And yet, this is exactly what I got... and more.
What I expected at the YJL! conference was: a bunch of thin (mostly white) women in expensive, trendy, stylish yoga clothes; commercialism and consumerism; and star instructors whose personalities, images, and fame made for impersonal, packed classes and "show off" yoga. All of these things were at the conference, and all of these things--among other factors--have contributed to my lack of feeling "real" in my yoga. I have often felt like I am just going through the motions--literally and figuratively--even when I have felt that there is something more to those motions.
My training and experience have also contributed to my lack of feeling like a real yoga teacher. Coming from a fitness instructor background, being trained in a fitness style of yoga (YogaFit), having "only" part of the 200 hours required for official certification, and teaching primarily at universities and community centers are all factors that have contributed to this feeling. Additionally, much of my teaching has been self-taught through embodied experience in my own classes as well as the few other classes and trainings I am able to attend.
Over the past 10 years I have taught yoga and written about yoga--in and out of academia--in my classes at the local YMCA and at my university, and in my book, Women and Fitness in American Culture. Yoga has done much to keep me sane and balanced and energized. Yoga has been truly transformational, personally and professionally.
What I found at JYL! continued the journey of discovery and transformation and centered some of the things that had been floating around me. While I am still processing, still going over my notes, still thinking and practicing, I have already begun to bring this new yoga self to my participants at the Bangor YMCA--my yoga and fitness family.
Here are some of those floating things that my experience at YJL! brought home:
Yoga is a life-long process: I say this all the time in class, but what I discovered about yoga, and about myself, really confirmed this. We can't learn or know or feel or experience everything in a yoga class, let alone a lifetime. We have to be patient with our minds and our bodies.
Yoga really is for every body: I have been to several classes and workshops with this "every body" title and I am often disappointed when the physical practice of such classes do not fit with my vision of what "every body" can do. Seane Corn highlighted this idea in a different way. Sure, the physical practice of yoga can be modified for every body. But when we think about yoga as breath and movement, as an opportunity to experience sensation, as a technique to increase mind/body connections, as a way to work through resistance in our bodies and find new relationships with our emotions, and a way to connect to others beyond our mats.... Clearly there is more to yoga that every body and everybody can benefit from. Yoga gives us a different angle.
Yoga isn't about advanced postures or perfect alignment. Yoga may not even be about postures at all, but for most Americans practicing yoga, postures are the means if not the end. My students have often asked for adjustments and to be told whether they are doing it "right." While I provide many alignment cues and occasional physical adjustments, I remind them that the postures are not so much about how we look, but how we feel. What's right for one body might not be right for another, and I practice what I learned in my YogaFit training--I provide cues for how a pose "should" look and feel. When Bo Forbes explained that alignment cues will last for a class while teaching people to inhabit their body will last a lifetime, this idea really hit home.
Yoga can happen anywhere. While I have taken yoga to many different physical locations--purposefully or stealthily--this conference was a good reminder of the physical and mental places yoga can take us. Doing Hiking Yoga in Central Park (with Eric Kipp) on a beautiful Sunday morning, with my mother and sister and new acquaintances (and runners and dogs and more), reminded me how calming and rejuvenating yoga can be outdoors. But the mindfulness techniques I learned with Bo Forbes reminded me that yoga doesn't have to happen anywhere specific. In fact, the yoga that happens when I am in child's pose, with my forehead on a block--the yoga that clears my mind and centers me--happens mostly in my head.
Yoga can change your body and your mind... and your life. While most people I encounter come to yoga looking to transform their bodies, what they often find is that yoga does much more than work the body. But this aspect of mind/body yoga and yoga as a practice beyond the physical is a hard sell, especially at the YMCA where I teach yoga as well as more traditional cardio classes. I have been hesitant to emphasize the mind/body aspects, or maybe I just didn't have the language or the knowledge that I needed. I tell people that yoga is healing and even miraculous, and I have had many such stories shared with me by my participants. Now I have more tools to emphasize the mind/body connection, to expand my participants' experiences.
Mindfulness is worth learning more about--and practicing! What all of the above points have in common is the idea of mindfulness. While I had begun to learn more about mindfulness, I had not really given this idea or practice much thought beyond what I thought was the obvious mind/body yoga connection. Mindfulness is simple and practical, but not at all obvious until a good teacher brings mindfulness to the forefront. Just before the YJL! conference I had stumbled upon Dr. Jamie Marich's program Dancing Mindfulness, which reminded me how much I miss my own form of mind/body dance (Organic Dance). So, yoga and dance are ripe for mindfulness!
While there are many other things I learned at YJL!, the most important thing I learned is that I am absolutely a "real" yoga teacher. Yoga isn't any one thing and no one owns it. I will continue to work with, process, practice, and share these many kernels of wisdom as long as I am able to breathe. This is something else I tell my participants: if you can breathe you can do yoga... and you should. We all should.