Teaching Beyond the Physical

I remember my first yoga class like it was yesterday. This was years before I’d step into the yoga studio at Life Time Mount Laurel, years before I’d go through my own yoga teacher training.

Most people go to yoga for the stretching aspect or for some level of self-betterment, whether it be physical, mental, emotional or spiritual. Not me. I went because my friend dragged me to class. Literally and physically.

“You just havvveeee to try yoga,” she begged. She’d go on and on about how much it helped her body and transformed her mind. 

The way she described it, it sounded almost cult-like, but she was relentless in her pursuit to get me to try class and her begging went on for weeks until I reluctantly agreed to try one class.

My friend introduced me to her yoga teacher and led me into the heated studio. I could hear my feet peel off the floor with every step, that sort of tacky sounding walk that you only hear in yoga studios and dive bars. As I unrolled my borrowed mat and plopped down on the floor I thought, Maybe this won’t be so bad. Yoga seemed to work for my friend. I mean she practically looked like a Disney animal sidekick prancing about, full of inspiration and zest.

Over the course of the hour, we moved through a series of different postures. I sweat more during that class than I could ever remember having sweated in my life. The class moved swiftly and the teacher called out names of moves in Sanskrit, which meant I was always about two poses behind. While I was frustrated and lost for the majority of class, constantly looking around the room to see what my friend and the other students were doing, I overall enjoyed the physical challenge of yoga and could see why so many people loved it. 

The physical rigor and mental discipline that yoga offered reminded me of my years training as an athlete and a dancer, something I missed as an adult. But those things weren’t enough to make me a “regular” or a fanatic cult-like member like my friend. I was more of a transient yoga student who’d occasionally pop into class. Truth was, the physical practice of yoga alone didn’t do much for me and I was just as content to lift weights and do cardio machines on the gym floor.

Looking back, I’d describe my “early years” of yoga the same way you hear most people talk about yoga: You feel so relaxed. It’s an incredible workout. You’ll get so much more flexible. But, it wasn’t until I stepped into the yoga studio at Life Time and met my teacher Alex, that I realized sometimes yoga can make you feel like shit.

My first class at Life Time with Alex started off deceivingly sweet. He started by telling the story of the Cracked Pot and as a storyteller and former English teacher, I was totally hooked from the gate. Then, right before we started to move and breathe he said something I’ll never forget: “No amount of self-improvement can make up for a lack of self-acceptance…” 

In that moment, time stopped and all the feel-goods from the story quickly dissipated. For the next hour, his words clung to my mind the same way peanut butter clings to the roof of your mouth. And as much as I tried to fight feeling my feelings, I couldn’t. Instead, I  spent an excruciatingly long hour in introspection, examining myself and my life.

To this day, that first class with Alex was the hardest yoga class I have ever taken. Not because the poses were challenging or the class was semi-guided (although the semi-guided flow pissed me off and was enough to frazzle my type-A perfectionist). No, this class was the hardest and what felt like the longest yoga class I had ever taken because for an entire hour, I was forced to be in my body and to confront the difficult things.

As someone who has struggled on and off with an eating disorder for decades, I had spent years getting out of my body. I avoided the possibility of confronting the difficult things at all costs. I had become accustomed to controlling the uncomfortable things, pushing them down into deep crevices so that I wouldn’t have to feel discomfort. I’d starve myself, work out for hours on end — anything…and I mean anything to avoid unpleasant sensations and thoughts. And here I was in a yoga class of all things, being asked to do the very thing I didn’t want to do.

Sometimes yoga makes you feel like shit.

Unlike my first-ever yoga class, Alex’s class hit different. It stuck an emotional chord. And while the entire hour sucked (to put it mildly) and I spent most of it covered in sweat, tears and snot, I came back for another class. And another. And another. Until about five classes in he mentioned something to me about considering Yoga Teacher Training and for the first time in a long time I thought, Maybe this kind of yoga is for me. Maybe this is the healing I need.

During my time with Alex and over the course of my own Yoga Teacher Training, I learned that what the deepest parts of our mind are afraid of is in fact very subtle: we’re scared of losing the pleasant sensations with our breath and body in yoga because we’re afraid of getting unpleasant. I learned that we’re sensation junkies and we have trouble leaning into discomfort or even settling into peace and stillness — and it’s the yoga postures that force us to feel our bodies and breath more, to become more aware of the sensations so that we can move through them on and off our mats. Essentially, yoga was more than a physical practice.

And that, my friends, was the game changer for me: understanding that yoga was something beyond the physical.

In my work as a yoga teacher, mind-body coach, spiritual healer and storyteller, my aspiration is to not only challenge the physical bodies of the students that enter my class, but to equally, if not more so, challenge and stimulate their minds and hearts. 

While the poses, the actual asanas we take on during class, will challenge your body and move you beyond your comfort zone and help you access deeper parts of your self in the process; I have found that the most accessible way to someone’s heart and mind isn’t through the physical but by moving beyond the physical. It’s through storytelling and sharing personal anecdotes that we enrich the practice of yoga and allow our students to more deeply connect to themselves.

In fact, storytelling has become such an integral part of my teaching style because stories hold the power to provide perspective, give meaning to our lives, help us understand essential truths and deepen our practice on and off our mat.

Storytelling isn’t a new concept though. It’s been around since the dawn of time, well before the written word and formal language was developed. From our earliest cave-dwelling days, stories were a way for us to make sense of our world, to understand our place in it, to engage, to uplift, to inspire and connect. As humans, we’re story-making beings and while yoga by itself is a wonderful practice, when it’s combined with stories, anecdotes, and philosophical ideas, it brings our yoga practice to life.

That said, I know how time consuming finding stories for a yoga class can be. Between finding the right length of story, finding the right theme or message — not to mention compiling a playlist and writing up the actual sequence of asanas for class — that’s hours of time that perhaps you’d rather spend doing something else.

For the last year I’ve been quiet on this blog but that’s because I’ve been working on a project, something that is near and dear to my heart, something that is connected to my bigger purpose in life.

I’ve taken my experience as a former English teacher, my love for stories and storytelling, my passion and skills as a master trainer to create a monthly resource guide that allows yoga teachers to integrate themes, ideas and inspiration into their classes with ease. 

Teaching Beyond the Physical is a monthly program where each month you’ll receive five stories that pertain to that month’s theme and along with the stories you’ll get supporting discussion questions and prompts to lead into class, sprinkle in throughout class or to close out and end your practice. In addition, you get a curated Spotify playlist, full of song ideas to integrate into your class as well as further reading suggestions, studies and resources. There’s even bonus materials of short inspirational quotes and prompts (quick ways to start your class) and a holiday theming bundle, depending on which membership option you choose.

But, what if you’re not a yoga teacher? Great news, friends — even if you don’t teach yoga, Teaching Beyond the Physical is a universal program that is valuable if you’re a story-lover, parent or office leader who is looking for more meaningful conversations. It’s an incredible way to connect more deeply with yourself and your experiences. It’s an invaluable way to connect more meaningfully with your kids and to use nightly story time as a way to talk about the bigger things in life. And, as an office leader, it’s a fantastic way to start meetings and get your employees inspired to think about broader ideas.

The reach of the content included in Teaching Beyond the Physical translates over many disciplines and workplaces and it starts with a question: Who is my audience and what is the message I want to share with them?

Teaching Beyond the Physical  launches end of December 2021, just in time for 2022 and starting your classes (or the new year) with fresh inspiration and ideas.

Interested in this program? Sign up HERE to get a free sample and to be added to the waitlist. You’ll be the first to know about membership options and the official launch of Teaching Beyond the Physical.

In love, light & gratitude,