July 23, 2010

Leaving Your Yoga Teachers.

True teachings are never specific to a time and place.

My yoga practice began at home. I have carried it through dorm rooms, student housing, a tiny apartment in Buenos Aires, road trips and a rarely used fitness center—practicing next to an elderly man in his (very loose) underwear. With or without a mat, I find ways to work yoga into my daily life.

On a whim I moved to Portland, Oregon in August of 2009 and entered an otherworldly hub of yoga studios, yoga-oriented non-profits and holistic wellness centers. After months of continuing my home practice and reveling in the exploration of the scene, I settled on a studio. It had nothing to do with convenience or price, and everything to do with the teachers and students.

The Yoga Space is a humble studio that offers half a dozen classes a day in a variety of lineages, including: Kundalini, Ashtanga, vinyasa and Yin.

Without exception, each teacher gives attention to details of the physical practice while gently weaving yogic philosophy through vigorous and graceful sequences. The miracle of this studio is that I could attend any class and always leave inspired. The sense of acceptance was profound and unlike anything I’ve experienced at other studios in Portland and back East. This, thanks to the teachers I primarily studied under, who brought me into the fold without hesitation: director Michele Loew, Anna Lag, Renee Sills, and Kris Olson.

I attended workshops and found myself attending four to five classes a week. My home practice thrived in leaps and bounds and motivated me to delve into yogic scriptures, pranayama and meditation. I began volunteering with Street Yoga, a non-profit that brings free classes to under-served and underprivileged populations. I experienced clarity of thought, strength of body and lightness of spirit on a regular basis. Oh, the glory of finding a place in which to plant my yogic roots and for transformation to come forth!

This period of glory came to an end only six months into my time at The Yoga Space. I had been living in Portland for nearly a year and was fresh from undergraduate school with a degree in liberal arts and a fondness for all things non-lucrative. I was on my feet, more or less. I worked three jobs, rented a little room in a house, volunteered, and found the perfect place to practice yoga. I frequented my regular haunts: cafes, bookstores, thrift shops. Everything seemed to have worked out.

The missing piece in my Portland existence was being roughly three thousand miles away from my family and my friends. My busy schedule made it difficult to socialize, and my work was isolating. It became apparent that what I wanted was community, but lacked the time to build it. I had to do what I had to do to get by financially—hence a fifty hour work week.

What I learned was that I wanted to see my father, my mother, my brother, my grandparents, and my closest friends more than once or twice a year. I could not afford to fly frequently, and in that year in Portland, it was through the generosity of my father and my grandparents that I was able to visit New York at all.

Being alone had advantages at first and gave my yoga practice a flexible schedule since I didn’t have anywhere to be or anyone to see. My life was work and yoga, yoga and work. For a while it seemed ideal, and then, it seemed imbalanced, even unnecessary.

My loneliness and longing for communion with my extended family was complicated by the suspicion that Portland is actually the perfect city for me. Perfect in terms of livability, lifestyle, and health. In my wildest dreams, everyone I know and love would take the leap and move to Portland, a city of organic food, perfect coffee, naked bike rides, public displays of yoga, trees, dirt and water. (Un)fortunately my friends and family are East Coasters through and through, and I happen to identify similarly. Which is why I decided, slowly but surely, that I wanted to make the move back.

I spent sleepless hours staring at my ceiling and working through any number of solutions for these feelings of displacement. But the conclusion I arrived at, time and again, was that I came to Portland for a reason, and I stayed for a reason, and now it was time to take what I gathered here and bring it with me, back to my place of origin on the other side of this nation.

My heart was heavy at the thought of leaving the children and parents I nannied for. I gradually worked through the idea of leaving that was wrapped up in a fear of disappointing. In retrospect, I mistook my fear of letting people go, for fear of letting people down.

The last months in Portland were spent cataloging all the things I had grown to love and would miss. What brought me near tears was the thought of leaving The Yoga Space. After almost seven years of practice, I had finally found teachers who knew my body, my habits and places of discomfort and recognized my growth and commitment to the practice, and nurtured it. My fellow students supported me by breathing and moving alongside me. So many beautiful moments had occurred in the warm, wide-open practice room.

Soon after considering staying to take the teacher training being offered at the Yoga Space, I recognized the solitude that defined my life in Portland was beyond the nourishment and support I had cultivated for my yoga practice.

There was fear: no one in New York would understand my yogic aspirations, no teacher would adjust me or encourage me, my sweet and fuzzy love-and-peace vibe, plumped up by Portlanders, would be rejected and ridiculed. Then I realized that fear would have to suck it up, because yoga was going to continue.

What would it mean to practice yoga and live a life in close proximity to the people who challenge me? What would it take to carry the beauty, grace and love I had cultivated at The Yoga Space, into a new home and new studio? Through my studies in Portland, I fully embraced the possibility of teacher training, traveling to India and pursuing the pulse that compels me to shape my life around yoga. This realization (which required self-acceptance) is invaluable. Maybe it would have occurred anywhere, but I know Portland as a unique nexus of blossoming.

Out of my fear emerged trust: trust in my instincts and that true teachings are never specific to a time and place. In Portland I learned to keep energy moving and going where that energy takes you. It’s here, it’s there, it is all around you and most importantly it is inside you. Thank you to Portland, and to The Yoga Space, for giving me a place to push my limits and realize my spiritual desire.

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