You may have noticed that I’ve been sending out more e-mails and posting more online lately. It might have peaked your curiosity. I know when my teachers change things up, I have a deep desire to know why.
Was something not working for them? Did they find a better solution? How are they approaching every day adventures? What are they up to?
I am so grateful when these teachers share their daily path with me because it helps me on my journey. It reminds me that we’re all learning and trying our best. And how wonderful it is when someone finds something fabulous and shares it with us too!
So I wanted to let you into my world and give you the scoop. ;)
To help you understand where my current motivation has come from, let me fill you in on the backstory of my journey to yoga. We were always dancing and singing in my family - we even did musical performances at church as the von Bat family - due to the fact that we all needed glasses! Silliness aside, we were a family of movement. My mom was wonderful for exercising at home and from a young age I would play alongside her - nothing was off limits, even Sweating to the Oldies was in our rotation. (Richard Simmons has such a wonderful uplifting spirit!) Lilias Folan was also in our regular practice and this is how I was introduced to yoga.
Life got busier for me and I forgot about yoga until I was in college and a friend dragged me to a class on campus. I was stressed beyond belief, exhausted, overwhelmed, and I did not have time for this yoga class! To appease my friend, I finally agreed to go - and my life was changed.
I’ll never forget the before and after moment of that class. Tensely wound I sat down and “listened” to the teacher speak while also worrying about classwork deadlines. He guided us through a series of poses and with each movement, my breath became easier. My body let go of the knots and I felt relaxed, as if I had just had a massage. My mind quieted, no longer was my mind torn between to do thoughts and the yoga class - I was enjoying being in my body! Throughout the practice I felt stronger and more flexible. And that first Savasana (relaxation pose) is one you’ll never forget! You feel pleasantly exhausted, spent, and then your body just sinks into the floor and your thoughts soften to the rhythm of your breath. It is a true and deep rest.
I was hooked!
Yoga for me at this time was a wonderful addition to my life but not my main focus. I was in the process of graduating from college (getting a sensible degree in Information Technology and Decision Sciences), getting married, and moving to a new city.
In this wonderful new city, I found a job in corporate America, and searched for yoga classes. I couldn’t find the style of yoga I had studied and next thing I knew the local YMCA had a sign posted looking for yoga teachers.
I walked by that sign almost everyday for two weeks - it seemed to me, they hadn’t found anyone yet. And I hadn't found my tribe of yogis to play with yet. So my heart soared at the opportunity to start bringing together people and share the yoga I knew. At this point I had been seriously studying yoga for 4 years, I was not a "certified" teacher, but I had a great desire to share yoga. I approached them and explained that my path was one heading towards yoga teaching certification and I “auditioned” for them - essentially teaching a yoga class.
After that interview I felt those crazy, nervous butterflies where your whole system seems to buzz. I knew that something life changing had just happened but I wasn’t sure if I’d get the job. After that interview I hopped onto my bicycle and cycled onto a wooded trail, until I got to a clearing. In that clearing I said a prayer and asked for God’s help in getting this job. I don’t remember my exact words, but this moment of being in nature and offering up my work has left an indelible mark on my heart.
They offered me the yoga teaching job! And so began my journey of teaching and always learning!
Two Worlds and Imposter Syndrome
Around these early days of teaching yoga, I was also working in a dot com environment. I felt that I had gotten the job there on a wing and a prayer. Put me into a room with new coders and I can solve coding puzzles with fun and ease, even the super tough ones! I feel strong and confident there. Put me under the stress of Microsoft pop quizzes and seasoned developers who are always judging and I fell deep into Alice’s rabbit hole of imposter syndrome. Apparently, if I wasn’t coding in notepad, I wasn’t legit. I was overwhelmed with the feeling that I was going to be found out any day as an imposter - she has no clue…..
Simultaneously, I found a group of yogis to practice with and became worried that I’d be found out to be ‘teaching’ yoga before I had completed my certification. My modus operandi became to softly fade into the background, less I be discovered as an imposter.
When I found out I was pregnant with my son, Chace, things came into greater focus for me. There was no way I could continue the life of an IT consultant, working 60+ hours a week. I left that world and went into full time yoga teaching, where I would be able to play and dance with my little one. Chace even helped teach “baby and me yoga” classes! We even brought him all across the United States as I studied to finish my certification - from start to finish it was 5 years! He was a wonderful trooper putting up with mommy's adventures!
Those early days of building a teaching practice, for any teacher, are well documented in a variety of parodies around the internet. It’s true though - I spent more time running around town to teach a class than actually teaching. I was over stretched and I found that I was getting less and less time with my family. Something had to change.
