Presidents and pirouettes. Herbal formulas and quadratic formulas. How to read and how to listen. Shame, courage, forgiveness. These are some of the things I’ve learned from teachers over the years, lessons that have taken me by surprise by how tenaciously they’ve stuck in my memory and how disproportionately fleeting they were compared to relative effort. Although I always did well in school, I was never one of those kids who could skirt through my work, cramming for tests and or not studying at all and acing through a combination of photographic memory and charisma. For most of the first two decades of my life, I did overnight shifts of “mental construction work” (as one YouTube video that went viral on my college campus) in my quest to erect and dwell in a temple of knowledge—flashcards and outlines, but also the manic-sounding oral recitation of the periodic table elements, list of American presidents, anatomy of plant cells, and later on things like the eight limbs of yoga (and their sublimbs), the doshas (and their subdoshas), the dhatus (and their waste products, roots, and channels), and more.
While I was always proud that I put in the work of learning instead of coasting like some of my peers, I always secretly wished I’d be able to show up and effortlessly demonstrate my knowledge. I found something like that in the commonplace format of my English major and subsequent work in publishing, where the subjective nature of the inquiries allowed for a more intimate, evolving evaluation of one’s intelligence on the subject—in some ways, it was less about what you said about a given text, but how you said it and the thought process that your writing about it revealed. It wasn’t until I decided to take a chance on a subject that I never intended to study formally, let alone teach, that the ease of wisdom I envied in others arrived for me, and transformed my relationship to the quest for knowledge entirely.
Yoga entered my life not through will, unlike most of the other studies I’ve taken on, but through its exact opposite: surrender (or, what it felt like at the time, coercion). In the wake of a health crisis, I began therapy, where mindfulness meditation and movement were both suggested as tools for healing. Turning on my first YogaWorks DVD, I was initially frustrated by the slow pace, unfamiliar postures and transitions, and—most of all—the “pointless” three minutes at the end where you lay down and do nothing. But the good student in me kept it up, and when I began curating my own set of self-care tools yoga became a panacea.
Looking back, my studies of yoga—while initially in the form of dedicated attendance at my teachers’ classes—ironically consisted of and took place during a time of massive unlearning. Not only did I reorient my attitudes toward my body, what it should do and how it should look; but also to how I chose to spend my time, sense of self-worth, and ability to acknowledge and express my needs and desires. Just as I pored over novels in college—pen in hand to pick out repeated images, themes, and words, as well as anomalies, searching for meaning—on the mat I analyzed the connection between my body and mind and began the (ongoing) process of smoothing out the kinked and flooded channels that prevented my story from making sense. The reason I think it was such a successful, though very difficult at times, process was that I was largely unaware that it was going on. I didn’t decide I wanted to “unlearn” so much about myself and take on new values and ideas; had a fortune teller described my future to me, I would have probably scoffed and done everything in my power to not have that happen. The learning, as it were, unfolded without my conscious control, and that surrender has allowed it to make a more lasting imprint on my whole being.
They say that “those who can’t do, teach,” which my story aligns with 100 percent—though not in the obvious way. The kind of teaching I do—asana, pranayama, and meditation; self-awareness and behavioral change; making more space for opposites to exist simultaneously—are all skills that I actively work on myself, and see the results of in my day-to-day actions in the most satisfying of ways. However, I would not say that I’m “doing” any of these things—rather, the ability to teach comes from the practice of letting go of a belief that knowledge is a fixed and memorizable thing, and instead doing what’s necessary to keep my senses clear enough to see the kaleidoscope of truths that are constantly intermingling and transforming all around and inside me. The things I claim to “know” at any one point are as impermanent as my breath, but living-giving just the same. And like the breath itself, knowledge is something that passes through us all simultaneously and continuously, in a fixed but renewable quantity. Illuminating, motivating, and satisfying, it resists stagnation because of its relentless curiosity and inherent state of balance. These are the qualities of prana, with its root in the heart, as well as the knowledge that rests there as well: the Knowledge called Wisdom.
When I began contemplating what my intention for 2023 would be, the word that echoed in my pulse was: “teach.” I was craving being back in the studio, and making my dreams of having a sustainable clinical practice and apothecary come true this year. But beneath those logistics was the true craving for that nourishing, prana-filled wisdom that overtakes me whenever I am in the position to share the wisdom I imbibed from my teachers through conscious effort and surrender to practice and intuition. Putting this intention into the universe, I’m eager to see how it manifests—yoga classes, clients, workshops, writing, or something else entirely (my bet’s on this one)—and, in my reformed-student mindset, know that there’s no use in trying to control or force my way into any of these roles. The only thing I can honestly do is continue to show up for my own learning (and unlearning), and make myself open as a catalyst and vessel for the movement of our collective unfolding of truth.