My Yoga Training: A Gift of Empowerment
I have received many blessings in my life, but true one of the greatest blessings has been the gift of yoga. My yoga training came to my literally as a gift from a friend. Little did I know how much that gift would shift the trajectory of my life and empower me in the direction of a whole new career and dharma, or life path.
Today, I have come full circle and pay forward the gift of yoga to those souls who are sincerely seeking knowledge and a path with heart. We are part of a great awakening happening on the planet and each of us have something unique to contribute to this awakening. May the gift of yoga serve you , as it has me, on your own journey of transformation. The world needs us.
The proliferation of yoga around the world, especially in North America, is evidence of a growing spiritual awareness and a readiness for humanity to take its next evolutionary leap into a new paradigm of being.
How It All Began
I count my blessings as I look back at this photo of me, taken shortly after I completed my own yoga teacher training in 1992. I celebrate this beautiful, confident woman so full of new possibilities.
When I began teaching yoga in the early 90's things were very different. Yoga wasn't cool yet. It was seen more as a hold-ever from the 60's hippie movement and if you practiced yoga you were flakey for sure! There weren't yoga studios on every corner like there are today. If you were lucky, there might be one Iyengar Yoga Centre in your town, or a teacher somewhere offering classes from their home. Now there is such an abundance of styles and approaches - we didn't even have yoga mats yet!
The gift of yoga came to me literally as a gift from one of my students. At the time, I was running my own fitness centre – lots of action, great music, lots of sweaty work-outs! Perhaps not surprisingly, given where I've ended up, my favourite class to teach was a stretch class – I savoured the stillness, the inner focus and the sharing of quiet, healing time with my students. It replenished us. I had been meditating for years and my soul gravitated toward that stillness. In my early twenties I discovered Vipassana meditation while on a retreat, and I intuitively applied some of the principles of Vipassana to my approach to stretch classes, transforming them into yoga classes even though I had no formal training at that time.
This particular student must have recognized my fondness for stretching, because one day she invited me for coffee and offered me the gift of an all-expense paid trip (ALL expenses– airfare, accommodations and tuition!) to train as a yoga teacher at the Kripalu Center in Massachusetts, one of the largest yoga training centres in North America. It was such a surprise. My heart leapt out of my chest at such generosity! And yet, I almost said no because I could not imagine leaving my business for one month. I was very dedicated. But, after some thought, I embraced the opportunity… and off I went! So much in life hinges on these seemingly random choices.
When I entered my teacher training in 1992, Kripalu Centre was still structured as a traditional Indian ashram, with Guru Amrit Desai leading a community of close to two hundred spiritual seekers. These ashram residents for the most part had renounced their previous lives to dedicate themselves to yoga and spiritual growth. Many had already been living there for a decade, and one or two for around twenty years! Most of the revenue that sustained the ashram came from residential yoga retreats and trainings that attracted students from around the world. These seekers would come to bask in the charismatic presence of the guru and to immerse themselves in a yoga lifestyle, for a few days or a few months. It was a very loving, mindful and healing space.
The yoga teacher training course that I was heading into was a month-long residential program that would provide me with training and experience, and certify me as a yoga teacher with 200 hours of study. This was an outcome that I thought was very practical for me as the owner of a fitness centre, and that was how I justified taking a month off from my business. Frankly, I thought I already knew pretty much all there was to learn about stretching. I had attended just a few yoga classes that didn’t really grab me. But something led me on. Maybe it was the radiant expression on my friend’s face when she spoke of yoga.
I truly had no idea what was in-store for me – sleeping in a dorm with ten other women, a new vegetarian diet, no caffeine on the premises, daily six am sadhana and hours of training with sixty other students . And then there was ashram life. All of it was completely new – chanting, meditation, devotional practice, karma yoga, intentional community – it was all a little much for my Protestant, middle class, Canadian upbringing! It was confusing and mesmerizing at the same time, and began to fill a void I didn’t even know was there. This yoga felt like the real deal to me, and it matched my own intuitive take on yoga perfectly. I acclimated very quickly. I drank it all in. I shone in the practice teaching sessions and rather quickly I began to feel like I was in my element.I must have been a yogi in a past life...or maybe several.
I emerged from this month of training truly transformed. Like a butterfly just breaking free of its chrysalis, I had morphed into another version of myself. It felt a little fragile. Not a lot had changed on the outside, but on the inside my entire being felt like it had been re-shaped. In my home yoga practice, my body would tremble and shake as it adjusted to the awakening of prana. This is the inner life force energy that streams through us and animates our physical being. This was much more than theory for me now, it was a lived experience. The whole process was so much more than I had anticipated and changed me deeply. I came to feel deeply connected to the Kripalu community and felt that I had found my spiritual family (at least one of them). And I felt empowered to teach. I now had a shiny new tool kit full of yoga methodologies, and more than that I was equipped with an authentic experience of the power of yoga.
At the time, I really didn’t know how precious and enormous this gift actually was. I had been lovingly enfolded and nurtured within a community of dedicated and devoted yogis. Not easy to come by. And I had the rare opportunity to receive the teachings directly from the lineage holder of an ancient tradition going back to Lord Shiva himself. I was truly blessed. I hadn’t spent enough time with the guru to be considered a disciple at that point, but I was intrigued to know more, and later discovered that the guru/disciple relationship was a complicated one.
Teaching At Kripalu Centre
Over the following decade I would return to Kripalu Centre for several months each year - for my own development and training as a volunteer, and later as a paid director of the teacher training program. I had the pretty unique educational experience of being mentored to train yoga teachers by some of the best in the world. And as the Kripalu community evolved, I experienced firsthand the gut-wrenching transition within the Kripalu community from traditional ashram with a guru, into the contemporary, international yoga centre that Kripalu is today. In the coming years my own work life underwent an evolution also: I would convert my fitness centre into one of the first yoga centres in my city, teach thousands of yoga classes, host a yoga TV show and train hundreds of yoga teachers myself – and it all started with one woman’s generous gift and my own willingness to say ‘yes’ to the unknown!
I have been so very blessed to have shared the deep, transformative space of yoga with so many, and to have benefited for decades from a vocation that has helped to me to stay healthy and well, and more than that, from a practice that has nourished my spirit and contributed to my spiritual evolution.
Thank you for the gift, Roslyn, wherever you are… and thank you to all of you for being part of my on-going journey. Yes, I received a beautiful gift, and in the process I discovered that I had ‘a gift’ to share with the world. This gift keeps on giving.