Friday, September 24, 2010

Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger...with a side of compassion.

Last weekend I kept meaning to sit down and write about what it was like teaching my first real-deal-real-people-real-life yoga class. Didn't happen. Tuesday did happen, though, so as of Tuesday at 6:31pm I started meaning to sit down and write about what it was like teaching my SECOND real-deal-real-people-real-life yoga class. Now it's Friday. Sitting down? Check. Writing? I suppose.

At Kripalu Yoga Teacher Training we would set inquires for every Practice Teach. In fact, we set inquiries all day, every day, which was part of what drew me to the Kripalu program in the first place. I'm the product of Montessori School and an Authentic Liberal Arts College Education (on the World's Most Beautiful Campus - yes I'm bragging on my alma mater. Again.) and the Kripalu YTT methodology, much like every other educational experience of my life, reminded me of that amazing Rilke quote:
...have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.
Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet
...which is NOT to conjure images of sipping scotch (although I am a fan) in an imposing Ivory Tower feeling generally superior. In fact, it's the opposite - sometimes I feel incapable of making decisions because my brain has been wired to live everything as a question, to see a million POSSIBLE answers, and then see each possible answer in shades of gray - good and bad - right and wrong - and OH! Every possible answer PROBABLY becomes another inquiry. Woo!

Learning to teach yoga from this perspective (it's one of Pantanjali's sutras: Atha Yoga Nushasanam - Now, the inquiry of yoga) means the realization that you could teach an entire 2-year series on Tadasana (mountain pose). "What happens if you soften the knees? What happens if you shift your tailbone down ever so slightly? How does it feel when you lift the ribcage? Spend the next hour noticing your fingers!! Namaste!" To be fair, we did spend an entire day learning/learning to teach Tadasana, and nothing changed my understanding of yoga or helped me tune in to the details of my own body more than that day.

I used to get so anxious standing in mountain pose. First of all, it felt ridiculous to just STAND there. I wanted to move on and start beating myself up - you know, force my body to work hard, harder, harder - be stronger, be more flexible, be BETTER - whatever that meant. Second, I was always sure I wasn't doing it "right" - the cues to notice these subtle things in my body were just totally lost on me. It was almost impossible to connect my mind with where my hips might be. How could standing be SO complex? That drove me crazy.  These two things are connected, though, and common. And exactly why I'm teaching yoga.

It's the devastating thing I saw in my own life and I see in the lives of people all around me, all of the time. Somehow the body has become a thing we have to punish, beat into submission, force into compliance. On those TV shows where people are losing weight in groups or working with celebrity trainers I've heard it spouted off as a way to do more, work harder, get results: "Show the body who's boss! Run faster! Push harder! Don't let the body control you, you control the body! No pain, no gain!" Essentially we're encouraged to disembody ourselves in order to achieve something physical. As opposed to being one integrated human being, we are a floating head who happens to own a body, and as the owner of the body, we're going to whip it into shape. I used to do this all of the time in fitness classes, running, working out at the gym: I would tell myself I was the boss, I could keep going, I could do more -as though my body and mind were totally disconnected. And it can work for a little while. Maybe it could even work for an extended period of time, at least on the level of keeping the body in good physical shape as defined by the clothing industry.

But it's a recipe for failure, misery, injury and weight gain, and here's why: perhaps on Monday I disembody myself so that I can run five miles as fast as I can - I'm pushing and beating myself up and forcing - and maybe it's a good thing in and of itself. Maybe my body really needed the movement, the exertion, the oxygen. That's good. Except if I'm doing it from a disembodied place - if I'm forcing my body to run as some kind of power-play, showing it that I'm in charge, I'm setting up a really warped mind-body connection. And then on Tuesday, maybe I continue feeling disembodied, but this time it makes it easy to binge on fast-food because, hey, the body is just this thing, it's not really me. And maybe on Wednesday I feel really guilty about the fast food binge, and I spend a lot of time hating my thighs, obsessing about how much I hate my thighs. And then on Thursday I feel generally shitty and I don't really know why. On Friday I am so disembodied that during my latest and greatest strength training program (that has promised me THE perfect abs) I don't listen to the cues that I'm using too heavy of weights and I put my back out. On Saturday my body and I are involved a serious war - stupid, hurt, not good enough body keeping me flat on my back in bed, all the while probably gaining weight and making sure I can't fit into my skinny jeans. On Sunday I'm in a state of such serious self-loathing I can hardly see straight. Why? Here's a guess: if I'm punishing my body, I'm punishing myself. If I hate my body, I hate myself. The end.

