Praying to the Universe (My Transformation #1)

I’m not quite your typical yoga student. On the most basic level, I’m a guy in a space dominated by women. I don’t think I’ve ever blissed out, aligned my chakras, much less done anything else, um, spiritual. I’ve always gravitated towards more physically aggressive activities. I often sit at the end of a yoga class, listening to the teacher talk about letting your light shine, wondering what on earth she’s droning on about. Post class chit chat, usually centred around the coolest yoga pants or how Lululemon has sports bras on sale, left me about as outside as one can get.

My yoga journey began 4 years ago, when, after a particularly gruelling MMA (that’s mixed martial arts) class, I bent over to drink water from a fountain, and felt a terrible, and terrifying pain rise up from my lower back, and descend in waves of burning down my left leg. You’ve heard of pins and needles? Well this was more like nails and spikes.

So, there I was, bent over at a fountain, unable to stand back up, barely able to walk or breathe. Carefully, ever so carefully, I made my way home. A trip to the doctor and a subsequent MRI revealed that I had a herniated disc in my lower back. He told me surgery wasn’t necessary, yet. I would need to take it easy in MMA, and do something to stretch out and eventually heal, my back.

My wife helpfully suggested I start coming to hot yoga with her. Yoga, which is obviously boring, and for girls or hippies, or maybe even girl hippies (ok, I admit I bought into the stereotype). Done in a hot room? That sounded…horrible. Horrible and boring. Would I have to pray to the universe?

Out of desperation, I went, and I’d like to say that after my first class, I was hooked. Love at first vinyasana. That, however, would be a lie. I actually hated it. It was indeed boring, and really hot, and filled with super thin, super flexible girls, and the occasional super thin, super flexible guy, all of whom obviously ate nothing but rice crackers and raw grass. We also meditated….and listened to our breath. Great…

Despite all this, I kept going, and slowly, my back started feeling better. Not all the time, but it was improving. My knees, my elbows, my neck also started feeling better. I stopped waking up every day feeling like I’d been in a train wreck.

Eventually, yoga was taking up most, if not all of my time. Some of the bonus benefits of yoga even started seeping in. As I said before, when the teachers started mumbling about peace and love, I usually tuned out. None the less, I felt calmer, more focused and less attached to the stresses of daily life.

I did get tired of the heat and repetition of a Bikram based practice, and moved into vinyasa flow, power yoga, core and kettle-bell yoga – yes, that’s a thing apparently. These provided me the mix of intense conditioning, restorative flexibility, mobility and yes, I admit it, meditative practices that I preferred, minus the stroke-inducing heat.

Up until I decided to take my 200 hr. YTT at Tirusula, I wasn’t as committed to yoga as many yogis and yogininis though. I went a few times a week, and otherwise, worked out with kettle-bells, did HIIT conditioning and other body-weight and mobility exercises. I’d never heard of ashtanga, didn’t really know what made hatha hatha or vinyasa vinyasa, and couldn’t remember a Sanskrit asana name to save my life.

I did know, from teaching Brazilian Jiu-jitsu and kickboxing, as well as lecturing at the corporate and university level, that I love teaching. There are few things more rewarding that watching someone begin the process of gaining a skill, getting stronger, more confident and ultimately, discovering their true selves – the selves they were always meant to be, but were too afraid, too discouraged by past experiences or self-doubt, to seek. So, I resigned to not over-think it, take the plunge, and see if there is a place for me in the yoga teaching world.

I didn’t expect yoga to change me – transform is such a grandiose term, and I’m not sure how it will change me in the future, particularly as I move towards teaching. I’m not really the “light in me bows to the light in you” type, and to attempt play the mystical guru wouldn’t be very Satya of me anyway. I’m really not confident that there is a place for me in an industry where the role of teacher seems to be part personal trainer, part moral councillor, part shamanistic spirit guide. My intention is to be honest about myself, not be tempted to fall into the trap of superficial clichés just to appeal to market demands, and hope everything works out in the end.

 

–          Michael Thompson / 200 hr. YTT Weekend Warriors