Trial and Error: Lessons of Growth and Self-Discovery the Year after YTT
By: Mindy Weeks Sneed
It was just over a year ago that I waved goodbye to my Kula sisters and brothers on the beautiful beaches of Punta Mona in Costa Rica, and I stepped back into my world as a newly certified Yoga Teacher. Immersion had been everything they said it would be. A life altering experience. It was a personal transformation of epic proportions, and outside of giving birth, the most magical experience of my life.
I was coming home to feel and live out my bliss, but just as postpartum depression stole my light then, post training depression would steal my light again. Instead of bliss, I fell into confusion. I felt scared. I was worried about disappointing those who had just spent three and a half weeks guiding me and teaching me to build myself up: my beautiful Kula tribe and the family I had found at Seven Springs Holistic Retreats. Even more so, I was worried I would disappoint myself. Worried that I could not do justice to the training I had just received. Despite all of these negative emotions that were moving through me, I had come home with a restored strength, and possessing a fairly new "fake it ‘til I make it" attitude, and so, I forged ahead.
I was blessed with the opportunity of having a studio job straight out of training. I knew I was coming home to teach. It was just waiting on me. I was going to be leading the same women, that for the previous year, I had both practiced alongside of and had taught on occasion.
It would take a month and a half for me to gain enough confidence and courage to step back into the studio and into the role of teacher. When I did, everything felt off. I felt wrong. The studio felt wrong. Life outside the studio felt wrong. Why was this? It wasn't like anything was wrong per se. More like the universe was slightly off kilter. The alignment of my life that I had thought would come together simply had not. Hmmm, what was the first thing Jessi told me...about anything, and everything? Ah, yes, release expectations. Looking back, it’s obvious to me now, that I had not done that.
Professionally, I did start succeeding. My classes were not full by any means, but people were showing up, and they were adding classes to their membership just to take the classes I offered. I felt strong, finally. Confident, even, in my new role. I was flourishing.
Until I wasn't.
By April, our town's little studio had closed it's doors. The month previous to this, I had already begun to fall back into old habits. Alcohol was again a mainstay in my life. Not daily, but still, several times a week I would drink, and having a high tolerance I drank a lot. I was attempting to push my personal misgivings about my future down deep into my center. I was pushing my fear deep into my center. I was pushing old traumas deep into my center. I was doing exactly what I had been encouraged not to do, and it worked.
Until it didn't.
In May, my eighteen year old daughter decided she did not want to see me. This wasn't because of the drinking, but it did add to the growing list of reasons I had to avoid my feelings. In other words, it gave me another excuse to drink. I had stopped practicing Yoga. My mind was cluttered. My body and soul were toxic again. With this came the personal disappointment and then the anger. Complications in personal relationships followed me into the month of June, and in that I found another excuse to drink. Before long, a few times a week had become everyday.
I had come out of immersion and re-immersed myself into a darkness that I thought was long ago behind me. I couldn't move forward with my plans. I mean, I was destined to work in the areas of trauma and addiction. I had known that since day one. But a former pill head and current alcoholic can't offer help to other addicts, I thought. As for those with trauma, ha! with my own that I had yet to face, who needs someone else’s? I didn't.
Until I did.
The funny thing about this time was that all the answers were being handed to me. Coming in from every direction and from trusted sources, and I can say with clarity that I was receiving the information that the Universe was delivering. I just didn't care. Not for those months. I took each piece of guidance and I filed it away. I'm thankful I did.
A few months later, on Autumn Equinox, one of the women from the studio called me up. She wanted to have an in home class for herself and a few other women. I was clear minded enough to recognize that receiving this call on Equinox was no coincidence. It was a call for action from the Universe. A call I intended to answer. Within the week I was back on my mat and teaching. Doing what I love, once again. Breaking old habits, once again. Processing, once again. Once that processing began, the bits and pieces of guiding information that the Universe had provided me all came flooding back to me, and slowly, painfully even, they began to pull me out of my darkness and back into the light.
So maybe you're like me, and came out of training feeling shaky on your feet, almost sea sick. What then? Well, you can do what I did. Sink for a few months. Fall back into old habits and depressions. Drink. I love you, though, and I want more for you than that. As I have come to realize, I have to discover things the hard way. I wish for an easier avenue for you, so here are a few of the lessons, pieces of advice and processes that have pulled me out of difficulty and back into the life I actively chose.
1. Release Expectations
Seriously. I know they say this a lot in training, but some of us never truly get it, do we? Only disappointment follows expectations. Especially expectations we place on ourselves, our loved ones, and our life in the months following training. You leave training knowing that everything about you has changed. Then you return home and realize that nothing other than you has changed. Having expectations about changes you are going to implement, the difference you are going to make, how others will respond, this is only going to bring you down, when, and if things don't go as you expect. If you're already barely swimming above water, don't set yourself up to be pulled beneath waves by the weight of expectation.
2. Release Perfection
Another one you already know, right? Release the idea of having perfect alignment, of being a perfect Yoga student, a perfect Yoga teacher. Forget the idea that you must have all your anatomy memorized, your Savasana guidance perfected, and all of your Sutras down. Release the idea of a perfect journey. Your journey is unlike anyone else's. It is your own. Someone else may not be struggling like you. They may not find it hard to get their footing. They may be flourishing. Make peace with the fact that you are not and release the idea that their journey is perfection, because it isn't.
