April marks the 10th anniversary of my being certified as a yoga instructor. This is a momentous and significant commemoration of the journey I have been on as I have grown into becoming Nitya.
That first day of teacher training was my birthday, October 21, 2004, and it came at a time in my life when I was hungry for the next step. I came by the tuition through a Feng Shui job in Baltimore consulting on a strip mall that paid the exact amount that was needed, it just seemed destined to be. I can still remember walking up the steps to class and meeting Debbie Fazenbaker for the first time, someone who is still a dear friend and someone who played an essential role in those early years of teaching. True to my impulsive and passionate nature, I graduated in April 2005 and immediately embarked on the quest to open a yoga studio. Initially Debbie and I did this together, but after many dead ends and struggles to find a suitable location and building, I continued alone determined to find a place. Against my own principles to not push to make something happen when it is obviously not happening easily, I eventually found a building on Main Street. Looking back I can see how I forced something to happen that was not meant to be at that time. The lessons I learned were beautifully painful.
I opened the doors of Just Be Yoga in the summer of 2006 with a 10 week long summer yoga camp for kids. Debbie, Miss Nalini, constructed the first curriculums and in many ways taught me how to manage and run a classroom, and work with children. You see, going into this venture I had never taught or worked with kids before. Something from within me said this was my path and I was headstrong set on figuring out how to make it work. We got through two incredible summer seasons at Just Be Yoga. I can still recall the opening day event, the struggle to pay the bills and fill classes, the sweet feeling of early success when I’d drive by at night and see the shoe rack full of shoes and an instructor chatting with students in the front room. My little studio on Main Street was starting to take off as we entered 2008 and the 3rd yoga camp season when the economy collapsed. In May Becky Eschenroeder, now a Yoga with Nitya instructor, and I called over 60 families one afternoon trying to fill yoga camp but it was not to be. Over 75% of the families were choosing other more economical alternatives to their summer plans as the gas prices had spiked along with food prices and people were being laid off from their jobs. I had no choice but to close. The last event was a meditation program led by Swami Ken, and afterwards we sat on packing boxes and had a make shift picnic of take out from Sticky Rice in the emptied front room. It was as if the Universe was blessing the end of an incredibly difficult passage in my initial venture into yoga. Swami Ken has continued to come back to Richmond to offer meditation programs both at yoga camp and for adult programs too.
That summer I spent at home with my daughter. It was so strange to go from being so busy and inundated with work to having next to nothing to do but play with my girl while configuring how to reboot my yoga business without Just Be. It has not been easy, I don’t think it was meant to be so, this journey I have been on has taught me so much about myself; what I am capable of, my strengths, my weaknesses, and ultimately how to live yoga, how to live my dharma, my faith. Even in a Hatha Yoga class, as we move through the asanas or poses we are not meant to feel comfort, we are meant to find our edge. We are to find comfort in the discomfort, to push just enough, to ride the edge until space opens up allowing us to deepen further into the pose, into our selves, into our lives.
Some of you have been with me throughout these past 10 years and have witnessed all of this. Many of you were there to support me in infinite ways. I can say this, I would never have made it this far without all the incredible children and adults who have rolled out their yoga mats and sat before me for class, for camp, for Kirtan, and for retreats. My success is a direct result of your participation. My gratitude is endless, truly my heart swells with so much appreciation for all you have allowed me to give in the name of service, in the name of yoga. There are many families who have stuck with me for the duration; little Summer was in my first toddler class is now nearing 10 years old, Miranda who came to my first family yoga class at the age of 5 is now 12, Claudia who has been with me for the past 6 years, Xavier who like my daughter, Bea, began at Just Be Yoga Summer Camp when they were 6 are now 16 and yoga camp counselors, and joining them is Bella who also has been with me for the past 6 years is a yoga camp counselor this summer and illustrated my book. I have watched so many kids grow up, and my hope is that what I have taught them has made a positive impact, a meaningful difference.
This has not just been about building a business, though some days it feels like that, it is also not always about what I could give, because ultimately I could not give all that I do without first having to give something meaningful to myself. Over these past 10 years I have had 2 spiritual awakenings that cracked me wide open. The first was during my teacher training when we went for a long weekend to Yogaville to have teachings expounded by the swamis on yoga philosophy. It was a cloudy gray December day just after noon meditation. I had chosen to sit in Chidambaram, the building that is where Sri Swami Satchidananda is entombed and a wax statue in his likeness sits prominently. I was walking alone up the high road to lunch with the chant Om Namah Shivaya in my mind, I may have even been singing it aloud, when as I came around a bend in the road, the sun hazily shown through the clouds and struck me. The words to the chant changed to “I don’t know who I am, I don’t know where I go, I am the light that falls on the other side of shadow” – something happened to me then, I felt my heart open and I began to run. I am not a runner, and I have never had much stamina for rigorous exercise, so it was bizarre to find myself running full speed up the side of the mountain trail to Sivananda Hall sobbing with joy, with release, and with relief. One of my colleagues was standing just outside of the woods, off the trail I was running when she saw me. She asked if I was okay because I’m sure I was a sight of tears and panting and sobs. I answered “YES!!” with full radiant joy beaming out of my heart. I was never the same after that. Something had shifted inside of me. It was years later, June 2012, when I was in Yogaville again for a Yin Teacher training with Biff Mithoefer when I had my second awakening. This time I was walking on the low road alone, in a very pensive place, when I reached that point on the road where you could turn right to go down to the farm and you can first see LOTUS fully in view. I felt something happen to me that was indescribable at the time. When I got home, I wasn’t home. For several weeks I felt like I was in two places at once. Part of me was at that spot on the road in Yogaville, I could hear people talking and walking by me as if I was still standing there, and yet, I was here in Richmond trying to continue my everyday life. Then a friend advised me to not fight the feelings, to allow myself to elevate to that higher vibration of being and not try to return to the person I was before I left. They were right. In fact after that summer my life began to change and I went through that next year like a baptism of fire as relationships ended, and the old last vestiges of the paradigm that had been my life fell away.
There are two people who have been instrumental in this as well who I simply could not have arrived at this place where I am now without their profound influence. Foremost is my Integral Yoga teacher, Nora Vimala Pozzi, who pushed me so hard during the teacher training with love, with grace, with discipline, and with wisdom. The other person is someone I have never met, who was at my hand as I penned my book, “A Child’s Journey into Yoga,” who has had my back every time I doubted I could do what was being asked of me whether in class or in life, and is a constant presence guiding me on this path of living yoga with unconditional love, comfort, and support. That person is the founder and spiritual leader of Integral Yoga, Sri Swami Satchidananda, or Gurudev. I have an article being published in the Integral Yoga Magazine this month about Gurudev’s remarkable influence on my life and my teaching.
In these 10 years I have opened and closed a studio, I have transformed my car into a mobile studio, I have released a kids yoga DVD, published my first book, branded my name Yoga with Nitya, started to train others to do what I do and will soon have over 10 teachers in Richmond and beyond, I have taught thousands of children in day cares, schools, and studios, directed and run nearly 9 years of yoga camp, hosted adult retreats and workshops, gone into homes for private yoga sessions with children and adults needing specialized yoga instruction, and I am far from finished.
At this junction I take pause and reflect, and I take pause and look forward. I am incredibly grateful, deeply moved, and greatly motivated to grow beyond where I am now because I see how I have inspired so many to do as Gurudev advised us to, “Be Good and Do Good.”
Thank You, Thank You, Thank You! I bow to each of you deeply in reverence, in Namaste.