I just returned from a wonderful weekend away in Portland with my husband Eric. Going to Portland typically involves some yoga-related activity for me, along with friend time and ridiculous amounts of great food. This time around, I had the great pleasure of going to a different studio, Sunset Yoga, a lovely Iyengar studio in the Cedar Mill neighborhood, to take a weekend workshop with Marla Apt. Marla is a senior Intermediate level Certified Iyengar Yoga teacher. That basically translates to she knows her shit, and she knows it very well. Her precision and knowledge of the postures was clear to me from the very first Adho Mukha Svanasana. There is really something special about a teacher who truly devotes themselves to the guru (in this case, BKS Iyengar) and to one lineage of yoga.
I could go on for a while about how Marla kicked my butt (in the best way possible), but I am more interested to share the experience I had off my yoga mat (not to belittle the experience on, but that’s for another day). Two of my students from Chicago recently moved to Portland. I knew that I wanted to see them and reconnect, as well as introduce them to one another. Because when you move to a new city, everybody can use a little help meeting people. And what better people to connect than yoga peeps? I invited my friends to have dinner with us on Saturday night. Seeing the two of them, Lisa and Sophia, warmed my heart. A little piece of my life in Chicago, nearly 2,000 miles away. Both very much the same people that I left in Chicago, and yet both in the midst of rediscovering who they are and where they fit into this new city that they both clearly love. I could see they were both asking that question we all ask when we move to a new city (or take a new job): “Where do I fit into the scheme of all this?” A question I grappled intensely when I moved to Seattle, and one I still struggle with more frequently then I would care to admit.
We talked a bit about how my teaching was going in Seattle. My standard party-line answer: “Pretty good.” Which is pretty much the most ambiguous and pathetic answer that one can give to any question. It was challenging to tell them the truth of how I was really feeling about my teaching career right now: struggling. Mightly. Second guessing. And worst of all, sometimes losing faith. Faith in myself. Faith in the process. Faith in my practice.
Faith is defined by the dictionary as strong belief or trust in someone or something. It can also be defined in terms of belief in the existence of God (which goes way beyond the scope of this discussion, but is interesting to ponder). Ten years into teaching, thousands of hours of training and study and time on the mat, and I have arrived at a place of lost faith. More in myself than anything, especially having taken some serious hits in the past year. Feedback that was soul-crushing and cry-worthy: Jen is cold, mean, rude. She comes across as almost militant (have you taken class with an Iyengar teacher before? Then you will understand where I am coming from). It’ s the kind of “feedback” that is completely value judgement based, based on expectations of what people believe a yoga class should be. And you know what? My idea of what a yoga class is might not meet your “expectation.”
Seeing my former students, having them remind me of what a great teacher I am, reaffirmed my faith in this process of yoga. In this process of seeing your shadow side, of investigating all the shit that comes up, and being okay with what comes up. But also recognizing that it takes time to digest what comes up. And sometimes there are no easy answers or no answers at all.
So here I am, openly admitting that I struggle with my faith in myself, my teaching and the process of yoga. I question this path on a daily basis. And much as I meditate and do asana and all that jazz, sometimes I just need to be reminded by people who love me that I am good at what I do – teaching people yoga. That I am on the right path, and being “compassionately persistent” (thanks Amber for that lovely sentiment). And to also have faith that there are people here, in my Seattle community, that are on board with that. That are eager and willing to work hard and learn yoga in a way that is not easy. In a way that challenges not only the physical body, but the ego, the mind, the heart. The kind of yoga that really brings shit up and makes you question, again and again, why you are on a path that is so freaking hard, but so worth it.
But I realized (yet again), this weekend in Portland, that I have to have faith in the yoga. There’s a well-known quote from Patthabi Jois (the founder of Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga): “Do your practice and all is coming.” And while some of my teachers might think that’s a load of crap, I think it speaks to having faith. In the practice. In the process. And ultimately, in myself.