August 10, 2013

A Yoga Teacher’s Initiation: Teaching Yoga at Burning Man. ~ Ashley McEachern

It was much hotter than the 38°C (100.4°F) room I was used to, my students’ clothing was much more revealing than the Lululemon booty shorts I’d avoided making direct eye contact with during my regular classes and the energy was unlike anything, I, as a yoga teacher, had or would ever experience again in my life.

I had no idea what I was in for when I agreed to teach mornings in the world’s most uncompromising studio, the desert.

Ah yes, teaching yoga at Burning Man, in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada, was indeed the most powerful initiation into the wild journey of life as a yoga teacher one could ever imagine.

It was the most volatile, unpredictable weather extremes—from sweltering 40°C, 104°F heat midday to near-freezing evenings and sporadic dust storms catapulting the highly alkaline dust at 20-30 mph.

Nonetheless, the intensity of the climate was overrun by the echoing of a million mixes of music filling my ears as, art cars, homemade cars, trucks and art projects strolled across the desert decorated with anything the beautiful artists that built and drove them could imagine.

An octopus shooting flames and a giant llama scooping up passersby redefined the idea of distraction, as we knew it to be in our confined and cozy yoga studio in Toronto.

We set up our mats, burned some palo santo (holy wood and a meditation dream come true) and began collecting seemingly lost burners for a morning excursion out of the sensory overload that the first few days of Burning Man can induce in the body, albeit some of the most, no, all of the most, beautiful, sexy and artful bodies I had ever laid eyes on.

My partner and I were teaching a specialized practice we called Revolutionized Yoga, while I taught the asana and meditation, he navigated each of the students’ bodies applying energetic, structural integration therapy or rolfing.

When our students began trickling in, we thought little of their revealing costumes and dust-caked skin. From tutus sans panties to g-strings and wigs, we had encountered yogis beyond words. They came with more than their costumes though; they arrived with a fire, a passion and most of them, an immaculate history and education in the yoga practice. Studio owners, teachers, body workers and the most curious students I had ever met.

As my partner wrapped his healing hands around their aptly exposed skin and I danced them through Surya Namaskara A, I felt a freedom I had never before tasted as a yoga teacher. No more fear of judgment by my students, no more insecurity in my teaching, no denial of the words, expressions, OMs, mantras I wanted to chant, no resistance to shouting, screaming and breaking out into mid-tempo yoga dance in the heart of the practice.

Oh no, I was completely and totally liberated, the way I beg my students back home to be over and over again and the way I wish I could be with them.

Finally, unlike the three-to-six-minute savasana we are used to and expect, back at home, here on the playa, savasana never had to end, though it did, if for no other reason than the sweet scent of bacon cooking just feet from our mats filing the air and lifting the blissed out beings from savasana to the most savory finish.

That’s exactly what Burning Man is—your dreams of waking from savasana to bacon come true.


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Assistant Ed: Karla Rodas/Ed: Bryonie Wise

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Ashley Holly McEachern