April 13, 2016

How Yoga Teacher Training Changed my Life.

Flickr/Matthew Ragan

Sitting on my mat, I listened as the owner of the Yoga Teacher Training spoke to us about what we would be learning in the next nine months, using words like asana and pranayama, and I felt the butterflies fluttering in my stomach racing against the erratic beating of my heart.

What do these words mean? How can I be a yoga teacher if I don’t even know basic words? What am I doing here?

I had applied to four different graduate programs, been accepted and never attended. I convinced myself that I would become an Olympic basketball star, an author of a book, a world traveler—except none of those things ever came true.

I have a tendency to become obsessed with activities and completely throw myself into them until I get restless and find the next activity to preoccupy my mind for the next six months and so on. That’s how I found myself sitting on this mat, in this room with 20 other people who were clearly advanced in their own yoga practices and I had just started doing yoga in my living room seven months ago.Bottom line: I didn’t belong there.

Who was I trying to fool by sitting in this room nodding my head in silent agreement that pranayama is one of the most important aspects to incorporate into your daily yoga practice, when I couldn’t even tell you what pranayama was? I sat through the next two hours filled with self-doubt and vowed that it would be worth it to forfeit the deposit I had made to the studio if it meant saving myself from further embarrassment over the next nine months.

I went home that night, beating myself up over joining a teacher training when I didn’t know the first thing about yoga. I sat at the kitchen table with a sandwich in hand reading over the manual that we were given – 500+ pages of complete gibberish. Pages full of ahimsa, chakras, nadis – I was way out of my league and far beyond my comfort level to possibly even fathom staying in the teacher training.

I gave myself the rest of the weekend – I didn’t want to give the impression to the studio that they had failed me, when in reality I had been the one to fail myself and bite off more than I could chew. I vowed to finish out the weekend, send a regretful I’m sorry I will not be returning to the training at this time, and disappear from the yoga world.

The weekend passed and as the second month of the training came up, so did my grandmothers illness. She was dying – complications between having diabetes and congestive heart failure, neither of which she wanted treated. She felt her time had come and she was ready to end her suffering in this lifetime. It’s scary when someone decides their own fate, the reality sets in that they truly feel there is nothing to live for any longer when in reality there was a laundry list of items to keep going on for.

Nights were spent on trips to the nursing home, to the hospital, to her bedside. Impending death raises a lot of internal emotions for people, different emotions than when someone dies tragically. When someone chooses to give up, it’s hard to try and convince them of doing otherwise. She did not want to be lectured or given a list of reasons that she had to fight and continue moving forward. The decision was hers and hers alone.

She said her goodbyes in her own way – through pictures, objects, the ever famous FaceTime calls with those out-of-state, never once admitting to the fact that she was dying, and when she was ready she passed in the middle of the night. It was expected, but no matter how much you may expect you are not always prepared. It still stings like a knife to receive the phone call. It burns to look at pictures, to hear stories of better times. The guilt is the worst of all, that sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach when you forget for just a second the reality of the situation and all of a sudden that jabbing feeling stabs at you right in your core, reminding you that time has passed that you haven’t thought of them.

Now, I had mentally agreed not to go back to that training, but with all of the commotion surrounding a death I had forgotten to send the sympathy e-mail. I mindlessly drove over to the yoga studio, determined not to look anyone in the eye or make small-talk and to push through that weekend and that would be it. I would finish out the weekend and no more.

We walked into class and were handed journals. Think of a person you’re angry with, anyone that evokes that fire-in-your-stomach anger and write. Write for the next 15 minutes and then come back to the circle.

I walked outside with my yoga mat in tow, laying out across the dewy grass on an unseasonably warm November morning. I wrote to my grandmother about how I angry I was with her—she chose to not receive treatment, she chose not to keep moving forward. My grandmother was a massive influence on my life and here she was; she gave up ever seeing me get married or have babies or have Christmas Eve at our house all because she made the decision not to live. And the worst part was that she and I fought right before she died. She was cruel to me—telling me things that now, two years later I can’t even remember because all I can remember is the anger. I wrote to her as if she were still here. At the end of the 15 minutes, I didn’t even notice that my tears had stained the pages of the angry letter I wrote to her.

I walked back into the circle with the taste of salt on my lips and swollen, puffy eyes, angrier than I had been the days leading up to her death. I took my place on the floor, clutching my letter tight to my chest afraid to be exposed that I had written an angry letter to my recently deceased grandmother. One of the aspects of being a yogi is to be forgiving and kind: I couldn’t possibly be a yogi by writing an angry letter to my dead grandmother, what kind of a person does that?

The head teacher walked into the room and told us to follow her outside. As I walked barefoot across the cold, wooden floor all I could think of was how it matched how I felt inside: Cold, uninviting, and bare. We made our way to the backdoor and upon opening it, a fire pit was roaring throwing embers every which way in the cool breeze.

Part of doing yoga is finding yourself—not just who you are, but the deeper part of you. Learning to let go of what no longer serves you. The emotions that you have written on those papers mean nothing and chances are there isn’t anything you can do to change what has happened, but you can learn for next time. Learn how to deal with your anger rather than hold onto it. Anger leads to chakra imbalances and toxins releasing into the body. Toss your anger into the fire and learn to acknowledge anger, but never hold onto it. Find the deeper yoga within yourself.

They were right. I was spending this entire month so angry with my grandmother for giving up on herself that I was missing the bigger picture of what truly happened. The reality was that my grandmother was not giving up on life or family or missing out on family holidays. My grandmother was setting herself free; free of pain, confusion, being stagnant. She was completely dependent on everyone around her, losing herself and her freedom slowly over her last couple of years. The anger that I felt inside was a reflection of who I am as a person; selfish and unforgiving.

No one knows what someone is feeling, experiencing, or thinking except for the person who’s going through it all. Anger is a human emotion, it’s expected and understood and warranted. But to hold onto that anger, never forgiving yourself or others is when you cause harm to yourself.

Grandma was not the first death I’d experienced; I’ve lost close to 10 people within six years and in grieving for my grandmother it caused my anger toward death to grow. Death is a part of life and while it may not always be understood, it is inevitable. There is no easy way to deal with it and people grieve differently but what I learned that afternoon far exceeded my expectations of yoga teacher training. I was learning how to heal, how to grow and as I threw my anger into the embers of the fire I knew that this training was exactly where I needed to be.


Author: Nicole Aviles

Editor: Erin Lawson

Images: Flickr/Matthew Ragan   //   Flickr/M Yashna

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