Putting the dirt back in grit

When I first moved to Ojai four years ago, I had a dream that I was back at the yoga studio where I used to teach in Portland. In it I was returning from not having taught for a month. To welcome me back, the other teachers had put a statue of a beautiful, dirt-colored woman in the lobby, and had adorned her with necklaces made of flowers and fruit. Total sacred earth momma.

Then my boss came out of the office and said to get the statue out of there, that our studio was more about a spa experience than whatever THAT is. She asked me to roll the statue back into the storage room.  

Saddened, I started to take the statue down the hall. When I got to the door to the storage room I stopped and looked at her.  I could feel how real she was, the power of her presence. I said out loud, “I can’t put you in that closet, nor can I keep you out in the entryway, but I WILL take you in to the studio with me in spirit. You are welcome in the studio whenever I teach.”

And then I (literally) skipped down the hallway and into the studio, which was packed with students, new and old. Without any shyness or awkwardness, I started teaching a class that felt fun and energizing and connected and sacred.

When I woke up from this dream I remember feeling so jazzed to teach! You see, I had been feeling really uninspired at this point in my teaching, and my classes felt dull to me. I had recently been through a major inner shift that had inspired an outer shift (moving to Ojai from Portland), but I was still teaching the same old way I had been. There was no juice in it.

I share this story for two reasons. First, because it happens that as we evolve as people and as our lives change in inner and outer ways, so, too, does our yoga. But only if we let it. And if we don’t, whether we’re a student or a teacher, our practice will start to feel boring and we might think it’s time to take up something new. Though this may be the case, more often than not I’ve found that it’s simply time to make a shift that brings your practice into alignment with who you are now.

And second, I share this story because I don’t think I’m alone in often feeling the same way on my yoga mat as I do in nature. Calm. Grounded. Connected. My natural self. And this time right after I moved to Ojai was a time when I started honoring this in my teaching. I had guided vision quests and nature-based ceremony for 10 years and had been deeply, passionately connected to the land. But this part of me had gotten lost—or put in the storage closet—the last few years that I lived in Portland and started focusing solely on teaching yoga.

This was a time in my teaching that I brought together the part of me who is a yoga teacher with the part of me who had been a guide and a ceremonialist. It’s when I acknowledged just how similar yoga and nature-based ceremony are; they are both about honoring the seasons of our lives, the constant transitions we go through, and marking the shifts and the little deaths that happen in our lives and within the ritual of a class.

Just to flesh it out a bit more, check this out—the bare bones of any ceremony are:

SeveranceSevering from an old way of being. This is what we do when we get on our mat and begin with a centering or a chant—it marks that we are moving out of  “ordinary” time into sacred space.

ThresholdSacred space in which you symbolically take on that which you are calling into your life. It’s literally the “threshing hold” when we get challenged, have revelations, find new ways of being, discover ourselves. Sound like yoga to anyone else?

Incorporation— Literally “taking into the body” that which you learned during the threshold. This is when we leave our mats and embody our practice. We take the medicine we create in the studio out into the world.

So in a way, we’re all ceremonialists, whether we’re teaching yoga or practicing at home.

And that’s the thing—I think when we reframe the structure of a practice to be a mini-ceremony, it changes the effect it has in our individual life, and our collective life. Because that’s part of what makes ceremony powerful—it’s about community. And how we acknowledge how the world changes, how the people around us change, and how we change.

I encourage you:

See what changes when you reframe your yoga practice as a ritual or a ceremony.

Allow your practice (whether as a student or a teacher) to evolve and to continually change to reflect what’s true for you in this season of your life.

Look for the other roles you have (or had) in your life and how they might inform and compliment your yoga.