I woke up are 4:57 AM today.
I tried to go back to sleep. I tried pretty hard actually. Husband was asleep. Bub was asleep. The house was quiet, the time was mine.
Much to my surprise, I got up and made it 10 steps to the living room where I collapsed in a heap with my yoga props.
During my yoga teacher training I learned there are two types of yoginis in the world, "Pushers" and "Sensualists."
Pushers are drawn to hot, sweaty vinyasa classes. They love a challenge, strive to find the next edge, and thrive on control and progress. Sensualists are more about, you guessed it, the sensations. They enjoy the surrender and relaxation of the asana practice.
We were asked by show of hands what category we belonged to. Most of the room raised their hand for the "pusher" mentality, including myself. I lived for vinyasa and teacher training was THE best because we doing up to five hours of active yoga a day! I was in my element.
"Pushers," the teacher said. "If you are a pusher, then you need more restorative yoga in your life. And sensualists, you should try to take more vinyasa classes. You usually need what you are not drawn too."
I couldn't think of anything worse. I needed restorative yoga? Says who? Why take a restorative yoga class when I could just have a nap instead? I longed for fast paced classes that made me feel like I accomplished something. I wanted a breath with each movement. I wanted to be so in the zone the I was unable to think about anything else. No stress, no distractions. The busy mind fell away during vinyasa because I'd work so hard, and got so damn tired, I couldn't think about anything except: stick this pose - don't fall over - breathe - breathe - breathe. I used to flow until I was near vomiting, checking for a quick exit in case I did chunder. True story.
I was quite literally pushing myself to exhaustion... and for what?
I was using asana as bandaid. Asana is so much more than that.
Yoga should be used as tool to open the mind and the body in order to facilitate transformation. It shouldn't just be a workout; I should have known better.
I decided to try Restorative yoga and give it a red hot go. My first experience was, simply put, horrible. I hated every single second of the class. From memory, we did four poses in the hour, and all I did was look at the clock, wondering how much longer we were going to be in said position. My body was screaming to move. The long static holds were agony and being left alone with the company of my own thoughts made my head want to implode.
I left angry, agitated and in a foul mood. I'd attended the class after a full 9 hours of teacher training and marched home in a tissy, regretting my decision and affirming out loud, "As if I'm ever going to do that again."
“A lot of people think that restorative yoga is like a bliss practice, where they’ll just be lying around and relaxing,” says Jillian Pransky, the national director of restorative yoga training for YogaWorks. “But the practice of being still and restful provokes anxiety for many people. And during times of extreme stress, such as illness, a difficult transition, or grief, releasing control of the body can overwhelm the nervous system.”
Turns out, I'm not alone. What a relief! I thought I was the one person who felt paralyzed during the class, crippled with anxiety.
A few years later, I was asked to teach restorative yoga at my favorite yoga studio in Melbourne. Inside, I silently rolled my eyes, but I said I'd think about it. I didn't need to think about it, I knew I was not a good candidate because it was a style of yoga that I wasn't passionate about. I felt like teaching it would be inauthentic, not to mention, boring.
I mulled it over some more, and eventually decided to give it a go. I felt that I needed to keep pushing my boundaries so that I could continue to grow as a teacher. I read up on it, practiced at home, wrote out fervent lesson plans and attended my second and third class at the studio where I would be teaching. I still struggled during the classes, but I had matured quite a bit, and I had many hours of teaching under my belt at this point. I was nowhere near hooked, but I was interested in the potential that restorative yoga could offer.
I taught my first class on a weekday, can't remember when it was exactly. People had come after work, before dinner, for some quiet time. I had the perfect music picked and a stellar lesson plan. I was determined to deliver the best class I could, one that I might have enjoyed taking.
I felt really fantastic after the class and I got a lot of kind feedback from the students. I felt as if I had just completed a class myself. I was super mellow, calm, and I felt like a million bucks watching people leave as if they were walking on air.
I was hooked.
I found a three day intensive Restorative Yoga Teacher Training in Melbourne through Ana Davis of Bliss Baby Yoga. I enrolled with my mate Rachael and we studied to our hearts content about the parasympathetic nervous system and the benefits of the practice. We had both discovered this practice later in life and were keen to learn more about the science behind the asana.
What is Restorative yoga?
I fell head over heals in love with teaching restorative yoga. I'm not sure if it's the dimly lit room, the melodic hum of the music (or no music, even better), or maybe it was the drastic shift in the student's body language from the beginning of class to the end of savasana.
Much to my surprise, I started to get a little following of regulars, and many of them started to confide in me about their struggles with anxiety and depression. It took me back to my initial class where I felt so tightly wound. I panicked thinking, "Oh crap. They already have anxiety. It is your job to FIX it." But it wasn't my job, it was their job. That was why they came, to help remedy their busy minds and hectic days. My mission was to allocate the stressors, slow it down, get them to unravel, breathe, surrender, breathe some more, just be in the one place... we are all in the together after all.
