So, as you may have noticed, I have not posted recently. Two weeks ago, I was scheduled to work Monday, which through off my typical schedule and helped me to completely forget about posting, then I had the intention of posting later in the week, but just never got around to it. Whomp.
This past week, I was unable to post because I was in beautiful, sunny, mountainous, yoga-filled Costa Rica. Poor poor me. It was wonderful. So truly, deeply wonderful, it is impossible to express just how wonderful. Terrific people being their best selves, delicious and very healthful foods (one in the same, not saying you had to choose between those two options), awe-inspiring setting, and lots and lots and lots of sweat. Buckets of it.
One of the things that this week of Yoga Teacher Training through Amazing Yoga (based in Pittsburgh, PA, for those interested) showed me, or brought up inside me, was that teaching is the route through which I have, and continue to, find my voice. I’m only partially sure of what I mean by that myself, but I am going to try to do my best to relate what I mean to you.
Apparently, or so I have been told, as a young child I was decidedly outgoing and gregarious. In restaurants I would walk around and introduce myself to so many of the other patrons that my family was convinced I would go on to be a politician. Clearly, that is not currently the case. The first time I successfully used a toilet in a public restroom, I triumphantly announced “I pooped!” to the undoubtedly amused and annoyed other customers upon exiting the bathroom. I loved a certain song so much that no matter where I was when I heard it in the house, I would rush downstairs to the living room and dance unabashedly. Even if I happened to be ready to get into the bathtub, dressed in naught but the outfit I wore upon entering this world, and I don’t mean blood. (Although, I guess that would be a good reason to take a bath.)
I would certainly sound to me like “finding my voice” would be a simple thing for this child, but seems often change. In fifth grade I changed schools from my local public elementary to nearby, but out of walking distance, private school after a year of multiple teacher changes and insufficient academic challenge, as I have been told. I don’t personally remember much of anything about elementary school. Around this time, too, I began to close myself off from the people around me, exchanging at least an appearance of extroversion for one of introversion. What does stand out in my memory, though, are moments of frustration and anger at my inability to meet high (occasionally unrealistically high) expectations of myself, particularly in sporting arenas through middle school in particular. Passionate, emotional responses to what I viewed as failures. I remember being told that I could not respond like that, that it was not appropriate. I do not remember if further discussions about my emotions were had, beside the always present invitation to do so if I felt a desire to (which, as a pre-teen to teenage boy, I obviously never took). Through middle and high school I feel like I developed a wall between my emotional responses and not just my expression of them, but my sensing of them, which I believe at least assisted my closing off from peers.
As an individual with only my perspective of the world to live from and a resistance to emotional discussion, I had no idea if what I was experiencing was common or uncommon or particularly strong, or anything. I have only pieced together the bits and pieces that I know and remember into this theme which seems to make sense to me.
So, I developed this “still waters run deep” persona which I feel I wear most of the time, and have worn for at least a decade now: a calm, emotionless surface, giving little to nothing away and depths below absorbing as much as I can from the world around me. Now, I am not saying that I don’t like who I am or who I have become, or that I wish I was different, or that I am upset that I came out this way, I am actually very happy in my mind and body (especially thanks to yoga). All I am saying is that I, and any one of us, could have come out differently than we have.
The important thing, from this background, is that I developed, and deserved, a reputation as someone who is very quiet. I have a difficult time joining conversations in groups. It is a struggle if the group is four people, and you can pretty much forget it if there are more. There are always others who feel more motivated and eager to share their point of view than I do in these larger groups. Plus, it is important to me to express what I want to express as well and as concisely as possible, which requires planning and preparation, which is difficult to get when a lively conversation is flowing through a group of people. By the time I am comfortable and confident in what I want to say, we’ve moved on. Listening is too important to me, too. I’ve noticed that often people, to make sure their point is heard, will spill over the end of another’s statement, rushing what they want to say and not completely hearing what the other has said. In partners, or groups of three and sometimes four, there is enough time between thoughts for me to get in what I want to say. And a comfort with silence helps me drag lots of bits of information out of others when they need to fill it.
