OK, here’s the deal: Technically, I am certified to teach yoga. But I haven’t taught a class since 2007.
There are no caps and gowns at Kripalu, just sandalwood on my forehead to represent the earth, to which we are all connected. I had also been blessed with rice and flower petals on my head, but they fell off as I walked down the aisle.
I am a graduate of the Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health‘s 200-hour yoga teacher training program. I attended the certification program in October-November 2006. At the time, I was working as an editor at a local newspaper group, and I was fortunate enough to be granted a monthlong, unpaid leave of absence so I could skitter north to Massachusetts, where I’d wear spandex pants from morning through night, spend most of my days inverted in downdog, and experience meditation sits so deep that I’d leave the room feeling like a helium balloon ready to lift off into space.
I enrolled in the program after developing a pretty intense yoga practice at home and through various studio classes, which I was taking about 5 days per week. I loved when my teachers spoke Sanskrit. I studied Yoga Journal magazine like I was cramming for a final exam. As my practice intensified, I’d be in class, thinking of ways I’d approach a sequence differently. Or I’d watch new students struggling in a pose and would mentally go through ways I’d help that person if I were at the front of class. I also felt somewhat guilty for “just” being a student: How selfish I was to devote 75 minutes a day to myself, my mind, and my body? Maybe if I taught yoga, it would validate my passion?
I struggled with the decision for months: to teach or not to teach? But then in the summer of 2006, my husband and I went on a group trip to China, which included a few days in Tibet. That’s a whole other post, but let’s just say that if you have any kind of spiritual practice, going to Tibet will blow.your.mind. Lhasa was a spiritual powerhouse, and there was all kinds of energy flowing every which way around us, between the devout monks, pilgrims, and the towering statues of Buddha we encountered in every nook and cranny of the most sacred monasteries. I came home from that trip on fire, ready for something. I wanted change, I wanted to learn, I wanted to spread love and peace. I wanted to meditate and breathe and open myself to the universal energy that hit me so hard on the roof of the Jokhang Temple.
I was ready to DO THIS!
The minute we pulled up to Kripalu, my month’s worth of black yoga pants and tank tops in the trunk, I started bawling. I was leaving my husband for a month! My job! Starbucks, computers, private bathroom experiences! But then that afternoon I took a gentle yoga class, ate an amazing fresh and all-natural dinner, and met the 2 facilitators, 4 assistants, and 59 classmates who would help make the next 28 days awesome.
During our end-of-program party, we presented our teachers and assistants with hand-crafted Om mandalas. To honor their gifts, they led a continuous Om chant, which always sounds beautiful. And that’s me and Akira, a fellow student.
To write here about my whole Kripalu experience would take way too long and would instantly be tagged as TLDR (“teal deer”: too long, didn’t read!) But there was lots of yoga, electrifying pranayama and meditation work (seriously, floating), and powerful, deep classes after which I felt like a live wire, so much that my handwriting in my journal changed dramatically and was all jagged and stuff. We chanted together, we danced together, we shared stories of love and loss and fear and strength, we joked about being constipated from too much tofu and beans. We watched yoga “superstars” come and go in and out of the facility for their weekend workshops: Shiva Rea, kundalini guru Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa (she is INTENSE, man–her eyes!!), satsang leader Mooji (we snuck into one of his lessons), Budokon creator Cameron Shayne and his ninja posse. We learned how to teach a basic seated pose; we learned how to teach headstand. I spent my weekends working up the courage to dip into the “bathing suit optional” jacuzzi. Dancing with the live KDZ drummers during noon DansKinetics (YogaDance). Taking long walks outside and talking to myself. I sweated over practice-teach lesson plans; I got sick during my final, hour-long lesson and had to lead my little group of four with a scratchy voice and hacking cough. I was enlightened. I was confused. I loved everyone. I hated everyone. I gorged on blueberry crumble at breakfast time; I snuck a rosemary and thyme roll in my bag at dinner. At times I danced more than I did yoga, and I began to fear that I signed up for the wrong program and should have been studying DansKinetics instead.
