January 20, 2011

From Careerist to Yogi: Tools For Transformation.

Stunning View and Warrior. Photo courtesy of Sarah at Lululemon.

What to do when happily ever after means a trip to hell and back.

Any other Friday:

6a.m. Wake up and make ginger tea.

6:15a.m. Step onto my yoga mat, turn on my favorite play list and flow for an hour.

7:30a.m. Enjoy a light breakfast with a snow-capped mountain view from my new condo.

8:15a.m. Teach a 75 minute soulful Vinyasa flow at our amazing studio Vail.

9:30a.m. Done for the day! Snowshoe hike and lunch with girlfriends, followed by a long swim and dinner with my significant other.

Okay, okay, before you stick another pin in the voodoo doll, hear me out. Yes, this is an accurate depiction of a day in my life as a yoga teacher in Vail, Colorado. However, like most fairytale endings, this princess crossed the paths of more than a few trolls, spent quite a few years locked in a tower braiding her hair, and got lost in a magic forest with nothing but seven dwarves for company more than once on the journey to bliss.

I didn‘t always live the life I’d imagined. Until last year I’d never show shoed. In fact, I used to have to wear dress shoes from 9a.m. to 5p.m. I didn’t write in my journal for about fifteen years. I was mildly hungover for ten. I wore a headset at work and my impressive multi-tasking skills amounted to transferring calls while I simultaneously surfed the net for cheap vacation deals. I had spent my whole life not rich enough to party, but not poor enough to complain, and after college had fallen into the rat race of mind-numbing career hell. Then, as if a curse had been placed on me by Rumpelstiltskin himself, I woke up one day in my mid-twenties married to someone I barely knew and not at all sure how any of it had happened. Everything I thought I had wanted seemed like an ever tightening noose around my neck, and I needed to find a way to cut myself free.

Lonely and confused, the one place I felt happy and sure of myself was in yoga class. I had practiced yoga since I was a child with my mum, and it was the one thing I had always stuck with when piano lessons, painting and Tae Kwon Do had long fallen by the wayside. For years I’d shown up regularly in my drab sweat pants and gym bra, admiring the beautiful teachers who led class and secretly dreaming of being strong and inspiring like them some day. So like any lost soul, I threw myself into salvation head first.

I quit my gym and joined a brand new yoga studio in New York City, where I practiced every morning at 6am before work, and increasingly after work too. I grew stronger and more flexible. I learned there was more to yoga than just downward dog. I started to take workshops and research teacher trainings. I talked to yoga teachers, read yoga texts, and even bought my first pair of Lululemon pants. The transformation came fast and furious.

First, my clothes didn’t fit anymore. That was rewarding. Then some of my friends didn’t really fit, so they had to go. More terrifying was realizing my marriage no longer fit. That was a tough one. Finally, I had to accept that my whole life, the existence I’d spent years creating didn’t fit. Not the career, not the location, not the marriage, not the hobbies, none of it. Not a day too soon, I realized I was miserable, and had been for a very long time.

There’s a term in yoga, jana bandha, that means the bond of knowledge. In other words, once you know something, you can never not know it. Once I knew my life was an unfulfilling construct of learned habits and expectations, I could never un-know it. So, I went about the process of changing it.

As you can imagine, this entailed a divorce that was messy and extremely painful. That was followed by my first yoga teacher training, which was a time-consuming but empowering distraction from my misery. It necessitated my leaving a career that I was successful in and had invested rather a lot of my energy and time into. I went from a regular paycheck to zero income with a substantial amount of credit card debt in my name, from great comprehensive health coverage to no insurance.

Needless to say I became exhausted, fell ill, cried a fair amount and called my mum a lot. I practiced yoga, meditated, clung to my copy of Eat, Pray, Love and waited for it to all be over. Eventually, like all things, it came to pass. I fell in love, threw most of my possessions away, and moved half way across the country with two suitcases. The best year of my life was indisputably the worst year of my life. Finally I began the process I had started a year before, rebuilding my life, and creating a highly energized existence focused around my authentic needs and desires.

There’s a reason meditation teacher Lorin Roche says that terror and joy are the same sensation. The transformation that yoga offers is very, very real and often very, very scary. And while you won’t have any trouble finding a book on the shelves touting the new, lighter, happier, stronger you that will emerge with a dedicated practice, the chances are high there won’t be a chapter on how to deal with the divorce, the friends that don‘t respect your cleaner lifestyle, the transition from career woman to yogi. So what do you do when you take up yoga to change your life, and it actually works?

First, don’t panic. You’ve just been handed the keys to the castle. Yoga itself is an amazing tool to help us get across the moat on one piece. You have the ancient wisdom of meditation, healing and prayer on your side. Use it.

Second, cultivate patience. The Sanskrit abhayam means fearlessness or tolerance. You’ve aligned yourself with grace by honoring your own desires. In return, the Universe will support you, but it might take some time for your boss, friends and family to catch up. Exercise compassion and hold space until they are ready to accept the new you. If they don’t, let it be.

Third, rest up! Don’t make the mistake I made of depleting your energy reserves. Creating bhavana, or healing state, is vital after any transition. If you don’t have a restorative yoga practice, seek out a class and make it a weekly commitment, especially if your answer to stress has been a strong physical yoga practice. The muscles of creativity and imagination needed to guide you on your path won’t fire when you’re exhausted.

Fourth, surround yourself with a strong and supportive kula, or community. Actively engage in relationships that nourish and uplift you, plan healthful activities with friends like taking a yoga class, hiking or enjoying tea. Yoga is about connection, not separation, so don’t try to go it alone. It’s in the messy, dark places that we have the opportunity to meet others who share our powerful human experience.

Finally, believe. The decision to change is often the most difficult part. You met yourself at rock bottom and saw exactly what it was that you needed to change. When things start to look brighter, don’t forego your original decision for the comfortable life; that’s what got you here in the first place! Have sraddha, faith in yourself.

It took me the best part of 30 years, but with these tools I got the life I imagined. I teach yoga most days, sharing my greatest passion with the world. I learned to trust myself again and make leisure time a priority. I recently purchased my first home and have an amazing support network of girl friends here. And if it makes you feel any better, I still drive a car that threatens to turn into a pumpkin at any minute.

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