Nearly a year ago, almost to the day, I started my yoga teacher training. “Soul School” at Wild Lotus Yoga, in New Orleans.
Yes, it’s really called Soul School. I’m not making that up. Yes, you’re allowed to make fun of me.
I make fun of me, and laugh a lot about being “woo-woo,” and am self-conscious and self-aware, and simultaneously feel the pressure of being an evolved spiritual being. Twice a week (or more, if I’m lucky) a handful of trusting folks sit in a room with me while I tell them to contort their bodies into odd shapes, and try to inspire them to live their lives in ways that make them the most fulfilled.
The past year has been the best and hardest and most inspiring year of my life. But let me begin at the beginning:
I’m a smart cookie. As a kid, I realized that if I couldn’t be pretty I could be smart. As I got older, I hid behind “smart” — using it as protection from relationships, vulnerability, and other parts of life. The trick about “smart” is that spirituality and smart don’t really go well together. It’s tough to think about god, you can’t reason your way into faith. God isn’t logical. Faith doesn’t make sense.
I was a militant atheist in high school. My lack of faith was a point of pride. Nothing annoyed me more than the smug self-confidence of Believers.
In college, I found my depression. Two years of sitting on the couch watching reruns of Law & Order when I wasn’t in class or at work finally sent me to therapy. I had always been happy, cheerful, loved life. Depression is an illness that strips away your joy — but that’s another topic of another entry.
I lucked out and found an amazing therapist who trained at the Jung Institute. Over five years, I had the joy of being guided through reconnecting with all the aspects of myself — discovering that I didn’t have to be just “smart.”
About the same time, I started practicing yoga. First, it was just “exercise.” It was a good way to sweat, and I had a knack for it — I was naturally flexible, expressive, and introspective. I was not interested in all the woo-woo Atman nonsense.
And then The Thing happened. Everything I had believed about the way things work (governments, families, disasters, life…) was undermined in one fell swoop when the levees breached and my city flooded. Faith is mandatory in situations like that. Faith is what’s left when your beliefs are stripped away.
My practice continued. I began hearing my teachers talk about things like “non-violence” and “lovingkindness.” I learned sanskrit mantras and sang at kirtans. My practice continued. And after some length of time, I realized my practice was stalled. I was stuck. I knew I needed a boost, and I hoped that Soul School would do it.
Over eight months, I learned about my physical practice, I learned about my breathing, but I also learned about grace. I learned some pretty simple ways to engage with my own spiritual side. I learned about my faith.
I didn’t know what faith looked like, for me. I still don’t know what god is, to me. But now, I get to explore it, for myself, for the rest of my life.
Yoga means “to yoke.” It’s connection. Relationship.
Soul School taught me to yoke myself to faith, and to discover my spirituality. It asked me questions about what’s really important, what brought me joy, where my power was.
This is not an essay about how you should go take a yoga class, or why God is good. This is an essay about self-discovery. And learning about yourself is the hardest and most inspiring thing you get to do in your life. The best part? You get to do it for the rest of your life.