After completing my 200 hour yoga teacher training in January, I was asked to turn in a final assignment, an essay of our transformation throughout the program. I had intended to journal and blog more throughout the training itself, but it wasn’t until I took the time to reflect recently that I realized how much I had learned and changed throughout the last several months. I’m excited to share that story with the world and have adapted my final essay for the blog.
The Season of Fall: What must you let die in order to live?
Fall has always been one of my favorite seasons. My birthday typically falls precisely on the autumn equinox and each year I can always sense the change in the air. Although some characterize the season by the dying off of the summer and the impending cold to come, I have always approached it with excitement, making inventory of the things I was ready to change.
To begin a yoga teacher training on the cusp of autumn, within a week a of my 30th birthday was particularly auspicious for me. That day I read something, “Have the courage and endurance to face what must die in you, and the rewards will be unparalleled”. I knew I was ready to make big changes and that this was just one step towards whatever was next for me.
The suggestion to consider yoga teacher training came at the perfect time earlier that Spring. I would characterize my life at that point as feeling very stagnant, despite significant personal growth the two years prior. I felt as if my career was stuck in a rut, and had lost momentum with my fitness goals after injuring my back. More significantly, I was holding significant stagnation in my body - physically and emotionally.
In March of 2013 I lost my first pregnancy. Only a few short months after my wedding, I found out I was pregnant, and we were both thrilled! Life, for the next few weeks seemed completely blissful, as if everything was falling into place just perfectly. But right before my first doctor’s appointment I noticed spotting. Tests would eventually confirm the pregnancy wasn’t viable. It was a really devastating blow, one so bad I struggled even talking about it with anyone beyond my husband. Nevertheless, I remained optimistic about trying to conceive again, and overhauled my lifestyle in order to boost my fertility and health. I started eating whole, nutritious and organic foods, and began a fitness regiment. I’d go on to lose nearly 30 pounds in the next year and half, which was incredibly empowering. In fact, my new commitment to my health spawned this very blog! But, despite those efforts and accomplishments, I still couldn’t manage to conceive again.
Visits to a specialist revealed no obvious reasons as to why I wasn’t conceiving. On paper, I was really healthy, which made the failure to conceive even more frustrating. While tests couldn't reveal any reproductive problems, by 2015 I was experiencing other ailments. I had chronic lower back and hip pain, and my menstrual cycles were up to 50 days. I suspected the symptoms could somehow be related to my infertility and I began to see an acupuncturist, who recommended treatments to move out stagnation in the body.
I knew my health problems extended beyond the physical body as I was still holding onto tremendous grief about my miscarriage, hopelessness regarding infertility and a general sense of suffocating with the secret of it all. My life was filled with stagnation. Stagnation in my job, my life goals, my health, and my heart.
Thankfully my spirit recognized the opportunities that a yoga teacher training would bring to me. Honestly, it wasn’t something I’d think of doing unless it was recommended to me. It was a scary commitment, both in my time and financially. However, everything in my gut told me that enrolling in a yoga teacher training would be a next big step in my life. At the very least, I’d deepen my own yoga practice, which was already helping me to confront my own feelings of shame, grief and anxiety about losing a pregnancy. If I worked hard enough, maybe I’d also get back in shape and master some cool asanas. And at best, I thought, perhaps it would be the start of creating my own business someday. In my heart, I knew it would be a step towards finding some closure in my quest to become a mother, and in some small way, reveal what was next for me in life. Little did I know what transformation was waiting for me.
Deepening my practice & radical self-healing
The first few weeks of training were exactly how I expected: exciting, exhausting, interesting, informative and at times overwhelming. If the asana classes were butt-kicking, the lectures and group activities to encourage us to “go deeper” were even harder. Beyond developing new yoga instructors, The New School of Yogic Arts had a mission set out to create a space that students could “open themselves up, see what’s inside and deal with that stuff”. Each class started to slowly peel away layers of myself, callouses my own trauma to finally come face to face with my feelings and fears. Often an uncomfortable process, my faith in the work would stimulate radical self-healing.
The grief of my miscarriage, anxiety about conceiving and the silence of my inner struggle had become a toxin to my body. No amount of healthy eating or exercise could cleanse that out of my body. It wasn’t until Grace Jull gave her lecture on anatomy, connecting the physical body with the subtle energetic body, that the esoteric concepts of chakras and the energy body become more tangible. I had heard that the physical body often held onto emotional trauma, but until going in-depth, I never really understood how or why. To realize our own capabilities for radical self-healing was incredibly empowering.
