Today I had an AHA moment, about what teaching yoga is all about for me. I found myself fighting back tears at the grocery store checkout, and then letting them flow freely as I drove home in the rain (maybe not the safest choice as far as road safety goes). I often wonder, when I think about the yoga I teach, what my students want and need and if I am, in fact, offering that to them.
Well, walking through the grocery store today, I bumped into one of my regular students and we said “Hello”, and had a laugh over the fact that we were holding the same item. We then started chatting (blocking the whole aisle, of course) about a sore issue going on in her life that was less than ideal. I knew a bit of the background, but she shared with me a little more about what was causing her some distress and pain. I was happy she was willing to share her story with me and I was glad to be able to listen and offer my support and a few thoughts. I was genuinely upset that she was upset, and I hope my understanding and compassion was a small comfort to her as we stood there holding cheese.
At the end of our chat she said, “I just wanted to let you know how healing your yoga class is.” I got choked up. She told me that she didn’t want to say it in class, but that it has helped her so much, to work out so many things. YES, this is what it’s all about for me! I told her that I was so glad that practicing yoga meant this to her and that is why I teach it, because it is exactly that for me too. Yoga has helped me and healed me, and my hope as a teacher is that I can inspire others to help and heal themselves through yoga as well. If my arms weren’t so full of organic produce and naan bread I would have hugged her!
We parted and I headed for the checkout. I felt emotional; sad and happy at the same time. I felt sad because someone was experiencing pain, but happy that I may have some small part in lessening that pain and helping her to deal with it and move forward. I was also happy to know that something I take as such an important job (teaching yoga) was having an actual impact on at least one person, and hopefully more.
Leaving the store, her story started striking a chord with me even more. I had been healed by yoga too, and am still being healed. Naturally I started thinking about what I was healing and how it was similar or different from her. I had all kinds of pain in my life when I started to take yoga seriously. Physical pain, from fibromyalgia, back pain from fracturing 3 vertebrae, wrist pain from breaking both wrists (at the same time), pelvis and bladder pain from acquiring IC (interstitial cystitis), a painful hip from a surfing accident which I was told I might need surgery on. Among other physical problems, but those were just the small pains.
The big pain my life was depression from being a sad child, a lonely only child, moved away from her family and friends at age eight. This bred an angry teenager. Angry at my mother for an endless myriad of typical teenaged blamings (who I am now best friends with), angry at my father for not being there and for not being the father I thought I wanted (who I now see as a good father who I wouldn’t trade for the world, as he was doing the best he could at the time), angry at the kids at my school for forming cliques that I didn’t feel part of, and mostly angry at myself for not being the fastest on the swim team, for not being the best dancer in ballet class and for not being as perfect or cool or rich or pretty as I thought I should be. Later in life, the anger turned towards failed relationships and thwarted expectations all around.
That’s a lot of stuff to deal with! Or rather, not to deal with. As I grew more connected to my yoga practice and actually started taking in what my teachers were telling me to do, breathing deeply, allowing feelings to come and go, relaxing my body fully, opening and being aware of energy channels, I often found myself, at the end of class, silently crying. Which I thought was curious but kind of fascinating and actually felt really, really good to just let it out. I would hide my face and slink out of class so not to be embarrassed, not showing the teacher that they brought me to tears. Thinking back, I should have shown my teachers the affect they had on me, and thanked them. I hereby thank them all now!!
My physical ailments started to lessen as my body became stronger, lighter and more flexible. My organs became clean and healthy and started to function better (hello awesome digestive system!) My aches and pains slowly evaporated (no longer needed hip surgery) and as Bikram tells us, yoga helped me to cure what I could not endure and learn to endure what I could not cure.
The most remarkable change though, was this all-encompassing feeling of happiness that moved right on into my life. I had always felt moments of happiness here and there, but now, I feel it there with me all the time. Through ups and downs, successes and failures, I always feel happy underneath it all. I'm happy when it's raining out, but I also feel great when it rains. I know that when something happens and I do feel sad, I am not a sad person, but a happy person experiencing sad feelings. I have become so much more stable and unreactive to whatever presents itself to me. I have come to feel that life is like boat pose. Even if it starts to get hard, or feel painful, you can always persevere for a few more breaths, staying calm until it’s over. Because everything comes to an end. For that same reason I have also learned through yoga not to become attached to the highs in life, the great moments. I breathe them in, bask in the momentary enjoyment, and then let them go.
All I ever wanted from teaching yoga was to offer this possibility up to others, this chance to practice yoga in order to heal deeply. Yoga eventually shows us the truth about ourselves, mind, body and soul. This knowledge helps us and allows us to listen to, to fix, to nourish and to love ourselves completely. And today in the grocery store I realized that my question, about whether or not what I was trying to share was actually getting through, had been answered. What I have been giving has been received.