In the song “Beautiful Boy,” John Lennon says, “Life is what happens when you’re making other plans.”
I definitely found this to be true, recently, when it comes to Yoga. At the end of September, I left my job. I didn’t like how I was being treated there, which can be summarized as ‘overworked and underpaid’, in addition to harassment from my peers and supervisors that only seemed to be getting worse. I have been battling unemployment for the last three, going on four years, since I was let go from a full-time job of seven years at a discount retail chain. I am lucky and grateful to have a family that helps me out while I try to get back on my feet. I became interested in Yoga about five years ago, and my first attempt at pursuing Yoga teacher training ended quickly and painfully. I became certified online, through Aura Wellness Center, in 2018.
I immersed myself in job searching, but also in Yoga. I wrote sequences and lesson plans, mapping out step-by-step how I wanted to launch an online fitness brand: an Instagram page, a YouTube channel, all the familiar trappings of emergent online Yoga culture. When I found a job listing for a yoga teacher position at a local non-profit community fitness center, I thought that all of that manifestation, ‘speak it and claim it’ stuff was kicking in, and my destiny was dawning.
I arrived a few minutes early at the interview and was greeted by the program director with an unenthusiastic, “Uh, can you wait over there?” a table outside his office. I waited, and we were joined by an assistant and the Yoga teacher who would be my colleague. It was clear that the director and assistant knew little about Yoga, and the Yoga teacher on staff proved to be an attention seeking, emotionally draining man who somehow roped me into academically editing his doctoral thesis…which could have been a ploy to hit on me. His actions were erratic and unclear, but there was definitely an agenda there.
I got the job, and then…waited. I didn’t hear anything from anyone for almost two weeks, except the Yoga teacher who was bombarding me with personal requests even though we weren’t even co-workers, yet. I heard nothing about orientation or on-boarding until two weeks later, the day before Thanksgiving, when I received an email instructing me to arrange at my own expense a drug test by the end of the day. It was so abrupt, it was almost creepy. I reached out to the program director, who told me to reach out to district management.
My mother, a former retail manager, had been fed up when I voiced that it was weird how long the fitness center had let me sit without a word about when I would be starting work. She’d thought everything would be handled once Thanksgiving had passed. However, now the extent of their organizational disorder was clear, and I couldn’t foresee having a fulfilling time working for them. I passed on the job, knowing as I did so that we live in a small, rural community where there is only one Yoga studio. Most of the studios are in the state capitol, which is quite a drive away. I wouldn’t say that the fitness center was my last chance to teach Yoga in person, but my certification expires in May, and job openings are all but nonexistent.
“What becomes of a dream deferred?” Langston Hughes wrote. “Does it dry up, like a raisin in the sun?”
My dreams could’ve done so the first time that Yoga teacher training didn’t work out. As hurtful as that experience was, I didn’t quit. I studied forms of Yoga I hadn’t previously, the history of Yoga, as well as Taoism and Qi Gong to expand my worldview. Maybe some of my determination, however, came from spite, which is just another form of letting the person or experience who’s hurt you influence you. This time, I wanted to create an experience that would provide a bridge between the thing that hurt me and my future. No bitterness, just healing and growth.
Using the money from editing my almost-colleague’s college essays, I took a Reiki course through Udemy. I had wanted to take a Reiki course or workshop, but every time I came close something seemed to come up, or I didn’t have the money. This time, the timing clicked. Studying the art of healing with universal energy was the sort of rite of passage that is not conventionally accommodated for in modern, Western life: a shamanic experience.
When people hear the word shaman, perhaps they think of the writing of Carlos Castaneda, of an old man living in the jungle who uses herbs and concoctions to produce hallucinatory, psychedelic trances. Shamanism is one of many socially constructed views of how healing occurs. In a shamanistic worldview, it is possible to commune with and channel the metaphysical dimension of the world that we inhabit-they are counterparts, and affect each other. When the physical body grows ill, the metaphysical dynamics that surround and exist within it can, in a shamanistic worldview, be treated in the same way the organs and systems of the physical body can be. Socially, a shamanistic world view is also a stage in human personal growth. Many cultures still have these rituals, which incorporate visions, spiritual visitations, and various states of out of body experience, and at the end of what we might call a period of madness or possession the person who has experienced them emerges from their ordeal new, more adult, with a new wisdom that equips them with the tools to learn the healing arts of their culture. These societies usually understand the metaphysical and emotional dimension of sickness and wellness.
Reiki does not involve the tools we may associate with shamanism, like masks and dances. Its only tools are your own hands, through which you channel energy. However, the experience for me was my shamanic coming of age-it provided the time, space, and knowledge I needed to tap deeply into my consciousness, to release buried memories and emotions, to learn metaphysical healing tactics to address the pain I had carried within for so long, and to turn those emotions into a new foundation for steadiness and ease. I returned to my regularly scheduled life with new eyes not just on my surroundings, but on how I had been thinking and living before.
After becoming a Reiki practitioner, I haven’t returned to my Yoga brand plans. For ten years, I worked in retail, and have approached my passions in life with the discourse and mentality I know from my work and, before that, from my mother’s career. Business plans are important for success, but not everything is a product. Yoga ceased to be a profound system of spirituality for me when I decided to make it a career. For the last five years, my experience of Yoga has been defined by the goal to become a teacher.
I am taking a step back from that, and my goal now is to enjoy it as a system of spirituality, that enriches and renews my hope, faith, inner strength and peace of mind. I want to be curious about Yoga, again. I want to have fun, doing Yoga, and I want to see its philosophy, mythology, and benefits of practice blossom in my life before I preach to others through a web video or Instagram post about how happy it will make them. If anything I learn and share can have value for someone else, that is good, but I have realized that Yoga is a method to first heal the self, but my approach to Yoga has been all about harvesting knowledge and experience to sell it to others.
Right now, so much about my life is uncertain. I don’t have any work, at the moment, and when I go out or look at job listings online, the effects of prolonged economic depression are more stark and clear every day. However, for the first time in a long time, I feel connected and engaged with Yoga as a practice that can help me survive this by finding the strength within.