In retrospect, I’m really glad I didn’t know I was actually starting a new career.
When I signed up for my teacher training in 2008 I didn’t have the intention of becoming an “actual” yoga teacher. I was deeply enamored with being a student and reticent of crossing to the other side – I didn’t want to know what the wizard was doing behind the curtain. I also really loved donuts at the time and had vowed that I’d never work in a donut shop so I could keep that sacred as well. But like many people who sign up for a teacher training, I was curious about deepening my own practice and learn the basics to share with my friends and family. The year after I completed my training with Mark Stephens I was casually teaching 4 classes a week when the recession hit and I was laid off from my job as an event planner at Stanford. Unsure of what my next step would be and what skills I could parlay into a livelihood, I decided to try my hand at more teaching.
The first two years of teaching full-time were BRUTAL. As the new kid on the block the aim is to say yes to everything, teach at as many places as possible, and hustle hard so your name is seen at every location that will take you. This amounts to an inefficient and exhausting schedule; transiting back and forth across several towns in any given day, getting up to sub the 7am studio class and somehow sustaining enough energy to teach your 7:30pm gym class. The inconsistency in working, eating, sleeping, and socializing felt unsustainable and had me doubtful I continue this lifestyle much longer. Not to mention that teaching 16-20 classes a week was yielding me less than $30k annually and with the cost of living in the Bay Area that meant I was fueling up on cost-efficient sandwiches. A LOT OF SANDWICHES.
Four years into my teaching and about ten years into my personal practice I became curious about how yoga affects the quality of life and relationships off the mat. I could feel in myself how yoga was shaping me into a more patient, kind, and less reactive human being – which was (a little too) enthusiastically affirmed by my family saying that I had “become a much more pleasant person to be around.” Then I started to hear similar accounts from my students, they would share how yoga was changing the way they were parenting their children, communicating with their partner and family members, and shaping their ability to manage stress. My curiosity was piqued. Was the physical asana practice introducing change on an emotional level? Was the change I was feeling and seeing measureable?
I spent time researching graduate programs that would help me find some answers and ultimately settled on a Master’s in Psychology. I dove into the neuroscience research investigating how contemplative practices like yoga and meditation were affecting the structures of the brain. I became fascinated by the sophistication of tools and technologies to look inside of the brain and the electrifying beauty of it to light up when activated. Two years later, I had graduated with the training and analytical tools to comprehend, conduct, and dissect research but I also felt that my interest had traveled too far down the path of being cerebral. The distillation of the mind into discrete structures didn’t seem to have the kind of practical application that I felt, and was witnessing, through the direct lived experience.
“Your body thinks in feels.” – Jill Miller, Founder and Creator of Yoga Tune Up
I shifted my fascination away from brain structures and neurotransmitters and turned my curiosity towards biomechanics and how sensory experience and bodily perception might attribute or contribute to a greater sense of psychological, emotional, and spiritual well-being. Could it be that the more aware we are of our body the more capacity we have to create healing within our own psyche? In my quest to learn more about the muscles and the kinesthetic qualities of the practice I studied under Jill Miller, truly one of the most inspiring human beings I have ever met. Her vast and interdisciplinary knowledge of the body is tempered and equally rivaled by her humbleness to be a student of her body; to intrinsically listen, give, love, nurture, and appreciate this shape as living and feeling tissue. Through her Yoga Tune Up training, I learned the anatomy of my tissues from an embodied perspective, not only the location of muscles, when they contract or relax, but also how to feel beyond the poses of the yoga practice. I found and felt how the process of going inward creates the trust and capacity to deeply care for myself – my whole self.
Over the years I’ve had the opportunity to work with people of various shapes, sizes, and conditions, all interested in healing their bodies. Whether this was in the form of rehabilitation from a rotator cuff tear, addressing scar tissue from abdominal surgery, facing trauma from incarceration, or exploring breathing techniques and meditation to manage the anxiety and pain of a terminal illness. In all of these interactions, it was imperative that I relate to each human being in their dynamic, lived experience and not reduce the process of healing to a defined sequence of poses or citations from the research. If we are not feeling well in our body, whether it be from physical pain or emotional incapacitation, our relationship to our self is fractured and it has demonstrative effects on the mind and vice versa. You know that feeling you get after an amazing yoga practice? An invigorating run? A breathtaking hike? A soothing bath? A few slow and deep breaths? It starts with how in tune and attuned we are to our body.
With this, I celebrate how I much I have learned and will continue to discover from my body and the bodies around me. I am humbled by my teachers and students and now, with these ten years of insight and growth within me and many more ahead, I celebrate this as the anniversary that I can now afford more than a sandwich for dinner!