It’s been 108 days since I last taught a public yoga class. Prior to that day, I was in 5 or 6 different places every day of the week except Friday teaching my heart out. I spent my hours planning connection with other humans and then fulfilling that connection through my teaching career. I love working with people and it is one of the many reasons I so love teaching yoga. If you have attended a live class with me, you know that I pride myself on providing individualized attention in a group setting and hands-on-corrections where they are wanted to support the practice. I enjoy chatting with students about what is going on in their lives and how their yoga practices can help with whatever they are passing through. For many years I have taught in corporate environments and privately to clients from all walks of life. To help build a stronger business, I developed an international wellness retreat company from scratch. I’ve spent many a week over the past 8 years taking groups all over the world to learn about new cultures, eat great food and do yoga together. I had never imagined the sudden and jarring end to all of that – in a 24 hour period nonetheless.
When our shutdown due to the pandemic spread of Covid-19 happened in Chicago on March 16, I didn’t stop and think – I just designed a new way to connect. There was no time to stop and think. It was pivot the entire business or fail. I had a lot of money invested in a huge retreat outside the United States – failure on that end would have meant bankruptcy. I drew the majority of my income from a location that had just closed its doors indefinitely – I needed to find a new way to teach classes and make a viable income. I received most of the rest of my income from teaching private yoga sessions in private homes – I could no longer be in people’s homes safely and needed a new way to work with clients from my own home. I knew I had to do something and fast before this crisis paralyzed my business and my life in ways I could not anticipate or plan for. I jumped off the proverbial ledge of comfort of teaching in person and switched everything online within a week. New scheduling system. Website integrations. Zoom tutorials. YouTube tutorials. New equipment purchases from a savings account of funds for just such an emergency. Updating email addresses. The works. I haven’t taken a day off since before the shutdown (I am not proud of this – it has been a necessary sacrifice to build a business from scratch). I have taught every single day since then just to make ends meet and figure out all this new business as best I can.
I was terrified at the time of the shutdown and switching to digital content connection. What if it didn’t work? What if people didn’t like it? What if no one came to class or booked a private? Those first few classes I taught through the screen were nerve-wracking. The first time I shared a recorded class, I was petrified about all the things that could go wrong. I realized I was re-creating a new way of connecting with people and it felt weird! Change always feels weird. Remember how I often speak to this when we change the interlace of our fingers during our yoga practice? Well I was neck deep into some radical changes.
Some of you started emailing me with check-ins a couple weeks in to these big changes. You felt closer to me through the screen than in class. You told me I looked more at ease (TRUTH: I’ve never been so well-rested and well-fed as in the past 3+ months). The stress you felt to perform in a group class disappeared in your home and you found your yoga. You stopped worrying about doing the hardest variations and “being the best in class,” and just did the easy ones – and now your aches and pains are gone. My teaching took on depth and meaning you had not heard from me before because I could teach however I wanted now – these were truly my own classes. You learned from watching me demonstrate poses during the online classes in ways I had not spent as much time in the poses during live teaching, and these demonstrations helped you feel the poses in your own body differently. Some of you hated my classes and let me know. You told me I was a greedy sell-out for charging for my yoga classes or that I was boring. Connection took on whole new meanings.
When I taught live, I was subjected to a daily (often multiple times daily) barrage of criticism. Do it this way. Don’t teach it that way. You’re too skinny. You’re getting heavier – better watch out. Your hair is going grey – no one will want to take your class anymore. It’s not a real yoga class without headstand, shoulderstand and wheel – you obviously have never taken a teacher training. Your clothing is weird. If you want to be more popular and attract more students do XYZ. That was too long of a savasana. That was too short of a savasana….Seriously – it was starting to feel like an endless tunnel that I was lost in. I have a good filter and a strong sense of self, but even for me – after 18 years of teaching – this type of daily interaction with people was taking it’s toll. I was bullied by colleagues and told off by students. I was attacked several times and stalked online. When I reported things I was told I was the problem. And then it all disappeared and I was so scared…and so free.
The shutdown freed me to connect with you all in whatever ways I wanted to. I designed the classes and the schedule that I offered. I ready poetry to you and taught poses I learned in physical therapy. We did long pranayama exercises and awesome meditations. Sometimes we did entire classes resting on our back and it was glorious. I remembered how to be me while I’m teaching, and boy does that feel like the best connection of all. I also remembered how to read books that were not related to yoga. How to cook and eat meals with my husband every day. I remembered how to take long walks with my dog and get lost in the trees or notice the flowers growing differently each day of Spring. In the midst of the craziness at keeping my fledgling business afloat, I would suddenly be struck by a poem and have to write it down or outline a short story. In short I reconnected with you in new ways and with myself in ways I had long forgotten.