Build It and They Will Come
Enter in Grace Yoga Center! Starting a yoga studio from scratch with a 3 year old will really put your yoga practice to test! Especially when 3 of the 4 teachers decide they can’t teach for you, the week before you open. So began my 2 ½ year cycle of teaching 14 classes, 7 days a week, and running a studio. You learn to wear many hats and smile. All intensity aside, I am very proud of the community that formed around Grace Yoga Center. I feel incredibly blessed with old friends who came to teach at Grace, the beautiful students who stepped up into the role of teacher, and the students who gathered there to learn, grow, and play together over our 4 years on Old State Route 74!
Because of a desire to honor my teacher at that time, I decided to offer just their style of yoga at the studio - this put interesting limitations and boundaries on me though. Through these confines I found myself falling into that feeling of imposter syndrome again. I just never felt as a studio that we “fit in” with my teacher’s style. I was quiet because I didn’t want to step on toes, but as a result - no one in that community really knew I was there. I had faded into the background again. Where it's safe......
Recognizing When It’s Time To Go
During the studio’s 3rd year - on top of my normal teaching schedule and running the studio - I was just wrapping up teaching a 108 hour Teacher Immersion course, giving birth to my daughter, Lexi, and moving house one week before she was born. Chace was 6 at this time and quite the little supporter! It was an adventurous time! And a whirlwind to be sure.
I have always had big dreams and if the spirit moves me, I follow. It must go back to being part of a family of movement - I’m always ready to dance and explore.
As we closed in on the end of our 4th year at Grace, I felt that my heart’s intention of creating a space to practice yoga and share it with others had come to fruition. Some inkling inside of me said it was time to let go of the studio and do some soul searching, but it wasn't an easy choice. I had met some super awesome people. Here are some pictures from the Teacher Immersion. What inspirational poses!
From the Bottom of the Well
You know that phrase, you need to feed your well. Or fill your cup before you share it, otherwise there’s nothing to share. When we stretch ourselves so thin, and never have time to fill back up, we find that everything we try to do collapses. No matter how hard we try, nothing seems to fly. How frustrating and devastating.
I was at this point after closing Grace. I had taken on a “little” too much and I was depleted and exhausted. I couldn’t let go of teaching completely though, so I opened up a private studio where I continued to teach 7 classes a week.
They say it comes in threes...
During this period my mom was diagnosed with skin cancer and passed, the style of yoga I had dedicated myself to for 16 years imploded, and I was losing my teaching location. These 3 events happened within a week of one another. I had one of those, “O come on now God! Something’s gotta give!” moments. I was able to continue teaching - that was the thread I was able to hold onto for a little while longer.
Yet the sadness surrounding my mom’s passing in 2012 is ever present. My little brother Tommy was devastated. A deep depression sunk over him and he battled so hard for the following 3 years. He was so strong and bright. All he wanted to do was to help others and he was hurting so badly. Tommy was in and out of the hospital many times over for treatment. He tried one medicine after another, talked with one person after another, to find the right balance to help him climb out of this deep well of depression. We worked with him too. I had him doing all sorts of yoga, breathing, meditations, energy work, and I even read the cards for him. Tommy was the one who always came to me for readings.
Finally on September 29, 2015 Tommy went for a long drive to visit an old friend. Somewhere along the way the depression won and Tommy left this earth to get his angel wings.
So What’s Irena Up To?
We do our best during our time here on earth. We each have our own path and sets of circumstances that we must experience. We never can fully understand another person’s journey. The best thing we can do is to be loving and offer one another blessings on our journeys.
I believe that God has given us each something that is uniquely ours to be shared with others. It may be a talent for keeping the books, seeing solutions in complex problems, it might be smiling. You may have a mega-watt brilliant smile that lights up a room and just makes people feel a little brighter. Maybe you have a calming presence or maybe you can help get people fired up and going! Realize that these gifts don’t have to be shared in just one expression or profession. You could be a greeter or a doctor with the bright smile and still be able to fill a room with love and hope.
Try this on for size. What if when we get to the other side, God doesn’t ask us, “Why weren’t your more like Sally over there?” God turns to us and says, “Why weren’t you TRUE TO YOU and live YOUR life?” Self discovery is a journey, yes. We learn by watching others, yes. We mimic to learn, yes. But at some point we must take in everything we’ve experienced and distill it through our spirit and share it in our voice.
In the Bhagavad Gita, an ancient Indian Yogic text, we are reminded that it is better to live our destiny imperfectly rather than to live an imitation of someone else’s life with perfection.
Here's What I'm Up To
I'm stepping out from the safe shadows of the background. I'm putting myself out into the light because I’m here to teach and inspire - to help breathe life into and create a stirring within your spirit. To remind you of the gifts you have and how important it is that you share these treasures with the world. So I'm lighting a fire and I hope you join me and my tribe for this adventure to mine your treasures!
p.s. Here's one of my favorite songs about being true to you! Maybe you’ll like it too :)
“Say what you think
Love who you love
'Cause you just get
So many trips 'round the sun
Yeah, you only
Only live once”
“Follow Your Arrow” by Kacey Musgraves, Brandy Clark, and Shane McAnally.