The main difference in you and them, is that they understand this already. Instead of holding onto the idea of perfection, hone those awareness skills. Personal awareness, breath awareness, muscle awareness. These things will give you better alignment, make you a better student, and mold you into a better teacher. Awareness will bring your focus back to your journey instead of someone else's. All things follow awareness, and perfection, like expectations, will only lead to a more difficult transition. Perfection is never a destination. At most, it can become an experience on the journey, so teach yourself to seek something more beautiful than perfection. I no longer aim for perfection. I now aim for magical. I have found that I much prefer my new destination to the latter, and more often than not, when magic is discovered, it feels like perfection. It is the Universe giving me exactly what I wanted and needed all along.
3. Lay the story down and carry the lesson with you.
This is by far the most life changing advice I have received...ever, but especially since returning home. It was told to me by Yona Frenchhawk of the Cherokee Indian nation, and I believe it to be my saving grace during a very harsh season in my life. I have returned to this statement numerous times. It is limitless in its applications, but for the sake of this blog post, we'll apply it to my history of addiction and the alcohol consumption that I was partaking in at the time. I did not, and do not, have to continue to carry addiction on my back. I do not need to talk about it like it is an old friend, or even give it the energy that I once would have an enemy. That part I can lay down, but the lessons I learned from that time, that is what I carry into the world, into my community to share with others.
Those, too, are limitless in their application, but a story is just a story, and the ones that teach us the real lessons in life aren't usually pretty stories. What did all of this mean for me in the moment of realization? That just because I was acting like an alcoholic, that didn't make me one, and calling myself one was only putting myself in a box I didn't belong in. Boxes become quite claustrophobic. I asked myself, " where's the lesson, here?" Why was I drinking? Avoidance, plain and simple, but what was I avoiding? In that was the lesson. In my case, this turned out to be quite a complicated process. One I'm still moving through. So I say to you, examine the issue, seek out the lesson, then lay the story down..and leave it where it lies. You don't need it anymore.
4. If you fall off the mat ... get back on.
If you are like me, you may avoid your yoga mat altogether for a few months, because you know it is sitting there, just waiting to whisper unspoken truths in your ear. Truths that you feel like you can't process right now or aren't ready for. That's okay, however, it is important in tough times to give yourself reasons to be on your mat. Such as teaching free or by donation community classes. Nothing like other people's’ well being for getting you back on your mat. This gives your community something they need, which in itself is another form of Yoga, and it makes getting back on your mat a responsibility to more than just yourself.
As I am always reminding the women I work with, don't forget that Child's Pose and Savasana are Yoga. If you need to nurture yourself, take Child’s Pose for a few moments each day. Do this enough and one day soon you may find you want to move into cat/cows, take a forward fold, or maybe a warrior pose, or simply take Savasana for fifteen minutes to give yourself a little restoration and help keep you connected. Do what it takes to get back on your mat. To feel it's support beneath you. Like the meme says, "I'm here to catch you when you fall." - yoga mat.
Last, but not least, I want to tell you to know that you're going to be okay....There's a lot to be done, both personally and professionally, but it does not have to be done in an afternoon, or three weeks or even three years. It is better to practice awareness and wait. That's not saying to live cautiously...you leap if the Universe tells you to. You must be willing to recognize a call to action.
Practice awareness and be ready when you're called upon, and when you are called upon, do not delay. Raise yourself up. Maybe the opportunity was put on your path to break new areas wide open, and get you back on track. Even if this is not the case, there are lessons to be observed and truths to discover and implement. No matter what, you will be okay...regardless of how painful the personal processes, understand that it will make you more rounded...as a human being, as a student of Yoga, and as a teacher.
Be patient, give yourself time and space to adjust and realize that the adjustment will not happen on day one. Re-Immersion can be tough, but you can learn so much while in the process.
So here I am, a year after YTT. Life is now back on track, and although the processes haven't gotten any easier to breathe through, and the truths that the Universe offers up are not any easier to swallow, instead of falling backwards into old habits, I'm looking ahead to the possibilities. I'm facing those dark sides of my own being instead of avoiding what they are trying to teach me. The biggest difference in me now, versus a year ago, the difference that all this guidance from the Universe has made in me, is now the "why" of things doesn't matter.
It doesn't matter why I need to move through a process or why I don't want to. It doesn't matter why I should or should not do what the Universe tells me, or even why it is telling me. I have learned to release the over analytical side of myself that says the whys must be known before the work begins. Begin the work, and the why will become known.
I have learned to enjoy the process, no matter how painful, knowing that I will feel so much lighter when it has concluded. I have learned to celebrate the truths the Universe leads me to, no matter how bitter they taste, realizing that I have gained more knowledge than I have ever known, from simply being willing to listen. I have learned to bask in the wisdom and strength that comes from all this. To let it wash over and heal me, just as the warm waves of the Caribbean did.
Love, Light, and many blessings to you on your journey,