How do I even begin to write about the final day of yoga teacher training and convey all of the wonderful (some seemingly miraculous) gifts this experience has given me? That’s one of the biggest frustrations about being a writer–it always seems there are no words for all of the feelings and events that mean the most in life. Magic, miracle, gift … all of these are words that seem to apply to my experience, although they are only the beginning. But, to be clear, it hasn’t all been rainbows and butterflies. I think perhaps the training director, Lynne, put it best when she wrote yesterday, “It’s been a fun, sad and overall amazing ride this summer in teacher training.”
Yesterday morning had a bit of that “last day of school” feeling I haven’t had since I was a kid. There was an extra spring in my step as I walked up the stairs to the studio and entered to find my fellow yogis a bit more abuzz and gathered in more tightly than usual. You could tell everyone was soaking one another in. We agreed that we were most definitely the best group of teacher trainees ever and that every class to follow us would be a let-down for our teachers. But, all joking aside, we did spend a lot of time discussing how special it was that there were no cliques or tensions in our group. We truly were united.
We had a 3.5 hour session with Lynne to kick off the last day. We began with a Yin session, then went into a very hardcore powerful flow after. As soon as the vinyasa part of it started, I realized how toasted my body really was. My legs were literally shaking in lunges, and Lynne kept correcting me. I could feel that indignant, righteous little part of me rising up and beginning to protest, “I just can’t do this today!” But every time I wanted to give in, Lynne came and prompted me to pull it back together.
Toward the end of our very long practice, Lynne told us all to pull our mats up against the wall. Then she told everyone to, “Gather around Nikki’s mat for a demonstration.” I felt myself silently dying. Today of all days when I had nothing left? It was worse than I expected when she told me what I was doing: Handstand. Ugh. I honestly wasn’t sure if I had the strength to get up against the wall. But I did. And then I moved away from the wall. I came back down, relieved that I had done it and ready to do one more with the class and then relax.
I came down. The class did their handstands. Then, Lynne directed everyone back to my mat. WTF?! This time it was forearm stand. God damn it. I threw myself back against the wall in hopes that I could overcome my fatigue and just get up. Lynne had me come back down and said to the class, “Nikki doesn’t know she’s so strong she could kick the wall down.” She had me go back up again … this time lighter. I made it. Again, I thought, “Phew! Now I can really relax.” The class went up in their forearm stands.
“Back to Nikki’s mat.” Now I was weeping on the inside. “Nikki hates me,” Lynne said without the slightest hint of sympathy. This time she had me go up, then began dishing out a bunch of directions, including lowering one leg. The first time I did it, I tottered down. Of course, I had to get right back up. By the end of Lynne’s instructions I found myself in a supported Scorpion pose. I came down victorious, with Lynne’s hand in front of me awaiting a high-five.
Like so many other things in this class, although I had to be prodded in to something I didn’t believe I could do, I was ultimately so grateful to have been pushed beyond my limits–to learn that I was stronger and more capable than I knew. To see that other people believed in me more than I believed in myself … and that they were right. And that right there, is why these 200 hours of my life were about so much more than yoga. So. Much. More.
After lunch, we came back and gathered into our final circle, all of us trainees and our three teachers. (I just started crying even as I begin to write this.) We were asked to tell everyone where we had been and where we are going. So far, I have avoided crying in class, but this time I didn’t make it very far past my first sentence. Something occurred to me as I was walking to class yesterday. A few days ago, a girl in my class was talking about how she feels defined by an issue that she’s currently recovering from. As I reflected on what she said later in the day, it occurred to me that I felt like that when my brother died, 3.5 years ago. It’s funny, because I had sort of forgotten the feeling, but it suddenly all came rushing back to me–how amongst all of the other horrible emotions I felt at the time, I also felt completely abnormal. Like there was this neon sign blinking on my forehead that I was part of the Walking Wounded. That my beloved Nicholas had died. I felt like 90% of my identity was his death–and the other 10%, well, it was nothing good. I spent so much time wondering when I would feel “normal” again, and often doubting that it would ever happen. But, of course, time really does heal (or at least alleviate) all wounds. After a while, I felt more normal and less defined by the loss, although I certainly was changed forever.
As I walked to the studio yesterday, though, something occurred to me, and this is what I shared with the class. At certain points, I wondered why (although I had my fair share of epiphanies and tough emotional spots throughout TT), I didn’t have the massive breakdown that a lot of my classmates did. It occurred to me, though, that I had already had my breakdown in the course of my grief over Nick and all of the other events that spiraled out into a horrific web in its wake. And that’s when I realized that this training didn’t break me down because what it was really doing all along is putting me back together. Finally. For the first time since I lost my brother, I felt like me again. Like the whole version of myself that I haven’t seen in so long I forgot she was even missing. Until yesterday, I couldn’t pinpoint exactly what was happening, I just knew it felt good and safe and wonderful in class and with these amazing people. Sometimes even miraculous. But that was it: I was able to be me again. Only now, I think I’m a better version of me because I’ve been broken. I understand how fragile life is and how hurt so many of us are. And because of that, I think I’m far more compassionate and appreciative than I ever could have been before.
As for where I’m going, as I spoke I realized what my answer is: I need to keep on doing things that scare me. All the things that make me nauseous with fear–be it public speaking or getting cajoled into Scorpion or falling in love or putting myself out there to meet new friends or doing anything else that makes me vulnerable or puts me at the risk of losing something–that’s where I need to go from hereon out.
