What I Really Learned

It’s official.

I am now Georgie Abel, RYT 200.

I have learned so much.

It’s funny though, how yoga is, because when you’re learning about asana and pranayama and anatomy and how to meditate and where to sequence inversions during a class and how to help someone get deeper into their triangle pose…you really aren’t learning about any of this at all. Yes, I have come away with fairly extensive knowledge of the body and how to teach a yoga class, but what I really learned was much more important than that.

I learned about myself, the people around me. I learned about this life.

I took the evening hot flow class last week, a class I hadn’t taken since the beginning of this training. I kept on remembering how it felt to take that class 7 or 8 months ago, as compared to now.

I am different.

On the most physical of levels, I am stronger. Asana is still challenging for me but there is a sense of ease that comes along with even the most taxing of poses. There are, of course, hundreds of poses I still cannot do. And that’s alright. I am more flexible. I know what muscles to engage, where to relax. I can stay calm in navasana.

I know far more, infinitely more about asana now than I did 8 months ago. But what I really learned was how to let go of the physical body. The body is just like a box with holes cut out so what’s inside can see into the world. Bodies don’t do anything except give the mind, the thing that really matters, information. In a culture where we are obsessed with physical stuff, this was a hard lesson to learn.

Asana taught me that the physical body is just how we express our existence, our means of transportation.

I learned how to breathe. Pranayama. I love that word and I love practicing it. I know how each of the different pranayama practices affect the physical and mental body. I know which one to do when I feel stressed, or when I feel tired, or when my allergies are acting up. I practice nadi sodhana (http://www.holistic-online.com/yoga/hol_yoga_breathing-ex-nadisodh.htmwhen I’m driving. Maybe not best to operate heavy machinery while under the influence of pranayama, but I’ve been just fine so far.

But what I really learned was that there is something beyond the science of breathing that is sacred. I realized that there is something behind the breath, behind prana, that is giving it power and life. Breath gives everything life, but what gives life to the breath?

Breathing bridges the gap between my small life and the other, sometimes hard to reach, Big Life.

Anatomy and physiology is something that has always been near and dear to my heart. I love the concreteness of being able to call a bone by its name, of being able to give my students information about the muscle that is being strengthened or lengthened in a certain pose. I like being able to label the parts of a body–how refreshing in the sometimes otherwise “woowoo” world of yoga.

But what I really learned was actually, pretty damn woowoo. In this moment, all of the stuff going on in my body and yours is for the most part, involuntary. And much like what I learned about breathing, science can only explain this to an extent. The science of anatomy and physiology does in fact take it very far, but there is a missing piece–at the end of this chain of explanation. What is behind the skin, the muscles, the connective tissue, the organs, the bones, the chemicals, the hormones, the blood, the cells, the nuclei of the cells, the atoms. It can’t just stop there. What’s behind what we’re made up of?

There is divinity in the most physical parts of what we’re made of.

When we learned about meditation, and as I’ve been practicing it more and more, I have come to realize that for the past twenty-two years I’ve been talking a lot of shit to myself. My internal dialogue is that of a bitchy girl in high school. Why can’t you just sit here Georgie? There is something wrong with you. No, you don’t need to scratch that itch on your arm, and if you do, you have failed miserably and you shouldn’t even call yourself a yoga teacher. You’re a fraud. How can you call yourself a yogini, let alone a teacher of yoga, if you still sometimes get in bad moods and make people around you feel shitty and you’ve only read the Yoga Sutras once and sometimes you get drunk? You still use the word mother fucker. You. Fucking. Suck. Get off of this mat right now, you little biotch. 

And that was on a good day.

What I really learned was that I’ve been a complete bitch to myself.

Every weekend that we met for training we would do a “check-in circle” where we all went around and said how our months have been going, how our yoga is going, how our lives are going. I think that this is what I learned the most from. Everyone, every month, had something going on. For some reason this surprised me. That something might be good, might be bad, and sometimes it was really bad. Life goes up, down, stays up or stays down, but it always changes.

What I really learned is that at some point or another, everyone is going through shit. Sometimes it’s really bad shit. Be compassionate. We all need it.

I learned that sometimes I think I’m the shit, sometimes I think I’m not worth shit. Sometimes I make other people feel like the shit, but other times I make them feel like shit too. I’ve become aware of when I’m doing these things.

I learned that it’s hard for me to let go of being the leader in situation.

I learned how to forgive, and that forgiving never gets easier.

I learned to sit with feelings of despair and suffering. Not to push them away or try to act like I’m happy, but to really sit with them, to marinate in them. This makes me feel human, this makes me feel alive and connected to the Big Stuff. As shitty as it may feel, suffering is a great spiritual tool.

I learned that I am a huge brat to the people who I love sometimes. Why is it that it’s easier to treat strangers better than our loved ones?

I learned that yoga is for the brave. There’s no running from yourself when it’s just you and your mat. I admire everyone who practices because of that.

