by Paul Fetler
I glanced at the word Smile! I had written on the top of the lined paper. The same reminder was on top of each of the following three ringed pages clipped together. I needed this friendly suggestion more than my carefully handwritten sequence of asanas, with their Sanskrit names, assigned affirmations, physiological benefits and cautions. Although uncertain I had memorized all the nuts and bolts, I needed to trust I had absorbed enough. This was, in addition to written exams, the culmination of intensive study and practice of a month-long Yoga Teacher Training program at the Ananda ashram nestled in the forest of northern California. The week had arrived (drum roll) to lead my final demo yoga classes.
I was reminded of the tremors of dread I experienced in high school doing final exams. Earlier I ate a light breakfast because my stomach was queasy from nerves. I prayed and silently repeated the affirmation a teacher had given, “I Can, and I Will.”
I stepped onto the platform at the Hansa Temple and opened my mouth to teach. Focusing on fellow trainees, who were my guinea pig students, I did my best to ignore the instructor evaluating me.
As I began to model the postures and give verbal cues, the doors of the temple swung open. An elderly yogini, with thick wavy white hair, entered unannounced. As if on a one-pointed mission, she approached and paused about fifteen feet diagonally on the blue carpet near where I stood. She aimed her video camera straight at me and started filming. I tended to freeze up in front of a camera. God’s sense of humor was not lost on me. I smiled, resisted the impulse to roll my eyes, and thought, “I ought to be getting extra points for this.”
Brave and Lovely
Paramhansa Yogananda said to “Do something brave and lovely with your life.” In order to avoid becoming a “psychological antique,” the yoga master also encouraged people to undertake new things daily that they didn’t think they could do.
Life becomes an adventure when we have the willingness to rise above the gravity of the known. It is also, of course, what our protective egos tell us is impossible.
Why did I drive up the steep mountain road to do a Yoga Teacher Training for a month, not sure I could complete it? What allowed me to persevere with the packed curriculum and study seven days a week, if a fair amount of that time, exhilarating as it was, I wanted to leap out of my skin?
For years prior to signing up for the YTT, my nervous system increasingly sent signals that something needed to shift. Now on the cusp of midlife, my heart felt stifled. Warning signs, including chronic insomnia, were getting harder to ignore.
September 11, 2001, forced me to reevaluate my naivete about material security. I felt a responsibility to contribute to raising consciousness beyond the scope of my longtime entertainment career.
Beyond that, something intangible in my vitality was withering. Was it too much to ask to feel inspired again when I got out of bed in the morning, as I did when I was younger?
I became a part time explorer of new directions. I prayed a lot and did my best to surrender to higher guidance. A wise friend, when I confided how discouraged at times I felt, encouraged me to look for joy. When I was honest, I had to admit to myself that one of the few times I truly felt relaxed and at peace was practicing yoga postures.
In the haze of my deadline-oriented profession, yoga classes were havens to detoxify. The postures with breathwork evolved to become among my dearest friends. Asana practice made lemonade out of the lemons of tension in my body, so that I could better enjoy life.
Prior to the Yoga Teacher Training, the idea of leading postures to a classroom was too big a stretch (pun intended) for me. That was for people, or so I thought, with dance backgrounds who were more extroverted than I was. For the YTT it was meaningful enough to go deeper into the spirit of yoga. The thought of teaching others was almost too much to hope for.
The Light of Yoga
I still recall the inner lightness, in addition, of course, relief, that I felt after teaching the first yoga practicum class in the temple. The joy was nothing I had experienced in my adult life. I sensed as if calm love was pouring out gently through the windows and white temple walls. I never forgot the light that glowed through the eyes of the yogini instructor who offered me a namaste mudra after I finished my practicum.
I passed and was certified as a Yoga Instructor to share, as written on our diplomas, The Light of Yoga. Although I turned forty during that intense month of training in April 2005 at the ashram, my heart now felt childlike again.