In an effort to explore some of the things “stirring” me lately, I have done what all people do when they are petrified of looking to the future: Look at the past, of course.
Right about this time 5 years ago, I was grappling with the decision to “retire” from teaching yoga after doing it for only half a year, as documented in my old journal:
“My personal practice has suffered greatly because of this new role I’ve placed upon myself. Before I was ‘teacher,’ I was a sponge. I voluntarily soaked up every ounce of yoga knowledge I could find, and I loved it. I loved reading Yoga Journal, I loved reading Iyengar’s books, I loved taking class from master teachers and learning just to learn. But now that I’m ‘teacher,’ doing all of those things feel like work, like I’m preparing from some huge exam.
“I can’t sit back and read Yoga Journal just because…. I read it like I have to download every article into my brain and remember the key points so I can recall them back to future students. It’s like required reading in high school. Remember all those great books we were forced to read that weren’t so ‘great’ at the time because it was required? And then in college, maybe you picked up The Scarlet Letter just for the heck of it, read it at leisure, and then were like, ‘WOW! What a great book! I didn’t want to put it down!’ The practice of reading is wholly different when there are expectations vs. no expectations. And that’s kind of how I feel, in a nutshell.
“Yoga is very complicated… it’s not just about teaching down dog and savasana. There are so many facets of yoga, very deep concepts that even I can’t into words sometimes. I just feel it. I can’t recite it back to anyone. And I had only been practicing yoga for about two years—seriously practicing it—before becoming a teacher. When I signed up for the teacher training, I thought two years was enough. Yoga had changed my life in two years, so obviously I got it and was ready to spread the love. But…I don’t think it’s turning out how I expected.
“I feel so inexperienced, not just compared with other teachers, but I feel like I’m a little girl trying flop around the house in daddy’s huge work boots. I haven’t grown into this role yet.”
However, just days after I declared that I was done with teaching and requested my name be taken off the teacher list at the studio where I worked, I taught one final, last-hurrah Friday night “happy hour” class. It is the class that has haunted me since, not because it marked the poignant end of an era or that it flat-out sucked.
No, quite the contrary. It haunts me because it was possibly one of the best classes I ever taught, and one in which—possibly because I knew it was my last one and all pressure was off—I stood at the front of the room as Me, Jennifer, Lover of Yoga/Movement/Dance, and not a lofty mental fabrication of what I thought a yoga teacher should be. I took what I loved about Kripalu yoga, blended in some of the things I learned during all the DansKinetics classes I took during my month at Kripalu, and topped it off with my own personal touch.
For once, the shoes on my feet were no longer “daddy’s huge work boots”; I was wearing Cinderella’s glass slippers.
Here’s what I wrote after the class:
“I led a really great yoga class tonight for Yoga Happy Hour. It’s after classes like this when I wonder why I ever doubted my abilities and passion. I planned the class last night as I was listening to some tribal drumming music. I was all set to teach one of my regular gentle classes, but then I thought, Hmm, this is Happy Hour yoga! I need to develop something upbeat, incredibly fun, and rockin’!
“So I based my class around specific songs and music styles, using the tribal drumming, of course (KDZ for all you Kripalu folks out there), trippy Peter Gabriel music from Birdy, and hula songs by Iz. I even managed to incorporate some Stage 3 Meditation in Motion elements in there. I found a really hypnotic song, led everyone through some basic sun salutes, and then opened the floor for some prana response. Man, what fun to watch! They did it!
“I think my plan of integrating several dance elements throughout the practice really helped, too, because I work really well with good music. I had everyone rolling their shoulders and hips and doing some intense hara moves like Breath of Joy and Pulling Prana. I even threw in a few minutes of walking meditation! I was on a roll!
“The best was hearing some feedback from Joe, a guy from Tuesday night Kundalini, who said the class snapped him out of the depressed/withdrawn funk he’s been in for the past week. And he really appreciated the chance to just sway to the music and hop around to the tribal drums and just get in tune with himself. Dude! That’s my main objective. I just want people to feel free.”
I guess what I’m getting at is that these feelings of “wanting people to feel free” are creeping up on me again, becoming especially intense nowadays since all I do in my spare time is dance. I dance before work, after work, every weekend, even in my dreams. I hardly go to the gym anymore; I wear myself out enough doing a self-led 5Rhythms practice in my living room.
The question is: Does this passion need to be a career? How formal do we need to be about something we love for it to feel validated? I remember back in 2007, I was all set to attend a YogaDance program at Kripalu, but I ended up having to cancel due to my husband’s 10-year high school reunion being the same weekend. At first, I was utterly devastated to miss out on this Very Important Dance Program, but as it turned out, going to the reunion gave me the opportunity to be a dance teacher in a different, real-world context:
“What I loved about this event is that I actually DID, truly, let my yoga dance. The music was pulsing all night and stirring the dancer inside to get up and move. Absolutely no one else, though, was on the dance floor, and I withheld. But the second I saw some random guy approach the floor, bopping with a beer in his hand, I leaped on the opportunity and bounded up there to draw him on the dance floor. It worked, and soon D., D., and I were dancing like crazybirds, just the three of us, in front of a group of classmates.
“It was fabulous music, the stuff I love, so I was totally into the flow. Before I knew it, I really was kicking off my shoes and letting my hair down. The wife of one of Bryan’s friends said that I looked like I was having so much fun that she couldn’t help joining me on the dance floor. She looked like an otherwise stiff person, and I was happy to see her moving and flailing and sweating and shaking. At one point we were even slow dancing together to some R&B song, because everyone else had left the floor. We twirled each other, tangoed, waltzed, me guiding her along the entire time.
“It dawned on me then that what I was doing there was what I would have been doing at Kripalu: dancing with others, being free, helping others let go and let their bodies take over. I didn’t have to be 5 hours away in a Massachusetts yoga ashram to let my yoga dance. I had brought Kripalu here, in the real world. I was exhausted, sweaty, smelly, and had incredibly dirty feet, but I felt so content and happy for following the call of music and dancing. Just dancing.“