Me with YTT facilitator/YogaDance teacher Megha, just a wildly sweet, crazy, passionate, ecstatic, and delightful woman.
Doing yoga, pranayama, and meditation consistently day in and day out, plus being sheltered from the world outside (seriously, as a mostly “cellphone-free” facility, I had to call my husband every night holed up in a smelly pay phone booth) CHANGES YOUR BRAIN. Stuff gets re-wired. Different neurons fire. You think longer and deeper. You process things more clearly. Everything you thought you knew is now something completely different. A lot of my classmates had PROFOUND experiences after returning home from Kripalu. We’re talking affairs, divorce, moving across the globe, new jobs. I didn’t have quite as dramatic epiphanies, but I didn’t return from YTT feeling like a ball of sunshine either.
I came home in such a state of WHA??!?!?!?! that I didn’t quite know how to function at times. It wasn’t quite depression, but I didn’t feel too happy, either. I felt drained. Empty. Like I had been so stuffed with knowledge over such a short period of time that it all just fizzled out of me when I got home. I didn’t want to return to my newspaper job, but I wasn’t sure what to do next. I didn’t even call my boss until a week after I returned, because I just didn’t know what to say. “Hi, I’ll be back Monday”? “Hi, give me another two weeks to get my life straightened out”? “Hi, I quit”? I was completely empty, mute, nearly apathetic. It was miserable, because many of my YTT friends kept sending e-mails saying things like, “Wow, I love life so much more now. Everything is illuminated. My life is shiny and perfect and I’m gonna make some world peace now.”
It was hard to digest because I was not feeling that way at all. I loved everything I learned at Kripalu and had an incredible time there, but that did not carry over immediately after I got home. It bounced in the opposite direction, sending me down, down, confused, sad, ambivalent. I wanted to save the world, but MAN, what an incredible responsibility! I kept thinking too big too soon, and it hurt. I cried a lot. I felt like I was letting down my Kripalu teachers for not jumping at the front of a yoga class the day I got home. Plus, I was sad about leaving that world behind, the freakishly utopian Kripalu community. I left behind friends, mentors, good food, constant yoga, peace, love, and live drumming and dancing on Saturdays. I was going through a mourning, a time of loss and grief. Additionally, I was going through a biochemical withdrawal! My body had become hooked on the physical effects of a strenuous yoga practice that I honestly think my brain went kaput shortly after it realized it wasn’t getting “high” anymore. Yoga totally is a drug!
I eventually went back to my editing job and found ways to ease back into comfort. I was given the opportunity to teach a Christmas Eve class at the local yoga studio, and 7 students showed up! Soon, I had my own class on the studio calendar. I was super-excited at the opportunity but nearly barfed before every class. The class was scheduled at an off time and didn’t attract many students. Those who did come said they enjoyed the class, but I never felt like myself. I put too much time into planning. If my class started at 6, I began planning at noon and would surround myself with index cards and books and YTT notes and would make myself sick trying to develop the “perfect” class. All the things I once enjoyed for fun–reading yoga books, taking yoga classes–became work. I took them way too seriously now, and that innocent passion that made me fall in love with yoga so much was gone.
By the end of 2007, I had declared myself retired from teaching and decided to step down into just-student status again. Around Christmas 2007, as I was writing out a check to Kripalu for their Scholarship Fund, I journaled about the decision:
I cannot and do not want to teach traditional (hatha) yoga. I think I have come to accept this. I tried it, and I felt like I was wearing the wrong size shoes. I love practicing yoga, I love living yoga, and I love reading, writing, and talking about yoga. But teaching yoga is not my bag right now.
So why am I writing out a check to a place that led me down the wrong path, you ask? Ahh, but it was not the wrong path. Although I may have studied yoga, anatomy, breathing, and meditation for 28 days at Kripalu, I now know that all of that yoga helped me tap into the knowledge of what truly excites and holds my passion: dancing.