I cried so many more times as we went around the circle hearing everyone’s stories … some happy, some sad, many a bit of both. But what stuck with me most was when one girl commented, “What I love so much about being in here is that you’re all listening and you all care. Even as I’m speaking now, I can tell that you’re all actually here with me, listening to what I’m saying.” And it’s true. This group has made me realize how rare it is to find that in life and how important it really is. It’s been a wonderful lesson in how to treat my fellow human beings. Sometimes we all just need to be listened to and to feel safe and supported.
We ended our final session by getting our certificates, then having a little dance party (with a hula hoop) in the studio to Lynne’s Mastermix, including “Big Butts” and “Respect.” It was a perfect ending to the most perfect experience with the most perfect group of people I’ve ever known in my whole entire life. I am forever changed. I’ve got a lot of hard work to do from hereon out … but I’m ready to continue doing that work and taking all of those small steps on a daily basis. For me. Because I now understand how huge the cumulative effect really is.
This morning I woke up a little before 10 and didn’t feel like doing much of anything. I knew that a couple of girls had talked about meeting up at a dock on the Charles to meditate. I didn’t really feel like moving, but I considered what the day would be like if I lolled about in my apartment (answer: not good) and decided to text to see if they were still going. With their affirmative answer, I hauled my ass out of bed and onto the T. As soon as I walked out into the beautiful day, I knew I had made the right decision. I made my way onto the Esplanade to hear my name being called, and saw two fellow–ahem–yoga teachers waving me over.
In the end, five of us met up there. We spent more than an hour sitting in the sunshine on the dock just chatting easily about training and life and how lucky we all were, as the water lapped up against the dock and the sailboats flitted by in front of us. In the end, we only meditated for five minutes. But, in a way, the whole thing was meditative. As we walked back off of the Esplanade a while later, I looked down and saw a caterpillar, which we all gathered around, and moved off of the path so that he could be safely on the grass. I came home and looked up the symbolism of caterpillars. Here is (just a little bit) of what it said:
Caterpillars are associated with good luck and new birth. In the second stage of metamorphosis the caterpillar feeds to gain strength and build a foundation before the cocooning stage begins. This stage is when we give birth to new ideas and new creativity which hones the foundation to allow a new expression of life. The caterpillar represents new birth and new foundation and is a symbol of good luck in the early phase of new actions. Caterpillars usually signify a need for gentle and quiet approaches to our activities and endeavors. Caterpillars herald a time of good news, new birth, and creative inspiration, signaling a time to get ready to start a new project or initiate a new endeavors.
And caterpillar also reminds us that new growth cannot occur unless the old is shed as the caterpillar grows quickly and must replace its skills with some caterpillars shedding their skins every few days to make room for a bigger body. A caterpillar showing up may indicate that we are refusing to shed the old that we have outgrown.”
After everyone else left, C. and I grabbed lunch and went to sit in Copley Square. It was so beautiful that she commented how it felt like we were tourists sitting in an amazing town. Lately, she and I have had that conversation a lot–about how Boston seems to be getting prettier. Today she surmised that maybe it’s us that changed, and the world just looks prettier because of how we’re seeing it. She may be onto something.
Without meaning to, we talked for hours about the good, the bad, and the inane. She asked how I was doing with P. and I told her everything I’d realized about how it all had to happen how it did. I told her how it had occurred to me that I needed to (finally) let go. All of my life, I’ve preached about how it’s important to give it up to the universe and trust. And, sure, I’ve gone through the motions of doing that, but it’s always been with an undercurrent of desperation and fear. “I give this up to you, universe. But, please, please, please don’t take it away. Please make this happen.” And, of course, that’s not letting go at all. We also talked about how, through our own experiences and trials during training, we’ve learned that it’s okay to not be okay sometimes. It’s okay to be sad and angry and hurt because, the truth is, that’s life. And, no matter how hard any of us work, life is never going to be perfect. There are always going to be losses and hardships and heartbreaks … because that’s life. It’s just learning how to best deal with those situations. Both of us have been shocked to find that, throughout this training, even when things have gone wrong and we’ve been upset, we’ve moved through it more quickly and been able to come back to a sense of well-being (often with a strong, steady helping hand from one or more of our fellow trainees). And, honestly, if that was all I took away from this amazing ride, that would be life-changing in and of itself.
As I walked home this evening after somehow managing to spend the entire day with my friends, I realized that something monumental has shifted in me. Before all of this, I thought that, for me, being okay meant having that special significant other around. But I realized that, for me at least, that often does not equate with happiness. And, sometimes, it even equates with sadness. Now my goal is just to be happy … whether that happens to be alone or with someone else, I can’t really control in the end. But I can control my own happiness insofar as doing the things that this training has taught me I need to do to be the best, most peaceful and content version of myself possible.
On the dock today, C. looked around and said, “How amazing is it that I suddenly have this new group of incredible friends?” She’s so right. All of a sudden I have this unbelievable support group of like-minded people in my life. People who I’ve been through something monumental with. People who understand that it’s okay to be open and cheesy and sad and joyful and vulnerable. People who want to do the right thing and better themselves and the world around them. And, god damn it, that’s fucking incredible to think that I’ve gained all of that in just two months’ time.