We often worked in small groups to practice the techniques we were being taught – in the roles of both teacher and student. During one such session one of the participants took on a teacher’s role and was particularly critical of my inability to go deeply into certain poses, especially those requiring that ill fated flexibility. Initially I felt like a failure, knowing I could never meet the expectations being placed on me. But then I began to realize the failure was not my own, but of the expectations that did not allow for my individual variations – especially from someone training to be a teacher using the philosophies of this particular program! The memory of that experience returned often in the years that followed, and I hoped that that participant had come to understand that yoga is an individual practice that looks different for each student – and felt sorry for her students if she had not! It left me with a sense of greater compassion, not only for my future students but for people in general, and the different skills we each have possess. I realized how important this experience was in my learning process and felt grateful, once again, for an unexpected lesson
One evening, the group gathered for entertainment provided by some of the full time residents at the Ashram. A small group sang as one person played an instrument I had never seen or heard before – a harmonium – an instrument with a keyboard and a bellows that drove air across a series of reeds. The words and rhythms were unfamiliar, but felt lively yet soothing at the same time. At one point a kind of call and response began, known as Kirtan. The singers sang and the audience echoed. My habitual resistance to singing in public, outside of a rare ‘Happy Birthday’, caused me to hesitate to join in. But as the voices rose around me I began to softly follow the chant. The meditative rhythm and growing sense of belonging and joy raised my volume and closed my eyes. The song went on and on as the room filled with vibration that became a single voice. At one point I felt the front of my throat peeling open, like the petals of a blossoming flower. The eerie physical sensation was accompanied by a bright yellow light streaming in through the center, aimed straight at my heart. As the chant came to an end so did the sensation, but once again I knew something big had happened. I felt open and full of a calm energy, connected to everyone and everything around me. I did not want to talk, there were no words to express the shift inside me. Upon arriving back at my room I couldn’t resist looking in the mirror to see if any marks had been left on my neck from the experience, knowing the marks were there – just not visible on the surface.
The training drew to a close. The shared experience had touched many in ways both planned and unexpected. I missed my home, but also regretted leaving this place of peace behind. I hoped some of the things I had experienced would follow me, tethered to the piece of paper stating I was now a certified yoga teacher. I had learned much more than any printed words could express. On the way to my car, just outside the door to my room, I found an unusual dandelion. Three separate blossoms stood atop three stems fused together as one. I had never seen or heard of such a thing before. I took a picture and wondered what it meant, what reason was behind this curious melding. I would later come to believe it was a symbol or my own fusion of body, mind and newly grown spirit of hope and belief. If an ordinary weed could be transformed into wonder, then maybe the troubles waiting at home could also shift towards unexpected favor.