Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Beautiful Truth

 I am now a Teacher of Ancient Traditional Hatha Yoga.  The course was amazing, very intense and incredibly powerful in the way that it opens your body,  your mind and lifts your energy to places you never thought you'd go (again).

The word yoga means 'unity' or 'oneness' and is derived from the Sanscrit word yuj which means 'to join'.  This unity or joining is described in spiritual terms as the union of the individual consciousness with the universal consciousness.  On a more practical level, yoga is a means of balancing and harmonizing the body, mind and emotions.  This is done through practicing asanas (postures), pranayama (breathing), mudra (gestures), bandha (holds), shatkarma (cleansing practices), and meditation (focusing the mind).  All of these practices must be achieved before union can take place with the higher reality.

The science of yoga begins to work on the outermost aspect of the personality, the physical body, which for most people is a practical and familiar starting point.  When imbalance is experienced at this level, the organs, muscles and nerves no longer function in harmony, rather they act in opposition to each other.  For instance, the endocrine system (the glands in our bodies which produce hormones) might become irregular and the efficiency of the nervous system decrease to such an extent that a disease will manifest. 

Yoga aims at bringing the different bodily functions into perfect co-ordination so that they work for the good of the whole body.

So as you might imagine, 25 days on an ashram practicing this would have a profound effect, and it did. I would like to clarify that yoga is not all about becoming a pretzel.  You do not need to be super flexible to practice it.  I'm not and neither were the other 12 women on my course.  Everyone has their flexible areas - mine is in the spine and shoulders.  I am not very flexible in my narrow (non child bearing) hips.  That's just how God made me.  So I have to work at it every day and eventually I will become more flexible.   They say we hold emotions in our hips.  As you begin to open up this area, it is important to be aware of how it may open up a whole lot of emotions too. 

We happened to start with hip opening.  As we went through the various types of postures - which are grouped into these emotional releasing areas (conveniently enough), it brought up a lot of "stuff".  Stuff I thought I dealt with through years and years of therapy.  Stuff I didn't want to deal with again.  Stuff that made me feel very exposed and very vulnerable and very insecure.  It was both fascinating to see how profoundly the yoga was waking up these energy blockages and at the same time it was frightening.  But what a wonderful place to have to go through it - with 12 incredibly warm and loving women who weren't going to pass judgment (because they were on their own personal journeys themselves and understood the process). 
I was out of my comfort zone and as a result, I really didn't know WHO I was.  I'm used to being quite confident and clear when I'm talking to people about anatomy and physiology and how it relates to massage, but I discovered my fear of being looked at and my discomfort at watching others perform.  A bit difficult when you're trying to become a yoga teacher!  Combine this with how the yoga postures were opening up my own personal can of worms... and you might just imagine how this is going to pan out!

We had to teach our first 30 minute class to the others within a week.  Grouping asanas (postures) together was easy enough for me but I was SO nervous teaching.  I couldn't LOOK at anyone!  I kept my nose buried in my notes.  I was terrified to look up.  Bizarre (but such an interesting observation).  A week later we had to teach our first 1.5 hour class.  I practiced and I wrote an excellent routine and really challenged myself (perhaps my first mistake) by using complicated postures and even adapting a few to make them a little different.  I even asked to be in the room with our Swami Shantimurti observing (he's tough) so clearly I FELT ready. 

I didn't sleep the night before.  It was a combination of excitement and nerves and it was the coldest night of the year.  So I got out of bed at 4am and lit the fires in the sadana room (where we practice) and in the main yoga house (where another group also practices).  I should just mention that while living on an ashram, we all share chores, one of the chores is lighting fires.  This job is given to two people to tend to for one week and then it switches.  As a "Fire Fairy" its your responsibility to wake up a little earlier to light fires to heat the rooms up to make the classes more pleasant.  It wasn't my job but I wanted to make the rooms nice and warm for my class.  When people began to wake up, they all seemed uncharacteristically grumpy.  They were pissed off at "whoever lit the fire at 4am and woke them up".  Great start to the morning.  Never mind that the house and sadana room were warm. No thank you at all from the fire fairies or anyone else.

My personality naturally wants to make people feel better.  So when people are grumpy, I want to make them smile.  I had structured my class around the Anahata (heart) chakra which opens the energy in the heart space and makes you feel full of love.  However, I wasn't expecting that people weren't in that sort of mood.  I taught my class, standing up at the front with a smile and looking back at a bunch of tired, grumpy faces.  That THREW ME RIGHT OFF.  Suddenly I got very fearful and proceeded to teach my class with absolutely no confidence.  Damn.  It was such a good class too.   