I don't mean this as a literal example. Each day could represent one year in a person's life, even. But this is what we are being told to do by many in the fitness industry - even in yoga classes, especially the latest and greatest super-vigorous-core-power-vinyasa-ass-kicking-in-a-room-as-hot-as-a-sauna class (and I mean no harm - I love intense vinyasa classes, and I even love Bikram classes!) - and  we are so completely disconnected from our bodies that it is hardly a surprise that we fill them with food that has no nutritional value, or that morbid obesity has become a serious and scary epidemic, or that people are starving themselves and over-exercising on a quest to meet some arbitrary standard of physical beauty. It's no surprise that we pack our schedules so full that we have no time for any relaxation, restoration or anything else that doesn't serve a specific purpose toward getting further on the imaginary totem pole of necessary life accomplishments.

I want to teach yoga from the perspective of how miraculous the body is. Instead of hating your thighs, what if you marvel - simply MARVEL - at their strength holding you, sweet and easy, in Virabhadrasana I? Instead of hating your belly, what if you explore the way your core strength allows you to move and stretch and stabilize poses? What if your goal wasn't to show your arm muscles who the boss is, but to instead notice, every day, how much longer you can stay in chaturanga dandasana, and then thank those muscles - those parts of YOU - for the effort? In my experience, if I work WITH my body - with the muscles that I am strengthening and training and stretching every day in my yoga practice and any other form of exercise, then it becomes fun and compassionate to work hard, challenge, explore the edges of exertion and endurance.

(As a related aside: I truly believe that yoga is the key to solving the morbid obesity epidemic in this country. Being morbidly obese is the same type of mind-body disconnect as beating yourself up in the gym. When a yoga practice allows you to begin reconnecting the body and mind - inquiring into parts of the body that have been ignored because of shame and experiencing the beautiful power and potential of the body even after years of neglect - the door to compassionate, healthy weight-loss has been opened.)

What if I can connect my body, mind and spirit in such a way that we are one entity: moving, flowing, living and loving together? Moreover, what if I can inspire my students to approach their practice (and by extension, their lives) from a place of compassionate self-awareness so that one day choosing healthy foods that nourish their physical form becomes second nature; not holding back during a vigorous yoga practice becomes an act of love; sweat pouring and heat building goes from being a punishment to an expression of the connectedness of mind, body and spirit?

Now, the inquiry. =)



PS - My first two real-deal-real-people-real-life yoga classes went well, by the way. =)

Monday, September 20, 2010

Life. The way it is. The way it isn't.

I can't believe it's been three weeks since I returned from yoga teacher training at Kripalu. It feels like three YEARS, and that can, at times, feel disheartening. I think back with such a sense of bittersweet longing to waiting at the Albany airport on August 1st and meeting the sweet Kelly ("Are you doing yoga teacher training?" "YES! Are you?" "Yes! Are you SO excited!?" "Yes." -pause- "I'm also SO NERVOUS." "ME TOOOOO!!") who in many respects may as well be me 14 years ago. I think we were both so relieved to make a connection with someone else in the program right away, and specifically with someone with whom we could RELATE. We sat next to each other on the shuttle from the airport to Kripalu and exchanged stories, and I had that funny feeling that in four short weeks this slightly uncomfortable small talk would be replaced by a deep and abiding connection. (I was very, very right.) We checked in together, chose our bunk together in the huge dorm room with 20 other bunk beds and explored the building together. We met Pam, who had been a volunteer at Kripalu previously, and as such seemed to have lots of good inside information (for example - even if the doors to the dining hall are closed, you can still go in and get tea! Anytime!!) and went to a gentle afternoon yoga class taught by Grace, who would end up being our Anatomy and Physiology teacher. I will never forget how nauseated and nervous I felt during that class. It may as well have been a super advanced vigorous class because it was destroying me, probably because I had gone to bed (on an air-mattress at a wonderful friend's house) at 1am the night before, gotten up at 4am to be at the airport for a 7am flight, had traveled all day and was embarking on a whole month that was really a complete unknown, except for the vague notion of supposedly coming out the other end a yoga teacher. Hello, nerves! I remember meeting Launa (with her amazing British accent, her intimidatingly powerful and yet kind presence) outside of our program room. She told me immediately that she was petrified that she wasn't ready for teacher training, but that she was convincing herself it was just a journey. That made me feel SO much better, especially coming from someone who looked the part of Yoga Goddess already. And, of course, I met Murphy that night at the opening session. I had no idea we had already chosen top bunks right next to each other or that I would eventually be her visual alarm clock in the morning (I would always see her wake up with a start and check if I was still in bed around 5:45am. If I was, she promptly went right back to sleep. I'm guessing if I wasn't she either checked the time and/or got up herself. Ha!) She sat on a cushion next to me and just seemed READY. TO. GO. She was emanating so much energy that she may as well have been vibrating. I told her, much later, (in the sauna, which became our nightly ritual - The Sauna Situation, it's called) that she had seemed so front-bodied that I wasn't convinced she might not propel herself forward at the speed of light and crash through the wall on the other side of the room before the program even started.

