Life lessons learned from one of my first yoga teachers

When I first met Eve Grzybowski, I was in my 20’s. Like a young colt fresh out of the stable, I was busy finding my yoga legs. Meeting her grounded me and set me on the path of teaching. It’s amazing how a simple encounter can change one’s life forever. Before meeting Eve I was curious about yoga and loved practicing but I didn’t think about becoming a teacher. I was solely interested in my own health and wellbeing. I never dreamed I’d have the knowledge or capacity to share. At 23 who knows how life will unfold.

When my yoga teacher announced she was bringing Eve up from Sydney for a special teaching intensive and invited me to join the group I was surprised. Me? Learn to teach?  I didn’t feel ready but happy to learn something new.

I wish I could remember every moment of that four day intensive, but sadly it’s a blur. What I do remember is the moment we had to share what we had learned by teaching a short sequence to our fellow trainees. As I led each posture I was literally shaking. What would Eve think? Would she admonish me for getting everything wrong? Or would I pass the test with flying colors?

What I love about Eve is the way that she shares. She talks slowly, reflectively. Her feedback to me was clear and concise with advice about what worked and didn’t. What stood out though was her encouragement. She told me I was a natural and that I should teach.

I went home that day feeling encouraged and excited. I had something to share. I could share and perhaps one day I would help others with yoga in the way that it had helped me

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27 years later Eve and I found each other again. She started a blog and I was able once again to glean from her knowledge. This time it wasn’t so much about the details of alignment. It was wisdom gained from years of practice, the challenges and the triumphs. Eve in her over 40 years of practice has been through a lot and all of us whether we are just starting out or seasoned practitioners can benefit from her wisdom.

Last week I was blessed to spend time with her in her practice space. Though years have passed Eve hasn’t changed one bit. She is ageless and as graceful, beautiful and open as ever. She was kind enough to host a book launch and yoga workshop for teachers and serious yoga students at her home studio. You cannot imagine what it was like for me to have her in my workshop.

Of course, I was nervous. I may be 52 and a senior teacher, but when one of your heroes and mentors is in your class you can help but feel jittery. As the workshop progressed she wasn’t shy and offered pearls of wisdom to the group. She reminded us that the language we use in teaching others matters. We may think that a condition labels us but it can’t. We are living with a condition, we can never be that condition. She also mentioned the influence of the seasons on our practice. How what we need in our twenties is different to what nourishes us after menopause.

Having her input during the workshop was invaluable but even more precious for me were the several mornings we spent together in her practice space. Eve trained in the Iyengar method so there were ropes, plenty of blocks, blankets, bolsters, and chairs. She also had an antigravity swing to hang in and on.

Watching Eve swing like a kid upside down, reminded me that physical yoga doesn’t have to be serious. We talked about our teachers and how strict they were. The physical blows we received when we weren’t executing a posture correctly.  Thankfully those days are long gone as teachers recognize how important it is to be kind to students and that yoga’s healing power comes from each student working at their own pace.

And even more important is recognizing when a pose no longer suits us for whatever reason. For me it’s headstand. When I told Eve I just couldn’t do it anymore she smiled and said: “ Well that ship has sailed.”

Many ships have sailed in my life. I certainly don’t look like I did in my twenties, and I definitely don’t practice like that either. I have however kept my curiosity and my respect for my teachers. This is something that’s slipping away as we practice more with online platforms. You can’t have an ongoing relationship with a teacher that you’ve never met. And as students, we aren’t encouraged to find a mentor. If you can change teachers at the flick of a switch and have any kind of practice on tap. Why dig one deep well?

The value of having a mentor can’t be underestimated. We need teachers to show us the things we can’t see in ourselves. Without Eve I would never have had the confidence to teach. I also wouldn’t have had a passion for detailed alignment and an understanding of the importance of anatomy. I also might have become too serious in my teaching and perhaps not learned to be kind.

After one of our evening, practice sessions Eve commented that we have to remind ourselves how fortunate we are. Not everyone has a consistent self-practice or the time to do it. I asked her why she thought in all her years of practice it was so hard for people to commit to a daily self-practice.

“ Because people don’t understand the word practice. In yoga to achieve mastery, you have to practice the posture. You can’t just do it once in a group class. You might learn how to execute the pose but the real magic happens when you’re by yourself on the mat. Through trial and error, you discover how that pose opens you or builds strength.”

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As I watched Eve in her daily home practice I understood exactly what she meant. Every part of her practice was carefully thought out and measured. She knew where to place a block to strengthen her knee joint or how to loop a strap to create space in her hips. Even where she placed a bolster would change the emphasis in a shoulder stand from supporting the adrenals to relieving sinus issues.  I realized that these subtleties can’t be taught. They have to be felt.

The other gift I received from Eve was her passion for community service. When I first arrived she told me about her day as a palliative care volunteer. She encouraged us to come with her to choir practice. Later I learned she also sings and helps facilitate in a community choir for people in less privileged areas. Her yoga mentoring continues with a monthly meet up between yoga teachers  Eve lives the true meaning of Karma yoga, selfless service. Where we naturally give to others because we want to and we can.

The last and most powerful lesson I gained from Eve really has nothing to do with yoga. As I watched her dance effortlessly between yoga, partnership, community service, daily chores like hanging the washing and digging up sweet potatoes I realized that Eve is happy to be herself. She doesn’t try to be yogic or even care what that means.

She lives life fully with joy and total heart.

 


5 thoughts on “Life lessons learned from one of my first yoga teachers

  1. Rachel- such a beautiful piece on the wonderful Eve! She has impacted so, so many people with her grace and insight. Thanks!

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