We all have our favorite yoga instructors we bow in humility to, those ones who seem to have just the right things to say at the right time when we need it. They appear to live their lives so free and full, and they hold a special space for us (students) to roll out our mats and decompress our ever changing, busy, and at times overwhelming life.
Before I enrolled in yoga teacher training, I always idolized the instructors who would flawlessly roam around the room during class. They would keep me motivated to push further to the edge just by giving a sweet encouraging smile as I would catch their eye in downward facing dog. Although I had considered many times, almost daily, about enrolling in teacher training; I always rationalized why I let the next training deadline roll away by reminding myself that “they” were a specific type of celebrity. They possessed an “awe” factor I never thought I could achieve. I didn’t meditate, I used curse words, and I stayed up until 2 in the morning. I was not what you would call “zen market material”.
One day, after taking my favorite yoga sculpt class at a studio in Denver, I overheard one of my super strong, collected, and beautiful yoga queen guides on the phone with a significant other, arguing. She was hollering, spouting profanities, and I could hear the emotion and passionate pain in her voice. A wave of human reality shattered this perfect statue picture I had painted of her in my mind, and I felt connected to her in a way that I hadn’t before. It was so grounding that my stomach jumped like it does when on a roller coaster drop. I thought to myself, “I know what it’s like to take a frustrating phone call in the parking lot at work too! She’s a human!” Besides wanting to run around the corner, and scoop her up in a hug, and scream, “YOU’RE SO COOL, AND YOU JUST CHANGED MY DAY! AND I LOVE YOU!” - which I didn’t, I also knew immediately that I could no longer hide behind the excuse that I used foul words and lost my temper sometimes as a reason to not take the challenge my soul had been yearning for to enroll in teacher training.
During my training, I was expecting an “ah-ha” moment to happen, I figured one morning I would wake up and automatically feel collected and glide around with a centered essence, the way I watched all my instructors gracefully display. It never happened. I felt the same. 19 years old, confused, broke, and uninspired and to top it off when I would attempt to guide practice classes I felt like I was bombing every time. (YES, BOMBING! You know that thing that bad stand-up comedians do when they have a terrible joke and an unwatchable performance? It was THAT cringe-worthy) I found myself very overwhelmed and almost wanted to quit!
I was told by everyone in my life that mattered to me that I could not make it financially as a yoga instructor and in my heart of hearts I didn’t even FEEL like a yoga instructor anyways. I had a sincere sit-down with one of my mentors, the SAME instructor who had taken the phone call outside many moons before, who still to this day does not know I was creeping around the corner and overheard her call her boyfriend “an asshole!”
She gave me some really great advice.
She said, “You don’t learn to ride a bike by watching everyone else ride theirs. You have to get on the bike over and over and over and ride it. You have to fall, and pick up speed, and learn to slow down, and see what it sounds like to put a pop-can on the back of it and feel the wind in your hair when you go too fast. Watch out for others around you, and be cautious of where you lead yourself on your bike and take care of it by bringing it inside at night. Yoga is like a bike. Once you learn to ride your bike, you are able to guide people to ride theirs because you have FELT what it is like to LEARN to ride it not simply because you know the idea of it.”
SO GOOD right!? In that moment it occurred to me that I was coming to class, but I wasn’t fully being a student! I knew the poses, and where to put my foot and hands, but I wasn’t FEELING how my body got there, I wasn’t observing the transitions and how the weight seemed to shift mentally and physically for me throughout class. To keep brevity in this post, I will tell you I kept at it diligently, for years. I made mistakes and received feedback, sometimes drove home in tears because I didn’t feel the class was very good and I fumbled through the entire thing. But, just like my yoga mat never gave up on me, and as the students always continued to show up I got more comfortable in my teaching shoes - er barefeet.
I can now tell you, 6 years down the line, I am still a student. I still fumble, I still make HUMAN mistakes, but NOW what is different for me is that I observe my mistakes and allow myself to experience them to the fullest. I wallow in them so deeply, down to very last sometimes embarrassingly painful detail so I don’t miss any of its fibers. Because then once I have settled into the lesson the mistake manifested for me, I can bring it back to the mat, and help guide someone else through with a map, with a better sense of cautionary eyes, with a compassionate heart, an empathetic mind and a supportive touch.
THAT is how my teachers gave me the words I needed, THAT is how they always seemed calm and in control, they had been where I was on the mat. They had learned to ride the bike, and they had fallen off. They knew what it was like to scream and cry and stay up late, and their job was to smile their sweet smile and to help me through it, because if they thrived passed the tough stuff, they knew I could too! As an instructor now, I continue to learn just as much from my student’s persistence and love as I hope to bring them in anatomy and posture knowledge.
I am a forever student of my practice, other instructors, and this beautifully complicated life. If you have an instructor who you adore, continue to adore them but be mindful that you connect with them so much because you are the same. That thought should make you feel pretty damn cool! For this reason, we end our practice with Namaste: The Divine in me recognizes and honors, the Divine in you. The spirit within me bows to the spirit within you. I greet that place where you and I are one. I honor the place in you which is of love, of truth, of light and of peace. When you are in that place within you, and I am in that place within me, we are one.
Do what you do my friends, and do it well. BIG LOVE, BIG HAIR, BIG FEELINGS. Alexis out.