“I just want to practice yoga,” is what I said when I was asked what bucket-list adventure I would undertake on my 30th cancer-free anniversary.
It took some planning, research and smidge of determination. At some point, it all came together smoothly as if all I had to do was decide I would go, and then like magic, the path progressively cleared up for me. The finances showed up, I found the flexibility I needed from my day-job, and a perfect place for my pooch to stay in my absence.
After a few seconds of thought I knew Kripalu – Center for Yoga and Health, would be the perfect place for what I was looking for in a Yoga Teacher Training (YTT). I’d never practiced Kripalu style yoga before, but I’d read about it and watched a few videos. It’s an approach to asana practice that emphasizes meditation, breathwork, encourages introspection and spirituality. The focus on health, wellness, the spiritual connection, and the gentle approach were all traits I was looking for to deepen my own practice. My inner guide knew exactly what she was doing and kept nudging me and pointing me in the direction in which I should continue my journey.
Once at Kripalu, I met the other participants. We were all from various parts of the US, Canada, and the world. Even amongst my roommates there were at least four countries represented. The nervousness I’d felt to sleep in the same room with strangers quickly faded. They were all so willing to make sure we were all having a good experience. By the second night, I felt right at home. It was probably easier because we all had one thing in common – our love for yoga. The appreciation for our practice and mutual respect made it more comfortable for us to navigate our harder lessons. We supported one another through times of joy, moments of tears (and I mean lots of tears), and days deep learning.
During the many activities we completed, there were opportunities for introspection and reflection. I walked outside one day looking for solitude, silence, and some fresh air. The soft crisp and cold breeze contrasted with the warmth of the lobby I’d left behind the closing doors. Orange and pink rays of the evening sun reflected on the fluffy snow. I walked down the stairs, off the sidewalk, and onto the four inches of grass frosting. The ground looked as if it had been evened out with a giant spatula. As I slowly paced with no direction, snowflakes shifted leaving a soft trail of my footsteps. Thoughts came and went like dandelion puffs in the wind. It was me and the snow, the three small birds holding on to a branch, the scent of the far-away hickory bonfire, the reflection of the orange sun … and I inhaled.
My memory went back to that dark hospital room some thirty years ago. The four walls that witnessed the most trying phase of my life. The precise moment I heard “yes, it’s cancer.” I connected with the sensation of how much I wanted to be free from that reality, or unconsciously, liberated from my body. I exhaled … and gently let it go.
Lifting my leg back, I swung it forward and briskly kicked the snow. White flakes fluttered around my black boots. The sun-kissed horizon sparkled on the evergreens. On February of 1989 my wellness journey started after hitting the cancer brick-wall. And it is in February of 2019 when I am becoming a yoga teacher at Kripalu. Gratitude overwhelmed my entire body as tears poured down my cheeks.
“I can only pay you back with my life,” I whispered in the wind to the image of the many people who’ve held my hand.
During our yoga training we learned teaching techniques, breathed through postures, studied anatomy, meditated, amongst other activities. Every morning we started the days with a yoga class in which we had the chance to practice our postures and the sequence we were learning for our tests. Some days I’d even have a chance to take three classes. Whether the class was a gentle flow, a vinyasa or a dance, every pose felt like I was doing it for the very first time.
As I stood tall, my feet parallel and hip width apart, I felt as if my feet were rooted to the ground. My quads engaged, my pelvis slightly tucked creating a neutral spine. I lifted my ribs from my waist and my shoulders went front, up and down. I slowly inhaled the fresh air. My arms on the sides and the crown of my head lifting towards the sky. My exhale extended as I let everything go. Shining my fingers outward, and inhaling again, I lifted my arms up to the sky to form a ‘V,’ and repeated my silent mantra: “I am free. I am health. I am love.” The simplicity of mountain pose facing the lake was my vow to continue to nurture the curious student within me and inspire my inner teacher to share the lessons I’ve learned along my path.
Towards the end of the program when encouraged to share what we learned about ourselves, I realized that what had taken me to Kripalu had become somewhat irrelevant. It doesn’t really matter if it’s thirty years, five years, or one day. The only important moment is now, and a life lived to the fullest is all of those ‘now’ moments enjoyed to the greatest expression.
All I needed was my yoga mat to celebrate life. I felt like hearing the echoes of my thoughts, experience every sensation in my body through each asana, and listen to the sound of silence. And it was thanks to Kripalu, my teachers, and amazing peers, that I unexpectedly got so much more than I ever imagined possible.
I want to practice yoga – and if that is all I ever do, I am happy.
Written by M. Patricia Diaz
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