September 21, 2010

Yoga Mind, Ikea Basement. ~ Eve Elliot

Reflections on the Yoga Shanti Teacher Training

Being a constitutionally agitated person, I was naturally attracted to yoga and meditation early in life.

But since I veered off the yogic path often, and for prolonged periods, my agitation eventually became too acute to bear—it was a kind of inner madness that, though too subtle to be easily noticeable by others, tortured me daily.

Though I didn’t realize it at the time, this madness was about not living in my body. I was homeless in the truest sense! I over-ate and became obese. I smoked everything flammable. I became addicted to amphetamines in my teens. Speeding around in a self-centered blur, I noticed hardly anything except the whirl of velocity.

Of course, I had not been inclined to commune with my own body. It had two life-threatening illnesses, had been obese, then addicted, and then anorexic during the amphetamine interlude. It had betrayed me. I loathed my body, and therefore lived entirely in my mind.

A friend took me to a yoga class at a community center on Columbus Avenue in Manhattan. The instructor was pregnant. I was pregnant (off amphetamines…don’t panic!). The experience itself was pregnant with a meaning which I’ve only just fully realized, as I prepare to teach my first class at Yoga Shanti, having recently completed a teacher training with Colleen Saidman and Rodney Yee.

In the many classes I’ve taken since that first, pregnant one on Columbus Avenue, the discovery of how it feels to live in a breathing, pulsing body has left me no choice but to fall in love with myself. Had anyone hinted at the possibility that I could so love aliveness itself in the form of the body and that my mind could be so calm, so pleased to be living in this body, I would have assumed they’d been smoking something as potent as what I used to.

Don’t you also find this true about yoga? You arrive in class with 112 items jangling around in the mind: the shopping list, after-images from the past, apprehensions about the future, stuff you need to do, stuff you don’t want to do, stuff you’ve done but think you shouldn’t have, what you’ve eaten, what you shouldn’t have eaten because now you can’t possibly fold over and breathe at the same time. Not to mention the blind date, the kids, the bank account…

Five minutes into the class you have only three things in mind: Where is the big toe mound? Are the collarbones wide? Am I breathing? What an elegant inventory for the mind!

My basement, along with my mind, had also been a wreck before I became a yoga practitioner. Soon after my hundredth class, the basement looked like an Ikea showroom, everything neatly arranged, inventoried. And so it was with my mind as well.

I took yoga off the mat and realized that life itself is like a warrior pose, asking me to accept challenges and stay the course, finding ease, breathing through it, the way one does in an excruciatingly difficult asana (yoga pose). Before yoga, life was like a worrier pose, and there were no techniques to help with this except for controlled substances.

I became so immersed in yoga that I began asking my meditation students, most of whom weren’t yoga practitioners (even though the meditation classes take place at yoga studios), to imagine plugging their sitting bones into the earth to ground. I was suggesting that they become aware of their shoulder blades sliding down the back and the collarbones widening. I had them inhaling and exhaling with deep deliberation, like advanced yoga practitioners. They reported finding these instructions very helpful.

So I thought it would be a good idea to register for the Yoga Shanti Teacher Training because I realized that in teaching meditation, I was teaching yoga, and I might as well learn how. And I chose this particular teacher training because this one was, after all, being presented by Colleen and Rodney.

More than just another “how to” course, this teacher training was one of the peak experiences of my life. Asanas are taught brilliantly, of course. But the esoteric foundations of yoga are also elucidated; the best teachers in the world join with Colleen and Rodney to teach us; the opportunity to learn manual adjustment from all the maestros is precious; the sense of community with other committed practitioners was beyond amazing. Brilliant yogis from as far away as Vancouver, British Columbia came to Sag Harbor, NY, for one delicious weekend a month.

One day I was practicing downward dog while waiting for the afternoon training session to begin and one of the trainees (someone who owns and runs a studio of her own in another state) passed me on the way to getting a prop. She offered a slight adjustment to my alignment — so generously, so gently, yet so expertly — and it changed my yoga life.

Colleen, speaking of the apprehension that often accompanies one’s first teaching experience, encouraged us to “teach what’s in your body.” I took that to heart — or rather to body — and anticipating teaching my first class became a joy rather than a source of anxiety. I knew there was so much in my body, so much it had learned with an intelligence of which my mind could never conceive.

Yoga gave me my life. I went out of my mind, into my body. I want this for everyone. (Organized basements are a good thing too.)

The second Yoga Shanti Teacher Training with Colleen Saidman and Rodney Yee starts October 2010 in the Hamptons.  ~ ed.

Eve Elliot is a psychotherapist, yoga and meditation teacher. She’s authored five CDs  and several books, including, Attention Shoppers! The Woman’s Guide to Enlightenment Through Shopping. She’s been interviewed over 60 times for TV, magazines, and newspapers including The Boston Globe and has been a sought after expert in the field of eating disorders.

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