I’m still teaching virtually and will be from now on. I want to reach people beyond my city and grow connections with those who find a home in the way I teach movement and breath. I will be returning to live classes on a limited basis during the pandemic and probably beyond. I’m teaching a few clients in person and the majority online for the time being. When I teach in public I am in full mask mode – and in some places I wear even more personal protective equipment to keep myself and my clients safe. I realized during this last 108 day period how much of myself got left behind running around 14 hours a day 6 days a week. That isn’t really me. I’m not sure who that woman was. The running around and fitting into everyone else’s life was a necessity to make my living, but I lost my life. I remember now that I have something so unique to offer and that this essence can come through the digital realm, and also that there is so much more to me than being a yoga teacher. Thank you for connecting with me in new ways during such a difficult time – your support has been incredible. To those of you who have taken a ton of online classes, booked private sessions, reached out to make sure I’m ok, donated money to help me give free yoga to those who are unemployed and so much more – THANK YOU. And thank you for recognizing the many ways that I feel freer teaching you now than ever, and the ways I am rebuilding my life through this crisis.
I spend some time each and every day in practicing gratitude – small moments at the end of a class when everyone is quiet in savasana, in the car when I’m stuck in traffic, when my legs carry me up 5 flights of stairs back home, when my shower has hot water straight out of a pipe from my wall, when my belly is full and my home is a safe place to rest my head and heart. There is so much to be thankful for in my everyday life, and I feel so much more grounded, present and energized when I take the time to say simple thanks.
During this holiday time when we celebrate gratitude – Thanksgiving – I’m surrounded by family and friends. I got to see students all week before the holiday and saw them again after for some fun classes. All I can think about are the simple but powerful words of my mentor teacher, Sandra Robinson, when she set the intent for our Forrest Yoga Mentorship Weekend back in October: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” (This is an African proverb from all the sources I could dig up.)
I’m not interested in going fast – what’s the hurry? I do want to go far: far into our bright spaces and dark ones, deep into our Spirits and the choir of voices waiting to be heard inside, long into the pathways of our lives and how they intersect. To do any of that amazing growing work we have to go together. I need others to remind me of my brightness and to help guide me through my dark patches. I want to be an ear to hear your many voices and a set of feet to walk with you when we meet.
So on this day of giving thanks I’m thanking all of you that make up this “we” and “us” I’ve come to know as my community of students, colleagues, friends, tribe and family. May we celebrate all the things that bind us closer together rather than the superficial things that set us apart. May we be willing to work together to go far in this life towards peacefulness, wisdom, clarity and healing for ourselves, our communities, our societies and our planet. May we have open hearts, minds and arms to those around us we have not yet met or understood. I’m by your side and I’m so thankful you are by mine. May we all Walk in Beauty together! Happy Thanksgiving!
I’ve always been something of a loner. I’ve never spent a long period of time with the same circle of friends. I was never popular or very social. I spent much of high school and college extraordinarily reserved. No one ever asked me to a dance or out on a date until much later in life. As a figure skater I spent a lot of my childhood with myself on the ice practicing alongside coaches or with headphones covering my ears practicing my moves on my rollerblades when I couldn’t get to the rink. I ran for my high school’s track and cross country teams – also very solo experiences. I was more comfortable with my nose in a book than I was socializing. These patterns followed me into my first jobs out of college and eventually into my teaching career in yoga. It’s not that I avoided social activities or didn’t have friends…I just found it more than challenging to sustain relationships with others because of my own fears, habits and choices. This has always been an interesting predicament for me because I am in fact quite extroverted.
Flash forward to a comment I remember as clear as if it were yesterday – maybe because I have recently returned to the place, to the very room where it occurred, or maybe because I have been thinking of it since the day it was muttered. Years ago I came to Kripalu, where I was recently teaching, to take a course with my teacher, Ana Forrest. We were doing a group sequencing exercise and I was holding back. I didn’t want to offend anyone. I didn’t want to be wrong. I didn’t want to make waves. And as Ana watched us deliberating as a group, she noted that I was quiet despite having taken more of her trainings than anyone else in the group. As the day ended and we went our own ways she rest her hand on my arm and said very quietly but very strongly, “Allison, the time of the lone wolf is over.” And then she walked off. (Some day I’ll tell you more about the wolf analogy and why she chose that metaphor for me.)
