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Trading my skis for a yoga mat?


“Yoga is not about getting to know the postures. It is about getting to know yourself.”

~ Gary Kraftsow


Who am I? This is a question most ask, eventually. We spend a lifetime preparing to define ourselves through our careers, a favorite sport, or perhaps parenthood. For me, it was all the above, yet a ski injury, more than anything else, forced me to question my identity.

If anyone asked me to describe myself, I’d answer immediately. I know exactly who I

am. My biggest passion is my identity. I’m a skier. I was this before being a marketing

professional, a mother, an auntie, or a big sister. Everything that skiing stands for is

what I live and breathe. If I’m not a skier, then who am I?

On February 16, 2021, at Palisades Tahoe, one ski crash tore my ACL, MCL meniscus,

fractured three bones, and shattered my identity. It was devastating, but in order to

move forward, I entered a stage of intense self-care after experiencing extreme

self-doubt. This included practicing yoga daily from my home.

This essay is not about my ski accident so much as the journey I took towards

self-realization and how I’ll take this experience into the classroom as a teacher. My

personal yoga practice has helped me to define and love myself, and to comprehend

“radical self-acceptance.” (Nelson p. 35).

Radical acceptance is simply the acknowledgment of what is. It gave me permission to

be human, to hurt and heal. It also allowed me to recognize that, although I will ski

again, I won’t be the same person on the ski slopes. I will ski gentle terrain and at a

slower speed, at least to start. Whether I get back on steeper trails is yet to be seen.

Yet, I’m okay with this.

My thesis about self-realization directs me to the most important portion of the yoga

sutras: practice. I will particularly mention several physical, mental, and emotional

practices known as the 8-limbs of the Tree of Yoga that help ease stress and anxiety. It

was practicing these stages of yoga which most helped me heal, even more than

physical therapy and acupuncture, The 8-limbs include Yama (ethics) Niyama (Positive

duties or observances) Asana (posture) Pranayama (breathing techniques) Pratyahara

(withdrawal of senses-letting go of the physical world) Dharana (focused concentration)

Dhyana (meditation) and Samadhi (state of ecstasy, bliss, or enlightenment).


The eight stages are explained in the Yoga Sutras by Patañjali.

Each of us is like a plant with complicated emotions. We need warmth, nutrients, and a

safe space to grow. That can come through several things, including a glass of water or

a moment to meditate. I want to become like a living leaf on the Tree of Yoga, able to

spread my wings to each limb like a butterfly, carrying my students with me on the path

to healing.

I can’t ignore the physical environment in making me who I am today. Yet thankfully,

through the practice of Pratyahara I learned to let go of the outer world and focus on

self-soothing techniques. Because I’ve traveled this path, I feel I’ll understand my

students and brin deep compassion into the classroom setting.

How can I take my journey into the classroom for practical use? I’ve set my intention. I’ll

focus my yoga classes on injured athletes. Perhaps I’ll teach “Yoga for Ski Knees,” and

concentrate foremost on the first of the Yamas, Ahimsa. While I intend to concentrate on

every limb in the royal path to enlightenment, my most critical job will be to not harm my

students further. I’ll do this with kind words as much as using gentle poses such as

mountain pose, supported chair pose, forward bend, downward dog, bridge pose, and

other asanas that strengthen the knees and other joints.

I’ll set a weekly theme based on one limb at a time to incorporate the 8-limbs of yoga

into my teaching practice. “Today, it’s all about Dhyana, prolonged concentration or

meditation. Lie down, knees apart and soles of the feet touching to come into butterfly

pose, and breathe... Bring your awareness to your center...” Meditation does not mean

simply sitting still. It’s about keeping the mind still while the body is awake and relaxed,

and going with the flow..

To add a bit of Niyamas, I might use essential oils of lemon, lavender, or peppermint just

prior to Savasana (corpse pose) at the end of the class to support a deeper practice and

enhance the emotional and therapeutic benefits yoga provides.

