Always My Teacher
I’m currently in Bali, Indonesia, learning from some amazing teachers at an Ashtanga Yoga conference. In his workshop, David Swenson told us a lot of fantastic stories about his journey with yoga. One of the many things that he said that resonated with me is that no matter how long you practice, and no matter how many people teach you, those people will always be your teachers. I’ve been traveling and practicing with many teachers across the globe, and I have come to I realize that I carry all of my teachers with me. Each teacher has shaped, on some level, both my yoga practice and my style as a yoga teacher.
No matter how long I practice, and no matter how many big-named “yoga celebrities” teach me, I can never forget that my sister, Marybeth, is my first teacher.
Sometime in the late 1990s, the two of us acquired a Kathy Smith yoga VHS, and that’s how yoga began for me: in the family room of my parents’ house, with my sister by my side. On whatever day it was, in whatever year it was, there was something magical about the two of us discovering yoga together in that sun-filled room. I can’t remember any details about that first practice, but I am positive that there must have been plenty of giggling.
We eventually graduated to DVDs and yoga classes with real, live teachers, and yoga became something that the two of us would experience together (sometimes with giggles, sometimes with tears, but always with love for each other). We haven’t lived in the same place for many years, but it became an unspoken tradition for us to practice yoga, side by side, every time we visited one another or traveled together.
Several years ago, when yoga was still just a sporadic part of my “workout” regimen, Marybeth began to practice yoga regularly. After a few months of regular practice, I noticed a change in her — she became calmer, more confident, more centered. I, on the other hand, was in the middle of a very stressful time in my law career, and I felt like a complete mess (emotionally, physically, and spiritually). Having a regular yoga practice seemed like a luxury I couldn’t afford — my job was demanding, and my hours were long. Yet, inspired and encouraged by my sister, I managed to begin practicing yoga a few times a week. After a month or two, I noticed a change in myself, too. I started to feel a little bit like “me” again, rather than the burned out, angry, depleted version of me that I’d been since I finished law school.
Marybeth fell so in love with yoga that she often talked of becoming a teacher. One day, after an especially wonderful practice together, I told her, “I’ll go with you to teacher training next year.” When next year came, Marybeth was a new mother to my beautiful niece, Jocelyn, and in no shape to head to yoga teacher training. But I was at a point where I was ready to say “see you later” to my career as an attorney and to start on a new path of yoga and wellness. With Marybeth’s encouragement, with her help in finding the right teacher training program, and with her thumbs up as I ventured off into the Great Unknown, I left my law career behind. Nearly two years later, as I sit here in Indonesia at this yoga conference, I am astounded at how beautiful and free my life has become since I opened my heart to yoga. I am also fairly certain that I would not be here today if it weren’t for Marybeth.
My sister has never taught me any asana. She has never led me through a yoga class or a breathing exercise or a guided meditation. But what I have learned from Marybeth as my yoga teacher is invaluable. By witnessing her dedicate herself to her practice (and her practice to herself), I learned about tapas (discipline) in my own practice. By observing her step back, support, and encourage me to pursue her dream of becoming a yoga teacher, I learned about the practice of aparigraha (non-attachment). And by practicing with her for years — just two sisters, side by side, accepting and loving each other through our practices — I learned that yoga is about connection, first with yourself, and then with the world around you.
Marybeth hasn’t gotten her teaching certification yet (she’s too busy being a kickass mom), but when she does, I will be the first person to roll out my mat at her feet and learn what she has to share. She is always my teacher, she is always my sister, she is always my friend.