And these are just a few details of day one that I think back on with fondness and longing. 27 sixteen hour days equal an INFINITE number of details, a lot of fondness, and a ton of longing.


I always find it so tempting to try to hold on really, really, really, REALLY tight to experiences and people that make me feel good, and while understandable, it's no good to get so caught up in the past that I'm living in it and/or mourning it ALL OF THE TIME, right? I'm reading a book that another Kripalu friend, the lovely and talented Julia, suggested: Mindfulness in Plain English by Bhante Henepola Gunaratana. Were the battery in my Kindle not low and were I not feeling too comfy in this big blue chair to get up and find the charger, I'd quote a few passages from the first chapter that deal with exactly this phenomenon: the intrinsic suffering of being human that is essentially not seeing life as it is in the present moment. Ah ha! And there it is. I think this was one of the stairwell signs I saw most often at Kripalu.

I suppose I wonder how we remember, celebrate and learn from the past AND plan for the future, all the while living squarely and fully in the NOW. I have a few ideas and theories, but I'm curious, does anyone know THE answer?!? Or have AN answer? Please share!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Granola!

I made granola! I made granola!!

The granola at Kripalu is LEGENDARY. During my month-long teacher training I ate it almost every single morning with organic yogurt. It was SO perfect after our 90 minute morning yoga practice, especially if that practice was particularly vigorous. In fact, I specifically remember very sweaty morning classes with Jovinna, Danny and Roger during which the only thing getting me through the class was the promise of granola. I'd be hovering in plank for what seemed like an eternity, watching the sweat drip onto my mat below me, and just think "granola-granola-granola-granola" over and over and over again. Ha!

I have been craving Kripalu granola ever since leaving the Berkshires two weeks ago, and today I found a few different recipes online claiming to be THE Kripalu granola. After reading them (and doing some general granola research) and coming to terms with what I could get at the local grocery store (i.e. NOT rye flakes or barley malt) I sort of made up my own recipe. It's not EXACTLY like that magical Kripalu granola, but it IS very delicious!!! Now that I have the granola-bug, though, I think I'm going to be doing a LOT of granola experiments.

So this is what I did today, in case you, too, are in the mood for some delicious granola!!

Mix together in large bowl:
9 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup flax seeds
2 cups shredded cocount
2 cups sunflower seeds
1 cup sesame seeds
2 cups chopped almonds
(set aside)

Combine in saucepan:
2/3 cups canola oil
1 & 1/3 cup maple syrup
(warm on medium heat for a couple of minutes)

Remove from heat and add:
1 tbs vanilla extract
1 tbs almond extract
1/4 tea maple extract
1 tea salt


Add the liquid mixture to the dry mixture in two stages, combining well after each addition.

Spread the mixture onto two large baking sheets and press down with a spatula (or, let's be honest, your hands.)

Bake at 375 degrees for 40 minutes. Unless you have a huge oven, you'll have to use two racks; I switched the position of the sheets in the oven after 20 minutes so they would bake evenly.

Cool for 30 minutes (the granola will harden and darken as it cools!) Break up, add raisins, and store in an air-tight container.

Serve with yogurt (I'm partial to Seven Stars Farm which you can usually find at Trader Joe's or Whole Foods) or milk or just snack on it dry!! Be careful, though. All those nuts and seeds means a little goes a long way, but it tastes so good that you may end up REALLY FULL before you know it. =) This is a powerhouse food!!

YUM!!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Antsy-pantsy-pie

I've been horribly anxious this weekend. I can't really place where it's coming from, this anxiety, and I've been trying all of my top-secret yoga teacher tricks to combat it to no avail. And by top-secret yoga teacher tricks I mean really revolutionary things like BREATHING. It's that kind of anxiety where I just feel like I can't sit still. Nothing satisfies me. Ever since Friday night I've been trying to find ways to feel less antsy and more grounded. I tried forward bends, hoping the sense of introversion would connect me with myself. I tried back bends and chest openers wondering if I needed to set something free. I did a bunch of sun salutations to work up a sweat. I went to Starbucks and had a pumpkin spice latte, a pumpkin & cream cheese muffin, sat outside and tried to write. My writing had no spark or direction so I gave up. I did this Inward Diving pranayama flow, a guided relaxation, and my own meditation practice. What did it all get me? Well, I woke up with a stiff neck and a sore upper back. Awesome.

