Life Leads me to Become a Yoga Teacher

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It’s 1999.
I’m 38 years old.
My world as I’ve known it has just been pulverized.

My identity is that of dancer, mover, yogi, runner, hiker, biker. All of that seems like a distant past in this moment.

I’ve been hit by a car as a pedestrian. As I lie on the black asphalt in the crisp February Bay Area blue sky morning, I hear the sirens in the distance.

“Oh, they’re coming for me,” I think as I lie there unable to move. I‘m terrified that I’m paralyzed.

A golden haired, black skinned angel comes by, looks down at me and says, “You’re alive honey, just keep breathing.”

I do.
I breathe.
I wait.

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The paramedics come.

“Do you know what year it is, mam?”
“Really?” I think.
“Don’t these guys KNOW what year it is? And they’re the ones taking me to the hospital?”

“1999.” I say curtly, with a dash of disgust thrown in.
“Thank you,” They reply.

Four days later, in a morphine haze, lying on scratchy hospital sheets post-surgery, the doctor who operated on my leg tells me, “You’ll be able to walk normally in about six months.”

“Six months?” I blurt out before he finishes. “Doctor, I need to know when I can dance? I need to dance,” I demand, as though saying it forcefully will help make it happen faster.

“Well, that’s going to be a while young lady.”

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Months go by.
My boyfriend and I break up.
I convalesce at my parent’s house.

I’m left with myself for days, journaling, doing physical therapy, learning not to be afraid to cross the street.

My yoga practice, which is only a few years old, becomes a refuge. Though I have a hard time surrendering to restorative yoga where I hang out over bolsters and blocks, and wrap myself in blankets. I still identify myself as physically capable and strong.

Not long into the recovery journey, the physical therapist tells me I’m good to go, and I think to myself, “Are you kidding? Look at that poor range of motion in my ankle.” But it’s no use fighting the system, they have other people to rehab. So, I take it on.

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“I will rehab my body through yoga,” I reassure myself.

I find another yoga class in Oakland taught by Susannah Bruder. She’s awesome. She gives me alternative poses for my recovering body. It’s a whole new experience for me. I walk into class with a cane and have to use 2 bolsters for Virasana (a pose in which you sit on one block on the floor with bent knees). I’m tired and fatigued by many of the poses, and Susannah has to give me alternative options frequently.

Yoga becomes a haven, and a deep practice of acceptance. My identity has been stripped down to the essentials. My body and heart are raw and vulnerable. I have to re-learn how to walk, and how to move my ankle and knee, as well as develop a lot of patience with myself and the healing process.

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What I don’t realize at the time is that I’m being trained for my soon-to-be profession as a yoga teacher. I spend hours learning to do yoga poses with props to help me get into poses I wouldn’t be able to do otherwise.

A year later, I take Susannah’s teacher training in San Francisco. As part of the training we have to offer some public classes. It’s the year 2000. I’m TERRIFIED to stand up in front of people and speak. But I forge ahead with the assignment. I have NO intention of becoming a yoga teacher. I just want to deepen my knowledge of yoga.

Life has other plans for me.

Within six months of finishing my teacher training I’m teaching 7 classes a week in the East Bay, and that grows to 10-12 a week. When people walk in and say, “Oh, I could never do that pose,” I look at them and say, “I know exactly what you mean.”

Then I tell them my story.
I see them visibly relax.

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They settle in on their mats, with their props and my instructions to support them to get into a pose they thought they couldn’t do.

Joy bubbles out of me when I see them accomplishing something they thought they couldn’t do. It makes my healing journey worthwhile.

Over the years, I find gratitude for the man who hit me as a pedestrian. The one who fled the scene because of his own fear. I am grateful, still, for the accident that lead me to become a yoga teacher.

 


It's Getting Personal

When my friend in the Bay Area texted me late Wednesday, saying, “Did you hear about the school shooting in Spokane?” my jaw nearly dropped on the floor. My immediate thoughts were, “No, not in Spokane.”

“No. Where?” I asked, wondering if I personally knew anyone who was affected. Because that’s how it is right? We want to know if someone WE know or love was impacted.

And the answer is yes.

Yes.

A dear friend of mine has been a teacher in the Freeman community for years, and in fact, she knows most of the kids in the school who were involved and impacted. She is devastated.

Needless to say, the community is reeling with grief and broken hearts. One student was killed and three others are in critical condition. It’s not only heart breaking, it reminds me that no corner of the world is “safe” and we are all dealing with the DIS-EASE of violence around the globe as a symptom of something much larger than each stand-alone incident.

I know in my own life, when I feel that DIS-EASE – when I have a fight with my husband, or a conflict with a friend, or I’m torn up by grief – I want to blame the outside. I blame the other person, I blame the circumstances, where I live, the conditions of my life. But it never helps. It feels futile and mis-guided.

When I dig deeper, I notice I just want to be loved, and sometimes I’m not going to get that from the outside world. It’s up to me to nurture and soothe myself, because no one, really, can “make me feel better.”

Often, I just have to feel the feelings and let them move through me.

So I dance.
I do yoga.
I hike.
I journal.
I make art.
I cry.

These are my ways to soothe myself, to help move the energy through. These are my ways to handle my own rage, my jealousy, my resentment, my grief, my anger.

I named the art show in Oakland, The Inclusive Divide because it’s about owning the disparate parts of myself – the good, the bad and the ugly. My thought is if I can gently love those “un-loveable” parts of myself, perhaps I’ll find enough space within my heart to be able to love those ugly places in other people.

None of us is perfect. We all have a shadow side that pops out from under the bushes in twisted ways. But the intense violence we are seeing around the world in communities everywhere is symptomatic of the shadow side of humanity and we need to find a way to heal that which is broken within all of us.

It’s not easy to look in the mirror and see, let alone OWN, those parts of myself I’d rather get rid of. I know from personal experience, it takes practice to keep loving – myself and others – and not run away. It’s a moment to moment practice.

As I close, I want to offer my prayers to the Freeman Community and to all who are impacted by this tragedy. I offer prayers for ALL people who are suffering around the world from whatever pain is moving through their hearts.

 

Here are a few good books to support your inner growth, and a TED talk by the mother of one of the Columbine High School Shooters. She talks about her journey as the mother of the shooter and the grief and despair she’s dealt with.

Comfortable with Uncertainty by Pema Chodron
The Places That Scare You Are by Pema Chodron
When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron

My Son was a Columbine Shooter – This is my Story – Sue Klebold