In 1999, I found yoga. In 2014, I abandoned it.
It wasn’t love at first asana—no way. I hated that first class; the Sanskrit, the skinny chicks, my uncooperative hamstrings. I’ll never really know why I went back—but I did. Again and again and again. And it didn’t take long for me to realize something different was happening there than had happened anywhere else in my life.
I felt peace.
I hear people refer to it as being “blissed out,” and aside from the annoying stereotype of a high and naked hippie covered in mud at Woodstock, I’d say it’s fairly accurate.
After I slogged through an hour and a half of downward facing mangy mongrels on my cheap, sweat slick mat, I got to lay down. When I lay down, instead of the usual hurricane of thoughts—thanks to the energy I had just expended—there was merely a tolerable wind, and when I got back up again even the wind was gone and everything was still.
For the first time in my life, everything was still.
Of course I did a yoga teacher training. It took me years to work up the courage to sign on, and I was half motivated by a terrible slump in my family’s finances (side note—do not become a yoga teacher if you want to strike it rich), but the real reason I was there was to discover the secret. What is yoga really about?
When I learned the philosophy behind the movements and the words, it felt like coming home.
Everything is one.
I sensed it in my neurons, in my brain cells, in my beating heart. I felt it resonating in the heart beats of my fellow yogis, in the booming sound of every clamoring soul, in every branch and bud and bee, and in the raging, silent stars.
When I taught, I felt it even more. Not one class passed that didn’t deepen my understanding of yoga. It filled me up with love and hope—even when I only had one student, even when I stumbled over my words or misjudged the ability of my students, or made any one of my million mistakes. Because the power of yoga is that it gives us the tools to forgive ourselves.
But I was doing something wrong. I know that because my body told me so.
Four years into teaching, my back had a tantrum. Two discs blew out, I had spinal surgery, followed my doctor’s orders and went back to teaching when he said I could.
Then it happened again. My discs were popping like bubble wrap under the heel of an over eager kid. My doctor advised me to give up teaching if I ever wanted to walk again, and because walking seemed relatively important, amid a waterfall’s worth of tears, I hung up my mat.
So what went wrong? Had I been teaching from a place of fear rather than of love? (Probably.) Had that fear driven me to drown out the sounds of my own body in preference to the needs of my students? (Yeah.) Was that paradoxically exactly what I didn’t want to teach or model for any yogi? (Definitely.)
Despite how much positive feedback I got about what a great teacher I was, and how good I felt when I did it, I wasn’t being true to the heart of yoga—I wasn’t being true to myself. As such, maybe I wasn’t really ready to lead classes.
Slowly, I let myself understand—my back wasn’t the problem—it was just a symptom of the problem. The real concern wasn’t whether or not I would walk again (though that loomed large in my mind), it was whether or not I could be the kind of person I needed to be to authentically pass on this sacred knowledge.
After nearly six bleak months, I started practicing again on my own. I practiced the way I should have been all along; gently, with awareness and compassion for myself. I did it in my house, alone, so no one’s voice (including my own) could drown out whatever it was I needed to hear.
When I passed by the places I used to work—four studios, two health clubs, a senior citizens home and the community center—I let myself mourn. Such a great, expansive sadness filled me. But it was not yet my time.
Suddenly unmoored, I wondered what to do with my life. I flailed and waffled around with no idea the direction I should take, and finally decided to go back to school. This time, I planned to get my master’s in counseling from the school I always wished I’d gone to in the first place—Northwestern University.
Now I am in a holding pattern. Mid-master’s application, post teaching, I feel temporarily stuck here in this no man’s land. I am scared. Am I doing the right thing? I don’t know.
But I do know that despite the renunciation of my yoga dream, or perhaps because of it, I will come closer to being a true yogi. By that I mean, someone who is fully and honestly integrated into themselves, who works from a place of truth rather than fear, and who is indeed, fearless in her willingness to seek out the truth.
And of course, I will also be someone who is able to walk.
And maybe one day, having let my dream go for the right reasons, it will come back to me again—perhaps in a different form, perhaps the same—and I’ll be the teacher my students deserve and that I was meant to be.
Author: Erica Leibrandt
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Author’s Own