"Yoga, an ancient but perfect science, deals with the evolution of humanity. This evolution includes all aspects of one's being, from bodily health to self-realization. Yoga means union — the union of body with consciousness and consciousness with the soul. Yoga cultivates the ways of maintaining a balanced attitude in day-to-day life and endows skill in the performance of one's actions."
-B.K.S. Iyengar, Astadala Yogamala
During the 300-hour training, one of our teachers led us through learnings about Restorative Yoga and mentioned something that I've observed over the past couple of years, but had never actually heard anyone say aloud,"Now that you're all yoga teachers, it's hard to shut off the mind when you go to class. You start observing what the teacher is doing and thinking, 'Oh! I could use that!' or 'How did we get into that pose? I have to remember that!' Taking classes is never quite the same again."
And no, it isn't. Part of me wishes that someone had offered a precautionary warning prior to my enrolling in a yoga teacher training program, a flicker of a yellow light to encourage me to yield for just a second so that I would know what I was about to let go of and what I was about to gain.
Yoga, when I first found it at the age of 21, spoke to me in a quietly mysterious way. During my 200-hour training, we learned that it's extremely important to honor the integrity of this ancient practice and to create a welcoming atmosphere in class, since it may very well be the first time that a person has ever been exposed to yoga. I'd heard horror stories from others who took classes that jarred them from coming back for years, and I was lucky that my initial encounter with yoga began with an extremely wise teacher who had been training with his mother since he was young. He was Asian, had an accent, and unbeknownst to me, began to awaken a bit of spirituality within that had been dormant for quite some time.
I barely knew what yoga was, had heard it mentioned here and there, and felt like it was still on the periphery of being "cool," just another up-and-coming trend like step aerobics that might simply fizzle out over time. But, there it was, on the schedule of the affluent gym, down the street from my first full-time job in San Jose. I was even luckier that my generous CEO had given each of his eight employees a fully paid monthly membership, which meant that I had an opportunity to explore without pressure.
So, I took a class. I don't remember what I brought to use as a yoga mat the first time around, but I do recall that a few weeks into it, I convinced my boyfriend at the time to come with me. I was excited, I wanted him to experience that-thing-I-couldn't-put-my-finger-on. Something kept gently tugging at my heart strings to come back and I did, on a fairly consistent basis.
Then, my mind goes blank. I started losing myself in my eating disorder again, letting it progress in various ways until I made my way back to Los Angeles. There, a friend encouraged me to try Power Yoga in Santa Monica.
"You're going to love it," he told me. "Ashley's incredible."
We walked into the space, this time I believe I had a mat in hand, and the room quickly filled up. I remember that there were parts of the class where I was actually laughing, because of how challenging it was. Then, when we were through, I walked out of the studio and had never, in all of my life, felt so incredible. It was almost indescribable, as though my body and mind were floating above everything. I felt expansive inside and calm and spent, but absolutely reinvigorated. I was on a high. And then, I was addicted.
Over time, I would move away and come back again, though no matter where I went, I would never find anything comparable to the practice of power yoga. Running, climbing, surfing — nothing gave me that same feeling of inner peace and tranquility, strength and confidence, safety and playfulness, letting go and finding myself all over again. At one point, I had even encouraged a whole group of my male friends to start practicing with me (and, being that they were climbers and surfers, they were quite a good-lookin' lot to be surrounded by!).
Eventually, I began to realize that somehow, going to yoga felt like going to "church" in a way that I was comfortable with. There was an element of the sacred, a beauty in the temple, a reverence and a quiet honor for what was happening in the room. I had opened a gateway and never wanted it to ever be closed again.
Once I became a teacher, my intellect began to take over. I couldn't stop "taking notes" in classes I attended, trying to learn how to cue different poses. I couldn't shut off my mind from remember the sequence and the flow. I couldn't make the thoughts stop about how alignment should be and what variations I could incorporate. The practice went from my heart to my head, which is where I started from in the first place, and the last place that I wanted to end up again.
So, I stopped going to classes. I started doing a personal practice at home, which was better, but there was still no way I was achieving the same effects as when I would go to the class week after week in L.A. My mind, though quieter alone, still spoke up and caused distractions. It didn't nudge in me in ways that were expansive, but instead usually in ways that were testing and punishing. I tried on-demand classes over the Internet or YouTube video, which proved to be a fairly decent alternative, but again, it was more for the learning aspect of how to be a better teacher rather than how to be a better student.
Now, I find that the closest I can come to that "wow" factor, the point where my body, mind and soul fill with wonder at the journey unfolding before me, is when I have a private session with a client and I can see that same sense of awe awakening with them as it once did within me. I hope that this will change, and I believe that it can with even more diligence to break through any barriers that the manas monkey mind creates.
I take solace in the fact that my travels, like life, have simply shifted directions. I am still partaking in unbelievable moments, where I am honored and blessed to be able to inspire others to look deeper within themselves and see what they uncover. And together, we embark on mutual learning opportunities that are unparalleled and special in every way. I love being a teacher, there's no doubt about it, I feel that it is a part of my genetic make-up (my mother was once a teacher in Taiwan and on Saturdays at Chinese School in Los Angeles) and what I am meant to do. There's a Buddhist saying, "When the student is ready, the teacher appears." I will forever be a mix of both.
It's just different than it used to be. And it's okay to mourn and acknowledge that. Change is the one constant we can count on in life — nothing lasts forever. That hard pose, the easy relaxing one, everything moves in time. This moment now will eventually give way to something else. And, the more I can trust in the process, the more I believe that it's all meant to be part of the path I'm treading, where perhaps this is exactly where I need to be to be a better student after all.
Because in the end, I'm definitely learning.