I Am Me


Yoga Class

“First time? For real?“

“First time,” he says cracking a tentative smile.

“Dude! Awesome,” I shout as I give him a high five.

“What about you girls in the back?” I ask as I return to the front of the room. I look at a cluster of young women sitting in the back, who I guess to be in their 20’s.

“Second class,” the one in the corner says.

“Second class ever?”

She nods.

“This is the best night!” I say slamming the palm of my hand on the floor.  “I’m so happy you’re here!”

I am sitting on my mat in front of my Thursday night New to Yoga class with a room full of beginners.

I begin my “talk,” a two minute overview on the purpose of yoga, according to Pantanjali, the sage, who, some 3,000 years ago organized the system of yoga through his written work called The Sutras upon which most yoga lineages can be traced back to.

I explain to them that the aim of yoga is to enable us to learn to control the fluctuations of our minds.  And that we first do this by working with the body, working with the postures and our breath.  We do this by becoming completely aware of what our bodies are doing in each posture and aware of our thoughts in each posture.  Because once we are able to watch our thoughts we can begin to control  them.  

This is an eye opener for some people and stuff that not everyone’s ready to hear when they walk into their first yoga class.  Most people walk into their first class because they heard yoga will provide stress relief, flexibility, a shapelier butt, or more sculpted arms.  Controlling their thoughts never came into the equation. But at the least, I feel the need to explain Pantanjali’s theory to them.  I feel the need to explain to them the life changing potential of yoga.

I know many, so many, who don’t want to be responsible for their thoughts.  They want to blame their thoughts and their feelings about themselves on others.

At first I try to be gentle about these concepts, but after you’ve worked with me a while, I get pretty blunt. I tell you to buck up.  I tell you to get out of your own way. I remind you that you are the only person responsible for your own happiness, and I remind you often.

I encourage my students to push themselves beyond their known physical limitations.

It’s not unheard of for me to get the eye roll from one of my girls when I have the class stay in Warrior  2 for a lengthy amount of time.

“Iyeangar said that pain is our guru,” I say to my eye roller.   “Stay there a little longer and try to see what you should learn.”

When you push yourself on the mat, you’re more likely to push yourself off the mat.  That mat is your training ground for life.  And I use the postures to train you.

I make you hold Chaturanga to test your strength.

I put you in Crow to test your balance.

Every now and then I’ll take you through 12 entire rounds of Sun Salutations to test your endurance.

I encourage you to listen to yourself.

I support you in discovering what feels right.

I remind you to stop judging yourself.

I teach according to Iyengar’s interpretation of the Sutras and Swami Satyananda’s interpretation and Swami Satchidananda’s interpretation. But it’s an interpretation through my eyes, not theirs.  It’s no longer the interpretation that my favorite teachers gave me or the director of my teacher training.  Maybe that’s good and maybe that’s bad but it feels authentic. When I teach this way, my heart is in it because I want to give these students what’s been given to me.  It took me a while to find my voice in front of a yoga class, because at first I thought that teaching the “right way” was to teach a class like one of my favorite teachers did.  I tried to emulate them.  I tried to speak quietly.

But speaking quietly has never worked for me.  Ever.  I’m loud. And I’m loud as a yoga teacher.

I love yoga so much, how can I not be loud about it?

When one of my guys did his fist crow into a jump back chaturnaga, I gave him a high five.  The class applauded.

It’s not unheard of for you to find Pearl Jam on my class playlist.

We laugh in my class.  A lot.

We are here to be happy, and that’s what yoga teaches us.   Part of its purpose is to help us get in touch with the inner bliss that is inherently ours.

Underneath your fears and biases and that filter through which you see the world and all of the ways that you have created the illusions of differences between you and other people, sits a piece of you that’s completely untarnished, by life and your baggage and your complexes and your perceived limitations and your childhood hurts and your neuroses.

Sometimes we have to dig deep to get to that untarnished piece.  Sometimes, we have to look at things about ourselves that we never wanted to see.

I believe in that untarnished piece in me and I believe in that untarnished piece in you.    

Sometimes, the journey requires us to be silent, and sometimes the journey tolerates some noise.

I’d like to think that Pantanjali would approve of the occasional fist bump I give out in class.  I mean, what’s so special about the path to enlightenment if we can’t have a little fun every now and then along the way?

