I used to suffer from back pain. Serious back pain. I would get home form my job (I’m a hair stylist, so I spend all day on my feet) and drink a lot of wine, take ibuprofen and lay on my side in agony. Sometimes I took as many as 48,00 mgs of ibuprofen a day. Sometimes I drank a whole bottle of wine.
Finally, I went to see a doctor. He took an X-ray of my back and found I had a unique condition. My tailbone is fused to the vertebra above it, but only on one side. This means the disk in between is asymmetrical, and my pain was coming from a pinched nerve. He recommended surgery. I sought a second opinion. This doctor said, “If you strengthen the muscles around your core, you will create space for the disk and your pain will decrease.” He recommended Pilates or yoga. In 2000, there were very few yoga studios in town, so I tried Pilates. I did it for about a year, and it definitely helped. I held a gym membership, as well.
On the Tuesday after Memorial Day in 2001, I walked into what I thought was a boot camp class. Only everyone was barefoot and laying on the floor. What the hell? I do better when led in a class. When left to my own, I would often cut out of the gym after 20 minutes. I was feeling lazy and probably had eaten a bunch at a cookout the day before, so I stayed in the room and reluctantly took off my shoes.
It was an Ashtanga yoga class led by a man named Ken. It was intense and I spent most of the hour confused. When I rose from bed the next day, I could barely raise my arms, and walking down the stairs brought new awareness to my thighs. I loved it. I kept going back about twice a week. Once the yoga started to settle into my body, it got easy. I tried Bikram, where the addition of the heat meant there was a cardio aspect. I was thrilled. The harder the better. I became a little competitive. The mirrors at the Bikram studio made it easy for me to compare myself to others and I pushed myself harder and harder. Guess what happened? I injured myself. I blamed the yoga. I blamed the teacher. I took a break from yoga. I complained about it, and I slipped back into the pain.
Soon, Portland Power Yoga opened, and I heard amazing things. The teachers were great. Alignment was a huge focus. I started going once or twice a week, and Alice, who owned the yoga studio, used to say, three times a week changes your body; five times a week changes your life. I was married, I was living in the suburbs, I had a small business that was on the second floor of the State Theater building. Things were “fine,” but who doesn’t want more from life?
I attended four to five days per week for nine years. I was the first student to reach 1,000 classes. The teachers did sneak in a little spiritual chat, and I would suppress the eye-roll that also sneaked in, but I loved the Baptiste practice. Baptiste power flow is a program developed by Baron Baptiste designed to work the whole body, including the organs. It’s practiced in a heated room, so the body releases toxins, as well. As it was rooted in alignment and I could feel my body growing and changing. I learned that by breathing in and out, I could relax and hold the poses that pushed my buttons. I learned to find a balance between pushing myself and letting myself go.
Nonetheless, I still strove to compete until one day I was next to a “yoga friend.” He and I regularly practiced next to one another on Sunday mornings. In this class, I was suddenly aware that my yoga friend was struggling. I breathed deeper, loud enough for him to hear. In and out, slowing my breath down. We went through a very strenuous series of balancing postures and eventually made it to the mat. I realized I had let go of competition and instead had offered up my energy to another. I thanked him for practicing next to me, and he returned the thanks. I had practiced gratitude before, but this time I felt it deep in my body, as if in my bones, or maybe my soul?
At times, Portland Power Yoga would bring in a teacher for a workshop. One teacher was Roberto from Boston. He was originally a Baptiste teacher. He specialized in arm balances and was very inspiring. Eventually he trained with Shiva Rea in Prana Flow, a rhythmic, vinyasa flow class that encompasses, among other things, chanting and meditation, with music.
The first workshop he taught in this style, I was confused. There was an element of dance, and I can barely tell my right from my left. One time, when he came he brought Shiva Rea’s book, “Tending the Heart Fire.” I had read yoga books before. I found them dry, over my head or overly simplistic. This book compared all of the world religions, and it talked about the mental and spiritual connections with the body.
I was ready, or this was a really good book, or something. I looked Shiva up online. I saw that she had teacher trainings in all parts of the world. I had contemplated teaching before, but I had always been too busy. My business was taking off and I was finally getting a regular paycheck. I filled out the application and waited. Boom, I was in. Holy cow. I started poring through the requirements: Anatomy, history of yoga, send in videos of your classes, knowledge of Sanskrit (a dead language used in yoga). OK, I thought, I can do this.
When I walked into Exhale in Venice, Calif., for my first training in a 10-day immersion, I felt like a new person and took the opportunity to rename myself. Jaye is my middle name. I always seem to be one of many Jennifers
We started with a brief practice, then partnered up to teach our first few postures. Ironically, the partner I worked with was a previous resident of Presque Isle, now living in Venice. We started teaching on the first day. It was terrifying. I felt so out of my element and had such stage fright. The yoga lived in my body, but my mind was getting in my way. I found I was excited about the new pathways my body was entering, but I was convinced I would never teach.
I didn’t want to feel like I had wasted my time. When I got home, I started to teach a very small group at the salon. It felt awkward at first, but my salon gals had very little experience, so I knew they would not be too harsh in judging me. At first, I started slow and steady. I focused on their alignment, and made sure they wouldn’t hurt themselves. We focused on breath, we tried some new things.
Each week I witnessed them growing and changing. I see them reaching for new poses, and also feel them grounding down in their beings. I think back to those early classes, when I was afraid of the chanting and the spirituality, and I giggle a little. It seems that if you let it in, the yoga will get to you, and when it does, you want to share it.
I’m still in the process of getting my certification, and I don’t know how many classes I will teach, but I feel like I spread the vibe of yoga every day. I keep calm cool and collected in difficult situations. I hope I inspire others to do the same.