I have no inspiring story about how I've fought and won this odd sense of just-NOT-okay. What I did remember a few minute ago is that the idea of witness consciousness isn't to turn all bad sensation into good sensation, but instead to just watch it without judgment. So, that's my plan now. I'm going to stop fighting the antsy-pantsy feeling and just notice it. Consider yourself seen, anxiousness. You can stay. Or you can go. I'll be okay, either way.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Friday night, red wine, plans!

Ahhh. Red wine. I ADORE red wine. I tend to favor cabs, but tonight I'm enjoying my go-to red, Chateau Ste. Michelle merlot. My sister and I call it Chateau DE Michelle - I can't remember exactly why except that we thought that was the name for quite awhile, and once we figured out our mistake it was too late to change the habit. We discovered it back in 2004 or 2005, shortly after our mom passed away. We were on a BIG red wine kick, and we were trying a different bottle almost every night (don't judge!) and this one really stood out. It became an instant favorite, and ever since my Aunt Nancy has given me a bottle of it for Easter, which is absolutely adorable.

Tomorrow I have the whole day to myself! I'm planning on going to my first hot yoga class since getting back from yoga school. It will be interesting to see what I notice about the teacher/teaching style/style of yoga now that I'm a certified teacher myself. I'm also going to write, write, write. I want to write more about yoga school, but I also remembered a story tonight that I've always meant to write down - how I knew Kenyon College was the right school for me based almost solely on the cute boys in khakis in the all-male a cappella group singing Elvis Costello's Veronica at the admitted student program. Yes, I chose my college based on cute singing boys. True story. I also need to fill out the paperwork for the Yoga Alliance folks (I signed up for my liability insurance today! Woo!) and plan out my private sessions for next week (I have two scheduled!) plan for the meditation group I'm leading on Wednesday night....annnnnd start planning for my FIRST REAL GROUP CLASS! Yes! My wonderful yoga teacher, Katie, invited me to lead her Thursday night class at the YMCA next week. I am SO excited, but also SO nervous! She is going to be there, and I'm so anxious that she is going to think I'm doing an awful job with her class. Oy oy oy.

Lastly, I need to really start thinking about where I'm going to move in a few months. Right now NYC, Boston, Chicago and Nashville are all on the table. Decisions, decisions! Any opinions??

Happy Friday, world!! After reading this blog, I invite you to come to a comfortable standing position, feet parallel and hip width apart. Inhale, lift your arms to the sky as you ground down through the feet, engage your thighs, draw the belly in and up, lift your rib cage and SMILE! Exhale as you slowly float the arms down, feeling the air around you, bring the hands together in front of the heart, bow your head and thank your body for all it does for you day in and day out. XOXO!!

JAI BHAGWAN!!!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Why Kripalu?

I got a message via Facebook yesterday from a lovely lady who found me via Tumblr (and now I'm on blogger - oh the confusion of social networking!!) who has been searching for a yoga teacher training program. She asked me about my experience at Kripalu. After responding to her message I thought it might actually make a decent bloggy blog blog post, so I am sharing what I wrote about YTT at Kripalu here. I'm planning on eight more stories like The blue and black stone (each corresponding with one of the wall hangings in the stairwells at Kripalu - that's what the Plato quote photo is!) but as inspiration hasn't yet hit...until then... Jai Bhagwan! =)

Hi xxxxxxx,

Sorry it's taken me longer than I thought to get back to you!

It's really hard to synthesize my EXTRAORDINARY month at Kripalu into a general picture, but I'll try.

The month-long at Kripalu was the PERFECT teacher training program for me for a multitude of reasons. First and foremost, the complete immersion and the ability to be 100% focused on the program, the process, and my own experience of it was invaluable. (I used to love going on tour with my choir during college for this reason. During the academic year I could really only focus on the music for the hour we rehearsed each day - maybe working on it outside of rehearsal for a few hours a week. But during tour (over spring break) it was the ONLY thing I had to do. There is something profoundly meditative and peaceful about being able to put our focus on ONE thing and really live it.)

I had looked at other programs that met once a week or even once a month, and I somehow knew, deep down inside that what *I* needed was the opportunity to be completely focused on the process of becoming a yoga teacher. I didn't need real-world distractions, I didn't need an environment that would be anything less than supportive of what I was doing, I didn't need to have to make time for my studies - I wanted my life to BECOME that study. I also had a sneaky suspicion that the four weeks would involve a lot of self-inquiry, and I longed for that. I truly can't imagine doing a yoga teacher training program in any other way now that I've completed the Kripalu program. Getting to LIVE yoga in a way almost impossible in the "real world" (depending on your circumstances, I suppose... but those would be rare circumstances to say the very least - I don't know anyone in my circle of friends who has a personal chef who prepares all of their meals with organic, local, healthy ingredients!! Heehee!) was such an INCREDIBLE and rare opportunity. Just writing about it now I'm so aware of what a gift the month was!

