My chest hits ground. My thighs cry out. I leak upside down tears in headstand.
I arrive to the Guatemalan shores of Lago Atitlan at the hour when volcanoes swallow up the sun. I come carrying a backpack, a yoga mat and the delusion that this training is about yoga postures.
With students and teachers counted, we are thirteen and sacred in number. We will pass through the shamanic cycles of the serpent, jaguar, hummingbird and eagle. By night we open the training and invite the opening, cleanse ourselves with the smoke of lit embers to form a sacred circle. We turn to the spirits of all four winds, raise hands to Father Sky and bow to Mother Earth.
We dance very close to flames.
I inhale, close my eyes and choose an angel card: Compassion.
We wake before the sun has peeked out from volcano tops and meditate wrapped in wool blankets on wooden dock, the dawn silence broken by the murmur of fisherman greeting each other in rowboats, by birds calling out from tall grasses, by the shuffle of bodies that refuse to rest. I pile pillows beneath my flesh.
My shoes go missing and I go barefoot. I remember what earth feels like when there’s nothing between sole and soil. I practice small acts of karmic yoga and carry chickens under each arm from coop to roam the daylight hours. One shits down my leg to remind me I am a vessel of whatever I choose to carry.
We create nature “paintings” about letting go of what no longer serves us. I create an earth canvas between trees using only what’s within arm’s reach. I project myself into a winged creature of leaves and flower petals. I weigh her down with rocks that represent judgment, expectation, and comparison – burdens that bind a human to her mind, blind a being to her light. I stand back to observe the work created with my two hands and grasp that I alone have always built my trap. How the hell do I shed myself?
I have a hunch it’s going to hurt before it heals.
I exhale, close my eyes and choose an angel card: Honesty.
We practice asana by the warmth of ascending sun. We sit in the stillness of Hatha, accept discomfort and listen to what stirs and settles inside. I struggle with core strength and take awfully deep breaths.
Bonds begin to form in our sacred number, and I linger on its uneven edges. I am stricken with recurring headaches that surface whenever I raise my head above my heart, worsen when I twist my core. I lie in bed, miss ceremonies, force myself to throw up and drink liquid silver.
I put it down to dehydration, but I’m challenged with deeper origins. “Why do you have a headache?” I take the words like a pointing finger. I learn about two wolves living inside me, the wolf of love and light and the wolf of fear and separation. The one I feed will eat me.
I date journal entries as 2011, but we’re over a month into the new year. I stare at the lake, realize something inside me wants to cling onto these familiar shores, no matter how rough and how rocky.
I set intention, close my eyes and choose an angel card: Courage.
I read an Osho book about how fear is the absence of love and dark is the absence of light. When we gather at night in satsung, I sing “Down to the river to pray” with fervor. I hurl my three stones into the lake and sense some release. I feel my spirits rising and my headaches waning. I bring focus to the anatomy of my spirit, look around and begin to see.
The moon becomes full, throws every dark thing into the light. I rub earth canvas clear for a second “painting”. I grant stones the power of identity, anxiety, possession, and appearances. They again sit on top of my flower figure, heavy enough to crush.
We study yoga sutras and reaching samadhi, the conscious state of inner stillness. I confess that I’m not sure about all this striving-for-liberation-from-cycles-of-life-on-earth-stuff, but I know there’s a web separating me from my experience—where drama is created, everything is distorted and roles I play parade as a lesser me—and it hurts like hell, and I ache to break through and live some greater truth every day I walk on this planet.
What I mean is, I want to feel nothing between soul and soil.
I hope, close my eyes and choose an angel card: Surrender.
We bring our rocks of burden together for a healing ceremony and chakra dance. I begin awkwardly, but then I close my eyes and make the choice to submit. I dance through the energy of every part of me, my movement at the whim of winds. I dance alone with Gods.
We hear the music of shores miles away echo on the sacred rock above us. We break out in Sanskrit chants around fire to drums and didgeridoo, send our song back through the night air. Under star-watch we baptize our naked bodies in murky and mysterious Mayan waters. We bathe in beauty, look up at volcanoes a mile above us, sense dark depths 1000 feet below us, and for one lucid moment, we know that the grandness that surrounds us is a perfect reflection of what’s inside.
Then I drift into cold and tumultuous waters and struggle back to shore, feeling like I may have drowned something. I look up with renewed eyes of a midnight hour and hear my voice. Wake up and play.
I realize I’ve now started dating journal entries as 2015. I gaze at distant peaks and wonder what I’m rushing off to. At night I feel the rumble of the earth changing position in her sleep, a gentle reminder she is always shifting shape beneath me.
I pause, close my eyes and choose an angel card: Obedience.
We sweat through Vinyasa, feel the power that arises when you allow every breath to lead you to a new movement. My arms turn to paper from merciless rounds of chaturanga. My chest hits ground. My thighs cry out. I leak upside down tears in headstand. We discuss how life is a flow and to resist is pain.
My tree becomes a tree, my warrior becomes a warrior. We try out acro-yoga, where we balance each other on feet alone. I’m no flyer, I think, but I “squeeze and trust” and extend four limbs in midair with faith. We write down our manifestations, ignite them and hand them over to the universe in the same spirit.
I finally date my journal entries as 2012, this year, the year prophesied to separate what was from what will be. But around here my universe expands and contracts faster than I can grasp, teaches me I can never pour it into any measure of time.
I release, close my eyes and choose an angel card: Lightness
We speak of dying every moment and being born in every moment. We roll flower petals on our tongues, liken nasturtium to peppered tomato, but just now this is what red tastes like.
We experiment with Tai Chi. Anjili, a teacher, stops. “Just in case you’re not noticing right now, the date is February 26th and you are practicing Tai Chi overlooking this lake in a super crater surrounded by three volcanoes.” I become my inner smile. Play.
I ask the man who started this all, who will sign my certificate, what is essential here. I am told that it doesn’t matter if I teach yoga or decide to sit under a tree. Follow my soul journey, whatever it is. Listen for it, follow it, create a path without path.
I listen, close my eyes and choose an angel card: Purpose.
We sit around one last fire, not three but 13 teachers. We have folded and stretched and opened and put our full weight with full faith in each other, poured organic tears all over this sacred ground. We have studied and taught yoga. We have learned so much more, or yoga is so much more.
We talk about the gifts each person has shared and hug like we’ve forgotten everything about detachment. I imagine us as children at camp. The way we all cling as we let go feels like watching summer drop away. The sound of Sanskrit tongue finally quiets in the night air. The hymn of stars and volcanoes reign again.
Our final morning we play at co-creation. I jump in at balancing series. In tree, I ask us to look in the eyes of the human across, and say “I am you” and “You are me.”
It doesn’t matter if I believe it. I know nothing else is true.
Afterword: I found this recounting of my yoga teacher training experience written in 2012 and found myself tempted to edit based on where I am now in (actual) 2015, but I did not. Instead, I wanted to bless and share the journey a woman experienced in the moment she stood in.
Author: Aimee Hansen
Editor: Renée Picard
Image: Author’s Own