May 24, 2012

Epiphany: A Yoga Story.

The universe is unfolding exactly as it should.

I just finished watching a TED Talk given by Elise Ballard on her new book Epiphany! I would tell you what her book is about—but I’ve only just ordered my copy from Amazon. I believe it is a compilation of stories based on interviews Ballard conducts with many people who have had epiphanies. In her talk, she shares her “why” for doing this project—the result of an epiphany she had that changed her life. Ballard admits that she hadn’t immediately even thought to share her epiphany with others, despite the fact that she was going around and asking many other people about their own epiphanies.

Ballard defines epiphany as: a moment of great or sudden revelation; an illuminating discovery.

A few months ago I had an epiphany. Finding this TED talk on this day was a bit serendipitous as I have been meaning to write about this epiphany for some time now. I’m going tell you about it here. Ready? Here we go.

I recently began leading a yoga teacher training. Months ago, as I was contemplating my intention for holding this training, I really started to think about my why for practicing yoga. I also began contemplating my why for teaching yoga.

Why was I called to this path? Why was I lassoed by the urge to teach teachers?

I had never thought much about the way I began practicing yoga up until a few months ago. Both the planning process for the teacher training in addition to a course I took with Amy Ippoliti got me thinking about it. Up until that point I had always deferred to saying I had merely stumbled upon yoga.

Oh, but then I had an epiphany.

It is true that I stumbled upon yoga. But I have a hard time believing that this stumble was on accident. The universe works in strange and peculiar ways and it delivers when delivery is needed. Ballard even says in her talk that you should “Watch the world conspire to support you.” Max Ehrmann wrote in one of my favorite poems that the universe is unfolding exactly as it should.


I had never considered that I might have a “yoga story.” Many people have yoga stories—the stories that tell their journey to yoga—but I wasn’t really sure what my “yoga story” was. And like Ballard, I hadn’t thought to share my story.

And just like an epiphany one day—as I contemplated my why for teaching and practicing, my yoga story flashed across my brain. I realized the magnitude of its meaning in the blink of an eye. It was a 74 kb image and a 10,000 page novel both at the same time.

[If I compacted my yoga story into six words I think it would read: Love, and come as you are. For the full version, keep reading].

I realized that there was no individual thing that led me to practicing yoga. There were quite a few things that contributed to the giant net that the practice cast around me. Back in 2007, all of those things seemed quite separate—not related at all. Now, in 2012, they are inseparable. They are the same.

Let me give you the gist.

I dated a man (boy) for five—six years or so, but I like to round down and say it was only four years. I am grateful to him because he perhaps made the greatest contribution to who I am today. But to package this relationship into a tiny little informational brochure I will say this: It was emotionally abusive, draining, toxic and exhausting. So that’s one thing.

A second thing. In the sixth grade I made up my mind about the person I would be someday. I wanted to sing and dance and act and be on a stage (sounds like every 11 year old girl’s dream). No, but really. I was going to do this. I had years of classical training on the piano, violin and viola under my belt. From age 11 to 17 I immersed myself in a demanding and rewarding theatre program in Pennsylvania—Act One Theatre School. I studied with vocal teachers and became a talented young performer. By the time I was 16 and realized “Oh shit, this is really happening” I knew I had to step up my game in one big area: dance.

I was a horrible dancer. I wanted to be good. I loved pirouettes in my bedroom, away from the giant wall mirror, the wooden bar at the wall, away from the dance shoes that I had to special order because my feet were big and I was still growing into my height. I liked to dance in my bedroom and see how high I could stretch my leg up in my body length mirror, but I didn’t like to dance in a room of average height girls in their compact little bodies with their beautiful and elegant movements. I felt inferior and I detested the competition.

But I was motivated by my joy for the craft, my peers, the summer I spent at Interlochen, and all of my teachers (Mrs. C., Dave and JR are you reading this?)

I went back to Dance 101 classes, determined to perfect where I was lacking in technique. I took tap classes with six-year-olds (I was 16 years old and 5″9). Girls younger than me were assisting the class. It was humiliating.

But I was determined! I progressed enough that I applied and was accepted to Boston Conservatory’s summer dance intensive.

A mere three days after I was accepted I went for a jog on Thanksgiving morning with my family’s 100 pound dog. I stopped to tie my shoe, but Molly did not.

[Dear Universe, were you trying to tell me what I think you were trying to tell me?]

I wish I had a picture so I could show you the blue/purplish hue my calf and foot almost immediately changed color to. I didn’t have a cell phone then. I was a mile from home and was pretty sure Molly wasn’t about to go Homeward Bound or Lassie on me and lead rescuers to my aid.

Fast forward: I got home via a neighbor who was out walking. Emergency room. Just a sprain.

Okay, fast forward again. It was not just a sprain. I broke the talus bone of my foot and injured my achilles tendon. Without knowing this I went to New York City by foot all weekend for mock auditions with my theatre group. I went. I walked. I bit down on the pain. My mother bought me a size 12 shoe to fit onto my now giant left foot. I sat out at the dance auditions.

By the time the extent of my injury was discovered, Boston Conservatory was out of the picture. I couldn’t run, I couldn’t dance. I was angry. I felt like life had been put on pause in the one moment when fast forward was really the needed function.

And this is when yoga hit me.

I had made plans to go to a martial arts studio to see if it was something I could do now that running and dance were no longer an option. Right next door to the martial arts building was a yoga studio. I thought it looked like tremendous fun and was surprised I hadn’t seen the studio there before —right off Route 19 about a half mile away from my high school.

I went to class the next morning. And the morning after that. Then soon I was going every day. Immediately, I loved this practice. It was a power vinyasa yoga studio. I felt like I had run five miles at the end of each class but an energy and joy remained that running had never given me.

It gave me the feeling of graceful movements that I had always wanted to taste when dancing. I had found a place that gave me a similar cardiovascular challenge to running, yet made me feel empowered and strong and beautiful. Without competition and point shoes and hair nets.

And the best part of all was: I didn’t feel like I had to be good at it. I just needed to bring what I could, on whatever day had brought me there.

Things started to change from there. Just like epiphanies can spark dramatic change, yoga began to work at me. I was like a giant piece of marble, the yoga was Michelangelo. The practice chiseled away at my emotions, my fears, my smallness and made me see my relationships in a new light. I had found a new relationship: one with myself. And with a love like that, there wasn’t room for the kind of love that hurts, shames or ridicules.

I think we know what happens next.

Photo: Lauren Hanna Foster

… To be continued.

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Editor: Kate Bartolotta


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