I think you do need to be prepared ahead of time that it is, really, yoga boot camp - and they do tell you as much in the literature. You are going, going, going for, essentially, 15 hours a day, six days a week. Those 15 hours include at LEAST 3 hours and 15 minutes of yoga practice, but when you add in experiential posture clinics, practice teach sessions, shadow mentoring, etc, there are days you will be actually, physically, DOING YOGA for eight solid hours a day. That sounds almost impossible when I see it in writing, but having done it, and many a time over the last month, I know it's doable!! (And no, I was not in the habit of three hours of yoga a day before I left. I practiced approximately 90 minutes, four times a week.) I think the fact that you are almost guaranteed eight hours of sleep a night (you're too tired NOT to go to bed by 10pm, usually!) and eating such nutritious food supportive of health and energy is what makes it possible - and, of course, in my experience a lot of physical activity tends to actually GIVE you energy as opposed to depleting it, especially when your body gets used to it. I will say that there were days towards the end of week three and the beginning of week four when my body was, truly, EXHAUSTED, when I woek up horribly sore, and I think at one point I may have gotten a memo from my quads along the lines of: "one more warrior pose and we're going on strike." =) But it's really an incredible thing to look back on and say to yourself: "holy SHIT, I did that. I am SO, so, SO much stronger than I ever, ever realized." =)

One aspect of Kripalu yoga that I truly appreciate, and was not completely prepared for, is the spiritual side of things. Of course if you practice yoga you probably realize that yoga is, at its core, a spiritual practice - or, at least, initially developed as such 5000 years ago in India. But in today's culture it's becoming increasingly unpopular to acknowledge or explore that - maybe out of fear of offending people, etc. I'm not sure. In any event, I really did not know a lot about yoga philosophy before August, and it was incredible to learn about it, and even more amazing to actually begin practicing some of the rituals and traditions in my own life. My class had people from all different religious backgrounds - devout Catholics, practicing Buddhists, on-the-fence-Methodists, Atheists... and somehow the spiritual side of Kripalu yoga was presented in such a way that everyone really welcomed it. I don't know exactly how they do that, but it's amazing.

I think the lovely thing about a program like Kripalu is that it is somewhat self-selecting (my 10-year college admissions background is coming out now) in the sense that, like a small, private liberal arts college (I went to one and worked at three!) the people who are drawn to a place like Kripalu tend to have a certain base-level of what I'd call a kindred-nature. I really felt, and still feel, that each of the 56 other people in my program were people I could develop a strong connection with on some level. Of course, it's impossible to actually become super, super close with 56 other people in one month when you're THAT busy, HOWEVER, I can honestly say that I came away with at LOT of VERY close friends who I will probably keep in touch with for the rest of my life, and a lot of people who I know will always have my back and who I'd drop just about anything for in a heartbeat. In this sometimes cynical, sometimes cold world where it's really hard to develop intimate relationships outside of certain constructs (like college or family) meeting like-minded, interesting, POSITIVE people is SUCH a gift. Especially as we were encouraged to be more and more and more real and honest and vulnerable with each other, it felt completely SAFE to be incredibly and powerfully honest about things we don't talk about in the workplace, on first dates, at bars, or even often enough with our own family and friends- those pesky FEELINGS!! EMOTIONS!! Ha!!

I suppose I should mention (for some reason I feel like it goes without saying, but that is silly) that the actual instruction on HOW TO BE A YOGA TEACHER is second to none at Kripalu. I studied with people who are essentially ROCKSTARS in the yoga world. Their experience and accomplishment would have been overwhelmingly intimidating were it not for the fact that they were the kindest, most humble and most LOVING people I've ever met. Having graduated from Kripalu, I now feel beyond confident in my ability to lead a safe, positive yoga class. The Kripalu toolbag, as it's called, it really unbelievable. You learn exactly the tools you need to teach yoga, and it's surprising how quickly they become second nature and, really, how simple it is. It is a daunting process to actually give voice to the body to lead someone else though a yoga practice. On one hand I quickly learned that it truly is a skill that takes development - teaching yoga is NOT easy. On the other hand, the Kripalu methodology makes it straight-forward to learn.

I think I'll cut this short for now - certainly I've given you a lot to think about!! Let me know what specific questions you might have at this point.

Jai Bhagwan!!!

xoxo
Hilary

Monday, September 6, 2010

The blue and black stone

“I’m not going to be very good dinner company.”

No response. At all.