Afterwards, everyone critiques your class and tells you what they liked and what they didn't like and how you can improve for next time.  It's not easy sitting up there while people pick things apart but the positive points make it all worthwhile.  But on this particularly grumpy day, people forgot to say what they liked about the class.  The only criticism I got was that I needed to be more confident.  Duh.  No fricken kidding!  Then Swami Shantimurt had his turn.  He told me that I needed to stop trying to intellectualize with the class and really learn to connect with them (yep) and that I should never apologize or explain myself EVER (I did this a few times as I thought they were unhappy with holding some of the harder postures) and that there was no place for personality while teaching yoga (WHAT? How do I do THAT?).  He proceeded to emphasize some of the words I use as fillers (when I'm nervous) such as "really, and, just, gonna"... and repeated them over and over.  I got it.  I felt stupid enough already.  Just stop please.  Stop.  

I started to get angry!  The anger began bubbling up and I felt I was about to burst.  I didn't have a chance to speak! I tried to open my mouth but I didn't know what to say!  My false frozen smile was beginning to slide.  Surely they had something NICE to say?  I'm always nice when I give my feedback to THEM.  I began to feel very let down by my peers and I was incredibly disappointed and embarrassed.  Two of the major compliments that Swami Shantimurti gave me - that I will be a great yoga teacher and that one of the postures I created actually made him want to get down on the floor and try it - didn't register.  I focused on the criticisms he made.  So I politely excused myself to use the toilet - and I WALKED OUT.  I threw on my gumboots and I walked to the beach and I just kept walking!!

Thank goodness there wasn't a soul on the beach because I started to scream and cry, I was SO upset!  It was a cold day and I didn't have a jacket but I was so stubborn.  I kept walking for miles.  If I could have, I would have walked home.  I reached the end of the beach and I sat there for hours, sitting in the cold wind punishing myself.  My anger and disappointment by feeling let down by others began to turn inward.  Why?  Why do I allow people to think it's okay to talk to me or treat me like this?  Why do people treat me like I don't know what I'm talking about? Because... I allow it.  How can anyone respect me if I don't respect myself?  By being openly fearful, I'm showing that I'm not confident and when I don't appear confident, I don't appear to know what I'm doing or talking about.  If I want to achieve my goals, if I want to work with people and have them respect and feel inspired by me, I have to be very SURE of what I'm doing.  Major breakthrough.

***I would like to add here that these women are not horrible nor were they purposely being mean or picking on me.  It wasn't like that at all.  It's just that the day before we had done some intense hip opening postures which as I already mentioned, stirs up a lot of emotions.  It was just a bad day for everyone and no one was perky or positive that day. I am just writing how I felt in that moment but it's not a personal attack on anyone. 

But I was still angry. My new mantra was "eff it", I didn't give an eff what anyone thinks.  I made a promise to myself to never say sorry again (an impossible thing to promise as I AM Canadian and we say sorry a lot). I walked back to the Ashram (because I had no where else to go) though I really just wanted to be alone.  I found it difficult to be around others while I was processing these emotions.  I knew I wasn't angry at them but I WAS angry and it's hard as a people pleaser to be angry in the company of others.  I'm so glad they didn't try to make me feel better.  They let me be in my anger... and suddenly I became invisible.  Invisibility, the thing that I hate the most, yet a place where I feel safe.  It was all making so much sense.

I couldn't function very well during the afternoon so I went for a nap and I slept straight through until the next day - a 14 hour nap!  I was invited to join the morning sadana by Swami Atmalokananda and to be honest, I could've stayed in bed.  My friend Anger was still there, with me the whole night, and didn't want me to get up.  I dragged my invisible self out onto my mat and joined in the class with tears streaming down my face the whole time.  How embarrassing, but I couldn't stop and I had no energy to try.  I succumbed to whatever was working through me.  Although I felt quite uncomfortable processing these emotions openly (I don't like others feeling uncomfortable) the women were wonderful and allowed me to be invisible. 

I felt like I was shutting down entirely.  My body didn't want to move, I felt so rigid and I couldn't get myself into the postures.  I couldn't seem to speak. I couldn't find my voice or the words to express my feelings.  I felt utterly and completely lost.  I wanted to curl up in a ball and die.  All I could to do was cry.  What the hell am I doing here?  I don't even WANT to teach yoga!!