This was her way of telling me that holding out, that isolating myself out of fear, that not risking sharing what I knew was a habit that needed to end. She was encouraging me to share my gifts and work with the community around me without fear. I took this comment to heart and for the next several years I threw myself into a project and job that required close collaboration with colleagues – hoping to make friends, to build community, to break out of my shell and trust others as I never had before to co-create something magical. I put all my wisdom and efforts out in the open. I revealed myself professionally as I never had before. I tried really hard to be a great teacher, a great colleague, to work well with others and learn from them. It went horribly. I will spare you the messy details – no one needs to hear them here – but needless to say that I went back to being a lone wolf licking its wounds rather quickly after the experiences I went through trying to reach out of my shell.
I armored myself back up. I locked up my heart. I internalized the messages that I was unlovable, untalented, stupid, a fake, a failure, manipulative, a thief, unkind, screwed up and unworthy of anything good in life. In fact these were just some of the words hurled at me by those I tried to co-create with. And I believed every word hook, line and sinker. This was another of my patterns: to believe what others thought of me over my own knowledge of my Self. I went back to being just me – I stopped trusting other people or even reaching out to them. I “did my own thing.” That’s all I could do – I was so destroyed inside. Colleagues would ask me to share a tea date or take a class together, and I found every reason in the book to avoid them.
For years I prayed and asked for a personal understanding of what had gone wrong – of what had happened, of what went awry and what I was supposed to learn from it. I did some work with healers, shamans, business mentors and medicine people. Magical things happened. I learned a lot about myself – and about others. I came to some very deep understandings about my personal responsibility in situations, but perhaps more importantly that others had a responsibility for their actions too. Somewhere in my heart there was a longing to be in the world with others – not just to teach others or be taught, but to have a community with my peers and colleagues built upon relationships of trust. I couldn’t yet ask for a friendship, but I realize now that I was looking for that too.
Fast forward to now – back to Kripalu. I was there with a team of colleagues co-teaching and co-creating the most beautiful week of Forrest Yoga ceremonies, practices and specialty classes in all the things that we are passionate about. We shared meals and conversations, practices and delightful hands on assists. We shared our wisdom and we shared our fears. And some place deep inside me smiles because it feels like the time of the lone wolf actually is over. These members of my tribe don’t care if I’m good enough, smart enough, worthy enough…they already know that I am and so much more. Like a yoga teacher spotting a new student in a handstand, I feel it in my very bones that these individuals would spot me through any misstep even if I offended them, coach me through my fears, laugh with me when I screw up, comfort me when I’m sad and offer up an understanding of heart I never realized I was longing for. They know that I am more than enough just as I am – perfectly imperfect – and they want to remind me of this fact with every interaction. And they reflect back to me that I do the same for them – that I can spot them through their rough spots and remind them how worthy they are just as well as they do for me. This is the type of community connection I’ve been longing for – and I think a lot of other people are looking for it too. Having met many people as a teacher and as a human, I can feel a collective craving for an understanding and supportive community that is often lacking in our day to day lives.
Surround yourself with people like these gems – those who see your value, who will hold you up no matter what, those who would tell you when you are wrong but stay by your side anyway to figure out a pathway forward. Be with those who know the messy truth of all there is to you and share in it. Let go of the people in your life or your past who make you feel like you have no value, like you are not enough. Release the influences that tie up your heart in knots, cast doubt on your Self, and refuse to work with you when things go down the troubled path. They are not worthy of your effort. Risk revealing yourself – the rewards far outweigh the possible pain or sorrow. We gain nothing from holding back except a sense of loneliness. There is so much to gain from reaching out to those around us and sharing of our experience with those we come across. Now more than ever these connections to see, hear, feel and touch one another are so important. The time of the lone wolf really is over, and if we are to survive as a human race we must learn how to strengthen the ties that bind us to each other lovingly over all the potential things that pull us apart from one another.
And just so you know: wolves are some of the most social and behaviorally sophisticated animals on the planet – without their pack they wouldn’t make it very long. We humans are much the same: we need each other to survive the joys and trials of everyday life. I hope that as a teacher, friend, woman, sister, aunt, and human, I can start to help you find your pack to support your thriving life and Spirit so you don’t feel as alone too. I hope to be a beacon for those who have felt a bereftness of community in their life – that they may come to know others who can spot them through their perfectly imperfect moments. If this calls to your heart, I hope to connect with you soon to keep this work going! I see more collaboration with my colleagues in the future – and instead of being afraid of it, I’m excited for it.