July 2, 2011

An Unenlightened Yogini. ~ Lisa Cohen

An unenlightened yogini.  That’s what I am.  I can judge, gossip, procrastinate, cuss like a sailor, act crass, be a bitch, attempt to control others, obsess on my body and food, overeat “healthy” food, overeat junk food, harbor resentment, skip my yoga practice, stay angry, act cynical, fight with my brother(s), feel insecure, and have dark thoughts.  There…I said it.  A few months shy of turning 46.  I don’t know what I thought it would look like at this point of my life.

I recall a particular picture of my mother holding me as a small child..she was probably around 43 or 44; I was 3 or 4.  She seemed so grown up..so matronly.  I’m nothing like that.  She had her hair all big and hair-sprayed and coifed and wore a conservative polyester outfit.  Mom had porcelain skin which became a trademark in my family…gracing most of the women in my family from my cousins and aunts to myself…and despite the lack of wrinkles and the youthfulness she still possessed, she had a grown up, matronly appearance.  Maybe it was the shock of having another child..me..the first girl and the youngest of four children…I can only imagine being 40 years old with a newborn and 3 boys aged 10-16.  And I thank God(dess) that today, I am the proud single-parent of one incredibly bright and wonderful adult son.

Fast forward over 45 years to today.  I definitely am not what mom bargained for.  I’m not what I bargained for either.  And this is not a whiny, complaining entry on my blog.  It’s actually one written after a few days of tossing around some thoughts in my head and realizing I better liberate them for my own good.

As a yoga teacher and budding holistic nutritionist, I’ve put myself out into the world, often feeling pretty vulnerable..naked if you will.  I hadn’t planned on this.  At age 20 I thought I had uncovered my passion…and I had.  My days were filled with yard sales, flea marketing, and running my antique store..eventually stores…and for many years I was very comfortable doing so.  Not that there wasn’t the drama of family, relationships, and other challenges of single motherhood, health issues and life in general.  There was.  But it was comfortable discomfort  that I figured was the way it would stay.

But since growth generally involves pushing out of one’s comfort zone into a discomfort zone, and nothing is permanent, life evolved.  The twists and turns of business, relationships, motherhood, and general life challenges led me to this day.  Okay, I am not going to get all maudlin here.  In fact, I have felt stronger and more positive about the present than ever and increasingly grateful as time passes.  A lovely conversation yesterday with my friendly mail carrier, whom I’ve known for at least 15 years or so, brought out that gratitude even more as we discussed the beauty of the day, and caught each other up on one another’s lives.  We both agreed that the adage of the glass being half full or half empty was certainly applicable in life..we create our reality despite circumstances..and then I thought, no, I said: “I just love that I truly can look at things and see my glass as being about 95% full.”  And then I thought to myself how truly wonderful that is.

Hence my topic today.  Perhaps one of the things I am feeling is a sense of relief.  For years I had thought that by a certain age…let’s just say 45 or so…I would have figured it out.  I would have fine tuned my life to the point of some sort of state of enlightenment.  Or at least have stopped all the habits, the thoughts, the actions, of my earlier pre-yoga-practicing-and-teaching life.  And just when I think an old habit really is an “old habit”…meaning it no longer is practiced..the toxic thought or behavior rears its ugly head and brings me back in check with that damn ego which evidently is still hanging out.  My relief lies in the realization that this is okay.  It is.

Yoga is a practice of self awareness.  It’s not a practice of perfection..of “nailing” a particular asana or releasing all negative emotions.  Practicing yoga is so much deeper than a physical exercise for the body.  It’s about going inside.  It’s not about not having a dark or shadow side..it’s about acknowledging it.  Watching the breath.  Feeling the feelings.  Processing.  Accepting.  Letting go.

