Saturday, August 23, 2008

Galloping Toward Becoming a Yoga Teacher

On Tuesday I said out loud something floating through my mind for months, a thought so strangely persistent and impossible I kept trying to dismiss it just like the farmer in the movie Babe tried to ignore his idea to enter Babe in the sheepdog trials (Babe is a pig). Sitting in my therapist's office, I said, "I want to become a yoga teacher."

"Of course you do," she said, completely convinced it was the perfect next step. Reeling, I left, went out to lunch (or was I metaphorically already there?) with my friend, Kris, who gave me further encouragement. I jumped on the internet, and despite other things to do, started cruising for yoga teacher training programs, of which there 5.2 million, most sporting pictures of 20-somethings in spandex doing headstands or balances more delicate than peace in the Middle East. Without ever having been there, I instinctively knew my program was Kripalu, one of the premier and oldest yoga centers in the country, located in Western Mass and offering long-distance training (two 12-day intensives as the main teaching format).

At first, I thought I would work up to the training in, say, two years or so, and by that time, I should be able to do a shoulder stand without my legs falling over. On some level, maybe I was thinking I would also "look" just a tad more like someone who teaches yoga. But after a wonderful phone call with a former lead yoga teacher at Kripula and student at Goddard, the lovely and inspiring Susan Moul, a writer and yoga teacher I admire tremendously, the gate opened and the horse of my body shot out.

I know it's a dualistic way to talk about the body as if it's running with the mind saddled on, yelling, "Whoa!" and "Oh my god!!!" as it tears across the field, but it's obvious that my body is way ahead of my thoughts. My galloping body surged into research and found some important books to read. My galloping body took me to yoga practice already five hours in four days, and now it wants to do it again today and tomorrow. My galloping body took me shopping for more yoga work-out clothes, and told me, "Who the fuck cares?" when the yoga pants I tried on showed me how the straight lines of my legs led to the large bowl of my stomach. My galloping body took the prerequisite information for Kripula of an hour of yoga a day for six months, and instead of thinking it needed a few years to even begin to begin, immediately started fulfilling that requirement.

Coming from a history of some mild eating disorders, an avoidance of exercise, and a wide swatch of overweight family, just the notion of practicing something like yoga regularly is a radical departure from my genes and upbringing. My people, when there's a family gathering, tend to bring a dessert (as in a whole pie or cake) for each person attending. When we get together, the news is the latest gastric bypass experience among us (out of a dozen of us, four have had the surgery). Most of us have been through deep pain and years of struggle over our bodies, peppered with shudders of shame and infused with hopelessness.

Yet what makes becoming a yoga teacher unlikely for me is also why I need to do it. It's the best initiation into the rest of my life that I can imagine, and the process alone of going through the training and deepening my practice through training and teaching is the best way for me to continually strengthen my health and enhance the rest of my life.

This summer, I taught a class on finding your calling with no notion where putting that out was going to land me. While I watch this new calling unfold, I'm thrilled, scared, and I know this is absolutely the galloping motion I'm in love with and need to ride out.

Photo of yoga practitioner is Meer Patricia Kerr, founder of "Big Yoga"
Other photos are a horse and me when I was about 8, and photos from
Check out Susan's website/blog too!

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Brigadoon of Goddard

As many of you know, my day job is teaching in Goddard College's low-residency Individualized MA Program. Because the college in Vermont, the students are all over the world, the faculty is in the U.S. and Canada, and I'm in Kansas, I often find myself having to convey the geographically-challenged workings of such a job. By the time I get through how students and faculty come together for a week-long residency twice a year, followed by a four-month semester we then do through students emailing packets and faculty emailing back letters, then detailing how students design their own studies, I've usually thoroughly confused my listener too much to bring up the time travel dimension of our residency, which is a little like the story of Brigadoon.

For those of you who haven't seen the play/movie, Brigadoon is secret Scottish village that wakes up to once every hundred years, then disappears into the highland mist. Witness one lovely June 1 in Brigadoon in 2008, and then come back for June 2 in 2018. In the case of our residencies, we go from summer to winter seemingly overnight (never mind the three of snow replaced by nine varieties of green) when we leave in August and return in January.

What happens in that mist that swallows us back into our home communities is as mysterious at times as Brigadoon itself. People change. Through packet work, and the spaces in between, we start to articulate more of our life's work, and what it means to craft lives that are more engaged with the local and the global, not to the mention the body and the mind.

To get a tad more specific, I've had the joy of witnessing student projects that include:
* Developing a new expressive writing model to help children use poetry to counter the trauma and stress in their lives. See Heather Mandall.

* Creating a community trance dance ritual that fosters joy and connectedness (Gary Meitrott's Soul Bath Trance Dance).

* Traveling the world to take part in pilgrimages in Spain, France, Tibet and Peru, and from this walking, come to understand the psychological and spiritual stages of pilgrimage. See Angela Mullins.

* Building "a room of one's own" for women in Trinidad/Tobago in which these women can read and write their way toward a greater sense of self (Sue-Ann Commissiong)

* Exploring and challenging beauty conventions, and unfolding a new way of claiming beauty through the arts and the natural world (Patricia Fontaine).

* Making a film about how to transform moments of competition into cooperation and community-building. See Ben Stumpf.

* Explore and reclaim what it means to be a body, particularly a body living with chronic illness, through writing, embodiment and photography practices. See Rhonda Patzia.

The mist that envelops the residencies sometimes makes it hard for us to see what we're doing, but within that space of letting go of what we thought we knew to uncover new knowledge and new ways of knowing (and living), magic prevails. It's the kind of magic that continually addresses that core question of how to live. Yet there's also immense joy in the process of being together, going to too many workshops or staying up too late, hanging out with others following the work and studies that thrill them. To quote Gene Kelly in the movie version of Brigadoon, it's almost like being in love.

Thanks to Cynthia Curley -- who's created a young adult novel that blends fantasy with overcoming racism for her Goddard work -- for the great Goddard photos of some of us faculty (top photo: Francis Charet, Ruth Farmer -- program director, Ralph Lutts, Ellie Epp, Katt Lissard, and me; bottom photo Janet Tallman and me).