I still remember the first time I met my teacher. She was sparkly, she shone. She smiled and suddenly there was nothing to hide, no artifice, no fettering shame. I felt translucent. She radiated such palpable love and warmth.
I don’t recall much about the specific asanas of that first class but I do remember that feeling, that crystalline presence that cut straight through the accumulation of false stories and lies in which we cloak ourselves. I wouldn’t have called it such at the time, and she probably wouldn’t call herself such, but I knew I’d met my first guru.
I was home for a weekend from college and my mother—an unlikely yogini herself, as a conservative Virgo and lifelong Midwesterner—had been raving about this woman from California who had opened a studio in our modest Missouri suburb and wanted me to come to a class with her. I said yes out of boredom and naivete, the latter which I’m very thankful for; had I known what I was in for ahead of time I may have sneeringly declined.
That was when I still dyed my hair black. Half goth, half not, I’d pompously declared myself an atheist as a teenager and I now grasped for some prescribed identity that fit. Of course all of this was a shoddily sewn veil for a deeply lodged yearning to know something greater than myself, to experience joy and ecstasy and unite again with the childbeing lost and with God—one in the same.
As for my body, it was a normal weight but direfully unhealthy; and as for athleticism I could only lay claim to two years of volleyball in school. It was girded by cynicism and insecurity, my posture still weighted with the pain of adolescence, chest concave to shield the heart chakra.
I was only 21 but already there was so much to undo, done mostly by my own hand. At that time I didn’t even make art—I’d abandoned it in high school and doing so had left a void that I couldn’t name.
In those early classes with my teacher I remember shedding tears many times as she would shepherd us through the cleansing fire and my body released bruises and tangles long buried. The timidity that had kept me from dancing (I always offered an “I don’t know how to dance”, as though there were a single teachable way) ceded to the sweet liberation of ecstatic movement. Now a good trance dance is one of my favorite things.
A couple of years later when I read Be Here Now for the first time (another mindblown watershed moment) and Ram Dassspoke of his guru as being essence—a pure crystal, who taught him everything he needed to learn when he was ready to learn it—I thought, yes, exactly, exactly!
I was so grateful for yoga when I met my husband and experienced that pure, magical union and passionate burn of falling in love. I knew it wouldn’t have been possible had that divine spark in myself not been shown to me that day years ago. I wouldn’t have known how to surrender. Fittingly, my teacher officiated our wedding.
She is a joyful exemple of the human potential she unchains through her teachings. She is all teachers: the stern disciplinarian, midwifing students through the transformative fire with the toughest of love; the merry prankster, dislodging ego armor with a knowing wink; and, always, that palpable presence of radiant love and warmth.
The above drawing is my homage to her.
Editor: Andrea B.
Ashley Lande is an artist, wife, mother and yogi. Her work focuses on ecstatic and psychedelic experience: birth, death, rebirth and the dance of darkness and light. You can see more of her work at www.ashleylande.com.