I was having a conversation and a laugh with one of my students after class last week and we were talking about my approach to teaching. I mentioned that I never want anyone to feel intimidated when coming to any yoga class. My entire focus as a teacher is to create a safe and welcoming space and allow my students the gift of an hour or two a week to be abundantly good to themselves and in doing so, in just showing up and doing the practice, they leave feeling a little lighter and brighter than when they arrived. I laughingly referred to myself as the “Practical Yogi.” I want my own practice and that of my students to support them in whatever it is that they LOVE to do in their lives: garden, play with kids, walk, ride, run, play hockey, golf, love their lives. I tend to keep my classes focussed on the physical postures, adding a ton of light-heartedness and oftentimes highly random music choices that seem to work out. I am not expecting my students to master yoga, I am asking them simply to reconnect with themselves, be good to their bodies and give themselves space in their day to tune in.
Don’t tell my teacher trainer but the mantras and the mudras never really did it for me. I meditate because I grew to love it, but nothing is more powerful to me than unrolling my mat, closing my eyes and breathing. I find myself in movement and this is truly how yoga changed my life forever.
I came to yoga because I suffered with bad back pain. My doctor told me to stretch and I was lucky enough to find a sweet little studio in my community that welcomed me and made me feel comfortable. I loved how I felt in my physical body, but I remember very clearly asking my teacher if I could leave before we laid down at the end. I HATED being alone in my brain. In that span of a few minutes my brain would spin right off the planet. It was torture for me. Thankfully, I didn’t run from that challenge, but instead I bought a used book on meditating from 1972 for twenty-five cents and I learned how to calm my monkey mind.
Yoga changed my life forever because it challenged me like nothing had before. I wanted to hit the road when I got to the end of class because it was the hardest part. Not the arm balances or being upside down, but the simple act of laying down and being in stillness. Guess what? There is nowhere to hide in a yoga class. Where in your day to day life to you get to be that closely connected to your own mind and body? I had a student recently ask me, “is it normal to feel emotional in a yoga class?” Ummmm, yup!
Yoga Changed Everything For Me
- It Feels Good – I have never left a yoga class with my body feeling worse that when I arrived. Call it yoga buzz or being yoga drunk, but let me tell you: it feels SO good. If you do nothing else other than show up and enjoy the movement and the opportunity to listen to and trust your body, then as far as I am concerned, you are a yogi. This feeling good started to seep into other areas of my life. As I got accustomed to feeling good on the mat, I wanted that feeling to stretch and I started making different decisions in other areas of my life. Yoga supported me to create a body that is well and vibrant and a mind that is clearer, freer and kinder.
- It is for EVERYONE – If you were to google yoga and click images, you would probably see a gross misrepresentation of what a yogi is. If you hear nothing else, please know that anyone can do yoga. My students range from my twelve-year-old niece to people well into their golden years. They are all thriving and showing up to do their own practice and to share in the energy of the community. You do not have to twist yourself into a knot or balance on your hands if you don’t want to. I found a studio that welcomed everyone and taught safe and accessible classes.
- Nowhere to Run – I started to feel better in my physical body quite quickly once I started taking regular yoga classes. It took a little longer to wrestle with my mind. My yoga homework was always to do with my mind. I found a meditation technique that worked for me and things started to change for me. There is nowhere to run in a yoga class or practice. Trust me, I would have found it. We can spend our entire lives in distraction but when it is just you, some rubber and the inner workings of your brain, it can get pretty overwhelming. Two options exist here: keep showing up or keep running. True for all the tough stuff in life.
- Seek Balance – I sometimes refer to balance postures of the brussel sprouts of yoga. You either love them or hate them! I love brussel sprouts but holy heck I hated balance postures when I started. Having a strong reaction to anything in life is usually a clue and now while I am challenged by them, I don’t let my mind run amuck. I can see them for the challenge they are, the value that they have and find stillness in my mind and then magically, stillness finds me in the posture. I was able to take this approach in all areas of my life. I stopped wasting my life working extra hours at my day job, became a teacher and found a way to contribute to the same community that had welcomed me so fully as a student. Nothing brings me greater joy than moving and breathing and laughing with my students.
- The Space to Return – Yoga gives us space. Space in our schedules, in our bodies and, most importantly, in our minds. Slowing down and finding the time to do the practice will reconnect you to yourself. This is why the practice is so challenging and so transformative. You may never rock a handstand or put your foot behind your head, but you may learn a thing or two about who you are and how you are showing up in the world. I did. Everything changed for me when I committed to the practice. My entire world shifted because I stopped running and returned to myself. In that space, I was able to tune in and listen and it is a place I can return to whenever I need to turn down the volume on the world around me and turn up the volume on my inner wisdom and voice.
Why Yoga Changed My Life
I suppose it is simple: yoga changed my life because I couldn’t run any longer. I feel softer, gentler and kinder in my approach to the world around me. I am also kinder and gentler to myself. Gone are the days where I beat myself and get stuck in perfection. Having a practice to return to that reminds me to listen to what my body needs reminds me to listen to what my inner voice is telling me and this is where the transformation truly began for me. In a world that will tell you what your life should look like, yoga gives a shelter from the noise and a chance to reconnect. It is what keeps me coming back after all of these years and what motivates me to be a present and thoughtful teacher. This is the greatest gift of all, to teach and to share and to learn and grow right alongside my students.