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The Secret History of My Teaching Path

Me: “There are aspects of being a yoga a teacher that I don’t share with many people.”
Tired Me Who Would Like to be Sleeping: “Then why are you blogging about them…”
Me: Because it is 4:30am, and the fireworks have started a little earlier than advertised. I’m just heeding the call…

***

Before I began the transition from yoga practitioner to yoga teacher, I was a professional costume designer (and builder) for both theatre and dance. I worked with all types of theatre groups, on all manner of productions. I also collaborated with choreographers who were mostly ‘up-and-coming’, the kind whose dancers worked on stilts, or in water, or hanging from giant nets. Not once was I asked to make a tutu.

Before I was a costumer, going all the way back to my earliest memories of career aspirations, I was an artist. I played the cello, and wrote ‘poetry’ and spent many hours wandering the woods near my childhood home. Alone. I would lose myself in the smell of moss and pine duff and in the making of tiny fairy forts that I imagined myself small enough to inhabit. Once I had crossed over from lawn to woods, it was like I had shed a layer and come more fully into my true skin. In the woods, I was safe. In the water, in the cool Atlantic of my childhood summers, I was safe. In my closet, I was safe.

My father was brilliant, charismatic, and he drank too much. I had to develop a particular skill set because of this. In short, I had to learn how to ‘read the wind’, even before he stepped out of the car after work. I had to know whether to run towards him, divert him, or avoid him. I hope to never mention this aspect of my life again in a blog post. But it is an important influence on how, and why, I developed the skill set I have now.

Scroll ahead a couple decades to my career path. When I was on the visual artist path, my favorite activity was to draw nudes. When there was no model available, I was ‘the nude’, drawing myself nude (and if any of my sons read this, please know that your mother has on occasion appeared with her clothes off. Disturbing, I know.) Sitting- or standing- for hours in front of a naked person, and drawing them, was like going into my beloved childhood forests. But instead of trees and rocks and moss communicating with some part of my soul, it was flesh, bones, breath, sweat, hair, skin, blood, nerves, viscera. One slight bend of a joint could change the entire meaning of the model’s gesturing. I was fascinated by, and completely drawn in to, this process. If the woods were my church, then watching the human body became my form of worship.

Keep scrolling, though babies, husbands, ex-husbands, and many moves, to the chapter on costuming. I can sew, and I used to be able to sew really well. I used to say that I was fearless with fabric. I love fabric, I used to know fabrics, and I was adept at making all kinds of  ‘stuff’ with all kinds of fabric. Before starting to build the costumes for a given production, I would have to measure the actors, or the dancers. There was something about me, standing before them, with measuring tape in hand, that triggered my ‘information receptors’. I began to notice a familiar kind of non-verbal communication happening, one that took me back to all those hours spent in the woods.

I found that if I matched my breath to theirs, I could calm them down. As I ‘took’ the necessary measurements, I would start to get information beyond inches and color preferences (did you know that no one EVER asks to be dressed in yellow?) It was never the kind of information you find asked for on a typical costumer’s chart. Body temperature, skin moistness; the smells from various place on their bodies; their dryness, or their oiliness. It was exhausting, and sometimes it was way too much information of the kind I had no words for.

Scroll just a bit more. After 7 years or so, and after the birth of son #4, I hit the wall of exhaustion, depletion, and ‘I am SO over it’ with that career. The start of my first yoga teacher training overlapped with the winding down of my costuming gigs… and before you know it, I was opening a small yoga studio with $500 and my husband’s blessing.

And… we’re scrolling again, through another 7 years. In order to become a registered yoga teacher with ‘elder’ status, I had to have at least 5000 teaching hours under my belt. Five thousand (plus) hours, leading people through asana, pranayama, meditation. Through centering, movement and stillness. Through births, deaths, marriages, divorces, job-loss, career change, illness; through moving on, moving up, moving away. And every time I stepped onto my mat at the start of class, it was like stepping over from lawn to moss, from the smell of grass, gasoline and fertilizer to the scent of mushrooms, leaf mould and pine sap.

This blog post is not a confessional. It is a bit of the story of how I know what I know when I am teaching yoga, Liza-style. It is a thank-you to the hundreds of people I have been privileged to have in front of me, on their mats, baring some small or large bit of their self to me. The exchange has not been one-sided. Many a time I have brought a more tattered- or radiant- self to my mat, and been welcomed, forgiven, challenged, irritated, loved, disliked, look at skeptically or embraced whole-heartedly. The exchange is two-way. Whatever it is you have brought to the mat has been held by me. At some level, I can say ‘I know’; if asked, I would have to say- honestly- that I very rarely have been able to verbalize what it is ‘I know’, but trust me, I know.

I know I have some skill as a guide. My hands know when to cup someone’s lower rib cage or stabilize a pelvis, transmitting just the right amount of information for them to twist or ground or expand with greater ease. I can somehow deliver a word or phrase which will resonate, sneak in, or slice; so much so that I was often asked if I was reading minds, hearing thoughts or had accessed their hard-drives. But if I had to do it on command, before I had entered that ‘certain state’, I don’t know that it would be the same.

Maybe I’ll just say its like this, folks: there is a deep well of intuition inside all of us. We can intuit what is good or bad for us; what will serve us or destroy us, guide us or lead us astray. Yoga asks us to pause, or at least slow down. It asks us to open up and hone in. It asks us to stop, look, listen- before you cross the street, while crossing the street, and after you cross the street.

So go on, step into the woods. Take off your clothes (metaphorically speaking. Or not.) Inhale, deeply, and let scent thread its way through your nose, past cilia and membrane, and into your cells. Wake up; your inner guide, your inner wisdom, is just waiting to be summoned.

***

It’s 6:34am. The fireworks, after a tentative start, are going full-on. The birds are adding to the pre-sunrise cacophony. The lavender mantle of the morning sky is decorated with smoke trails and sparks. The cats have gone back to sleep.

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