Do you ever feel like all you ever needed and all you will ever need in life is Yoga? I do, and I guess it is the suffering, at a physical and emotional level that kept pushing me towards this life-changing discipline. I realized and experienced it first on the Yoga mat when I had to push myself through the pain of getting in and out of postures and at the same time remain mindful about my breathing.
It is this awareness that made me absolutely desperate to fully dedicate myself to practicing and studying Yoga so I could continue to experience the relief from pain, and freedom from suffering, on and off the mat.
When I was overweight
Many find it hard to believe that growing up I was not just overweight but also lacked self-confidence and had an overall negative self-image. I felt awkward and uncomfortable in my own skin, and my general disposition was mostly bleak and depressing. Physically, I was in pain, especially around my upper back, neck, and shoulder area – stressed from years of poor posture caused by my attitude towards life.
I somehow managed to find inspiration to exercise on my own; however, I had no idea about what a fully healthy body and mind would feel like, rather I remained disconnected from my body. I was in my first year of college and had become addicted to drugs and alcohol in an attempt to deal with the overwhelming feelings I was struggling with.
I desperately wanted to change but had no idea how. I attended a lecture by a true health enthusiast as a requirement for my Psychology class. You may be able to recall this ad campaign that he had appeared in…it was about this elderly guy from the Chiquita banana commercials who could jump over hurdles even in his 80’s!
“Yoga is not for the flexible, it’s for the willing.”
During the lecture, he stressed the importance of stretching and going upside down on a daily basis. He said it is the fountain of youth. Stretching and inversions was certainly not a part of my routine then and I was truly motivated by his advice because he radiated optimal health. He had students from the class come punch him in the abs while he flexed to demonstrate how strong he was. Needless to say, it was entertaining and absolutely inspiring.
One of the following days on my way to class, I noticed a flyer with details on Yoga classes. I thought that this would be a good place to learn how to stretch right and to go upside down. Also with the little know-how about Yoga, I rationalized that Yoga could be a means to move away from a toxic lifestyle and embrace a healthier life and mindset.
Feeling that inner shift
I’m not going to lie; my first class was a struggle, I tried really hard to make sense of the shapes (I mean yoga asanas) and get in and out of them and balance. I was sweating profusely and really tried hard to keep up. Despite all this, I didn’t feel like giving up. Something unusual had happened at the end of the class and I was aware of it. I had connected with my body and mind. My mind was quiet. And I just felt calm and peaceful.
Though this feeling didn’t last long, the experience did give me a little glimpse of what I was looking for. I thus decided to stick with it, and soon I started feeling more connected to my body. I realized that when I participated in drinking or getting high, I didn’t feel the same connection and relief that I felt at the end of that first Yoga class.
In no time, I was practicing Yoga every day! Soon there was no desire or time to eat junk or stay out late drinking. I was aware that I will certainly not like how I felt the next morning…especially when I am on the mat. Yoga slowly changed my life…one day at a time.
“Yoga does not just change the way we see things; it transforms the person who sees.” BKS Iyengar
I changed the people that I use to hang out with as I realized I no longer had anything in common with them; I started making healthier choices and build a community of like-minded friends who were supportive of my transformation. My experience on the Yoga mat taught me that a challenge was an opportunity for growth.
I learned that though I may struggle with something in my Yoga practice, if I kept working on it, soon I would develop style and grace, or I would gain a whole new perspective. I started approaching every day with the same attitude and developed a positive disposition.
Daily practice is your best guide
My experience tells me that I have to make space for the practice in my schedule. If I wait for my free or so-called right time, it usually never comes. The practice of Yoga is a discipline; it requires us to make sacrifices and uncomfortable schedule changes so that we can experience the freedom that Yoga can offer.
I somehow ended up teaching Yoga. When I was in my college third year, few friends had encouraged me to start taking Yoga classes so I could pay my rent for the summer. So I went ahead a posted a few flyers around and a studio owner took notice and offered me a part-time teaching opportunity. But I knew that I wasn’t fully prepared for it and that I had to pursue a Yoga teacher training course.
After my graduation, I started training with Megan Bellow from Orange County Yoga Studio. Soon I became an apprentice to Anna Delury and started taking regular workshops with Mansouso Manos. The opportunity to study with such knowledgeable teachers is priceless.
You know you are a teacher when …
I was encouraged by my first teacher to seek a teacher that I felt was the best teacher for me. Instead of taking a 200 hour TTC just because it fits easily into my schedule, she encouraged me to seek out a true teacher wherever I could find them, and even move if necessary to be able to study with them.
I think this is what really lacks in today’s trend of Yoga teacher training courses. Aspiring yogis aren’t seeking teachers anymore as much as they’re seeking the final certificate and other factors like duration, comfort, location, etc, which play a vital role in their decision making.
The effort that I had put into seeking and studying with my teachers was difficult; it put me between two cities and required hours of road travel and at times required me to fly down to attend the sessions. I was broke at that time. I had spent nights sleeping on the floor because I couldn’t afford a mattress. I had struggled to pay my rent but invested as much as I could on my training. But these things never bothered me.
In fact, each time when I got in the car or boarded a flight, I felt like I was on a pilgrimage to be with my Guru. I believe the effort truly paid off. Although it took 3 years for my teacher to just consider me as an introductory level teacher, I received an education much richer than any TTC could offer and I am grateful I put the time and energy into it.
Simply put, seek out a teacher, not a program, even if it requires travel and breaking the bank. You’ll be far better off in the long run. And it will pay off.
When one of my teachers’ Manouso Manos was asked why he thinks BKS Iyengar favored him and called him his most senior student/teacher, he responded humbly with a Woody Allen quote,
“Eighty percent of success in life is just showing up”.
Manouso Manos elaborated that he just kept showing up in as many classes and workshops that he could, and eventually Iyengar took him under his wing and he was given so much by his teacher. I love that story because it wraps up how I feel about Yoga. It requires the discipline to keep showing up and dedicate yourself to the practice, no matter how you’re feeling. This is how we learn, this is how we grow and this is how we become teachers.
A synthesis of experience and various styles
The style of Yoga that I teach is a synthesis of my years of experience and training with Iyengar Yoga, Ashtanga Yoga, Meditation, and studies of anatomy and exercise. I started Yoga when I was 18 years old so initially, I really enjoyed a more athletic approach to Yoga. But soon I found out that the yoga-flows that I was enjoying lacked the focus on alignment and depth in practice, which I had discovered in Iyengar Yoga. The movement also lacked the gravitas that was a part of the silence of an Ashtanga Mysore practice.
In my classes on my YouTube channel, Yoga With Tim, I try to give a blend of the best of these methods while inserting important alignment tips, educating people about how anatomy plays a vital role in their practice and keeps them safe and healthy, without being boring. I absolutely enjoy making lesson plans for my YouTube channel because it gives me an opportunity to share Yoga with people for free and allows me to give a variety of sessions for people from various backgrounds, be it beginners or advanced level teachers.
Tim Senesi, Yogi, Surfer, Traveller.
Follow his YouTube channel at Yoga With Tim.