I always went out of my way to take 2 minutes at the beginning of class to explain what restorative yoga was, how it worked and that we would be holding the poses for some time. This was a blanket statement for new and old students alike. I wish the teacher of my first restorative yoga class had the same courtesy because I would have spent less time predicting a pose change and more time going inward and chilling out.
And don't think I've lost sight of the irony of this situation. Isn't funny how we changed and evolve as individuals? Since having a baby, by body has changed significantly, and my desire to practice has shifted as well. I'm no longer drawn to hot sweaty vinyasa classes like I once was. Nowadays I find a strong pull toward slowing down. Gentle, slow flow classes and restorative yoga are my JAM lately. I feel like I need yoga now more than ever, and I don't want to escape my thoughts. I love my thoughts. And yes, they get loud sometimes, but that's OK. That's life, and I love my life and the ability to bask in this ancient practice.
So as my yoga props caught me this morning at 5am, I was more than thankful . . . and smirked to myself at how naive I once was.
When I was in elementary and middle school my dad would occasionally forbid me to attend a sleepover at a friend's house and he wouldn't tell me why. I remember thinking this is PERSECUTION (!!!!) because, like most young girls, I LIVED for sleepovers, Disney movies and chatting into the wee hours of the morning in a homemade fort of pillows, sheets and old pilly blankets.
: Fast forward 1.5 decades :
Scene: One day my Dad and I were having lunch in California, a rarity since I'd left home in 2007. We were splitting a sandwich, sharing a salad and bag of Sea Salt potato chips at our favorite deli. I was a few years out of college and home visiting my family when the conversation turned to my nomadic lifestyle, country hopping and moving every nine months.
Me: "I'm fed up. I just want a normal life. I want a careerrrrrr dammit! (fist slams down on the table) I want to see my friends on the weekends, go to BBQ's and put some roots down. I'm losing touch with my people because I'm not here, and it's getting harder and harder to pack up and go."
Dad: (Quiet for a moment). "Do you remember when I wouldn't let you go to each and every (eye roll) sleepover when you were young?"
Me: "Ummm..... random, ya. But I never knew why when you did say no. I just thought you were being a jerk."
Dad: "I said no to loads of parents for no reason whatsoever. Well, there was one simple reason. Too many children get what they want when they want it and they don't learn to appreciate what they have or the adventures they are lucky enough to experience. Had I let you go to every party, sleepover, and God knows what else, you would not have coped well when things didn't go your way. And guess what? Life doesn't go the way you want it to a lot of the time. You say you want a 'normal' life, but how many people would chop of their pinky to experience a year in your shoes, galloping around the globe with your husband? The grass is greener where you water it, Erica. You won't always get your way, so make the best of it while you can. You have the choice to be happy or not."
Once I shook off my annoyance that he simply said "NO" to keep me from being a spoiled only child, I mulled over the words. Dad didn't want me to grow up thinking I was special, entitled, or deserved to get whatever I wanted on a silver platter. I was simply astounded at the success of his parenting style, even if it was difficult for him to execute when I was an irresistible eight year begging to go to _______ 's house, bake cookies and watch Beauty and the Beast. Because, the reality is, I wasn't a spoiled child and didn't ever feel entitled to anything. I grew up incredibly appreciative and was taught to enjoy life's simple pleasures.
With practice, I had a better attitude. I welcomed my hectic life more gracefully, and moving every nine months became a challenge rather than a chore. I complained less and counted my blessings more. They say "practice makes perfect," but in my case, practice just made me happier and feel more fulfilled. I took more risks and was more open to what the universe might have in store for me, and I was rewarded ten fold.
Moral of the story: I believe in the importance of making yourself do things you don't want to do, things that might even make you uncomfortable. I believe in the power of change, evolution and not always getting your way.
I've started to implement an open circle discussion in my Sunday night Restorative Yoga class. I give the floor to my students for a few minutes, and it's 100% their time to do or say whatever they want, free from judgements.
I've seen so many yogis have an aversion to these circle discussion. I can see it in their eyes: I'm here to do YOGA, not make eye contact with a room full of strangers. It's something that most people don't want to do, and it makes them uncomfortable and/or feel vulnerable. I can see the tension start to permeate through their expressions, their jaws tighten, eye downcast.... Please don't make me participate...
Please don't make me participate.
I've loved seeing my students express how they feel to a room full of strangers, sharing the good and the not so good. We've laughed and cried together on more than one occasion. No, it's not easy.... but guess what? Life isn't easy either. Baby steps, day by day. I can only hope that with each passing day my student's confidence will continue to grow.
Yoga isn't just about the asanas after all. Sometimes you need to open up, branch out and try something new to reveal who you are and what you need from your life.
Yo, I'm Erica
I'm Erica: a globe trotting Pinterest addict, sushi enthusiast, craft beer drinker, yogini, wife and mum.... not in that order.