The other day I posted a poll on my Instagram story asking my followers whether they’ve ever just felt destined for something. The answer choices were between “100%” and “Not Sure.” Twenty-something people responded to the poll, and the results were surprisingly close: 59% responded that they had felt destined for something, while 41% weren’t sure.
I have felt destined for many things. The reason I posted the poll question was because I was thinking about when I knew I was supposed to help people heal through yoga.
It was in 2011, in a hot yoga class. I had been practicing yoga on and off before that for a few years, but hadn’t felt much connection to the practice other than as a way to exercise gently. In this particular intense, hot power yoga class though, I was lying on my mat in savasana and I felt an overwhelming sense of peace and calm wash over me. I somehow felt a stronger connection to God than I had in a really long time. As I lie there, I knew with total conviction that I would one day be teaching yoga. This was before I even loved yoga, and I had many different aspirations that had nothing to do with teaching fitness classes. As surprised as I was by it, I knew.
To give you some context, 2011 was a life-altering year for me. I was 22, and had gotten married to my first love, whom I met when I was 19 and he was 29. We had a seemingly normal relationship full of orange and red flags that I was too young and naïve to perceive. It wasn’t until we got married that the flags turned into flames.
I found myself isolated from my family and very confused. It was my practice of yoga that saved me – I began rediscovering feelings of worth, value, and self-love, and my intention in each class became a soft “I am enough” whispered to myself during the most challenging moments of my practice.
Yoga has since become a big part of my life’s work. I went on to develop a personal practice that aided in my healing journey, and from there over about four years have completed over 750 hours of teaching certification to help others along their healing journeys.
If you had gone to one of my classes in 2014 or shortly thereafter, and then gone to one of my classes this year, you would be amazed at the difference in my teaching style. You see, when yoga really clicked for me, it was in a very heated studio and the practice was physically demanding and intense. Though it was still yoga, and very positive, my attitude toward exercise as a former athlete directed my practice as a beginner yogi. If it wasn’t overly hot, power yoga that made me feel like I was going to die at some point during the class – or at the very least, pass out – I simply wasn’t interested. I did not like yoga that wasn’t extreme, and the thought of meditation was hilarious to me. I truly enjoyed being competitive, and did not understand how that could be a problem.
There were many problems with my early approach to my practice, of course. For one thing, balance is never created through extremes, and for another, there is no ego in yoga, which means no competition. Both pushing oneself to a physical extreme and practicing yoga from a competitive place can lead to injury and burnout. This is a lifetime practice that physical asana is only one small fraction of, yet I was treating it like the end all, be all, best exercise regimen ever.
Although I was taking up hot, power yoga during the time in my life when I lacked love, compassion, and nurture the most, (when that burning relationship was destroying me), pushing myself to my physical limit felt amazing. Feeling like I had to overcome my own physical and mental limitations just to make it through the hour and 15 minute class gave me a sense of empowerment. Walking out of the studio totally depleted, dripping head to toe in my own sweat, felt amazing. It was the only thing I felt good about most days. And during the most intense moments of practice, I was physically working out the harsh realities of the state of my heart.
Though my teachers I’m sure were gentle – to be clear, they were constantly offering modifications of poses and encouraging breaks – they were teaching “power” yoga, and their language reflected that. They were great about teaching how to enter and exit postures appropriately, and were positive and encouraging and normal.
They were not telling students throughout, or even in savasana, all of the lovely, nurturing things that I now love saying and hearing, like “you are so loved.” And honestly, had they said anything remotely close to that, I would have rolled my eyes and laughed to myself. I was nowhere near being ready or capable of receiving that message directly.
However – and this is the part that gets me about yoga – in the quiet moments of savasana, lying drenched in sweat, God had direct access to my heart. During these rare moments that my mind was calm enough, during the only time I would feel safe and be still, He would whisper beautiful truths to me that my fragile heart clung to for dear life. “You are enough.” “You are loved.” “You are going to make it.” “It is okay.” “I love you.”
When I first began teaching, I thought I had to recreate for my students the type of ‘healing’ environment that had worked for me. My classes were boot camp-style, intense, usually heated, power yoga. I included positive messages during the time of savasana, but that was the only semblance of my teaching style now.
Naturally, my approach began to soften as I learned more about the practice and learned hands-on what students needed from me. I began studying yoga as a healing therapy, specifically for victims of trauma. Eventually, I would discover my passion for teaching from the loving, nurturing place I teach from now, making students feel welcome as I hold space for them. This doesn’t mean that my classes are now “easy” – if anything, it means that they can be even more physically demanding. Because my language is gentle, my students are more willing to push themselves from a place of loving kindness, compassion, and respect for their bodies. As much as the style of class may vary, each class I teach is a healing space for my students, allowing them the time they need with themselves and God, to align body, mind, and Spirit.
I knew I was destined for this without knowing what it would look like, and teaching in this healing way is such an incredible experience!
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