However, I have found one exception to the rule. When large groups are not intimidating, are not a challenge to talk to or with, are not slightly stressful to be around. Oddly enough, for me, teaching a group has become almost a relaxing activity to me, the opposite of what I get the impression it is for most people. Knowing that I am “in charge” makes it easy for me to step into that role with confidence. It feels very natural, but I think many people would find it strange.
I began teaching in high school. In middle school I participated in a leadership development program through the Boy Scouts of America which was offered in our district. The next year, and for three years after that, I returned to the program as a volunteer staff member, helping to lead the new participants. The program itself only lasted for a long weekend, but it took a few other meetings to organize it. I worked in a position where I taught individual patrols of eight boys and as the Senior Patrol Leader, who was the head piece in assemblies and taught the entire troop of ~64 boys. I wouldn’t have applied to return to work there if a friend of my dad hadn’t been a staff member when I attended and suggested that I apply. As a lifeguard in high school, I became popular with the kids who would come to the pool all summer long, which lead to some babysitting jobs (which isn’t too far from teaching, but a lot less directed) which were obviously tremendously enjoyable.
For some reason, by the time I was looking at colleges, teaching had already clicked with me. I knew it was something that I wanted to do. For the last month of senior year, I went to a local second grade classroom and helped out as a work study. One of the factors of many deciding factors for the college which I decided to attend was the presence of a Masters in the Art of Teaching program. I earned an education minor. I joined a club which taught ecology to local fifth grade classes weekly. I was a teaching assistant most semesters after my freshman year. I wish I had helped coach the novice crewbies when I was on the team, but I needed sleep.
By what I would now call good fortune, I was exhausted with school by the time the second semester of senior year rolled around and I decided against participating in the M.A.T. program immediately. Instead I went to Hawai’i, which is when I began this blog. **Pause as my mind does the math and freezes as I realize how quickly time moves compared to how it used to and dreads how quick it will begin to move in the future.** Then, I came back from Hawai’i and returned to teaching, this time outside, and I think it showed how much joy I felt teaching there and then at Camp. Then, I came to Wooster and began to bake. And what have I either sought out or been brought to, either way, what have I found? Teaching opportunities. Baking classes and now yoga classes.
I’m not surprised. The universe works by divine timing. We are where we are supposed to be always. If we were not there, everything would be different. The moment is perfect in what it should be. Some of these moments are sweet and wonderful and easy to find happiness in. Others are bitter and uncomfortable and hard to swallow, but it does not make them any less perfect. I would necessarily go so far as to say that I have been brought to where I am “for a reason”, but I would say that it is perfect and surprisingly not surprising that I have found my way here to now.
To be clear, teaching hasn’t always been as powerful as it is easy for me now. There were plenty of uncomfortable, sweaty, “uhm-ing” presentations before things began to click smoothly. But what I learned from those teaching times is that it is way easier when you are comfortable and confident, so just own it. Or, fake it ‘til you make it. My first class in the new studio, I think I mentioned, had at least three times as many adults as any previous yoga class which I had taught. I was shocked, surprised, and jazzed/keyed up. However, it forced me to speak loudly, clearly, and confidently, and it allowed me to have a good time with it as I faked that confidence. That fake confidence helped to bring real confidence.
So, I would expect that you are wondering what I actually did while in Costa Rica. Yoga. A lot of yoga. We did both the physical practice of asanas and pranayama, as well as meditation and just worked on the whole yoga state of mind through reflection and sharing. It was wonderful. Often challenging, but fulfilling, enlightening, and lightening.