Being a yoga teacher does not make me perfect or evolved or enlightened.  It may mean I have more formal training in the principles of yoga than the average yoga practitioner who does not teach yoga.  But it doesn’t mean I am no longer a student.  In fact, for me, it means I am more of a student today than I was the first time I stuck my Total Yoga VHS video in the player nearly 16 years ago to take a break from my exhausting running and workout routine that left me achy and chafed. (I still recommend this video to students who cannot make a “live” class..though I am a strong believer in classes and know that a video is no substitute for a “real” class.)  And being a student means I can learn from anyone or anything...a child, a new or seasoned yoga teacher, a stranger, a situation.  Endless possiblities.

For years, I have heard that whole “life’s a journey, not a destination” thing.  It’s certainly not a new concept nor my original idea.  And while I have heard it, spoken it, shared it with friends and students, and even sometimes believed it, still, my ego often edged its way inside my thoughts in attempts to tell me “sure, but one day, Lisa, you will arrive, and X will cease to be an issue for you.” I guess I hoped that somehow by wanting and wishing and doing more classes and jumping through whatever hoops life threw me, that I would be some sort of exception and reach some sort of enlightened state.

In this moment, I feel liberated.  I hereby declare I am unenlightened.  I like it here.  Before I began a dedicated yoga practice, I felt like a hamster on a wheel going nowhere…I had so much drama and negativity in my life in many ways and didn’t know how to dig out of the hole I’d crawled into.  My world felt so small.  I felt stuck.  Today, I get to spend most of my time doing things I love…teaching yoga (www.pranalisa.com), researching for my thesis as I finish my holistic nutrition degree from Hawthorn University, running my online vintage jewelry business, Family Jewels (www.familyjewels.us), and, when I am really lucky, getting a few moments to connect with my son, who has grown into an amazing and bright adult.

Today, I feel very unstuck.  Yes, I still sometimes am catty, jerky, pissed off, and say or do things that probably should have been left unsaid or undone.  The cool thing is that I am notwaiting anymore.  I’m here…not arrived…but I am here and I feel the pause in between my breaths….sometimes.  The world seems very big.  Scary, uncertain, unstable at times.  Yet, still, I feel in a state of surrender.  At least today.

The world didn’t end last month as Harold Camping had predicted…don’t worry, he claims it’s happening in October in case you’re disappointed.  Regardless, even if the world does end in my lifetime, I still will trudge along, willingly, with awareness and even a bit of excitement.  With surrender, I also feel a sense of willingness and encouragement to continue on a never ending path of growth and evolution and hope I can continue to embrace the whole experience, warts and all.

Being unenlightened means no more chasing some ideal of perfection.  It means I can savor the moments, embrace the changes, find the pause, be the student, release guilt and shame and disappointment, screw up sometimes, enjoy a comfort zone then go past it a bit, and be human.  And most of all…get to justbe.
Lisa Cohen

Self-proclaimed ADHD kid, single mom to a nearly 22 yr old son, reformed over-exerciser, surprised yogini, grateful yoga teacher. Lisa resisted the idea of taking yoga classes until she heard that Bikram Yoga would cause “sweat to sweat”. Her mantra at that first (and supposed last) class was “I hate this, I hate this, I hate this.” Not to waste her week intro special, she trudged through a few more classes. Fast-forward 2 ½ yrs and about 750 classes later, she was asked to lead the class when the teacher overslept one morning. A passion was unleashed, and Lisa went from yoga studio maid (a way she creatively financed those daily yoga classes) to yoga teacher. Nearly a decade after attending her first “live” (non-video) yoga class and many formal yoga teacher trainings, certifications, and workshops later, Lisa still teaches hot and not-hot yoga classes and holds a 200 hour Pranakriya (kripalu lineage tradition) certification. Lisa also runs her 25 year old vintage collectibles business, is finishing up her holistic nutrition degree, and looks forward to the day her son finishes up his MBA and can support his hippie mom. She is an Atlanta, Georgia native with a Yankee heart and can be found teaching in studios and parks in the metro area… www.pranalisa.com.

Read 23 Comments and Reply

Read 23 comments and reply

Top Contributors Latest

Elephant Journal  |  Contribution: 1,509,280