The signs were obvious, starting from Day One. We were asked to call out three words that define yoga for you. My first word was “dance.”
When we sat around in a circle chanting “Ganesha sharanam,” I opted to scurry to the back of the room and danced to the chanting instead.
Sometimes the teachers put on music before class, and I loved walking into the empty room, throwing down my books, and dancing barefoot along the bamboo floor. I’d dance to slow songs like “The Rainbow Connection” and fast songs like “Bootylicious.” I hated it when the music stopped and it was time to study asana.
On my first day off, instead of sleeping in and relaxing in the sauna, I became one with the drums during a live drumming DansKinetics class. I whirled and spun and leaped and collapsed on the floor for a blissful savasana. After class, the dance instructor took a hold of my glistening arm and said, “Woah, I think you’re in the wrong training!”
On nights when I was so tired, so exhausted from practicing yoga all day, I’d still find the energy to sneak back into our now-empty program room, put on my headphones, and dance in the dark to my MP3s as the huge Shiva statue stared curiously at me.
One of my favorite memories of Kripalu was hanging out after hours with Meghan, another student, hooking her iPod to the stereo, and dancing like ecstatic lunatics, overwhelmed at all the magnificent square footage we had all to ourselves. During one of my final nights at Kripalu, I snuck into the empty Main Hall (a chapel converted into a giant yoga room) and danced some more. And more. On the night when Linda Worster came and sang her folk songs as she played her guitar, I again curried off to the back of the room and danced in my own little world as Megha, my dance-trained program leader, danced in her own little world.
But for some reason, I always felt like this was wrong, you know, caring more about dancing when I was paying big bucks for a yoga program. I expressed this to Megha. She, aware of my dance background and desire, told me that it’s OK for my “performer persona to shine.” In fact, “she [the performer persona] needs to shine!”
And I think sometimes you need to do the wrong thing to figure out what is the right thing. I entered a yoga teacher training program and emerged a more confident dancer. I loved being on my mat for 12 hours a day, but I also loved the way I felt when I was moving to music. I admired dance teacher Megha so much and vowed to take her spirit home with me and apply it to my own practice/teaching/life.
And my god, I have. Whether it’s a wedding, company Christmas party, high school reunion, or the bar, if there’s good music, I want to dance. I need to dance. Hesitation no longer has a grip on me, and I’ll bust out there on that dance floor and let my soul collide with the vibrations.
I tried to think back to a time where I felt really comfortable teaching yoga. It was the last class I taught, an open style class on a Friday night. And it just so happened to include more dancing and music than asana. I pumped up the volume on the stereo and instructed the students to get lost in the music, to do sun salutations on their own breath, with each rise and fall of the music. It was definitely more DansKinetics-based than traditional yoga-based. But that was it. That was my favorite class. I can execute downdogs and triangles and janu sirsasanas and get lost in my breath, but–at this time–I just cannot teach it.
Sure, I would love to do the DansKinetics teacher training program at Kripalu, but it’s a huge financial and time commitment. And the thing is, I think I learned what I needed to during my yoga training. I don’t necessarily have to lead a formal class to be content. If dancing–just doing what I love to do–helps get other people moving, smiling, and stepping out on that dance floor, than I am happy. In reality, I have fulfilled my role as a yoga teacher because yoga is joy and mindfulness and breathing and moving and union and bliss.
And that is why I wrote out the check to Kripalu. That place did a lot for me. It may not have been what I expected, but it was a learning experience. And I trust Kripalu’s staff, faculty, and guest teachers to help others, whether it’s in yoga, dance, hiking, weight loss, weight gain, love, knowledge, and compassion.
I returned to Kripalu in the summer of 2008 for a “Let Your Yoga Dance” weekend workshop and long to go back sometime soon…to dance, of course!