This post is dedicated to my lovely friend Michelle Montero, professional photographer and creator of the blog Callias Corner.  It was inspired by her post “Image Overload” that I featured as one of my “Favorites of the Year.“ Michelle, I have 100% certainty that so long as your style is your own when you are behind the camera, every photo you take will be as spectacular as you are.  xo

In what areas of your life can you be more yourself? 


I Am Me — 58 Comments

  1. I want you as my teacher!
    The first time I did yoga, I cried. Not because of the physicality of it (the yoga teacher actually said I was a natural and she was impressed I could do a shoulder stand for a first timer). It was because my mind opened, and my heart opened, and it was so raw.
    I know it sounds like BS, but it happened.
    I need to find my mat and my stillness on it again.

  2. I imagine you are a great teacher, Ilene! I can just see the surprised faces of those who haven’t been challenged as you challenge them to stretch and grow. Well done!
    I have only done one short series of yoga class, and that was for therapy for an injury. I appreciate knowing the background, as that makes yoga bigger and more meaningful than just learning to successfully hold a pose.
    We are on similar wavelengths. This morning my devotional was about our minds being the most “restless, unruly part of mankind.” Yup-true that!

  3. 12 rounds of sun salutations? Bring it! More than 8 seconds in Warrior Two, total eye roll!
    Ilene, I love this post. And, as I’m sure you can imagine, it speaks directly to me! Being yourself can be scary, but once you find comfort in your own skin, doing what you love doing, and doing it how you want it to be done, that discomfort turns into empowerment…and it’s awesome!!

  4. On a second note, I have chills a little bit here…but when I was in college I choreographed a piece I titled “I is me” (pinky swear!). It was the piece that first garnered respect from my peers and my teachers. It was an awesome piece. Choreographed to Nine Inch Nails “Piggy”. My teacher actually recommended that I change the title, but I refused.
    I really think we share a brain!

  5. I love your description of yoga and its purpose. And I totally agree – having a little fun on the path to enlightenment sound be encouraged. What is enlightenment without happiness? 🙂

  6. I’ll settle for the body control. I want to be able to lock my body in place. It took me 30 years to figure out that my emotions are not something I have any access to and that my mind does not ever shut up or produce things I can predict. Oh, I’m aware of them. Aware and aware and aware. And I write the vast majority of them down because they are so strange that they belong in my novels. But control? No. Sooner manage the wind.

  7. OMG, I wish I could take your class! I stopped going because my hearing isn’t that great and even when I sat in front, I could never hear the instructor. It was so frustrating! Why aren’t more teachers like you?! I loved the ability to control my thoughts while I was there. Controlling them outside of the class was a bit harder. Possible but harder. And just because I am able to control them, doesn’t mean I always do, even if I am aware of what I am doing. Maybe it is the daydreamer or the hand I was dealt but my mind is a wanderer. I’m telling you, I know I am my own worst enemy. I need to get back to Yoga.

  8. Wow, your description of yoga was eye opening! I never thought about yoga as a way of controlling our thoughts. For me, it’s running…I like running with people but when I am by myself I really can come up my best creative thinking and work through things in my head.

  9. Loud yoga? I am so there! I wish I could take a class with you, Ilene.
    And I love that this post is dedicated to Michelle. I can totally see the relation with this post and Michelle’s own journey. Cool! Can’t wait to read her post on Thursday.

  10. I’ve only done yoga with my wii fit. I can handle the physical aspects of it pretty well. But no one has ever explained these mental aspects to me. I like it that much more now. I’ll have to try some “real” yoga soon!

  11. I sure hope Mr. Pantanjali knows how lucky he is to have you following in his footsteps! 😉 I love your sentences about how each of us has an untarnished part of us – gorgeous. I’m more aware than ever of my authentic self yet my willingness to share that self still varies day to day. I love that you’ve found your voice in yoga and in writing and share it with all of us. Great post!

  12. Yes, this was very insightful…sometimes, being loud allows people to feel more comfortable because the focus isn’t on them…it’s on everything that’s going on in the room. And it’s easy to feel part of what’s going on when you can just melt into your inner yoga diva. You seem like a great motivator!!

  13. I’ve never done yoga, but if/when I do, it would have to be in an environment like you described. I don’t think it would be easy for me, but I think it would be necessary and life-altering. Your post should be read by anyone who has anything to do with yoga, ever. Which is pretty much everyone.

  14. It doesn’t sound like BS! I totally get opening your heart and being raw. I cried the entire 6 months I was in teacher training! Every time I was lying in Shavasana, the tears just came. It was so good for me – all of that releasing and opening up. I am so glad you had a similar experience!

