I have been on the yoga bandwagon since 1998. Two years after having scoliosis surgery, all my medical restrictions were lifted, and I had a newfound respect for my body. I took my first yoga class, I’m pretty sure I couldn’t reach my toes while sitting on the floor, but was hooked. I still remember that the class was every Wednesday night, and I went religiously.
Fast-forward fourteen years, and my practice is unrecognizable. I’ve tried all sorts of yoga styles (Iyengar, Kripalu, Kundalini, Vinyasa, Slow Flow, Hot Power, Ashtanga) learned how to use my breath, and knew that my yoga practice was also being practiced off the matt, and seeping into the rest of my life. I began to make hard choices about how to live my life, which people I would associate with, what I put into my body, and the hardest of all: how to control my thoughts, instead of letting my mind control me.
I though I was a prime candidate for yoga teacher training: I had a regular practice, felt passionate about the importance of yoga, and wanted to share that interest with people eager to learn. When I started my 200-hr program at YogaWorks, I was happy to see all sorts of people. They were corporate, artistic, mothers, seekers, health food junkies, junk food eaters… there is no “type” that defines a yogi, which was very visual in this room full of yogis in teacher training.
From the first few days of breaking down poses and work-shopping basic poses and sequences, I had enlightened moments of finally understanding poses, because I received careful and diligent instruction. My feelings were torn! I was happy to learn these asanas correctly, and be introduced to deeper practices, such as meditation, but also hurt and disappointed that I had received poor or null instruction in the past. I began to get over this hump by focusing on the present, which was the fact that I was receiving this knowledge now. If anyone has a serious practice, I highly recommend participating in a teacher-training program, which will not only deepen your practice, but also set your body up for decades of yoga ahead!
My next downturn happened after my 200-hr program ended. I was no longer attracted to the same teachers that I used to before my training, partly because I now knew there were gaps in their teaching, but mainly because I wanted to explore. What kind of yoga teacher did I want to be? Well, I don’t know! I like a lot of styles and energy levels. In my exploration, I decided it was time for me to figure out what my scoliosis really meant for my yoga practice. Was I blindly following instruction that I should not have been doing?
I took a yoga class for scoliosis and back care, which was something I had intended to do for years, but the class time conflicted with my work schedule. I was so excited to go that I arrived 30-minutes early. The class was small and consisted of fewer than ten women. Every one of us had scoliosis. I was the new kid in the room, so had to ask a ton of questions about all the props and rope wall techniques that we were using. I had an elevated moment of feeling like my strange puzzle piece of a spine had finally found it’s fit. I had something in common with these women and I was going to learn how to have a healthy and fit back that would lead me into my 90’s! The class was slow paced but full of detailed instruction. There was so much information to absorb. I just wanted to teacher to give me a list of to-do’s and not-to-do’s. If only life were so easy! At the end of class, she encourages me to come back and learn what worked by feeling it in my body. I was so grateful that I gave the teacher a hug.
Just fifteen minutes later, something happened while I was waiting for a subway to go home. This huge weight started bearing down on me and I felt suffocated and helpless. How could I have been doing yoga for so long without seeking out this specialized instruction? Why did I take a standard yoga teacher training course, instead of a specialized studio, that catered to my need? How could I ever teach yoga if I wasn’t supposed to be doing half the poses? How much had I damaged my back? Where was I going to find a specialist to get a professional assessment? Needless to say, I cried the whole subway ride home, and once I got home, drowned my sorrows in wine and salami.
It took me a day to collect myself, and snap back with a healthy dose of reality. I had been doing yoga for over a decade, it had relieved my back pain, made me feel calmer, and I never had an injury. All that time, I had been listening to my body, and needed to continue trusting that relationship. To get over my hump, I found a class to take the next afternoon that was purely for fun. The instructor wasn’t able to articulate some poses, but he had a beautiful practice of singing at the end of class. I wanted to have that singing touch my heart, so I took the class, made my own variations when needed, and enjoyed it.
I have a ways to go in my research and self-discovery on scoliosis and yoga. That daunting task is now broken out into doable steps, which are now a part of my weekly routine. What kind of yoga teacher will I be? Don’t know yet. Will I downward spiral if I can’t do Upward Bow anymore? No.
My lesson is that yoga is hard work, both physically and mentally. Yoga can be fun, but think of that like icing on a cake. All these elements are important and need to be incorporated into teaching yoga. It is a serious discipline and my way of live, which just had a milestone birthday of sorts.