“I’m NOT going to be very good dinner company,” I repeated a little bit louder to the woman who had placed her tray across from mine, clearly, in my mind anyway, taking pity on the poor girl eating all by herself in the crowded Kripalu dining hall on a busy Saturday night. She glanced at me only briefly, obviously not intending to take my not-so-subtle hint that I wanted to be left alone, and I wondered if she could tell I’d been crying. My instinct to pretend everything was fine - to will the tears backward from where they lay precariously on my bottom eyelids, one blink away from streaming down my cheeks - was met with a manipulative curiosity. Maybe if I WAS obviously crying she WOULD leave me alone, and I REALLY wanted to be left alone. Even more so when I recognized her as the 50-something, abrasive woman with the thick Boston accent who had snapped at me in the laundry room the night before. I, riding the euphoric high of a week at Kripalu, had been shocked by her “real-world-ness” - she had been angry that there were no washing machines available on Friday night (umm, join the club, sweetheart - Kripalu may be heaven on earth, but when it comes to laundry it’s the only part of the organization a bit closer to hell - of the six machines in the basement two are for staff use only, requiring a special card, and at least two are always out of order, leaving only two coin operated machines for the 600 guests who may decide to do laundry on any given day) and when I had admonished her (in a positively giddy, and in retrospect, probably obnoxious way) for saying the situation was hopeless (“Don’t say THAT! Nothing is EVERRRR hopelesssssss!” I had gushed. Who did I think I was, exactly?) she had quickly put me in my place, snapping back at me with such anger that I had physically recoiled. It hadn’t phased me in the moment, particularly, but less than 24 hours later I was feeling pretty hopeless for other reasons, and quite enjoying my trip to Wallow-World alone in the dining hall with my plate of kale and other assorted steamed vegetables. After a week of pure bliss, it was almost comforting to revert to old habits. Not almost, actually. It just was.

Why was this woman sitting down with me? I searched her eyes for any glimpse of recognition, but if she did recognize me as the overzealous-life-is-BEAUTIFUL-smiley face-LOVE-exclamation-points!!!! type from the night before, she hid it well. Instinct winning out, I pushed back my tears and tried again, a bit more forcefully.

“I’m just finishing up, really, and honestly, I’m not going to be great company anyway, and…” Wait - were my tears betraying me, the little JERKS, or was that residual sweat from the vigorous yoga class with Danny I had just finished 20 minutes prior? I didn’t have to wonder long.

“Why, because you’re crying? That’s why I’m here.”

She said it with such authority that I was quite sure she was telling the truth, and in my current state of self-loathing, I was also quite sure it was to let me know that I needed to pack up and leave the yoga teacher training program immediately. My tears made up their own minds and sprung from my eyes.

In somewhat of a quick-cycling-bipolar-like episode, I had gone from being on top of the world to the pit of despair in less than 24 hours. When I had last seen angry-laundry-room-lady, everything in my world had been perfect. More than perfect, actually. I was riding a somewhat insane high after a full week of teacher training. I was managing four hours of yoga a day, plus posture clinics and lectures, eating incredible organic food, going to the sauna and hot tub (with cold dip plungey pool!!) and getting eight solid hours of sleep EVERY NIGHT, and being encouraged to be completely authentic and real. And to my surprise, everyone seemed to really like me! A lot! I was getting so much positive feedback, constantly, and I was eating it up. People I thought were drop-dead gorgeous were spontaneously telling me I was “stunningly beautiful” when I felt anything but. People who had intimidated me to the nth degree when I first met them were asking me to have meals, vying for my attention, telling me I was funny!! I was was being real and I wasn’t being rejected!! Incredible! My extraordinary teachers seemed to really like me and, as far as I could tell, thought I actually BELONGED in their program! Who knew?!?

So far I had spent our one day off a week taking a joy ride into the quaint town of Lenox with Kelly and Athena. We had eaten at the most adorable cafe, owned, in fact, by a Kripalu yoga teacher (and his wife) who had led morning sadhana on Thursday. Athena and I splurged on the most beautiful wooden watches at a little boutique shop, and I found only the most PERFECT gift for my sister - real butterfly wings set in sterling silver earrings (the butterfly died a natural death, I was assured.) We had pedicures and lattes and I bought note cards at the local general store so I could be a superstar yoga student and make flashcards to learn the Sanskrit names of poses. We listened to Deva Premal on the way home and sung Om Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya like perfect little yogini angels. But toward the end of our adventure something inside me had started to feel broken, somehow fake. I had pushed away the feeling.