I learned that anything in life can be used as a tool for transformation. It doesn’t have to be something as convenient as a yoga teacher training. Every day, every moment can be used as a journey or quest for whatever you may need. Use cooking dinner, taking a hike, talking with your mom on the phone, and drinking a cup of tea as mini-journeys for self-discovery. If that’s what you need.

At the end of the day, I am just really grateful now. For all of it. But especially to the other girls who did this training with me. Talk about support, encouragement, inspiration–each one of them gave me a little something different, but equally important. Every one of those girls will always hold a very special place in my heart.

And of course, to all of my teachers along the way–especially Steve Black and Kelley Boyd. I cannot thank you enough.

Thank you to all of the readers of this blog. It means so much to me that you are interested in what I think and have supported me in your own way. Thank you so so much.

I learned more than I could ever write down in words. And even with all that I do know now, I also realize that there is infinitely more for me to learn and experience.

What I really learned is that I don’t know nothing but I don’t know everything.

This makes me happy.

My kind of enlightenment

I graduate from yoga teacher training this weekend.

Eight months. Two hundred hours.

Yeah, how did that happen?

I feel like I just moved to Savannah. Yet, somehow in my time here I have completed a yoga teacher training course, found employment at two different places and counting (doing my dream job), fallen in love with the city of Savannah, met tons of new people and friends, and I’m the proud mother of two (cute as hell) six week old kittens.

Hell. Yeah.

It’s a very bittersweet feeling to be done with training. On one hand, I am really going to miss learning, being with my friends, laughing, yoga-ing, and spending the weekends with some of the best girls I know. But on the other hand, I’m ready to practice yoga on my own terms, the way I love to practice it, read the books about yoga that I want to read, whenever I feel like reading them, and it will also be nice to, ya know, have a little bit of free time.

My ego will love being out of teacher training. Talk about an ego buster.

I have heard the word enlightenment more times in the past eight months than ever before. Sometimes it will be serious: enlightenment can only occur if you practice yoga every day, and sometimes it will be a joke: Oh so now you’re all enlightened and shit because you practice yoga every day? Sometimes I hear it in a yoga class, or I’ll read it in a book, or a friend will say it during a conversation. Nonetheless, I hear the word a lot.

This is definitely one part of teacher training that I won’t miss.

Many people believe that enlightenment is yoga’s ultimate goal. I’ve had someone ask me, half joking, if enlightenment comes with our teacher training certificate. To be honest, this is something that I’ve never really given a shit about. I don’t know if I ever will.

The whole idea of working really hard to be a good person your entire life in hopes of one day being enlightened, or beamed up to heaven, or whatever, seems like a really shitty way to live. If it works for you, that’s cool, but it definitely doesn’t work for me.

I don’t want my actions to stem from the hope for something in the future. Especially something so far in the future that I might not even get there in this lifetime. How is that fun at all?

Teacher training has taught me that I disagree with this concept very much. What I have learned is that “enlightenment” (if you even want to call it that) is something available to us, as humans, right here in our living rooms, while making lunch or reading a book or walking the dog. No yoga required. No religion required. No devoting your life to God required.

Enlightenment can happen in this earthly plane. I really believe it can.

And I don’t think it happens and then you stay enlightened forever. I think that it comes and goes, and it can happen at any time.

For me, it was important that I stop thinking of enlightenment as something grandiose. When it happens there isn’t any magic pixie dust sprinkled all around you, or a parade in your honor, or a billboard with your name in lights, or confetti, or a firework display. It’s more quiet than that. Maybe it’s happened to you and you don’t even know it.

I think that enlightenment is that feeling that you get when you’re with your best friends and you all laugh at something really stupid, and you can’t stop because you keep looking up and seeing everyone else laughing, and then you forget why you were laughing in the first place, and then you remember but the thing that made you laugh is so stupid that it makes you laugh even more, and then someone snorts or shoots milk out of their nose and it gets funnier, and funnier, then your cheeks start to hurt, a few of your friends are rolling on the floor laughing, and you just can’t stop…this goes on and on for fifteen minutes. Your abs haven’t gotten this kind of work out in years.

You all know that feeling. You know it well. But start to think about how you feel in the few moments after the giggle fest. All of the sudden, everyone gets quiet again. You all open your eyes, let out a few sighs, look around at each other, at this world, and see it differently. All the bad shit has fallen away.

That, my friends, is my kind of enlightenment.

It’s always accessible: via laughing, kissing, eating mangoes, singing in the shower, smiling at a stranger, or doing the electric slide.

And if all else fails, adopt really cute kittens.

I don’t remember who said it, but some wise man/woman once said something like, the easiest way to be a spiritual person is to lift your spirits.

Yes. Yes exactly. In my opinion, the moments when you are closest to the big man (woman) upstairs, the moments when you are enlightened, or saved, or whatever you wanna call it, are the moments when your spirits are high.

The Notorious G.O.D. wants you to be happy. And he/she/it absolutely loves when you’re having fun and doing your thang. Whatever that may be.

Maybe it will hit you out of the blue. Maybe it’s the time when you have just parked your car and right as you step out it starts to down pour, but in this particular moment you just laugh about it and show up a little wet to wherever you were going. You were having a bad hair day anyways.

