December 1, 2013

I Invented Yoga. ~ Allison L. Andersen

I began, in earnest, in sixth grade biology class.

“Today we’ll be studying the theory of evolution,” declared Master Bado. (Okay, it was Mr., but as cruel 11 year olds we found this endlessly hilarious.)

As he went on to explain that apes slowly morphed into man I was struck with the incongruence between this theory and that little story floating around church; Adam, Eve, apples and fig leaves. I would have to devote a little more thought to this conundrum. Maybe the apes evolved into Adam and Eve but only two apes were smart enough to make it to human hood? Maybe while the apes were progressing on one side of the planet, Adam and Eve were making human babies on the other side. Still, just two humans? Anywhere? Now I would have to rethink everything.

As an 11 year old it was fairly easy to let go of the big questions once I physically left the space in which they arose. Leaving biology class, my own anatomical science experiment sprang back to life as I passed that dreamy Jeff guy from English class in the hall. Adam who?

But as time went on, and learning continued, the disparities between all I was learning grew, especially where religion and science seemed to intersect.

I allowed it to simmer through most of high school. Distracted with the aforementioned boys, sports, drill team, a little divorce distraction from the parents and college selections, I put all that thinking stuff on hold for a while.

Once in college, I started paying close attention to people like Jung and Skinner and Freud. At the same time my mother had jumped the Methodist ship for Unity. When I would come home from school I would go to church with her. At first by gunpoint, but later by choice—although I would never admit that to her.

Unity, it turns out, was interesting. Up to that point Church, with a capital C, was an obligation, boring, irrelevant Bible stuff. Now it seemed more like a really interesting psychology class with historical relevance.

Back on campus I grappled with the two sides of parental emancipation; the responsibility for making choices about my time and resources, and the ability to ignore that responsibility. I took the low road, choosing to abandon anything I learned about abstinence, structure and consequences.

No church, no conscience, no problem. I was 20.

Under the surface though, ideas were beginning to percolate about life. And death. And suffering. And indifference. I got itchy. I wanted to find it.

My parents’ financial state following the divorce left them unable to continue paying my tuition. Just as well, they were really just supporting my social life. Which was awesome, but it was time for it to come to an end. I moved back home. I felt betrayed and lost. Two homes now and neither one felt appropriate so I moved in with a friend instead.

Sensing some unease beneath the surface, my mother offered to me, You Can Heal Your Life by Louise Hay. Whatever. Maybe your life needs healing but I’m fine. I read it anyway but I didn’t tell her. How could I admit that she was right? The book was like the lost door to the chamber of answers. Everything made sense. I now got it. It wasn’t my mother, or my father, but me. I was the one who needed to fix me. There was no blame—at least for a few minutes—just personal responsibility for how I feel right now. This is awesome, I can totally do this… in secret.

Then a friend recommended, The Path of Least Resistance by Robert Fritz. Uh-oh, this book had all the answers too. But they were different from Louise Hay’s recommendations. Now what do I do? And what about Jung? He was a pretty smart guy. And Unity? Holy crap! It’s too much.

So I stopped. I was fine before and I’ll be fine again. No more turmoil.

Less than five minutes later I had it figured out. Turns out I couldn’t go back. The answer seemed so simple in theory, but a bit more difficult to execute: take the parts from each philosophy that really resonate and create your own belief system. Really? Sounds pretentious and a little scary. The church of Allison?

That’s when I truly invented Yoga.

I stopped searching for the answers and just allowed information to flow into and through me. Whatever stuck became part of my system. I discarded the rest but some resurfaced later for reconsideration.

Then many years later, after marriage, a son, a divorce, 27 career changes, 23 moves (eight of those in two years) and finding the one, I grew roots. It seemed an impossibility and, even more than that, an act of personal treason, but it happened nonetheless. I began to settle in the most natural, grounded, positive way. What I believed would stifle me became the foundation for my freedom.

I began to study food and nutrition and, inadvertently, its relationship to spirituality. It was during this time that I took my first real yoga class. It helped tremendously that it was at a magical place in the Catskill Mountains of New York, called Omega.

It would be a full year later that I attended a yoga class at a studio near my home. It felt familiar. Yes, this would work. It was a physical practice that left me feeling long and open. It was also a mental practice that had me feeling quiet inside. Unfamiliar and scary territory but I went with it. There was a story to be told in the peace and I was willing to let it unfold.

About a year into my personal practice I received a visitation from a woman wearing white who told me I must become a yoga teacher. Okay, it was the owner of the yoga studio who thought it would be a good idea. But to be fair, she did have a white shirt on. I scoffed. This was nowhere on my radar. Ever. Ridiculous. Why would I ever want to do that? I signed the contract for training later that day.

I completed the 200 hour training and began to teach as a freshly minted teacher. I knew it all now, of course. But being a serial learner I decided to attend another teacher training the following year.

Enter Yoga Nidra, a deliciously relaxing form of meditation. Yoga Nidra, as a practice, helps dismantle reactive patterns bringing more stillness to the mind and relaxation to the body. It’s all true and it really works.

I did the training with a real life Indian Guru. Not a natural follower, I was suspicious. Guru? Come on. But there he sat, Yogi Amrit Desai, in his white robes with his legs crossed looking all peaceful and agile at nearly 80. When he spoke he told the story of my life. He shared my belief system with the entire room. He read my soul or at the very least he was, in that instant, able to decipher the fragments of my mind, coalescing them into a digestible form of everything I had ever believed, and called it Yoga.

I was home.

He spoke of Buddha, Christ and no less than a thousand Hindu deities I would later befriend. He connected all the spiritual dots, discarding religious dogma like a poisonous rind and sharing only the sweet nectar of the fruit hidden inside. This philosophy was based on love, compassion and respect for the self and all others. It was about equanimity and blurry lines.

Much of this information was shared in the first yoga training I took, but I had to hear it from this source. To me he was, and still is, one degree away from God. He has the direct connection to the big guy and I have a direct connection to him. Ergo, God and I are tight.

Unlike religion, as I had come to know it, yoga does not separate, in fact the very word yoga literally means to yoke together: union. Yoga asks nothing of you other than to recognize your own divine potential and light. It posits the theory of oneness. You and I are the same; I cannot think a harmful thought about you without also hurting myself.

Yoga had every single particle I had cobbled together to create my religion of one and then some. The search was over. At the same time the work had just begun.

Today I still suffer an insatiable appetite for knowledge, but I know where the cafeteria is. At times it is the physical location of this Guru (which by the way means teacher, so drop the eyebrows and let it go) and at all times it is an indwelling that can be reached by simply going still and quieting the mind. The bounty of mind food continues ad infinitum; available and accessible at any time. Once one knows there is no shortage and there can never be, the cravings subside as each morsel holds the world’s potential, and is enough.

I still like to believe the apes could have evolved into Adam and Eve. And Hector and Carmen. And Sophia and Luigi. And Ranjeet and Laksmi. And even Sean and Robert. And Mary and Sue.

At its core, I believe Yoga is all about love and communion with others. It is the evolution of the soul and has no time to be distracted by discrimination or judgment. I can let go of both stories, evolution and creation, and still be whole and at peace.

That’s how I built this belief system that I now know as Yoga.


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Assistant Editor: Ffion Jones / Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: Allison Andersen

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