By Lucy Simpson, current YiA Yoga Teacher Trainee
I started practicing yoga for embarrassingly shallow reasons. My high school boyfriend intimated that I had gained some weight, and rather than telling him to go f@ck himself, I ordered Beth Shaw’s Yoga Butt and Yoga Abs DVDs online. I practiced maniacally until graduation, at which point I came to the conclusion that I was too hot for my then-boyfriend’s nonsense, and broke things off.
**Quick side note: Can I just say SHOUT OUT TO BETH SHAW for being a total badass! I’ve never known her personally, but I’m so glad my yoga initiation came at her steady hand. I’m STILL reaping the return on my investment in those DVDs!
Life’s really bizarre in that it took an instance of body shaming to lead me on the path to appreciating my body. What started as a remedy for high school insecurity has evolved into a practice that endlessly enriches my life both physically and spiritually. Never would I have dreamed while practicing those Beth Shaw DVDs in my parent’s basement that I’d one day be training as a yoga teacher in the mountains of Panamá...
I came into Yoga Teacher Training expecting to learn the asanas, yoga philosophies, physiology, class sequencing, and so forth. I was particularly interested to learn more about the anthropological history of yogic philosophy - with the hope of feeling a little less like I was appropriating ancient spiritual tradition for the sake of looking hot in a bikini.
I also looked forward to this immersion in consistent practice as a means of neurologically programing a daily habit of going to the mat. But more than anything, I was looking for a release of some self-defeating thought patterns I’ve been holding onto for far too long.
Learning a new skill is an intimate exercise - you have to be willing to embarrass yourself, and comfortable enough to fail. For this to be possible, you have to be in an environment that encourages you to get back up, and try again. I could not be more thankful that the latter is so true of the group with whom I’m training. Each person holding the earnest desire to become better - both as an individual, and as a group. Each person willing to bear up their humanness, and shine a light in the dark corners. I am continuously in awe of the group of women with whom I’m sharing this journey.
What struck me most about our group was the discovery that we’re all working through some serious life transitions – from ending long-term relationships to coping with chronic illness and recent upheaval. My personal baggage centered upon a sense of loss over my career as a classical singer, which was majorly derailed due to a health crisis. I needed to move past it, but how? I was still grieving.
When I shared this for the first time with the group, the response I received was not what I was counting on:
“Sounds like you need to surrender to it, mami.”
To which my internal dialogue rebuked with something along the lines of:
Surrender?! I’ve had no choice, and that’s the problem! I surrendered my dream, because I could barely survive. Surrendering is the very thing I’m so upset about!
Rather than venting my consternation aloud, I responded with, “you’re right,” because I knew my friend meant well, and sensed there was something to her message - but didn’t know exactly what at that time. So I proceeded to ruminate over this concept of surrender for several days, wrestling with the conundrum of it all. Having grown-up in in a society conditioned to associate surrender with being inherently weak, how could I reframe this concept? I had already surrendered (in my understanding of the word), because I’d abandoned my dreams. How could I possibly surrender any more?
As I pondered this, I started to witness just how vitriolic my internal dialogue had become. By shining a light on my perception of surrender, I’d tapped into a particularly nasty aspect of my own self-perception. I began to witness insidiously toxic thought-patterns, which often sounded like this:
It’s too late. You should move on and do something tangible with your life. How ridiculous for you to think you could actually make it in music! You don’t have what it takes, and it’s just too late for you. Maybe next lifetime.
Shining a light on these thought patterns (and putting them down into words) was painful - hence the reason why I’d ignored them for so long, allowing them to run amuck in my subconscious for too many years. My first response was embarrassment for being so self-pitying in a world where so many struggle just to survive.
Oh waaah! So you didn’t get to be an opera singer. FIRST WORLD PROBLEMS, ANYONE?! Count your blessings, and move on.
However, I ultimately came to the conclusion that minimizing, comparing and resisting this grief would NOT make it go away. My inability to move past this sense of career loss wasn’t benefitting anyone - least of all, me. But still I felt stuck, having identified my resistance, yet without any idea on how to move past it…
On the first day of teacher training, we shared the “unexpected moments of magic” in our lives that had helped us along on our journeys in miraculous ways. We talked about how these moments had the potential to come from anywhere – even from chance meetings with complete strangers. After more than two weeks of hard-core wrestling with the concept of surrender (and feeling more confused than ever), I received an unexpected moment of magic under the instruction of a fellow yogi-in-training...
It was her very first class, and the theme was – you guessed it- surrender. It was as if she’d tailor-made the whole thing for me. The class was wonderful, and during the closing meditation, my friend said something that shot through my veins like a thunderbolt:
“Surrender does not mean giving up. Surrender means letting go.”
I lay dumbfounded on my mat.
With that simple phrase, spoken at that particular moment, it was as if a veil had been lifted. How simple, yet profound. This was the key to reframing my understanding of surrender, and healing this dogged grief.
Surrender ≠ Giving up
Surrender = Letting Go
Surrender finally made sense to my brain, and I left that class feeling a lightness I’d not felt since before my health problems. I could recognize the possibility of life again. This truly was an unexpected moment of magic.
Moving forward in teacher training, I feel as if I’ve laid down the baggage I came to deal with, and can’t wait for what comes next!