During the AYC training program, my 12 dear fellow teacher trainees and I learned boundless knowledge and wisdom from a phenomenal training staff. Lots of these pieces of knowledge and wisdom were reiterated in true Bryan Kest fashion - unfiltered, candid, fun, real - at his workshop, which made me feel as if I were at a motivational speaking seminar, a comedy show, a power yoga class (we practiced for an hour and a half) and a meditation retreat. This was just what I needed to be reminded of the feelings that have endured from my yoga teacher training in November.
Today I am writing to share with you these overarching insights, these life-altering ideas that have been fluttering and pounding in my heart day in and day out since I left Asheville and the unforgettable experience I had there.
Following are the pieces of wisdom that have deeply embedded themselves in my life and continue to shape my thoughts and actions on and off the mat:
1. Meditation Matters
When I was shopping around for a yoga teacher training program, I sought specific attributes, some of which were deal breakers, some that stood in the middle of the road, and some that were an absolute must. An emphasis on meditation was an absolute must.
So, when I met with two of the teacher training staff several months prior to enrolling in the Asheville Yoga Center program, my heart fluttered with excitement when they explained that meditation was a core component of the immersion. They were true to their word. We practiced meditation every day, sometimes several times, and learned new forms of meditation from walking to writing to seated to visualization to mantra. Further, we were required to meditate five days per week and submit a written journal describing our experiences.
Thus, ever since teacher training, I amped up my meditation practice and also threw out the rule book written by many ancient sages about the proper time, place and position to meditate. For instance, some texts say meditation should happen on an empty stomach, in a quiet room, in an upright seated position, before dawn, at dusk, with eyes closed, etc. With all these requirements, it's no wonder that most of us living in the modern world have a difficult time including it in our daily lives.
I see why the wise men of days past suggest such specific circumstances for a truly profound meditation experience, but rather than waiting for these perfect moments to align, why not attempt meditating anywhere, anytime? Because by the time we wait for the perfect synchronization of ideal conditions, the days, weeks, months and years will most likely wiz by without any meditation happening at all.
Instead, I've been fitting in meditation any chance I get - while sitting in my truck at stoplights, while waiting for students to arrive at my yoga classes, while chopping vegetables and washing dishes, and even while rocking my toddler son to sleep, and if rocking doesn't work I try walking meditation as I cradle him in my arms and walk laps, slowly and methodically with deep breathing, around my house until he's snoozing away. Yes, I do sit quietly, alone, in cross-legged positions for meditation, too, but I don't limit it to that! So, I invite you to try meditating anywhere, anytime, and maybe even in supreme sage-like conditions - I think you'll like what you find there!
2. Cultivating Creativity Through One's Own Practice Provides an Authentic Experience
The Asheville Yoga Center teacher training program encouraged the cultivation and development of our own yoga practice. This meant that we were to get on our yoga mats, hone into the deep intuition and innate creativity that lies within ourselves and move from those places, without the use use of DVD's, podcasts or online videos. This was such an important part of training that we were required to commit to five at-home practices spanning 30 to 120 minutes. It was during these times when quiet and stillness prevailed and creativity flourished.
What I learned while practicing alone on my mat was the deeply held yogic belief that each individual possesses within oneself the capacity for abundant creativity and the ability to trust one's intuition while moving through asanas and poses and breathing techniques that fit with the moment.
While I cherish alone time on the mat, I also have a high respect for the many lineages of yoga such as Bikram and Ashtanga, Iyengar and Anusara, which move through specific sequences, because, after all, these are the product of someone else's unique creativity and life work. With that said, we can use practices such as these to inspire our own practices, which should change as life changes, through illness and injury, birth and post-birth, young and old and the cycles of the seasons and moons. In these ways, we can go deep within ourselves to find our own true, authentic self, a journey in and of itself and one that, if done so lovingly and with good intention, can inspire others to find that same divine creative force within themselves.
3. Intention Has the Potential to Manifest Change
It's safe to say that most of us come to yoga for it's athletic, sweat-inducing, challenging poses and the feeling we get of 'working out.' While this is not a bad thing, it is not what the ancient yogis emphasized when they defined yoga. In fact, it was a minute part of yoga as described in books such as The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and the Bhagavad Gita.
However, as much as we lament the Western world's unbalanced emphasis on the physical part of yoga, it cannot all be a bad thing. The way I see it is this: if the masses attend yoga classes for the superficial purposes of gaining strength, losing weight, toning muscle and sweating out toxins, so be it. It is in this grand attendance of yoga classes worldwide that the potential exists, through the mindful linking of breath with movement, for filtering through the vanity and finding yoga's real purpose - inner peace and stillness, a calm and steady mind and equanimity even in the most challenging circumstances.
So, as you can see, not all is lost. If we spend years coming to yoga classes and setting mindless intentions and suddenly one day, ten years into it, after setting an intention that struck a chord in your heart at the beginning of class because a teacher suggested you do so, and later that day or week something in your life shifts in regards to that intention, isn't it all worth it? And wouldn't that set into motion the potential of really believing in the power of intentions - that if we do dedicate our physical practice to a specific cause, incredible changes can manifest? Isn't the vanity worth succumbing to if perhaps at the end of the tunnel we may one day see the light? Yes. I say yes, it is.
As an example, I'll share a recent experience with intention. At the beginning of yoga teacher training, while seated in a circle, all 13 of us revealed to one another our biggest and most nagging injuries and ailments. The one I confessed was lack of sleep, sleeplessness and insomnia, something that had plagued me since the death of my dad in 2013 and the almost simultaneous birth of my son, who was born four weeks after my dad's death. During the three weeks of training, I focused my attention and trained my mind through intention, meditation and intuitive asana practice, to combat this issue. By the second week, I no longer needed to take my Organic India Ayurvedic restful sleep capsules, I no longer woke at 3 a.m. each night and fought for hours to fall back asleep and I no longer feared bedtime for the restlessness my mind would suffer.
At the end of training, on graduation day, my fellow teacher trainees and I were invited to toss a gem, stone or figurine into a bowl and say one thing we would leave behind forever. 'Anxiety,' I said as I set a birght white stone gently into the decorative bowl. By anxiety I was encompassing insomnia, and I wanted it gone once and for all. It was this gesture and the powerful intentions set and pre-bedtime meditations during teacher training that manifested such change. Ever since, sleeping has been wonderful. I find restful, peaceful sleep with ease, and it lasts all night.
In summary, while yoga teacher training earned me a job instructing yoga classes, it's the bigger picture - the deepening of a meditation practice, the cultivation of internal, natural creativity and the belief in the power of intention that I hold nearest and dearest. And it's these beautiful things, these manifestations, explorations, and journeys, that I hope to guide other's toward as I share yoga with others on and off the mat.