One of the women on this course had become a "Journey" counselor, a powerful process which helps you overcome challenges from physical ailments to emotional trauma or shut down in relationship problems and career performance issues.  So after they all ate lunch (my body didn't want to eat), she came into my room and began to talk me through the journey process (she seemed to instinctively know she needed to ignore my invisibility trick).  I knew what she was doing and although I was really afraid to go through the process, I didn't really have a choice.  I was immobilized and powerless.  For an hour and a half, we went through the layers of emotions that I've packed away in neat piles in my subconscious for so many years.  As she talked me through another emotion, I felt guilt and shame that she had to see this side of me.  I thought I dealt with this stuff but I'd only folded it and tucked it away where I hoped no one could find it (more importantly where I would never find it).  But it was there, with all the other folded emotions.  No wonder my primary feeling was anger.  I had suppressed so much of this and never allowed myself to FEEL.  Layer after layer we removed the emotions and put a name to them and as we worked my memory went deeper and deeper into the past, into my subconscious. 

The emotions connect themselves to memories that you long forgot, from the perspective of a child or a less evolved version of your psyche.  Perspective.  That's all this is.  Change the perspective, change the emotion.  So for example, in my case it went back all the way down to infancy, of being born.  Here's a fact:  90% of our conditioning occurs in the womb.  I'll repeat that, 90% of our entire conditioning, of how we think, act and feel TODAY occurs in the womb.  Staggering isn't it?  So in my case, I know that although I was conceived from love, I was an "accident" and I know that at the time my mom was pregnant with me, she was incredibly confused and conflicted about whether she should proceed with the pregnancy.  Remember, this was the 1970's in a small Northern Ontario town which was predominantly Catholic.  My mom had 4 children and was in the middle of a rather scandalous separation.  My own father was nearly a decade younger than her, a "fling" whom she fell madly in love with but knew she could never be with.  As a tiny baby, I didn't breastfeed well and I stopped breathing spontaneously (SIDS).  For this reason, my mom had to carry me in a sling and give me mouth to mouth when I'd stop breathing. When I was 6 months old, my mom sent me to live with my grandparents.  I'm not sure the story there, why I was sent away. As a result, I never felt wanted. I didn't belong.  I didn't fit the mold.  My birth was a burden.  I changed the dynamic of my family. I was different, I looked different (like my dad) and I had a different personality.  I tried to become as invisible as possible in that family.  I didn't want to rock the boat or stand out.  As a kid, I wished my magic power was to have an invisible cloak or to time travel.  I wished I was adopted.  Isn't that interesting?  My anger comes from disappointment.  Disappointment in the people I love not seeing me or understanding me or wanting me.  My perspective is understanding that I have been wearing an invisible cloak around them for years.  They couldn't understand me if they couldn't see me.  How can someone want what they can't see?  I never allowed them to get to know what made me special.  I hid from them.  I was scared of them.  As a result, whenever I feel hurt or disappointed or afraid, I disappear.  I move away, I lose contact, I vanish.

So at the end of the session, after I'd done the work that needed to be done, all there was left was love.  God's love, pure and real.  I wouldn't be here if he didn't want me to be here.  No matter how hard you try to be invisible, you can't disappear from Him.  I already know that consciously, but subconsciously it never sunk in.  And that changes everything. 

From there, I changed.  I emerged like a butterfly.  I got far more out of the course than I ever imagined and now I'm so excited to teach what I learned, from my own emotional and energetic perspective, to others who feel they not only need to stretch their bodies, but their minds and their emotions as well.

I was given my Yogic Sanscrit name by Swami Shantimurti.  He chooses your name by your birth chart.  The name I was given is Satyarupa (pronounced Sut-ya-ru-pa).  Satya means Truth and Rupa means Beauty.  The beautiful truth - that is who I am and that is who God made me to be.

I learned a very important lesson about ego that day.  Being a yoga teacher isn't about you, it's about walking your students through their own journey in whatever cloak they choose. To recognize when that cloak is a cover for what they aren't yet ready to deal with or reveal.  And being there when it comes off, with a big anahata smile (because that makes everyone feel better).

Hari Aum Tat Sat.  This self realization is just beginning.  AUM.


Melanie. Delamorandiere said...

Wow Trac! The life stories that you share are moving and inspirational. I believe that you are a beautiful soul and that you WILL make a wonderful teacher. It's part of who you are.Sharing your experiences though stories is a nac that you have, weaving them in a way that shows your vulnerablity, hope,devistation, your triumph and success that allows us to follow you on your journey. Thank you for sharing your beautiful self.

Paula Johnson said...

OMG Tracy, I don't know you but you could be writing my conception/life story - I so resonate with everything you say, it's unbelievable. I'd love to come to one of your classes. I've struggled with Yoga off and on for years..resistances, shutdowns, holding on etc. etc. I've just moved to the Mount and want to connect with like-minded souls...keep up the fantastic work and congratulations on working through the shyte to come out the other side - it takes incredible courage!