After getting back to campus, I decided to go to the 4:15pm vigorous yoga class with Danny, “to kick my own ass” I had thought. And kick my own ass I did. The whole 90 minutes I was pouring sweat, internally admonishing myself. Accepting this voice without question, I let it berate me. “You’re sweating like a PIG, Hilary. This is ridiculous. This shouldn’t be so FUCKING hard! You’re pathetic. Can you even bind?? Oh my god, did you just fall out of TREE POSE after 2 seconds? Ridiculous. Awful. Oh, you’re NOT going to take the option to “build more heat” - eh? What a cop out. You suck. You have no right to be in a yoga teacher training program. None! You’re awful! Aww, poor BABY, you really don’t want to stay in this plank pose much longer, do you? TOO BAD! You’re fat! You’re ugly! You’re weak! Look at you! You’re failing at this class! You can’t do yoga! You SUCK!!”

The mean, mean, mean voice had actually brought me to tears in the middle of the class, and sitting at dinner afterward, alone, I was still listening to it. Nevermind the fact that I had made it through one of the most physically demanding yoga practices I’d ever attempted with grace and strength, after a week of more yoga and exercise than I’d ever done in a 6 day period before in my life (Kripalu YTT is, truly, yoga boot camp) - no, no, I was a FAILURE. A complete failure.

“Pick a card,” angry-laundry-room-lady said to me, fanning out an imaginary deck.

“Huh?” I was the one hearing evil voices, I really didn’t need to interact with a crazy person who had an imaginary card deck.

“Pick a card,” she said again, evenly.

I had a boss once who made me knock on a pretend door to his pretend office. Life is certainly cyclical.

“Okay. What card did I pick?” I asked, holding out my imaginary card, humoring her.

“You tell me.”

I wasn’t sure I was going to make it through the conversation without telling her to fuck off, but that would FOR SURE get me kicked out of YTT at Kripalu, so I bit my tongue.

“I picked the two of hearts,” I said, glancing at the clock and wondering if there were any massage appointments available that evening.

“Ohhhh. So you’re anxious to communicate and longing to tell the truth.” She picked up her fork, not even pretending to put down her imaginary deck of cards. So she wasn’t quite as insane as my former boss. Or maybe just careless with her cards?

I paused, thinking that I’d like to say that were I ANXIOUS to communicate, lady, I wouldn’t have tried repeatedly to convince you NOT to join me for dinner, nor would I be eating ALONE when I have 56 new best friends here, all of whom would join me for dinner if I asked. How’s THAT for the truth?

“I’m doing my yoga teacher training here, and I don’t think I’m good enough.” I said, instead. “And that really is the truth,” I realized, starting to cry. I was, out of nowhere, telling angry-laundry-room lady everything. How my wonderful day started feeling horrible, how this mean voice inside my head just wouldn’t let me feel happy, or good about myself, how my brain had rebelled against a week of feeling so high on life and happy and free and positively BLISSFUL by tearing me to shreds, how Danny’s vigorous class should have been easy for me if I’m training to do what he was doing, RIGHT?

Angry-laundry-room-lady responded with a story of her own, a story of years of self-loathing, the women she had loved who had used her and left her, weight she had gained and lost and gained again, and how in the end hating herself didn’t serve her at all, and how, in fact, she had just spent $4000 on some 10-day workshop in the wilderness to rid herself of her self-loathing - because it was that or killing herself - and had then come straight to Kripalu for a weekend of R&R, massages and time in the hot tub. I momentarily forgot all about my own mean inner voice and wondered why on earth someone would spend that much time despising themselves when it served absolutely no purpose and, Christ, cost them a LOT of cash. And as I studied her more carefully, I felt my heart break for her struggle. She was actually very beautiful, incredibly articulate, and just another soul on this earth trying to do the best she could. (Much later on in my Kripalu adventure a stunning yoga goddess would teach me that intimacy means “into me I see” - just like me this person wants to be happy. Just like me this person has known hardship. Just like me. Just like me.)

“I happen to know, however, that you are going to be a spectacular yoga teacher,” she said, out of nowhere, ending her own story without any specific or necessarily happy resolution.

I looked down at my untouched kale, wondering for a moment if anyone would lend me a car or knew where the nearest burger joint was. “How do you know that?”

“You have the eyes for it,” she said.

“Thank you.” I said, perhaps too flatly. It doesn’t take EYES to be a good yoga teacher, I thought. It takes a perfect body! It takes being able to bind in a really, really deep warrior twist! It takes holding chaturanga dandasana for 30 minutes and not breaking a sweat! It takes always choosing the option to produce “more heat” because YES, IT’S AVAILABLE TO YOU, and if it ISN’T then you SHOULDN’T be teaching yoga…

“It’s in your eyes already,” she said, as though it were a matter of fact, cutting through my self-hating reverie. “You radiate compassion. Maybe you just need to start looking at yourself the way you’ve been looking at me for the past ten minutes as I told you my story.”

