Four years ago, even after completing 200-hr yoga teacher training with Jennifer, I was still very unsure of myself. Over time, by applying techniques learned during the training and committing to a nightly Divine Sleep® Yoga Nidra practice, I’ve finally begun to make space for myself.
The single most unique experience of the month-long teacher training was Jennifer’s Divine Sleep® Yoga Nidra. Thankfully she led us in yoga nidra on the evenings prior to our practical exams. (Aside: a few months ago, I attended a yoga nidra session at a yoga studio. The presenter was wonderful and the words and script were her own, but still vaguely familiar. Sure enough, when I talked with her later, she boasted of being a student of Jennifer’s!)
Upon graduating from the yoga teacher training, I jumped right into leading classes at a few studios, gyms and workplaces. Racing between a handful of locations was hectic! At one point, I was leading three to four daily classes and felt as if I was just going through the motions. Besides sleeping between classes, there wasn’t time for much else. The ‘Yoga-Eat-Sleep’ t-shirt described my existence at that time!
I knew something had to change. I needed to address the naive assumption that simply becoming a yoga teacher would cause me to step back and cease bad habits such as a tendency to over-commit.
Jennifer’s direct and implicit instruction had resonated and remained with me. When unexpected spine surgery left me temporarily immobile, I returned to her Divine Sleep® Yoga Nidra CDs. My days now end with Jennifer’s voice as I faithfully practice her nurturing yoga nidra. My yoga posture, breathing and yoga nidra practice have changed me, my outlook, and how I approach life. For the first time, I am experiencing and appreciating Balance.
My post-surgery physical activity was limited to ‘pool-walking’. It was not too long before I found myself first chaperoning others in similar situations to pool-walk. Then I began actually teaching it on purpose. As I healed, the YMCA staff encouraged me to become both a certified swim instructor and lifeguard.
Having grown up land-locked, I had never even swam a single lap! As I would be on my first lap, my Red Cross classmates would be completing their entire half miles! Once I stepped back and applied focused breathing, everything changed. It was really that simple. It was the yoga training that guided me through learning how to swim. Now, lap swimming is my favorite form of moving meditation and I’m fortunate to be able to practice it many times a week.
Part of lifeguard certification involves what can be called “mortal combat underwater”. Expert swimmers serve as victims who, just as in real life, physically resist the rescuer. Keeping calm, breathing, and observing with detachment, were critical to success. I felt that the confidence I fostered in my yoga training with Jennifer was priceless, and helped me to sort of meditate underwater during these experiences.
For over two years, I’ve been volunteering at the YMCA, leading only a few weekly gentle style yoga classes, as well as private sessions. This situation is just right for my 54-year old body!
One of my classes is for young families. Another is an ‘inclusion class’, is free to the public, and it draws attendees from several groups of young adults with Autism, Down’s Syndrome, as well as a set of adults recovering from cancer. I’ve recently started a weekly mini-class for preschool children.
It is a moving experience to see so many people come together to Be, Breathe, Move and Heal.
I also enjoy offering Aqua Yoga and have great fun flowing with the water element! Most of my one-on-one yoga sessions are in a shallow, warm pool, with individuals suffering a variety of disabilities. Some of these are people who have been abandoned by the healthcare system or otherwise slipped through the cracks.
One of my private sessions is with a 31-year old friend who has been blind, deaf, mute since birth, with debilitating cerebral palsy and seizure disorder. He has limited mobility and weighs only 90-pounds. He and I float together for an hour each week. His only communication is by tapping his hand. His hand rests on my throat. Although he can’t hear me, he can feel the vibration of my voice.
When we first met a couple years ago, I would hum and sing while he kept his hand or ear on my throat. One day, I made the sound of Aum and he responded with such rapid and joyful tapping that now I’m Aumming for our whole hour together! Before that, I had always enjoyed hearing Aum, but was timid about publicly sharing it. Now, I realize firsthand the potency, universality, and also the innate medicinal value it holds for everyone.
Another private session is a 75-year old man who had suffered a brain injury at age of five. This wonderful and happy man’s stated goal in life is to swim a 1/4 mile! Not being able to do that as a boy had kept him out of Boy Scouts. His physical mobility problems are one issue blocking full swimming, however more concerning was his continual inhalation of water. In the year we have been together, he is coming close to conquering this problem by learning and practicing yogic breathing. I love introducing these ancient techniques to people who would otherwise not benefit from this wisdom.
I also work with a 16-year old boy who has limited use of his limbs and is unable to talk. However, via facial expressions, he is possibly the most expressive person I’ve ever met! Just now, after knowing him for a couple years, he is tall enough that his toes touch the bottom of shallow pool while being held. It is breathtaking to watch him discover (a form of) walking in the pool; something that is impossible for him on land.
A little boy I’ve been swimming with for three years has severe Autism-related limitations. In his mind, he “scripts” which means that he continual replays and recites television and movie dialog. This obviously interferes with his ability to learn in a standard school environment. His behavior can make him frustrated, and when swimming with him I need to always be on guard for physically violent outbursts. Recently he was assigned a new school aide and she was somewhat successful in encouraging him to sit down in easy pose and breathe when overwhelmed. Yoga offers powerful tools!
I could keep writing about another half dozen wonderful friends I work with. Admittedly, my style isn’t the most elegant. I was over 50 when I first found yoga and, at best, my spine is wonky. But, for the first time in my life I feel as if I’ve found my place!
Final point, directed toward any new or under-employed yoga teachers. Go to your local YMCA and offer your services as either a volunteer or paid instructor. As I look around the pool, all day, I see people in various stages of recovery. Many are “on their own” without guidance. People recovering from any number of major or minor illnesses and surgeries. A little bit of compassion goes a long way.