Unfolding on the Mat
Expanded Content and Thoughtful Guidance
Thank you for your interest in my first-ever blog post! I hope the thoughts I share here will serve you in your own life journey. Here is mine...
In the big “pink” room of Yoga Yoga, Westgate, in Austin, Texas, I have evolved from a young 200-hour teacher with a couple classes per week, to an “Experienced” 500 hour teacher, and now level 1 Yoga Therapist teaching six classes per week and serving many students one-to-one. Over my first years of teaching, I had two babies and created a class where I could both teach and be a mother at the same time, hence Postnatal Yoga. As my babies grew, we needed Crawlers and Toddlers, so that evolved.
For many years I worked diligently in my lineage of Anusara to achieve their highest certification (a grueling process of written exams and video assessments), only to see the lineage fall due to the abuse of power by its leader, John Friend. After a few years of feeling a bit lost and studying with various teachers and exploring my own philosophy, I again found my footing and began applying therapeutic concepts in my public classes. I imagine this, too, will continue to evolve as I step into a mentoring role and guide new teachers in their own journeys.
That’s my professional yoga journey. Those are the major moments of my teaching career.
That’s what was unfolding on my mat.
My life off the mat was a full reflection of the changes in my career, or vice versa. When I started teaching, my father had just died, my husband and I had just moved to Austin, and we were preparing to enter parenthood. I needed a strong lineage and teacher to hang my hat on in such changing times. I taught a lot on themes of fortitude and courage. With my local teacher, Christina Sell, I went deeper in my asana practice than ever before. I was strong, flexible, and growing in understanding the mechanics of the human body.
With motherhood came a new body and a new phase in life. From meditating on strength, I moved to acceptance and Grace. It was a time of creativity and problem-solving both in the studio and in the home. With the fall of Anusara came a crushing break of trust and a bit of a crisis of faith (especially in myself), not to mention anger. Long-held friendships seemed to vanish overnight. This really launched a campaign of self-inquiry and study to both figure out how I got there, and how to avoid having the same experience again.
We can’t really separate what’s going on emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually on and off the mat. They are a reflection of each other. When I sit and tune-in before practice each day, it’s like gauging where I am compared to the last time I sat and tuned in. It’s tuning into the current of my life. Is my mind racing more? Am I agitated? Do I feel calm? Am I connected to God, or do I feel a sense of separation? Does my body hurt?
I once had a student write me a funny and poignant email, explaining to me all the various parts of his life that he “brings to the mat.” He mentioned everything from the joys and challenges of work, marriage, children and grandchildren, to the difficulty of Crohn’s disease and struggles with the past. It all shows up. This is a beautiful thing. It demonstrates a continual study of and reflection upon one’s life. As BKS Iyengar puts it in Light on Yoga, “the [practicing yogi] reads his own book of life, at the same time that he writes and revises it.” By paying attention to what is unfolding in our life, to what is evolving in our practice, we have an opportunity to see the path that lays before us most clearly. We will make decisions not based on attachments or aversions, but on the truth that lies within the stillness.
Contrary to this, several years ago a student walked out of class on a September 11 anniversary when I invoked it’s memory in our intention. When later I asked what upset her, she said she didn’t want to bring her outside life into her practice. Her yoga is her escape. Though I completely understand this desire, and have certainly escaped through practice myself, what a missed opportunity that was! (Unless of course the memory was still so charged that her emotional response would have left her too vulnerable or felt inappropriate for a public class.) What if, instead, the breath was a vehicle of letting go of the grief? What if her Om was a vibration of healing? Couldn’t her asana be a way to wring out the trauma? How about her meditation as a prayer for the love and healing of the world?
Each time we sit on the mat and tune in, we are met with our life. We see it, we study it, and, eventually, become intuitive within it to know the next step in the journey. Daily suffering decreases as we write our story from a place of clarity, rather than reaction or fear, ignorance or delusion. When we close our eyes we see the whole picture unfolding together, on and off the mat.
Jessica lives, has a family, and teaches yoga in Austin, Texas.