I guess you know by now that I am a yoga and meditation instructor at UCLA. I’m been teaching yoga for at least eight and a half years, maybe nine. I lose track of time. Do you do that? Lose track of time? While I might remember lots of events and important moments and mind-bending get-aways, I don’t always remember the year or date or time frame. Maybe it’s because time only exists on a continuum as they say in quantum physics and we humans need it to know that we have a place in the universe.
According to my time line, deciding to take yoga teacher training in 2001 was the smartest move I have ever made. I was working at a financial institution that does not have a name anymore because it was bought by UBS Financial Services. This office was in La Jolla. I mean if you have to work in a financial institution why not in a building over-looking The Cove in La Jolla, one of the most beautiful scenes of nature in California. When it’s whale watching season, I had a front seat or rather a telescope on the roof.
9/11 happened right in the middle of my yoga teacher training in Los Angeles but the day it happened I was in La Jolla (don’t ask, I was commuting back and forth to Los Angeles). I heard it first on the Howard Stern show (yes, I’m a listener for decades) as I was getting dressed for work. I thought it was a “bit” for a moment but then it turned real, very real and very ugly. I turned the TV on and watched and watched. I don’t remember work. I don’t remember anything after that. Time stood still.
I returned to Los Angles and went to yoga teacher training class that weekend. The students just sat in class for what seemed to be a lifetime. Finally, Max, my master teacher, said something that reminded me why I love yoga and yoga practice. He said: “We mourn for the losses in our community. We feel completely helpless at this moment of tragedy. We know that there is evil in the world because we know our world is not perfect. We have history to teach us that. But what we do have is the intention to send out light and love to those who lost lives and are affected by those who lost lives and honor them forever in our thoughts and in our hearts. That’s what we can do. And we are not immobile and we are not paralyzed because we can continue to live our life with truth and come to a moment where clarity of thought and action connect our yoga practice to our personal journey. That’s what is known as our dharma.”
I’ve tried to live my life by that truth ever since. I’ve tried to inspire my students and audiences that gratitude and forgiveness are necessary tools for living a healthy and joyful lives – that vulnerability is necessary to get in touch with our emotions and creativity, that finding our passions will bring self-knowledge and excitement into our lives, and that learning to adapt to change can produce growth and transformation.
So what does all the above have to do with the Downward facing poodle? Her name is Violet Moss and she was on her own mat in my yoga class today with her mother, Tina Moss.
Tina and I were giggling on the floor this morning as I took a series of shots. This poodle dog has been around yoga so long that she knows what downward facing dog is!!! I said, “Violet, please get on your mat and do downward facing dog” and she did. No kidding. I was reminded again of why my yoga journey is so divine, so encompassing for my life. Yes, of course, it is a dog – but not just any dog – a poodle with super high intelligence and personality. But it is a living creature, an embodiment of all that connects us to other living creatures. Violet’s mind and body and spirit are perfectly connected within herself and to those in her environment. She greets me when I enter the house and leads me to my space and watches as I roll out my mat. She settles into her bed and listens to the yoga music and meditates with a zen state that cannot be duplicated by humans. In fact, humans are in awe of her.
Violet is a part of my dharma, my truthful journey. I remember the day that I decided I wanted to teach yoga. It was at the final meeting with Max about a week after training was over. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with the training class other then to deepen my practice so I sat silently in front of Max having breakfast with him in Venice. Finally, he asked if I had any ideas about what I wanted to do with yoga teacher training.
“I want to teach,” I blurted out. What was I saying? I shocked myself. Max seemed surprised, too, and then he smiled his knowing, intuitive smile. “May I assist you in your classes?” I asked eagerly.
“No, I’m afraid not.” I blinked loudly. “But I’m willing to learn more with you.” I was feeling abandoned at that moment. I loved Max as a teacher and as a person. We were contemporaries – well, I was older but not so much older.
“You have to go on your own journey, Joan. If you want to teach, it has to be your journey and and your journey alone. I am sure you would be fine being my assistant, but that is not where you should be. Everyone finds their own dharma.”
What Max said made sense a few days later and I realized that he was giving me the best gift I was ever going to receive in my life. That was the moment that my downward facing dog journey began. That was when the yoga teacher inside me emerged in earnest.