One of the Many Ways That Pavones Yoga Center Altered My Life’s Path
It has been just over a year since I spent five weeks in Pavones and like many who were there I have taken time to reflect on my experiences.
There are the stories that I will tell others about sitting through an earthquake, being present when a tree fell in a less than desirable place, being stung by a scorpion, allowing (okay telling) a fellow student she was going to have to deal with the spider that was sitting on the door handle, JPs banana pancakes, staring down howler monkeys, many insightful late night chats, learning about all the insects that were good omens (okay they weren’t, but as my beautiful companion told me it seems to make everyone feel better) and being the only male in a house with 13 females.
Those are wonderful stories and wonderful memories, but they are not why I consider my time in Pavones a rite of passage. The experience was so life changing that I decided to celebrate it by tattooing one of Alex’s paintings with Chris’s often used phrase “effortless effort” on my right deltoid.
There were many reasons for this, some I may share at another time, but I want to share the one, which was the most powerful.
In one of the wonderful initial exercises that we did Indira asked us to exam what our intentions were for our time in Pavones. She gave us the time to reflect on why we were there and to write what we wanted out of our experience. After the group had completed this task we were told we could share our intentions with the others in the group, but it was not necessary.
Many of my companions, no make that all of my companions, had many beautiful and powerful reasons for being there, whether it was to be able to learn skills and information so that they could help others or to learn more about yoga to enhance their own practice all of their intentions were wonderful, because you could tell they came from true reflection and from their hearts.
I sat silent during this session (something that those who know me really doesn’t happen that often).
It wasn’t because I didn’t know why I was there, I was extremely clear on my intentions, in fact I needed no time at all to write them down. It wasn’t because I didn’t want to share, I wanted to share them desperately, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it because I was scared.
I went back to the house filled my plate and preceded to find a spot outside of my room where I knew no one would find me. It was one of the only times that I could not enjoy one of JP’s lunches (but it definitely wasn’t because of his cooking!).
I sat alone contemplating why I did not have the strength to share my intention, why I was ashamed, why I was scared, why I could not allow myself to hear the words come out of my mouth.
I think that we all knew that at some point during our time in the jungle without technology, having to truly examine ourselves and go through the physical demands of our daily yoga practice that we would break, whether it be extremely overt or privately.
The thing was I didn’t think I would be the first one to crack and on the second day to boot! But I had to face it, I was.
*On a side note I think it did provide others with comfort when they were experiencing something similar and I could say don’t worry it only took me a day to cry like a baby (it ain’t easy to admit that as the only male in a house with 13 females!).
I went to Indira’s door and she was so welcoming and willing to listen. After about a minute, probably less, of coherent speech it turned into an emotionally and tear filled conversation.
As you read this you are probably saying to yourself, “Come on man tell us your intention already!” if you’re not I would be!
So my intention was to help me deal with an illness that challenges me on a daily basis, it was to help accept and give me tools to overcome the difficulties of having bipolar II.
I had wanted to tell people and be open with this fact for months, make that years, but couldn’t do so because I was scared of the reaction, because even if you think that the stigma around this mental illness is not as bad as it has been, I wish I didn’t have to tell you, you are wrong, but you are.
I have seen friends fired (of course not overtly) because of it, I have seen relationships ruined by it, I have seen opportunities limited because of it and I have seen many cringe when they hear about it.
Those things are a conversation for another time right now I will get back to my story.
I have always wanted to become an advocate, to educate and to bring awareness to the general public, but I have, make that had always been too scared and I have to face it, ashamed.
That all changed in Pavones. Indira listened with an open heart and great empathy, something that I will always be grateful for. Then a couple of days later, when it was appropriate I told my fellow students, what I had been afraid to admit and I cannot thank them enough for how they reacted.
I had some tell me they respected my courage and I had many that wanted to know about the illness. I am not sure if they know how dramatically that has changed my life and my way of thinking.
I had the chance to draw graphs, to explain what the depression is like and what hypomania is like and got to explain how and why these cycles happen and share with them tools that I use to help me with those challenges.
Being able to talk about it openly for a five-week period was possibly the most wonderful experience I have ever had and although it took me another year after I arrived home to do the same, it is because of my sangha that I was able to do it.
I am now free to be an advocate, free to educate and free to no longer be afraid or ashamed of the illness I have. In short I have been liberated to truly be who I am without reservation.
It is not without risk or without consequence, but the only reason I will have the strength to deal with both is because of my time in Pavones.
I will soon be starting a yoga program for those who live with bipolar. I hope to impart the knowledge and practices I learned in Pavones. I hope to teach in way that honours Chris by sharing and teaching effortless effort and honours Indira by sharing a practice that is yummy (okay let’s be honest that word ain’t in my vernacular, but we all know what I mean).
So this is a very wordy way for me to say thank you to Indira, thank you to Chris, thank you to Katie, thank you to Brooke and thank you to my fellow yogis you have helped change my life in an extremely powerful way.
I will never forget what you have done for me.
Jeff Grace is a graduate of Pavones Yoga Center’s 200-hour yoga teacher training and our Heart of Practice Yoga Teacher’s Training and Retreat. Jeff coaches swimming and teaches yoga in British Colombia, Canada.