18 February 2013

Reflections on Retiring from Teaching Yoga

I know it's a retirement because it feels good, complete, bittersweet, consummate.

Sunday, February 24 at 8:00 am will be my final premeditated time teaching yoga.  I have been scaling down since December, and this will be the last hurrah.

A large part of the retirement has to do with the relocation of my daughter's father to Washington, D.C. I arranged my teaching schedule around the time that he spent with her. I am grateful to him for providing me with the space to teach in some capacity during the whole time that she has been alive.

Another part of it has to do with finding myself wildly out of balance when it comes to my external commitments and my own self-care. Full-time single motherhood, full-time employment, a daily 3-hour round-trip commute, plus regular attendance at the Foundations in Contemplative Care Program in New York City and its accompanying homework and volunteer hours have left me with nary a moment to make sure my socks match nevermind nourishing and replenishing myself enough to make sure that I am offering my whole, fresh, open, full-of-potential self to all of my endeavors, equally.  I do my best to meditate during little snatches in my work day, but the luxury of a yoga practice or the protracted time alone that my introverted self needs to feel truly fantastic are pipe dreams at this time.  Instead of beating myself up over this, I remember the wise quote offered to me by my meditation instructor about not trying to "rearrange the furniture while the house is on fire." Things will evolve, they always do. In the meantime, I am rearranging my priorities instead of the furniture.

I love teaching yoga. I absolutely live it. That was not a typo. It is one of the things that I do, in addition to cooking, dancing, and practicing yoga (and writing - sometimes), that feels like I am channeling. Also chaplaincy work to some extent, but I am still refining my end of the channeling bargain on that one - not quite as fluid with that as the other things, thus the continued attention and levels of learning.  But in teaching I open up, tap in, and let it flow. That's not to say I'm speaking in tongues or something, but whatever comes up, whatever comes out, originates from a place beyond myself. And it's not even like I'm taking the people in the room on some fantastic voyage: my sequences are pretty plain, the practice I offer is downright boring. Intentionally. In boredom there is space for depth; in depth, space for intimacy. Intimacy is the heart of the practice.  Intimacy comes when we are not looking to be entertained, when we have preserved our own agency on the mat instead of handing it over to the teacher for some kind of ass kicking.  I know that many (most?) people see yoga as their fitness regimen to be done harder and more intensely, but for me intensity is not a sweating, bucking thing but instead a softening, a deep acknowledgment.  The most intense moments of my life have looked like me sitting still and feeling elevated above whatever issue has been plaguing me so that I have the perspective to approach it skillfully, with kindness and deliberation. Grace is intense. Going slowly is so much more challenging than being aggressive, habitual, reactive. Being forgiving, being kind to oneself sincerely, resting thoroughly - these are the real "achievements" of a yoga practice, as if there were achievements to be had.

All of this comes from a breathing practice. Fundamentally. Enough said.

Though I've been teaching for somewhere around nine years, this relatively short amount of time has been subject to much (r)evolution and some of the most profound learning I could have ever asked for.  It originated equally from heartbreak and annihilation as it did from those blissful moments of right action, right speech, synchronicity.  Over and over again yoga returned me to myself, kick and scream as I might. That is the intention I have done my best to preserve in my instruction of the practice: "Here you are. Still. Again. I'm here too with you. It's okay."

Sadhana is and forever will be my yoga home, there is no place else like it on earth for me. I have been there longer than I have been anywhere else, and if and when the stars align for me to take a class now and again, you can bet that you will see me there on my mat.  I'm immensely grateful to Glen for more than I could possibly enumerate here, but basically I'm grateful to him for seeing me and for letting me know it's okay to be seen. We were unknowing reflections of one another when we first met, and that has only deepened in the past five years.

I've been trying to think of a way to acknowledge the politics that we unwittingly/unwillingly subject ourselves to when daring to be a part of (or apart from) the "yoga scene," but at heart it comes back to what I already wrote.  Everyone is flawed, beware of those who distort or ignore their own shadows, and if you are fooled by them once, shame on them.  If you are fooled by them twice, then you haven't yet learned the lesson about not handing over your own best interests to someone else. The practice exists for you to learn how to recognize and hold that warty side of yourself without judgment, to figure out how to stand by your own side, to develop resilience, and - believe it or not - for you to acknowledge and establish boundaries that simultaneously keep you safe and open to growth.  Be an adult, unhesitatingly.

There are some really wonderful new teachers who are drying their wings, which is another reason why I am not fretting about retirement.  To them I will say this: take care of yourselves so that you can be the kind of teacher who responds to students without an agenda.  People are crazy and beautiful and they will try to make you responsible for both states and everywhere in between.  But you're not! You never need to "fix" anyone. Breathe and feel them, and let them have their experience.  You will be fine, they will be fine. Loving them is harder if you're not clear in the love you have for yourself, but really that is all you need to bring with you into the studio. An earnest love of the human condition. Poses, shmoses. The poses will come. Be love.

Pay attention to minutiae. Feel your feet. Don't worry about the variety of aromas that waft your way. Baby yourself. As in, be as gentle with yourself as you would a little baby.  No, really.  Strengthen your core; be able to soften it at a moment's notice.  Rejoice in whatever makes you geek out.  It's not about the clothes, the exotic retreats, the advancedness of the peculiar, invented asana, the renown of the instructor, the mystery of the Sanskrit and co-opted pan-Asian culture, or the volume and tenor of your "om." Go slow. Embody your breath. Be curious with your discomfort. Stop trying to be so cool. Stop trying to be right!  Listen. Respond. Listen. Let that bubble of truth burst into your practice and into your life. Little ones first. Then the big ones.

Here you are. Still. Again. I'm here too with you. It's okay.  



  1. I am so glad that you exist and that I know you in this lifetime. You are love Ms. Catone and I thank you for being a teacher of what that looks like in all of its manifestations...keep on keeping on Queen

  2. YES!!! Thank you for sharing you heart and soul, truth and humor....I love reading what you write! x o x o JKP

  3. Amelia, This is so you--raw, brilliant, honest, heartfelt, fiery and real. Thanks for sharing your love.

  4. Ditto what Luana said! Glad I finally got to read this today. Oh, we could have such a conversation about so many said things. And doesn't motherhood just bring it ALL back down to earth. And to the basics.
    I admire you, and feel with you, and continue to breathe down my own path of what it is to be a yoga teacher now. It's evolving and changing, and I will continue to push myself to be as real as can be with wherever it takes me (or doesn't take me).
    Thank you, Amelia! I hope we can connect in person sometime this year. So much love to you.

  5. Best wishes Amelia. Thanks for teaching me how to breath...eight years into my practice.