Reflections on an Academic Year: Surrender & Trust

10 Jun

Rialto_Natarajasana

“You need to be able to dive into your own heart and find that place of deep, deep nourishment inside.  And then you get happy for no reason.  Sometimes you think there is a reason, but there is no reason.  It is your natural state!”
~ Swami Shambhavananda 

Deep breath … I have made it through my first year back to school!  And now it’s summer ~ gratefully, a time for really diving deeper into my yoga practice, friendships, gardening, and adventure!  Although school certainly allowed for constant opportunities to practice yoga: to surrender, to find balance between effort and ease, and in letting go of the type of student I used to be.  I discovered that I was very attached to being a straight-A rockstar student, and that attachment really caused me a lot of suffering as I navigated through these new math and science courses that provided tremendous challenge for my more artsy, creative brain.  My undergraduate degree in Creative Writing came so easily; my 4.0 GPA felt effortless back then, and I was expecting that returning to school this time around, with 6 years of post-graduate Life Experience & Wisdom behind me, would be a breeze.  It wasn’t!  But in this challenge, I experienced so much growth!  I learned that I am capable of more than I ever thought possible, that I really do have a choice in how I respond to the myriad stresses and demands of academia.  It is not my favorite culture, but I learned that a sense of centeredness (my meditation practice and how its effects seep into daily life) makes anything possible.

It turned out that the college experience is really the ultimate teacher for me at present.  Not necessarily the topics that I am learning, but the way I choose to spend my time and find balance in my life.  My former self would spend hours studying until my brain felt swollen and my eyes were sore ~ all in pursuit of the grade.  I am learning that it is not worth it ~ in fact, all those hours of pouring over my books is actually counter-productive; that a sense of balance and happiness, connection with friends and family is more important than being a top-ranking student.  In my heart of hearts, I do not believe the current educational system (huge lecture classes, not enough time to develop connections with professors or peers, a competitive atmosphere) is as good as it could be ~ I believe that there are better ways to train our minds ~ but it did me no good to agonize over it.  Once I made that mental switch, I was able to really focus on balancing work and play, and to deeply surrender to and trust the experience.  Magically, though I wasn’t studying as much, my brain seemed to work more efficiently, my mind was clearer, and I was happier ~ not only that, but when I stopped worrying so much about doing well, even my grades improved!  These are the boons of finding a deep sense of balance.

I was fortunate to have been hired as a yoga instructor at Western for the past 3 quarters (my class schedule does not allow for me to continue teaching in the fall), and what an incredible growing experience that was.  Teaching a class of 30 students in 40 minutes was certainly an invitation for me to become more concise and efficient with my cueing and instruction, and also to really trust that students were going to honor their own limitations and not injure themselves!  I learned that I have a hard time with that ~ I like to be very protective of my students and make sure they are not compromising their physical bodies during asana practice.  But in a short time with so many students, I can’t possibly get around to everyone in every pose to make physical adjustments and individualized corrections, so this too took a great deal of surrender and trust.  Additionally, I was so inspired by how much my students really loved meditation and mindfulness practices.  They recognized that yoga offers the ultimate antidote to the huge amount of stress and pressure they are exposed to as students.  I am so grateful to be in a position to be able to offer these life-changing teachings.

Michael_Jess

Me and Michael, meeting to organize an event called Prostrations for Peace

I remember my first yoga class, back at Columbia College with Michael McColly.  He was teaching a Freelance Applications of Fiction Writing course, and I (like many American college students) was struggling with an anxiety disorder and depression, being medicated, and told by my doctors that I would be taking pharmaceuticals to help deal with my issues for the rest of my life.  Michael started our first class by asking us to push all the desks to the perimeter of the room.  He had us gather on the floor on hands and knees (in our skinny jeans and Doc Marten bots because we were all trendy art students) and breathe through some yoga postures.  After just 10 minutes of breath and asana, I felt better than after I took a Xanax, and that was the catalyst that set me on my path of yoga.

Now it feels like full circle, offering this practice that has totally transformed my life to college students ~ many of whom are in the same boat that I was at that time of my life.  It is such a gift to be in the position to offer this practice.  I am so grateful.

And I am also very humbled, because this quarter ~ this school year ~ showed me more than ever that I still have so much to learn and gain from yoga.  This practice is not something you master; it is ever-growing, ever-expanding, and there is always more depth to find.

I am filled with so much gratitude.  For all my teachers, past, present and future.

ॐ Om shanti shanti shanti.

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