Finding Calm in the Storm: One Yogi's Odyssey

I moved to Boston in the summer of 2015. My partner Philip and I, after twelve years in the Windy City, were looking to relocate to a place both cheaper and warmer than Chicago. Though Boston was neither, when he was offered a job here, we, in the spirit of adventure, chose to forge a new future despite the seeming irrationality of the decision. For the next few months we prepared: parceling pieces of our lives in cardboard boxes, sealed with tape, clearly labeled archives that still dwell in the damp basement of Philip’s mother’s home in the suburbs of Detroit; saying bittersweet goodbyes to friends and colleagues; letting my freshman students know that, no, they will not have me again as their teacher senior year; taking mental snapshots of the skyscrapers, the EL train, the vista of Lake Michigan that you could see on a clear day off the balcony of our apartment if you craned your neck, the city where we came of age. And then, as our moving date neared, a moment came for which I could not have prepared. Dancing to thumping techno music, bass so loud it shakes my viscera, surrounded by thousands, I receive a text from my sister: “Mom’s dead. Get to Ohio.”

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When I enrolled in Down Under Yoga’s 300-hour teacher training my life was still reeling. I was adrift in a new city, grieving the death of my mother, without a job or a familiar routine to anchor me. Between the Scylla and Charybdis of anxiety and depression that threatened to suck me into depths unknown, yoga was a beacon, Down Under a safe harbor. I began the Art of Assisting workshop a few months before teacher training. As I learned to physically adjust others on their mats, I slowly began to adjust to a new life. Two years later, assisting at Down Under is still a mainstay of my week, an opportunity to give back to the community that buoyed me, unbeknownst to them, when I was at my lowest point.

By January of 2016, my life had taken a different tack. I had spent eight years teaching English literature and philosophy in Chicago. Now I was embarking on another course: teaching yoga. As a high school teacher in a large, urban public school, I was surrounded by constant need. I worked hard to meet the academic and socio-emotional needs of my students but often at the expense of my own health and wellbeing. I was burning out. I had spent years helping my students and my school. When I finally walked into a yoga studio, it was the first step in my commitment to leading a more balanced life. Like many people, what first drew me to yoga was the physical asana. After a few weeks of practice, I felt leaner, stronger, more flexible. Mentally, I was more even-keeled. I felt happier, better able to focus, less reactive to events that I would normally mull over for hours. I saw how physical heart opening translated into the realm of personal relationships and made me increasingly open to new experiences. It seemed like a natural part of my journey to combine my talent for teaching with my passion for the practice.

My initial 200-hour teacher training gave me a general lay of the land –the components of a well-rounded sequence, how to cue from the ground up, an overview of the inner workings of the human body. But, just as in my first few years of classroom teaching, I felt woefully underprepared. After class students asked questions to which I didn’t have answers. I relied heavily on scripted sequences and repeated rote cues. I wanted to incorporate aspects of meditation and pranayama into my classes but lacked confidence in my ability to do so. The more experience I gained, the more I wanted to continue my study of yoga with the same rigor and engagement that academia had required. Down Under School of Yoga, a flagship studio for yoga in Boston, promised the intellectual challenge and satisfaction I was seeking.

Down Under’s 300-hour training charts a course through the expanse of yoga. That year we navigated through topics like anatomy and alignment. We gained greater respect for the limits and possibilities of the human body. We explored different schools and styles —from Astanga to Yin —and how to teach all levels and populations. We discussed sutras and chanted mantras. We meditated and breathed. We learned the power of touch. We found unique voices. We shared food and told stories that revealed the remarkable similarities among our paths. We met mentors and made friends, some of whom have become close confidants and travel companions. Three hundred hours later, I am a more confident, clear, and capable teacher — and a more humble one. In the end, I found not only the knowledge I sought but the community I needed.