Each day followed the same pattern. We would awake, mostly with the sun, because after 0600h it got bright quickly. I was usually up a little before the sun, just because (we went to bed early – perfect for me). Watch how the sun illuminated the mountains, clouds, and sky while we waited for everyone else to get up and moving and meet at the dining hall for a morning meditation walk. Every morning we silently walked through an adjoining coffee plantation for about forty five minutes. The same path every time and at a not easy pace, although, one wasn’t forced to keep Karen’s (the teacher in charge of the week) pace. The pace, though, more forced one to pay more attention to your feet (rocky ground) than to the surrounding landscape. I’m sure it was intentional, but I’m still on the fence about the benefits. I think the speed is good way to force one into the moment, but when I have done walking meditations before it was usually in a labyrinth (very unlike the movie). In these labyrinths the way may not be clear, but there is only one, and it is easy. You can allow your mind to drift. Here you are forced to focus on the path itself, which focuses your mind on the path, until you are given the freedom to look around when we stop. I guess I do see the benefits, but I just always want to look around. About two thirds of the way through the walk, we would stop at a flat, open space and just look around (and meditate, I guess). It was absolutely gorgeous – farmland everywhere, rolling mountains, very green.
After our walk we would return to the dining hall for breakfast. And, dude, they do it up. Lots of fresh fruit, of course, yogurt, granola, nuts, homemade peanut butter (which has fueled a new nut and seed butter making obsession for me), lots and lots of vegetables – raw and cooked, whole grains when they’re there, and some animal proteins here and there, butter, eggs, fish, and chicken. Not all of this for breakfast, I’m just talking about all of the food so it’s done and out of the way. Otherwise I’ll talk about food forever. To be clear, the peanut butter was our favorite thing there. Our group (of 18 students and two teachers) devoured it every breakfast, and often asked for it outside of breakfast. We got them to give us the recipe. It was really freaking good.
After breakfast, we had a little bit of time to chill and digest before practice started. When we first got into the studio which we would use for the week (absolutely gorgeous), we would set up our mats and space, then go through a guided meditation of about 10-20 minutes. It was difficult to tell just how long, when breathing so intentionally I tend to lose track of time. It can pass really fast. Some of the meditations had recordings which we listened to about different themes in yoga. After a short break, we returned to our morning asana practice, an hour and half to an hour and forty five minutes of hot power vinyasa flow yoga. I sweat SO MUCH. I had to wring out my yogitoes towel after each session so that it could be reasonably dry by the next practice. The temperature of the room was probably around 90°F and it was a fast flow. Almost undoubtedly the most challenging physical practice I have had. It was great, especially once I got my hydration and electrolytes in check. After doing work, we would cool and dry off, then review the part of the flow which we would practice teaching in the afternoon. Then we broke for more delicious food at lunch. Another small digestion break followed lunch, then we practiced teaching the new part of the flow series, did a little reflection and sharing, and had an evening flow which was a little lower key than the morning flow, but only a little. We would have a chance to clean up for dinner – namely rinse the sweat off of one’s body – then eat and maybe meet for an evening activity, which more often than not included dancing. After which maybe a little socializing in the pool or hot tub, some reading, and bed at a wonderfully reasonable hour, like 2100h.
Variations through the week:
- On Sunday night I managed to bash my left big toe really well, leaving it swollen and/or bruised for the week. It is still a little sore. This changed my practice a lot. I was unable to put pressure on it in certain directions, so for many of my flows (high plank, chaturanga, up-dog, down-dog) I had to drop my knees to the mat and not roll over my toes. This was initially frustrating because of the expectations which I had placed on myself. But I adjusted my expectations and was still able to enjoy the practice.
- Wednesday morning we got the morning off to go on an expedition – waterfall hike, zip-line tour, or a jaunt into Alajuela, a nearby town. I chose to go into town because I figured that would be the least problematic with an uncomfortable toe. It was pretty darn neat. Sunny, very central American. Checked out the central market and a church.
- On Thursday night, we took a brief set of dancing lessons (optionally) for a few popular dances in Costa Rica. I was reminded that I can walk rhythmically in bunch of directions, but to call it “dancing” is awfully presumptious.
- Friday night we had a lovely “graduation” ceremony. More emotional sharing. There was a lot of it during the week. And lots of clapping after practice, after sharing, whenever we wanted. Yay clapping! *applause*
Then, about as abruptly as it started, it ended. It was one of those weeks were each day seemed to last a lifetime, but suddenly the week was nearly over. It happens too much.
I hope that this entry makes up for having missed a couple weeks. Its long.