This month I attended the annual Teachers Conference at Kripalu, the yoga and meditation center in the Berkshires. I arrived at the Albany airport and drove out to Stockbridge, feeling unexpectedly agitated, gloomy. Several years ago, when I was married and living in the Adirondacks, I used to fly in and out of Albany to see clients in New York City or Washington. The journey home from those business trips was often filled with the anxiety and dread of returning to a tense, unhappy relationship.
In 2009 I visited Kripalu for the first time, and it seems to me I mostly slept, in the safety of my small private room. Over the years I returned to the Berkshires, my visits to Kripalu becoming more frequent, and I eventually dove into a teacher training for yoga and shamanic healing.
The years past and things began to change. My marriage — in which it seemed to me I was always under fire, never able to do anything right or be welcomed or loved for who I am — came to an exhausted end. I left a job where there was constant blaming and finger-pointing while larger issues were left ignored. My father died. I stumbled for a while, unsure of what to do next. I vastly simplified my life, moving from a large expensive house, to a small comfortable apartment that I could afford (almost!) on the money I made in my new line of work, teaching yoga.
In the book YOGA AND THE QUEST FOR THE TRUE SELF, author Stephen Cope writes a chapter called “Equanimity: On Holding and Being Held”. As children, some of us are lucky enough to feel safely and securely held by the love and acceptance of parents, grandparents, or other special caretakers. Many of us, however, did not have this refuge in which to safely experience and discover our true selves. And so we often have a chronic sense that something is wrong, missing, we don’t feel at home in our bodies. We feel alone, without a safe harbor.
What I realized coming back to Kripalu this time was how much things had changed for me. Five years ago I attended my first yoga class clenched and self-protecting, in a fair amount of physical pain, and feeling incredibly alone. But little by little, in the safe space that was created by my teachers, by the school of yoga and shamanism I trained in called The Jaguar Path, by my fellow students, I relaxed into being myself. On one of my last trips to complete my yoga training, over the course of a week I laughed so hard and so often with my friend and fellow student Ali that, like naughty children, we “had to be separated”. (Which made us laugh even harder).
On this latest trip to Kripalu I shared a dorm room with 11 other women, no longer feeling threatened or overwhelmed by the proximity of others. This place, the teachers, the students, the time on the mat practicing yoga, had been a safe haven for me. A place where I could be my most grumpy, cynical, misanthropic self — and my most openhearted, silly, courageous, loving self. Yoga had helped me find my way back to my body, and back to my heart.
Now, when I return to the mat and come home to my own heart, I can mostly find that safe haven within myself. And as I teach, and continue on the path of my life, it is my strongest hope that I can hold this space and offer this safe haven to others who may need it as much as I did.