Following her lecture, Grace led the group through a free-flowing asana practice, asking us to meditate on each chakra, from the sacral to crown, using movement to promote healing. She explained, “Where there is space, prana is sure to flow”. Giving the process my full trust, I believe wholeheartedly that I could initiate healing in myself. Listening to the intuition of my body I moved with the intent of creating openness and expansiveness throughout my entire body to move through whatever energetic blockages were lingering. I stretched my hips and low back, located at the sacral chakra and home of the reproductive system. As I flowed through practice, I brought additional awareness to the heart chakra with deep backbends as a way to unclog the emotions I had bottled up over the years. It was a relatively short asana practice, but at the end I was left in the most blissful state I’d ever been after a class. Before closing, Graced asked us to repeat the mantra: “In any moment, I am heaven on earth. Happy, Healthy, Peaceful, Free”. I jotted down a few words in my notebook afterwards “out of body, blissful, radiant, happy, love, release, wholeness”.
The training helped me to understand how our emotions, feelings and experience can take residence in our bodies. In another lecture, instructor Lee Skunes spoke on “Finding The Authentic Voice". In part, it was about discovering your voice as a yoga teacher, but even more so it was about overcoming the fears, barriers and vulnerabilities of being who you are. Whenever I thought about sharing my secret of miscarriage and infertility, I’d experience what felt as though someone was choking me. My fear of being vulnerable and confronting my emotions was a hard task, but when I shared my story with class, it gave me a sense of relief. I realized holding in my secret had become toxic to my body because my struggle itself was so much of who I was, but I wasn’t allowing myself to live that truth. The more I addressed these “energetic blockages”, and let go of my past trauma, the more I found a sense of inner peace.
Yoga & The Art Of Letting Go
The physical postures or asanas, are just but one of eight limbs of yoga. While learning about anatomy and the energetic body armed me with a lot of new information, the biggest lesson I took away from training was understanding the balance between the niyamas of will and surrender and letting go of the fruits of your actions.
Reading The Bhagavad Gita, I realized that the source of all my suffering wasn’t because I was struggling to get pregnant, but rather because I was so attached to the outcome. I had told myself before, I may have better luck if I “stopped trying so hard”, but was too afraid; to me, it equated to quitting or giving up. I viewed motherhood as something I was destined to do. I felt so strongly that part of my life’s work would be raising a child, so how could I just give up?
I learned the lesson of “non-attachment” isn’t about “giving up”, rather pursuing your purpose, dream or dharma, for the sake of itself, not the outcome. It’s a show of faith to the universe that whatever is meant to happen will happen. The message resonated so deeply with me. I was okay with not desperately trying to conceive, and rather just give into the opportunities that were unfolding in front of me, like the teacher training.
And then the most interesting and unexpected thing happened. After nearly three long years of trying, in the middle of an intensive 200-hour teacher training, just as I started to let go of the idea of becoming a mother, I found out I was pregnant.
I was and still am amazed by the incredible synchronicity of my journey through teacher training and the unfolding of my pregnancy. Some people may call it a miracle, but I saw becoming pregnant as a message from the cosmos, saying “let go”! I read a beautiful quote recently that said, “Pregnancy is a process that invites you to surrender to the unseen force behind all life”. As I surrendered to the process of the pregnancy, I surrendered to the process of the training with an open heart, receptive and knowing the universe was completely supporting me. I had nothing to fear anymore.
Overcoming Fear & Embracing the Present
Before the training, my biggest fear was that I’d never become a mother. When asked in my application to NSYA, why I wanted to take this training, I wrote about finding peace with the idea I couldn’t be a parent, no matter how scary it was. How ironic (or purposeful) that I sit here now, growing a life inside me! In so many ways, this training asked us to come face to face with our fears and learn to live to our fullest, despite of them.
In one exercise, early on in training, we were asked to write a list of our biggest fears we had about teaching. I had completely forgotten about it until our final retreat in January, when we were handed back those note cards sealed in an envelope. I had already changed so much in past 2 months after learning I was pregnant, so I was really surprised at what I had wrote. According to the card, I was most afraid that no one would hire me and that I wouldn’t have the knowledge and intuition needed to teach a class. I smiled and laughed to myself when I read it. Yoga helped me not only let go of my anxieties about ever becoming a parent, but also let go of my insecurities about teaching. Even before we completed our training, we were asked to teach several small classes. Instead of focusing how good or bad I was or if I’d ever have a job teaching, I embraced the opportunities as a chance to learn, grow, and do something I really enjoyed.
It’s only been three months since the program has ended, I am still in awe of how much things, and myself have changed. I’m entering the third trimester of pregnancy and have never felt as much confidence or have been as in touch with my own intuition as I do now. I see myself stepping in the direction of my dharma, not just as a mother-to-be, but as a teacher. I am so incredibly grateful that I’ve been given the opportunity to teach two regularly occurring classes at my local studio. Now that I’ve seen some of the same students return again and again to my classes, I no longer doubt that I have something to offer people. More than ever, I move with purpose and intention and wish to pass on the same feeling of empowerment in others. As excited as I am about what is unfolding for me, I try to keep myself anchored to the present, with faith that everything will turn out just the way it is supposed to.