Kripalu means compassion, and Kripalu yoga is, in fact, the yoga of non-judgmental, compassionate self-observation. In my classes I had been learning about something called witness consciousness - the seer - the layer of being that just watches. Just sees. Without judgment. Things just are.

It wasn’t in that moment that I got it. It wasn’t any specific moment, at all. But my dinner with angry-laundry-room-lady was part of the journey to realizing that I can choose to tell that mean voice in my head to fuck off when it tries to tell me I’m not good enough. When it calls me names. When it treats me the way I wouldn’t treat a perfect stranger. And, low and behold, I’ve started to do just that.

“Pick a stone,” she said. Certain these were stones as real as her deck of cards, I reached out lazily, stopping with my hand hovering over hers when I realized there actually were several little stones laying gently in her palm.

“Which one?” I asked, feeling anxious all of the sudden.

“You tell me,” she answered. “You know which one is yours.”

I picked a small, smooth blue and black stone, held it tightly in my palm, noticing how cool it felt against my skin. Still unsure if the stone was actually real, or if maybe the cards hadn’t been imaginary at all, I thanked her for the company, and treated myself to a massage at the healing arts department, followed by a long sauna and soak in the hot tub.

My last morning at Kripalu, three weeks to the day after my dinner with angry-laundry-room lady - three weeks that equate to a lifetime of learning and self-discovery, to the point where I can almost not recognize that girl in Danny’s class kicking her own ass both internally and externally - I took that same stone on a walk with me through the labyrinth. The stone had come to represent a moment when I was so afraid of failing that even while trying my very hardest, and in reality, succeeding, I told myself I wasn’t good enough. I thought about my limiting beliefs, all of the ways I treat myself poorly, the voice in my head that shows up to scream at me during difficult situations, both on and off the mat. I thought about all of the ways I let baseless self-loathing negatively impact my life. I put it all in the stone. Every last bit of it. I placed it in the center of the labyrinth.

And I left it behind.

Hilary the Yogini!

In the next few days I plan to sit down and write long and hard about the extraordinary last month of my life at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health. I completed the 200 hour yoga teacher training program with the amazing Devarshi Steven Hartman and Priti Robyn Ross, and I’m still reeling from the sheer intensity of the month. There were 57 amazing people in my class, and in addition to Devarshi and Priti we were guided and mentored by nine incredible assistants. Six days a week we had sadhana - our yoga practice - from 6:30am-8am, followed by class (ranging from Anatomy and Physiology lectures to posture clinics to meditation lessons) from 9am-11:30am and 1:30pm-4pm. Sadhana again from 4:15pm-6pm and a third class or presentation from 7:30pm-9pm. We had different yoga teachers for almost every one of our 2 per day yoga practices - experts in every area of yoga you can imagine, from Vigorous Vinyasa to Yoga Nidra. And the FOOD. Oh, the food. I could wax poetic for years about the food at Kripalu. A completely organic and mainly vegetarian kitchen utilizing almost all local sources for everything served, I was able to eat in the way I’ve always fantasized about eating. I could have steamed vegetables and miso soup for breakfast, or zucchini mint frittata made with organic, local eggs, or the most MAGICAL granola with locally produced yogurt.

That’s just BREAKFAST.

And the PLACE. The Berkshires. The sprawling lawns, the hidden paths through the woods leading to meditation gardens that ooz sacredness from every inch of ground they inhabit, the lakefront and the labyrinth and the ancient trees and….

This isn’t even the beginning of what I need and want to write about, but it’s a taste. As soon as I have a day at my favorite place to focus on things such as writing (it starts with Star and ends with Bucks… I may be a certified yoga teacher who just spent a month at a place that used to be an ashram, but I still love my coffee, just not as MUCH of it as I used to love/need!) I will try to compose my thoughts about my magical month, along with some musings about where I may be heading next.

After my third and final practice teach (a week ago today) my evaluator, whom I had not met prior and whom is a ROCKSTAR yoga teacher, told me: “Just from taking your class I know, without any doubt, that this is your calling. This is your dharma. You were MEANT to be a yoga teacher. You ARE a yoga teacher.” It was affirmation of what I’d started secretly struggling with after about two weeks at Kripalu - my training was feeling less like making a choice about a career change and more about fulfilling something much deeper and more profound. But how terrifying is it to feel that there is something you absolutely MUST do, something you were born to do, something you are then responsible for making happen! But also, truly, how SPECTACULAR!!

Clearly more to come. Much more. =)

“The highest spiritual practice is self-observation without judgment.”
-Swami Kripalu