I remember my first yoga class. I was starting college in a new town, a whole new country actually. (Having grown up in Costa Rica, my years at the University of Texas in Austin were the first years of living in the United States.) Up until then my experience with yoga was a private affair, or something to be playfully explored with my mother or a few close friends. There wasn’t much emphasis on alignment or precision, it was mostly about feeling good and being relaxed.
What the hell pushed me to sign up for an Ashtanga yoga class I will never know but there I was, right in the middle of the second row on my back with my feet in the air and a very tall, skinny and barefoot man wearing what appeared to be a pair of black men’s briefs, yelling over my head “Feet like you are wearing high heels!! NO! Not like that! HIGH HEELS!!! HIGH HEELS!! YOUR FEET IN HIGH HEELS!!!”
When you grow up in a small rural community without pavement, a land of sandy beaches, soft earthen paths through dense jungle, and rutted gravel roads without electricity, you find there is not much practical value in high heels. Of course I know what they are, but in that moment, upside down and anxious, I found myself wondering about this scantily-clad man’s past experience with high heels: he seemed so insistent and so angry about them.
Looking back, I can see how this experience has informed the way that I teach yoga even today. I prioritize emotional safety as equal in importance to physical alignment, and I prefer the whisper to the yell. I was reminded of this experience by the funniest story that one of the recent graduates of the Pavones Yoga Center 200-hour yoga teacher training told us during a “celebration of yoga” experience. I asked Jeff to send me his story, and I’m hoping he will record it in audio form because it’s even better when you hear him tell it.
THANK YOU JEFF. I hope you can know how deeply you are so loved and cherished by everyone at PYC.
Here is Jeff’s “first time” yoga story:
Before we start our Pranayama exercise I would like to share a few thoughts and memories that I have in relation to our theme of reflection, our growth, our path towards our Dharma and what has led us here today. I am very grateful to be here at PYC for this life changing experience and even before I could ever even have known, PYC and Indira’s teachings have been shaping my experience with Yoga. My very first yoga classes where here in Costa Rica years ago, at a studio that is owned and run by Avani, a PYC teacher. She lead me through my second yoga experience and many more after that. This is where I fell in love with the physical practice of yoga. Reflecting back I can see the teachings of PYC in Avani and understand why I loved it so much and I am so happy it has led me here today.
But I would like to share my very first ever yoga class, it was not with Avani but a gentleman filling in a class at her studio. His name was Nigel. My first impression of Nigel was that he was strange! A tall man with the long yogic beard, a turban on top his head and a penchant for not wearing much clothing. He was offering a class called Kundalini? The hotel had recommended this place and we did not know what this word meant so we gave the class a shot anyway! Right away we started CHANTING and SINGING very LOUDLY! There was meditation involved and sitting with your legs cross for over an hour! The lady beside us left half way through, leaving myself, my partner and Nigel alone to finish this strange practice. THEN he introduced us to something called pranayama – the breath of fire – I WAS VERY UNCOMFORTABLE. I was a mouth breather, I had never heard of this crazy stuff before. I remember wishing I had left with the lady when she did – BUT i didn’t. I stuck with it and remained open to the whole experience. I am glad I did.
Because of all these individual little experiences I find myself here today, years later, falling in love with a new aspect of yoga, the side of yoga that in a traditional sense you cannot simply “teach” to someone, but rather must allow them to experience like we are here, now. So to Indira, Caru, Jane, Rachel and Sonja. From the bottom of my heart I thank you for making this experience what it is, which is nothing short of magical. And if I had to choose a favorite moment for this training, there are too many and I do not think I could. So I choose this moment, right here, right now, with all of you.
Jeff is teaching classes at home in Canada, stay tuned, I’ll be posting information about his public class schedule as soon as I have the details!