  15. Oh Tamara! What a nice thing to say! I really love Yoga, if you didn’t notice – and I think everyone should take it – like you said! It can only enrich your life! But I think a lot of people have the wrong idea of what it’s about – heck, I may even have the wrong idea of what it’s about – but I’m sticking to my story.

  16. Thank you Karen – and that’s a great point about me being a loud teacher – but you’re right. I remember my early classes that I took and feeling so self conscious – which I know it totally normal – so I imagine that my loudness may actually help put people at ease. I never thought of that until reading your comment!

  17. Thank you, my sweet friend. We all have that untarnished self and I am so glad you have found yours. It is the greatest gift when we can do that. But yes, honoring that part and willing to share that part is another part of the equation and not an easy part. I struggle with that one too.

  18. Controlling our thoughts is hard – and I think it takes a lot of practice before it becomes a “habit” off the mat. I can’t always do it either, but more and more I stop myself when I am on that spiral of crazy! And I have yoga to thank for it!
    I totally wish you could take my class! We would have so much fun!

  19. Oh Ilene- you are truly AMAZING!!!! I would absolutely love to go to a yoga class with you teaching… oh, how I wish we lived closer. It saddens me so much to know there are so many people that have lost their authentic core of who they are. Buried by layers of life… and dismissed by each turn of emotion. Hardened and calloused by pain. Molded by others, and re-named by many. Identity is lost. So many create a hurried pace fast enough to avoid it…self discovery and awareness cease to exist. They miss the entire blessing of life. It breaks my heart.

  20. I love this. I was so excited when you were telling me about this piece. We are all so molded by expectations and experience and pain that it’s so hard to find the untarnished piece sometimes. That’s part of why I love yoga so much – it holds the space for all of us to explore that part of ourselves and our minds in a way that doesn’t call for judgement. I totally want to take a yoga class with you!! And I can’t wait to read Michelle’s post.

  21. I love this. As usual.
    “I remind you that you are the only person responsible for your own happiness, and I remind you often.” I wholeheartedly agree. Likewise, although I take responsibility for the happiness of my loved ones, that is my personal choice.
    I really need to resume yoga. Instructors have never pushed me, I’ve always pushed myself. I’m sure your students appreciate it. I would.

  22. Chris, there is so much truth – and a sad truth – in what you say – buried in layers of life and renamed by others. I love yoga because it allows us to return to our beautiful and authenntic core – the beauty and bliss that was there all along and always there for us. I would love to have you in my class!

  23. My very favorite yoga instructors are those that not only allow the class to laugh but those that bring us to laughter. It is just as freeing and relaxing as the positions themselves.
    I would love to be in your class!

  24. Can you please come here and be my yoga instructor?? I’ve never found that stillness or awareness at yoga and I’ve never been pushed but that’s always why I’ve gone! I love this post. It is so inspiring and has me searching for new yoga class once again!

  25. Man I wish I could attend your class. Reading your posts are incredibly inspiring so I can only imagine how that is magnified as you teach class. Hmmm, if only it were easy to have virtual classes 🙂

  26. What I would give to take your class! The best teachers I’ve ever had are the ones who are themselves… you feel it, and when they high five you, you know they mean it!
    I love when you write about yoga. I feel the love! X

  27. Oh hey fellow-yoga-teacher. You seem to have given a new meaning to the physical aspect. That is a very good way of personalising it while still keeping its authenticity intact. Yes, you are right that the general perception of yoga is that of being very quiet and meditative but that is not a rule and just a perception. I grew very reminiscent of my days of reading Iyengar’s books on yoga and the stories we read about Sage Patanjali and how he was named. Great post! 🙂

  28. I am highly compliments by your comment – especially as a fellow YT. And yes, I always strive to keep the authenticity in tact and I have great respect for Iyengar and the others I mentioned. But I love teaching the amazing science of yoga in a way that stresses what yoga has given to me. There is a lot of gratitude there – and I can’t help but love this stuff out loud!

  29. I’ve never taken yoga. I can’t stretch. Worth my life. My sister in law is a yoga instructor. She rolls her eyes at me. I want to try it though. Oh, and can I take you in my pocket with me so you can keep me going? Seriously, I love your whole bluntness and encouragement. I need that every once in a while.

  30. Last night in class, she says, “We are going to start working on holding our poses a little longer…” and I thought, “How does she know Ilene!?!?” It all would have been fine except for that 5K run on the treadmill the day before. I have unhappy legs this morning! 🙂

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