I've been teaching Jivamukti Yoga for almost two years now, and not that long ago, my life was completely different. The first time it occurred to me that I may want to teach yoga was during savasana in a Jivamukti yoga class. I was all sweaty from the vigorous practice, and I received a loving massage from the teacher. That simple action made me feel unconditionally accepted. I felt then that I wanted to be able to provide this feeling to others. But I was new in my yoga practice so it was not something that seemed realistic at that time. Nonetheless, a seed was planted.
I had one office job after another before I became a yoga teacher. My last job in the corporate world was in the Marketing Department of a multi-national company. The job was not very stressful. I had time to pursue my interests, which is mainly to practice yoga, and I had enough money to travel on vacations. I wore clothes other than yoga clothes. I wore shoes all day. It was an alright job. Not great and not horrible. It really was just alright.
December of 2011, I received the official notice that I was going to be laid off because the company was restructuring. I remember on my way home that day, that I stared out the window, and I felt that the Christmas festivities contrasted against my job loss in a very cinematic way. Just like that, my life as I knew it was gone. It was turned upside down. I was not sure how I would be able to pay my mortgage. I was not sure how I would be able to make a living. I knew the layoff was going to happen so I had anticipated it, but I also knew that looking for another alright job was no longer an option. In the months spent waiting for this inevitability, I had vowed to myself that when the time came, I will use my severance pay to invest in a life filled only with things that I love. I revisited the small seed that was previously planted, and today I teach nonviolence and acceptance for a living as a Jivamukti Yoga teacher.
The Jivamukti April focus of the month is inversions. It is literally to put our bodies in an upside down position, allowing us to see the world from an upside down view. We may find that when we are new to practicing inversions, a lot of fear comes up. We are afraid of the unknown and of falling and of failing and of mystery. We may resist it. Why go upside down if I can stay right side up? If we see our yoga practice as a path towards liberation, then we use the asana practice as a safe way of simulating our real-life fears and disappointments and inhibitions.
My teacher Sharon Gannon in her essay for this month's focus teaches us that inversions allow space for trust and surrender. "When we turn our bodies upside down, we are literally turning our world upside down. Turning upside down allows us to experience the advantage of different attitudes and ways to perceive. Everything we know as right side up, typical and normal is pulled out from underneath us. This disorientation requires us to draw from places in our psyches that we may not have accessed much before. In order to fully experience this new angle of perception we must relax both our bodies and minds and surrender to the Divine with faith."
When unexpected things happen, we can choose to resist them and deny them and even change them, but that is not an effective strategy if our goal is liberation, especially since there are many things we cannot control. If our goal is yoga, then we respond to our upside down world with a renewal of creativity, allowing seeds of deep-seated inspiration to grow. We create a new way of living that assimilates our new situation. We have fear but we do not let fear paralyze us. We have disappointment but we do not let disappointment overshadow our hopes. We have uncertainty but we do not let uncertainty trap us. When we invert our body, we have our heart over our head. That is a good reminder for us to allow our innermost calling to lead us towards our path, to let go of the should-have-beens of our supposed logical mind, to renew our faith that this new version of our world has an infinite amount of love to offer us.
Every person will have his or her world turn upside down at one point, and usually multiple times. I am not saying that as a threat. I am saying that merely to point out a fact of life. When it happens, as it most certainly will, a part of us may want to stay stuck in feeling that we have been victimized. What did I do to deserve this? Why me? Does the universe not want to give me a break? We can ask those questions again and again and not find any answers. Or we can decide we are done with the asking and we are ready to see our new world, the upside down world, as our new right side up. How can I turn this situation around so it will free me rather than keep me stuck? How can I move forward given my normal reactions of fear and anger and disappointment? The answer is always in the practice. The answer always is to practice.