I started practicing yoga when I was thirteen. At the time, I was studying and performing many different types of dance, and though movement brought me great joy, I had the steady sense that the measure of my presence in my body was the way that presence was performed – for the mirror, for the teacher, for the audience. In yoga class, the energy and attention that built up in me during class was – instead of a gift carefully wrapped – a blanket that I drew up and rested under. I am grateful to my parents and to this wild Earth, for the confidence that joy is readily accessible and that my body will show me how to find it.
Gradually, as many Westerners have, I made my way to Astanga yoga. I am grateful for the intensity and enforced silence that this practice provided, and to my body for putting up with it until I found more gentle ways to be present.
I found my “guru” (hi, Nishit!) and boss and friend through a chance encounter at the New York City branch of the Himalayan Institute of Yoga Science and Philosophy. Thanks to him I did my initial teacher training in 2002 at the HITA retreat center in rural Pennsylvania, which was founded by his guru, Sri Swami Rama. We did a lot of kriya and pranayama and puja and mantra, and I walked in their lush woods with a sense of personal connectedness to a mystical tradition. I am grateful to the teachers who carried these practices – to the present, to this place and to me.
I have a B.A. from Columbia University in New York City, where I studied Buddhism with Robert Thurman, Native American religion with Karl Kroeber, and non-violent movements with Dennis Dalton. I also had a lot of my photographs criticized by the great Tom Roma. I am grateful to these teachers for bringing together academics and self-study in an environment which rarely provides such a combination.
I fell in love, travelled, struggled, partied, bartended, married, kept finding ways to practice, kept learning how to teach. At times, I wondered if I would ever find true dedication to the spiritual path. Looking back now, I see how I was feeling for a middle way formed of my own experiences. Growing connection takes time. I am grateful, really, that I don’t take well to obedience, and grateful for the time I have had to develop this practice. Now, I can’t not do it; it is me.
I spent a year studying massage therapy and Qi Gong in Arizona, which pointed me back to my original practice while increasing the tools I have to support others as they relate to embodiment. After that, six months in India – a privilege of and challenge to the story I had told about myself and my yoga up until then. I am grateful for the freedom I experienced while traveling in a country whose very roads are built by women who do not have the freedom to leave their marriages or home towns, let alone their country. I am grateful for the real-time shock of perceiving the contingency of my own subjectivity. I am grateful for my traveling companion in life, who keeps me safe while continuing to make space for the deepening of both my trust and my doubt.
Coming home, I took a break from teaching, from asana, from what I had come to think of as Yoga. I was beginning to perceive the fetishization of Hindu culture which accompanies body commodification in mainstream American yoga; the spiritual shopping we do to make ourselves comfortable; and the way that keeping the educated upper class sensitive to the need for ‘self-care’ can be as effective for the perpetuation of oppression as turning the poor against each other. I didn’t know how to talk about these things, or who to talk to. We worked on a farm, got pregnant; felt for the ocean beneath the waves. Again, I am grateful to my body, for insisting on its desires.
Since moving to Portland, becoming a mother, and finding employment at The People’s Yoga in NE, I have been teaching and studying steadily for seven years, slowing braiding together my lived experience, my students’ interests and responses, and my teachers’ renderings of the human mind and body—much of this while changing diapers and washing dishes. I grew a garden, read books, built a community. I am grateful for the steady work of parenting two girls, a call for awakening more piercing and relentless than any I have otherwise encountered. I am grateful to my daughters for calling on my soul within the house, for giving me a reason to step out, and step up. I am equally grateful to my partner and co-parents, for sharing the burden and hearing the call. I am grateful to Michelle and my fellow instructors at TPY, who are practicing, holding space, leaning into doubt, and asking questions daily. Finally, I am grateful to live in Portland, where we have been able to feed ourselves well on one craftsman’s wages, the spare change from a side job teaching yoga, and the food we grow in our yard.
Lately, the flow of this stream has brought me out of the secluded mountains and into wider, choppier waters. My children are growing, and growing into a world whose deep inequities I am increasingly alert to. I am grateful to the angry and articulate voices of America’s colorful youth, to past leaders in the struggle for freedom, to the present queendom of intersectional feminist activists and educators, and to the journalists, poets, and musicians who creatively communicate their experiences of oppression in America. I am surrounded by teachers who I am just beginning to see. I am grateful, too, to the embodiment practice that holds me steady as I open my awareness to painful patterns playing out in my neighborhood, my school system, my home, and my heart.
In the yoga studio, I talk about how when some part of a student’s body hurts, it’s not because it’s “broken” and needs to be “fixed.” That part hurts because it is the part of the whole that is receiving the least support. In my own body, yoga helps me find the space and softness to stay with shame long enough to feel what’s underneath it. In the body of this country, shame hides history, encourages complacency, and blocks the development of courage, curiosity and vision in those who have social power in order to keep them from connecting with those who don’t. The private path of spiritual awakening, I find, is not separate from the social and historical eye-opening which we call being woke. It is the same path.
My teaching—and my own embodied awareness practice—emphasizes practical, physical skills for connecting with inner and outer support, noticing and integrating creative responses to discomfort, and reaching beyond cyclic self-talk to establish safe spaces of self-trust. I work hard to stay steady in my skin while making space for people where they are, as they are, to show up as they can. I am grateful to have access to my current teachers: Lama Rod Owens, Reverend angel Kyodo williams, Caverly Morgan, Todd Jackson, Amy Matthews, and Rebecca Harrison who speak revolution to me with their bodies, and to the so many teachers and colleagues who speak to me through their words, photographs, and gardens. I am grateful to the teachers and practitioners at Great Vow Zen Monastery, where I go to heal. I am grateful to this Earth, my mother. I am grateful to have weekly time with my regular students, who let me ask questions that matter, and help me tolerate the reality of being myself.
Without all of this grace, I do not know what I would make of my greatest gift – the struggle of daily life, in my own skin. Even with all this practice, I still make the simple, human mistake of believing, more often than not, that the obstacles I encounter are somehow keeping me from experiencing the life I want. But. Bit by bit I am getting better, faster, at perceiving my response to the obstacle as the essential determinant of the quality of my life, and my desires and disappointments as enticements to keep learning.