Diary of a yoga teacher
an invitation to grow...
The Buddha taught that pain is part of life. Not only physical, emotional or mental pain, but the constant discomfort that is part of every moment. This is just life. Once we surrender to this knowledge, we find in that pain, a heat, a kind of fire of transformation. When we journey through that fire we are changed.
In our society pain is viewed as a bad thing. So when we are in pain, we often feel we did something wrong and we are being punished. We want to get rid of pain as quickly as possible to prove that we are okay. This kind of thinking creates fear and keeps us locked in habitual patterns of seeking pleasure and avoiding pain. We can get stuck in this game of constantly trying to eliminate pain from our lives. Once we let go of the game, we are free. When we are willing to confront the pain in our lives, the possibilities on the spiritual path are limitless.
Little did I know how an African dance class and a Balinese painting would change the course of my life. This story begins at the Esalen summer arts festival in Big Sur, California. I was barefoot and free, tromping up and down the hilly landscape on the edge of the world, on the cliffs above the Pacific Ocean in Northern California. This magical place was also where I found yoga in 1997. Esalen is a centre for the study of healing and creative arts, psychology and yoga.
The festival was pure sensory excitement, world music and foods, dancing, yoga and meditation, and amazing art and artists. There was even a group a Tibetan monks making a sand mandala.
I was in high gear, non-stop for two weeks volunteering to help produce the festival. I received a gift for my efforts - a lovely Balinese watercolor of Saraswati that I had been admiring in the booth of the Moving Ventures School, that does non-profit work in Bali.
During my breaks from painting, building and costume making, I took advantage of the amazing yoga and dance classes. I was physically exhausted, but went to classes anyway, not wanting to miss an opportunity to learn. I pushed myself to go to a high impact dance class with a visiting teacher from West Africa. And again pushed myself when I was out of breath and my body was saying "slow down". I ignored my inner voice and kept going with the crowd. And even when my big toe became numb, I kept dancing and jumping along with everyone else. I experienced a moment of pure ecstasy...I was flying, free from my body...then the world went black.
Fast forward to six months later. I was coming along quite well, healing from a full break of my Achilles tendon and the major surgery to sew it back together. Needless to say, this transformed the way I practiced. I had hit a wall of pain...I was raw. I could not push or dominate anymore. I was forced to slow down into the more subtle aspects of my Hatha yoga practice. In the stillness of recovery, I found a tranquillity at the very core of my being. Pranayama guided me deeper into yoga as a healing practice. I was discovering a new way to live in my body and honour it as a temple. Meditation taught me to be in my body and accept the reality of pain. It became a powerful tool to see myself clearly and explore reality. I began to see the potential we all possess to awaken the healer within. I wanted to go further on this healing path with myself and with others, and how?
Sitting in front of my altar was the painting of Saraswati looking back at me, and I knew. I was reminded of the Esalen massage training in Bali. The practical part of me said "massage, what a great skill to have", "the knowledge of anatomy and hands-on techniques will help me grow as a yoga teacher". Yes, these practical reasons seemed a natural progression and there was a deeper calling to go that is inexplicable.
There are moments in life, when we see the light shining from under the crack of the door... and if we are willing to open the door and step through...we might find ourselves one step closer to who we are meant to be. We don't necessarily have to travel to some exotic land or do anything extreme...we just have to be willing to take a chance on ourselves and on our inspiration to experience the abundance of life.
Looking back I see there were many messages I ignored that could have prevented my injury: the exhaustion, being out of breath, and finally the numb toe. I was listening to the will of my ego and what everyone else was doing around me rather than tuning into the space and wisdom of my inner voice. But it was this failure on my part that opened the gateway on my spiritual path. It peeled away a layer so I could see myself more clearly. This failure was an invitation to grow.
My injury gave me a glimpse of understanding that I am not my body. This realisation became more clear when I was in Bali for the massage training and I was given the opportunity to serve and teach yoga at Senang Hati, a community center and group home for disabled Balinese. Words cannot describe the appreciation and love I experienced with these people. Connecting to what it means to be human in all of its variety. Life in all its manifestations is worth living. There is nothing incidental in life, everything matters, everything has meaning.
Yoga is not about what we can or cannot do. It is not about mastering poses or series of postures or breathing exercises. Yes, this is part of yoga and is helpful along the path, but if this is our main thing in practice, we will not get very far. It is about opening to grace, finding our centre, a stillness and peace supporting us from within no matter what is going on around us, happy or sad, young or old, walking or sitting. It is about going beyond any hopes or fears, finding trust and connecting to love.
Tama teaches at Pure Yoga in Hong Kong and for Moving Ventures School. She loves to laugh and cry and learn with people all over the world.