a hotel room.
Through these years, I experienced many emotional stresses and challenges in my personal and professional life. I found that, in yoga, I had developed a toolkit of practices that supported me and helped me to gain equilibrium at times of distress and sorrow, to gain perspective, to recognize and appreciate who I was and what was important. Physically, I suffered the inevitable injuries of anyone who is active, and was able to rely on yoga to help with the healing. With each new injury, I invented a new practice.
To expand my yoga, I began to visit Kripalu. There I experienced the joy of extended hours of yoga practice over several days, or even a week. I studied with many different teachers, but found myself particularly drawn to Todd Norian, whose heart-centered teaching inspired me.
In 2001, I hosted a lovely yoga teacher by the name of Suzie Hurley [Note: Suzie, one of the very first Anusara certified teachers, is the founder of Willow Street Yoga in MD.] in my home and attended her workshops. Over meals she and I had animated conversations about how our lives as 50-something women were evolving. In the studio, she taught a new kind of yoga, Anusara. I was astonished by how hard I had to work to do poses I knew well and had done countless times. Never before had I paid so much attention to the arches of my feet or to the actions of my shoulders. Wow!
I continued going to occasional workshops at Kripalu. Often participants would ask me if I was a teacher. Always flattered, I would smile and say ‘no.’ But I observed Todd as a teacher and thought that if I ever became a teacher—out of the question, of course—I would want to teach like him. Todd himself was studying with John Friend and became certified in 2002. In a workshop in 2003, he encouraged me to take his teacher training. I listened, asked many questions, expressed my doubts, and then thought about it for a couple of years. At the time that he made the invitation I couldn’t have found time for his demanding program.
But I was growing frustrated with the limitations of classes and workshops. I wanted to find a deeper place in my yoga and, although I didn’t know what it was or how it would feel, I knew I wanted to go there. In 2005, with the strong encouragement of my partner, Michael Robbins, I took many deep breaths and applied to Todd’s Anusara teacher training. I was accepted, and a few months later, arrived for the training during mud season in the Berkshires.
Having come to the training only to ‘deepen my practice,’ I discovered in the first hours that what I really wanted was to become a yoga teacher. That realization was transformative for me. It shifted my relationship to yoga and to myself. Although I had been a student for close to 15 years, my passion for learning became even more intense.
Now, in my eighth year of Anusara-inspired teaching, I do not ask whether yoga is something I do or whether it is an integral part of who I am. And I know that, as a yoga teacher, I cannot teach like any of the amazing teachers from whom I have learned, but only like myself. In fact, as I look back on my journey so far, at every step yoga has helped me to gain new knowledge of myself, to become more authentically who I am. In the Anusara tantric philosophy, this is ‘chit.’ At the same time, I have been experiencing great joy through my creative engagement with yoga—‘ananda’.
It is amazing to me that I can now wake early in the morning excited about engaging students in the spiritual meaning of ‘svadyaya’ (self-study), the subtleties of inner spiral, or about how to use yoga therapeutics to help with a shoulder injury. However gradually this transformation in me has taken place, I am certain, and grateful, that it has no end.