Lessons From A PVC and Tree Rubber Rectangle (a yoga mat)
I got certified as a yoga instructor at 17. My journey to there was a bit of a strange one, though I’m sure not as uncommon as I think. However that’s not what this particular article is about (if you want to know the story, let me know!) This article is about what my practice has evolved into since, and how it’s constantly teaching me new things at every turn, over a decade later.
Like most instructors, I was overwhelmed with teaching my own class and creating the format. I taught the exact class my own instructor had taught for a solid six months after I “graduated” training. It felt just as foreign as wearing someone else’s shoes and I’m sure it showed. My class at the time consisted of people I had started my practice with, and I felt an obligation to give them what I thought they wanted and were accustomed to (mixed with the strangeness of being 17, of course).
(roughly 17 year old Ashley in orange tights at her local gym on her OG blue mat)
And that was the first big lesson yoga taught me: teach how you practice.
Now I can’t take full credit for that; a fellow instructor gave me that little nugget of advice offhanded and they definitely don not know I went home and scribbled it all over my notes.
Of course, that’s the thing about epiphany moments: they cause change. Suddenly my practice was new. I experimented in class, I did postures that I enjoyed and could explain well because I explored them myself, often, and with curiosity and love (I am not looking at you, locus pose. You’re the worst.) It kept teaching from being just a gig, and kept it as a part of my life.
Ah… but how change is also a constant. I soon went off to college, and gained my first “official” class (by which I mean my NAME was on the schedule for all to see and know it was MY class, not just any yoga class.) I was so excited, but so committed to teaching like I practiced, I let my nerves and weird imaginary laws in my head bind me to staying on my mat during class.
If you’ve ever taken a live class (when that was a thing) and the teacher demos THE ENTIRE TIME… it’s probably not a great class. It might be a great workout though, I’ll give them that.
(College Ashley at a yoga clothing line shoot, roughly 20 years old)
So, came my next lesson from yoga: I am more than just my class (work, flow, product… you get it.)
And there was change again. I let my students in and they let me in. I walked around, chatted with them about how postures felt and offered assistance or deeper options because of it. I danced to my (amazing) playlists while I flittered from one end of the room to the other so everyone could see what I was talking about when I spouted off phrased like to “bring elbows to knees” or “tilt-your-head-this-way.”
Since my population was a lot of first-time-yogis, they loved it. My numbers got higher and higher and I almost always had a full class. One time I had so many folks in my room that we literally had to touch mats (I don’t recommend that. Especially since I’m pretty sure we broke fire code, but dang was that a fun class.)
I let the energy carry us and knowing there were other teachers with different (more relaxed) styles, I often went, well, “ham” and we were sweating profusely by savasana.
And then, lessons again. College came to a close and I was back to mostly keeping my practice to myself. I tried to keep up the energy, but it wasn’t always there. I got a chance to do some freelance work, but it was for a tech company and they weren’t looking for a high level, high sweat, deep stretch kind of class. They were looking to relieve their tight hips from sitting all day, and didn’t know (or care really) about standing on your forearms.
So the third lesson: slow down and meet people where they are.
I felt guilt at first — like I wasn’t being the best teacher I could be and therefore was letting them down. It was then to my surprise when they did like it and they kept coming back. When I kicked up a notch or went too fast, I saw the eyes sort of disconnect and the frustration flicker across their faces. I listened to my lessons, and I met them where they were — even if that meant we stayed in a lot of the “same place” on the outside.
Finally, one of the latest lessons (and let me just say I’m REALLY narrowing it down here for the sake of this article. There’s a LOT to learn on the mat that follows you all over everywhere you go and touch and do.)
(Current Ashley, 25, posing for promos for the tech company mentioned above)
The lesson: Showing up for someone else, can be showing up for yourself too.
2021 was, frankly, a 1/10 year for me. In the turbulence of all it entailed, I lost touch with the actual practicing of my practice. Where I used to spend at LEAST 20 minutes of self-time after a class to explore my own body and tensions, I didn’t. I clocked in and out and barely even turned my brain on for it. I stopped offering long meditations at the end of class because I felt too many bad vibes to be sending anyone good ones.
Then we started doing family yoga. My partner’s dad is an older gentleman and he’s got terribly tight over the last few years. We had practiced a few times before, but never consistently. Then at the very end of 2021, and all (so far… it is only January) of 2022, we really stuck to it. We decided on short sessions (30 minutes) and gave it a go.
I’m not about to say he does headstands or the splits or anything, but his pain has diminished significantly. I began to realize that I sincerely looked forward to the late-night practices, and not for the reasons I did in college. His progress (pain free!) is amazing to know and hear, but it’s the shared space, the connection, the time offering a sliver of something I’ve dedicated hours — years even — to, to someone I care about that makes it magical again.
Mostly, however, it’s been the way it’s brought me back to what I love about yoga, and all the goodness it’s brought me for so long (even when I’m kind of a jerk to it.) I FEEL the practice again, instead of just robot-ing my way through, so to speak. I am curious again about new poses and different bodies getting into them.
And that’s the journey so far. There will be more lessons to come, for sure, but for now I’m thankful that someone is keeping me accountable for showing up for myself too, reminding me there is always, always change but there can also always, always be growth in it.