Since I’ll be teaching either ashtanga hatha yoga or restorative for rehab, I’ll focus on

prolonged Asanas and Pranayama using props to support people’s bodies, yet I may

give a few minutes of a Dharma talk in between themes to explain the “royal path” of the

journey to awareness. (Kappimeither and Ambrosini, p.4). While teaching, I will remind

my students that the class is all about them as individuals, not about me or the

postures.” Everything but breathing is optional in yoga class.” (Kappmeier, Ambrosini, p.

26).


Yoga is not about reaching an end goal. Nor is it about always feeling blissful. Yoga is a

process where the path and the destination are one. (Mantra Wellness Magazine, p.6).

Part of the breakthrough for me came when I realized that this was a process. I will

arrive at Samadhi, the highest limb on the Tree of Yoga, when I remember my intention,

go back to the basics and stop taking myself so seriously. The yogic philosophy is to

find and accept our true self, not to stand on our heads.

I’ve learned the hard way that it’s okay to have negative thoughts. In fact, they’re vital to

our well-being. Attempts to suppress anger or sadness can actually reduce our

contentment if we do not process life’s difficulties. I plan to use positive affirmations in

the classroom, yet I’ll also remind my students that less-than-rosy emotions are an

important part of who they are. Rumi, a 13th Century Persian poet, tried to convey this

message in his poem, The Guest House:


"The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.

Every morning, a new arrival.

A Joy, a depression, a meanness,

some momentary awareness comes

as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!

Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,

who violently seep your house

empty of its furniture,

Still, treat each guest honorably.

He may be clearing you out

for some new delight.


The dark thought, the shame, the malice,

meet them all at the door laughing,

and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,

because each has been sent

as a guide from beyond."


Overall, I realized I needed to help myself before I can help others. I reached Vedanta

(end of knowledge) grasping that I can have both an active and peaceful life

(Jakbowicz, p. 8). I intend to bring this truth within me so I have an authentic voice and

make an offering to my students. In a recent Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) class

I took, I learned to practice “Wise Mind.” (Linehan, Mindfulness handout 3). Wise Mind

is the wisdom within each person. It’s about seeing the value of both reason and

emotion. I’d love to take this wisdom into a mindful yoga class.


There’s no perfection in yoga, so why not practice Satya and say it like it is? “Let’s

breathe out, and move into half moon pose if we can. This is difficult, so use a block like

I am for easier reach if you wish. I have trouble with it too!”


Practicing honesty is one of the most critical limbs of the royal path of yoga. In his book,

In Search of the Honest Truth; Adventures in Yoga Philosophy, Hari-kirtana das said,

“The word svarupa (essence) can be taken as a sign that our true nature has spiritual

characteristics.”


Will I be trading my skis for a yoga mat? No. I will ski and practice yoga simultaneously.

Yes, I will even meditate while skiing. After all, I am a skier, and one of the greatest

benefits of yoga is injury prevention. Yoga improves your strength, flexibility, and

coordination—all key to skiing. Now that’s worth climbing the Tree of Yoga for!


Who am I? I am a caring, compassionate, and confident woman who can connect with

people on multiple levels. This physical and emotional journey I’ve taken has made me

a better person. I am an aspiring yoga teacher. That’s enough.

Namaste.


WORKS CITED

  • Nelson, Juliet, Mindfulness: Self-Compassion Skills, “Sacred Self,” (p. 35).

  • Kappimeier, Kathy Lee and Ambrosini, Diane M., Instructing Hatha Yoga, (p. 8).

  • Mantra Wellness Magazine, Spring Issue 2022, (p. 6).

  • Jakubowicz, Rina, The Yoga Mind, (p. 8).

  • Linehan, Marsha M., DBT Skills Training Handouts and Worksheets, Second Edition,

  • Mindfulness Handout 3.

  • Rumi,The Guest House, taken from selected poems by Rumi. Translated by Coleman

  • Banks (Penguin Classics, 2004).

  • Kirttana das, Hari, In Search of the Honest Truth; Adventures in Yoga Philosophy, (p.8).

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