Just over two years ago, I was teaching at a women’s retreat in India when I had a profound experience that made me decide to give up teaching yoga.
It had been raining heavy for several days. It was February in the foothills of the Himalayas, so when the storm came in, the electricity went out. There were long stretches where we had no lights, no hot water and everything was cold, wet and dismal.
One morning, after several days of this, when the 5:30 a.m. bell woke me for practice, I miserably crawled out of bed into the dark, damp chill and had a mortifying revelation. I am not a real yogini. I am a total fraud.
All I wanted was a hot shower, my perfectly heated yoga studio, and my cozy life. Clearly I am not devoted enough. Sure, I like the idea of absolute liberation, but only if it feels good.
My head hung low with the weight of my new realization. I sadly sloshed through the muddy courtyard to the temple for morning practice. Wrapped in layers of blankets, I took my seat in the dim candlelight with all the others. As I watched my frosty breath fill the space around me, I silently cursed the cold. I was icily ashamed of my own hypocrisy. I knew at the end of this hour I would have to get up and teach an asana practice and all I wanted to do was get away from here. I had absolutely nothing to give.
I cried through the entire meditation. I wept through round after round of chanting the Gayatri. Layer after layer, I let go into deep darkness until I felt something inside me break apart. Minutes before I had to stand up and step into the role of the teacher, I found myself daydreaming about how I was going to have to confess to the room that due to my lack of true yogic dedication, I couldn’t possibly lead our practice today.
Just then the light of the rising sun began to trickle into the room. With my eyes still closed I let the soft glow seep into the crack that had opened at the core of my being. In my mind’s eye I saw so clearly the tiniest, tender green shoot beginning to grow inside the emptiness. Then, from somewhere deep within, I heard the words, “Teach from this place.”
It’s hard to explain exactly what happened next. I peeled myself away from the warmth of the blankets and made my way to the front of the room. I marveled as I heard my voice starting to fill the room. In all my years teaching I have never had such a profound feeling of being out of my own way and something greater speaking through me. Every pose, every action, every metaphor was totally in service of the women in the room. The theme that wove its way into the tapestry of the class was one of surrender. It was about finding support from something bigger than our own desires and aversions.
Together we practiced taking refuge in consciousness itself when immediate comfort couldn’t be found. Right there in the soft light and bitter cold, we let warm tears soften our rough edges and tired complaints. Leaning into the strength of our circle we resisted the temptation to collapse from the intensity and opened to a magnificent grace.
After that class I knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that “I” never wanted to teach yoga again. I wanted to surrender completely to whatever that energy was that taught for me that day. I wanted to become more and more of a clear conduit for the divine feminine to live through me. Always. All ways.
I am not going to try to pretend that this comes easy for me or that I can do it all the time. The truth is that it is always changing and some days it feels closer than others. But this has become the backbone of my personal practice and the heart of all of the yoga classes that I lead to this day.
It is my intention to continue to get out of my own way, moment-by-moment, breath by breath, and to keep letting myself be led by that tender shoot of infinite wisdom, that clearly knows more than “I.”
Author: Kirsten Warner
Editor: Travis May
Photo: Author’s Own