Maybe it’s the day when you eat ice cream for dinner, or find five dollars in some old jeans, or get a hand written letter in the mail, or swim in the ocean for an entire afternoon, or sleep under the stars, or forgive someone. This is all enlightenment. It all counts.

I don’t know what happens after this life so I want to be “enlightened” (aka: loving it all!) for as many moments as possible while I’m here. Following some guidelines or rules about how to go about doing this may be helpful and interesting to learn about, but by no means will I ever let these rules rule what I do. This is what feels right to me.

And above all…I have learned that these moments of enlightenment are fleeting. That’s what I like about them. If they were permanent, I wouldn’t have to search. Searching is what I like best about being a yogi. Every moment is an adventure and if it were to come to an end, I would be bored. Same goes for climbing…the reason why I love it is because there is always something harder, or more beautiful, or different to climb.

The search never ends.

Two hundred hours really isn’t that big of a number. Just another step on this adventure, and it’s by no means the end.

What my hamstrings taught me about the death of Osama Bin Laden

Yesterday was a very, very strange day.

I woke up to see Facebook flooded with news–or celebration, rather–of Osama Bin Laden’s death. At first I was very confused about how to feel, but I knew that rejoicing just didn’t feel right. So, I did what I always do when I feel confused–I practiced yoga.

I have always been very fearful of tearing a hamstring while doing yoga. This is one of the most common yoga injuries and can keep you from practicing for a year or even longer. While going into forward folds I’m always very cautious, activating my quads and bending my knees slightly as to protect my hamstrings. But recently this fear has really gotten a hold of me, making me nervous and uneasy every time a hamstring opener is even mentioned. I was speaking to my teacher, Kelley, about this issue right before we were about to take a class. I explained my fears and she gave me some good advice about how to protect myself but also on how to let go of being so afraid.   Then, Amanda, the teacher of the class we were about to take, came up to me and said, “We’re doing hanumanasana today!”

Of course, The King of all hamstring openers.

Awesome.

If you start listening, you will realize that the universe gives you exactly what you need in every moment. Even if it scares the living shit out of you.

And that’s what this class did, despite my constant telling myself that I was okay and that my hamstrings are healthy and that they aren’t delicate, injury-prone things. I was just treating them that way out of fear. In fact, I barely stretched them at all, I didn’t go anywhere close to my edge, because I was scared. No progress was made.

Yesterday, the most notorious, fear-instilling terrorist was shot in the head (and let’s just say that for the sake of this post that he WAS in fact killed yesterday). After I got home from yoga, I saw an internet ad for a bar in Statesboro advertising: “Tonight: $1 Dead Laden shots! $1 Bloody Bearded Bastard shots! ALL NIGHT to celebrate!”

And that’s when I got really, really sad.

For me, it doesn’t feel right to rejoice in the death of ANYONE, no matter how much you disagree with their actions. Especially not with shots in their name.

As Facebook statuses became more opinionated, some saying that we shouldn’t be celebrating, others saying that we should, people started getting (virtually) attacked. We were doing what Americans do best: fighting over something that we shouldn’t be fighting about at all.

The videos of Americans across the country celebrating the death of Osama Bin Laden look eerily similar to the videos of groups celebrating 9/11. Actually, they are almost identical. This is what I don’t understand.

Having hatred and rejoicing at the death of another person is exactly what we have come to find so unpleasant about Osama Bin Laden and al-Qaeda. Yet, this is exactly how so many Americans acted yesterday. Honestly, I found it to be one of the most disappointing acts of “patriotism” this country has ever seen. I was utterly surprised at how foolish it all seemed…the death of this one man doesn’t mean shit. Not a damn thing.

Osama Bin Laden is a symbol–for fear, for terrorism, for anti-America. His death does not mean that any of these things are over. He is only one person, granted one very powerful person, but there are many other people in this world who share his views, maybe even more whole-heartedly, maybe even more maliciously. In that way, too, this man’s death is no reason for celebration.

My hamstrings barely got stretched yesterday because I was so afraid of getting hurt. I could feel the fear in my chest, in my stomach, churning and making me stiff. My jaw was clenched. My hamstring flexibility in no way progressed yesterday, in fact, because my practice was so stiff, I probably made them even tighter. I realize, though, that behind the fear of getting injured lies an even greater fear–the fear of losing my yoga practice. I so badly don’t want to be out a year. I so badly want to be able to practice every day. It’s funny though, because my fear is acting in the opposite way that I want it to–it’s holding me back, actually paralyzing me–and I’m very much acting like I am injured.

Americans celebrating death is very much working in the same way. We all want progress, we all want this devastatingly sad war to be over, for our troops to come home, for the military families to be reunited, and we all want the hatred and fear to stop. But by rejoicing and buying endless rounds of Bloody Bearded Bastards, we are doing the exact opposite. We are keeping the fear going, feeding the hatred in this world even more so, instilling terror even further.

We are acting in the way that we have so patriotically tried to claim that we are not.