If you’re reading this you probably know that I just spent a week in Pahoa, Hawaii assisting Tiffany Cruikshank’s 200 hour teacher training. A lesser known fact is that I was also there participating in a 500 hour training on the art of adjusting and assisting, my first of five modules.
We were so lucky to be part of an intimate group of only about 12 students. To put this in perspective for those of you who don’t know, the 200 hour group consisted of nearly 50 students. Small trainings with Tiffany are a rare opportunity! The first couple days were spent reviewing anatomy and learning how to see bodies. We learned how to adjust bodies versus adjusting poses. That in itself was mind blowing and I felt like I was performing magic on people. Anatomy is so fascinating! We learned how to adjust bodies in more common poses first and on the last two days we looked at advanced adjusting. We learned things like adjusting bhujipidasana, assisting transitions like tittibhasana to chaturanga, crow to handstand, pressing into handstand from prasarita, dropping back into wheel… in plain English we were learning what you might refer to as ‘next level shit’. I am wildly uncomfortable with some of these poses and transitions. I find that my mind and heart limit me far more than my physical body and that was a serious reality check for me this week. On top of feeling fear in these poses I also felt an extreme sense of vulnerability in showing my fear to people I barely knew. Of course we were all there together for a common purpose- to learn and grow as teachers and humans. I didn’t feel judged or unsupported by these people, in fact it was quite the opposite, but I still couldn’t get over my feelings. I kept thinking, I’m Tiffany’s Operations Manager and one of her assistants, what are people going to think of me if they see me freak out? What if they see me fall?! What if they see me get angry and even worse, what if they see me cry? I couldn’t stop thinking about it, and it was manifesting in my body in the form of a wicked tension headache. Add on top of all this that it was the second to last day of a weeklong training and I was exhausted in every way. I felt like I was sitting in a pile of my own shit, and let’s be honest, what could be worse than that?
Let me back up a bit… I had been setting my alarm for 5:45 every morning all week. No matter what time zone I’m in or how early I have to be up, I rarely need my alarm but I always set it in case. I usually wake up before it goes off, sometimes I wake up just one minute before. My day is best when I wake up on my own. If my alarm ends up waking me it irritates me a little (what a not so sweet way to wake up), but if it doesn’t go off at all I wake up in a panic. This is extremely rare and I can’t tell you the last time it happened, aside from on this day. I rolled over, looked at my phone and it was 6:01. I jumped out of bed, washed my face, brushed my teeth, threw on some yoga clothes and went to get some tea before heading down to the yoga room. A series of small things started to happen and it was really irritating me. I forgot my water bottle in my room, I spilled something, they were out of my favorite tea, blah blah blah. Tiffany taught her morning asana class, which I was adjusting in, then we broke off into groups. The 200 hour group continued with their practice teaching with Krystyn, Mackenzie and Dena and I was with Tiffany and the rest of the 500 hour group.
One of our first adjustments/assists was tittibhasana to chaturanga, which I promptly fell out of. I was so pissed about it too. My body tensed up and my mind and heart told me I couldn’t do it. I tried again with another partner and fell again. Suddenly I was overcome with feelings of self doubt and I wanted to leave. In that moment, my yoga was simply just staying in the room. When I fail at something it’s easy for me to feel like I’m the only one who can’t do it. I’m human, after all. We moved on bekhasana and wheel and I was so grateful. I was tired of back bending but I’m good at it so I was excited for it. There’s my ego not so subtly creeping into my practice! I started to feel inexplicably emotional and Tiffany asked me to demo king pigeon. At first I told her no because I was feeling this intense mix of sadness and anger, but I quickly decided to suck it up and I demoed. If you haven’t seen it, my king pigeon is ridiculous. I can get into it at the drop of a hat and I can hold it for however long I feel like. It comes so easily to me that I almost feel like I can’t even call it part of my yoga, but I do love it! My ego was happy but I was really starting to feel emotional from so many back bends. I’m well aware this happens to people, both in back bends and hip openers, but I have never really experienced it for myself. Even though I’m a pretty expressive person, I also tend to hold on to my negative emotions for a really long time. It’s a subconscious thing apparently. Consciously I feel like I do a fine job of expressing emotions, even the gritty ones, but after this experience I’m starting to wonder just how much of my own stuff I hold onto deep in my bones.
We moved through some other things until we got to handstand scorpion. I was feeling so irritable at this point. It was all I could do to keep from coming unglued and I was scared because I didn’t know what it would look like if I did. I even went to the bathroom for a moment and thought I would cry but I didn’t. I came out and asked MacKenzie to spot me. I was nervous for a multitude of reasons. I’m a good six inches taller than her and I felt on edge about having someone so small in comparison spot me. I’m also terrified of falling out of handstand and I don’t know why. It drives me nuts to not know why I have so much fear around it. I finally worked up the courage to give it a try. MacKenzie spotted me from behind, which is a completely normal way to spot and I’m fine with it. Once she came in front of me I freaked out and told her I needed to come out not in two seconds but right now. So I did. I took a minute and tried again after she showed me exactly what it was going to look like. I can’t tell you how much trust I felt like I was putting in her at that moment. I was not scared but terrified. I kept telling her I was about to fall out but she kept assuring me that I wasn’t. Every fiber of my being was telling me I was about to fall out and snap my body in half. She helped me get my alignment right and next thing I know my feet were on my head. I held it for about 10 seconds and I saw Krystyn run to get her phone so she could snap a picture but her phone was halfway across the room and I had to get out. I wanted to see myself in that shape so badly. Not because my feet were on my head, I have a really flexible spine so that part didn’t really surprise me, but rather because I knew how much mental strength it took me to get there. She got her phone and I tried once more. The third time was harder, maybe because I felt like I was being watched? Maybe because it was the third freaking attempt?! Not really sure, but I did it again. I was tired and having a hard time finding my alignment. By this time I was a little more trusting of MacKenzie. Finally I got my feet to my head and about three seconds later I dropped a forearm to the floor and crumbled. I started crying right away. Hard. They weren’t sad tears, but they weren’t happy either. I had the biggest emotional release and I didn’t even know what was happening, but I still didn’t want anyone to see me cry so I got up and ran to the bathroom. As soon as that session ended I immediately removed myself from the group and went to Tiffany’s room. I felt safe there because I knew that no one aside from her or Dena would find me. I cried until I was shaking and barely able to breathe, but it was so cathartic. I didn’t know what was wrong, or even if anything was wrong at all. Maybe it was right?! Maybe it was exactly what I had been needing for a long time. I finally calmed down and felt like a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders. I told Tiffany I had just been feeling really scared, and incredibly vulnerable and exposed as a result. Just having the ability to speak those words, which were very much my truth in that moment, was powerful beyond words.
It was a huge reminder for me that yoga is not just a physical practice. It was a healthy dose of my own medicine, as I am constantly reminding my students of this fact but apparently not taking my own words to heart. For me, it was handstand scorpion, but for someone else it may be something as simple as tree pose. We advance in our physical practice when we are no longer able to cease the fluctuations of the mind. Each time we come to our mat we need something different. Some days in my practice I never get off my back and it’s perfect, other days I need a lot more. Yoga is whatever you need it to be. And once you get too comfortable or just when you think you know it all, look out… the universe may have something else in store for you ;)
All in all I could not be more honored and humbled by this whole experience. All of the good things, the hard things, the scary things and everything in between made this week perfect and complete.