I became a yoga teacher on my 60th birthday.
That was the fabulous evening I passed my Healing Flow teaching test to become a sub at Namaspa. Power Flow came a couple weeks later. But, for me, becoming a yoga teacher was much more improbable than waiting until age 59 to take teacher training.
Before I go on, let me lead by saying that I love every second of yoga practice and teaching. I am more grateful to Namaspa and the amazing community than I can ever express for the support, acceptance, and rock-solid pedagogy that has allowed me to join our beautiful practitioners in their own yogic journeys.
Too much sthira
I began my career pushing hard. I rushed through higher education, graduating from law school at 24, clerking at the Texas Supreme Court, and signing onto one of the country's largest and most prestigious law firms at 25. We worked long, intense, stressful hours in pursuit of. . . well, it's hard to say now. Combined with my serious ethical issues with the firm's work, all that pushing meant that by 37, I was toast.
Completely stressed, bad health markers, depression, way too far overweight. The whole burn-out symphony. And I knew I was too young to be singing that song.
I tried to work through it with intense self-help workshops and self-study, deep spiritual practices and rituals, and exercise. It all helped, but I would always fall back to unhealthy states.
Breathe and let go
I finally succumbed to the insistence of a coworker at a bakery (yep, lawyer to baker) and took her yoga class. It was truly a revelation and love at first breath!
That class was the best thing I had ever done for my health and wellness. I began to attend consistently and developed a home practice. Through yoga, I met an acupuncturist and began treatment with them as well.
It felt like the process moved too slowly, but I knew moving too fast drove me into immovable objects, so I tried to slow myself. Everything gradually improved, then rapidly improved, then improved way too much, then crashed hard.
I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, which helped make sense of some of my life. Mania may not sound like a positive result, but yoga cleared the path for a deeper issue to emerge. Once I knew about it, I could begin an intentional path toward healing.
Yoga helped me stabilize my life, health, and employment. (I also incorporate medication, but with yoga, in minimal doses). Then, for a reason I cannot explain, I stopped doing yoga for a couple years, picked it up again for a year, then stopped for eight long years. Big mistake, folks.
I went back to being a mess, though not as bad as before. Yoga had a way of sticking with me, allowing me to access its calming power even when I wasn’t practicing. That was the bottom line, though: I had stopped practicing.
By 2018, I was happy in my career with the pleasure of working for and now managing a local community radio station, KPOV, but I was a wreck in overall health again.
In January 2019, I saw an email from Namaspa for the 40 Days to Personal Revolution program. I knew I needed something, and I also knew the something was getting back into yoga.
My reception at Namaspa was perhaps the most welcoming and accepting experience I had ever felt in a new space. I loved it and immediately began a consistent asana practice 4-6 days a week, starting with Healing Flow and Yin. Soon I had added Power Vinyasa Flow. I maintained that consistent schedule through the depth of the pandemic on Zoom.
A note on the section heading: Yes, in my view, studying to become a yoga teacher is mostly self-study.
I can't tell you exactly why I was moved to become a yoga teacher. My sense that I could be valuable to people coming from my, shall we say, alternative yoga physique was part of it. I wanted to be able to offer to others the gifts and blessings yoga had brought to me. But there was also a spark in me to do it — the source of which I can't yet identify.
I can tell you that I knew yoga was my home from that first class in 2001, and teaching feels that way too. I also knew teacher training would be a powerful and transformative experience for me, even beyond learning to teach.
I sure was right about that! I suspect if you ask anyone about Namapsa YTT, they will tell you it is life-changing. They would be right.
The best way I can explain the shift is that the benefits of all the work I have done—therapy, spiritual, self-help, reading, groups, acupuncture, and of course yoga—snapped into place when combined with the rigorous yoga practice and study, Brandy and Suzie’s masterful teaching, and the support of my fellow "littermates."
Before 40 Days and YTT, my yoga practice had been primarily physical. I knew of the other yogic limbs and practiced them to an extent, but I had not fully integrated my spiritual work into my yoga practice. YTT pulled all those pieces together into a whole, a tapestry, and I continue to work toward a more holistic yoga life. I'm not pretending to be there, far from it, but I'm on the road, moving forward in one place — my mat.
For me, the greatest generator of personal growth was our practice teaching sessions. The rigors and risks of standing in front of a room of yoga practitioners looking to me for direction forced me to examine attitudes and beliefs about myself that nothing else had before. My first solo jury trial as a baby lawyer was easier.
But the real change agent in practice teaching is the feedback process. It is set up to be affirming of the human being, direct, useful, and kind. And it is. And like any truly honest process, it can shatter some illusions.
It’s not easy to receive criticism, but I found it even harder to deliver it. The Namaspa process helped us all do both and learn and grow in a supported, loving atmosphere.
I remember Brandy, studio co-owner and Teacher of Teachers, telling me over and over for weeks to stop ending my cues with the high-pitched inflection of a question. Other things were falling into place, but I could not get that one. I am so grateful she had the patience to hang in there with me when that had to be frustrating.
After practice teaching a few times—badly—I had to accept that I was going to suck for a while and move through it. I had to be willing to stand up there the next time, knowing I would most likely suck again. Even after improving in some areas, even after a few less sucky sessions in a row, I knew I would suck again one day. And I did.
And then came the day I didn't suck. I have no idea how it fell into place that day. And that brings up another lesson.
The power of allowing
"Allowing" isn’t necessarily a typical yoga word, but the concept comes to me in still poses like half pigeon after 40 minutes of a vigorous and sweaty Power Flow. We have to allow the pose to get deeper into our bodies slowly and gently.
After my early life of pushing and pushing, yoga taught me that pushing is not the path. I couldn’t do many basic poses when I started all those years ago. Pushing just made it worse. I might have learned that from burning out in my thirties, but it took yoga.
My hamstrings, always fairly flexible for a big guy, actually became tighter at first because I pulled hard in forward folds. I had to learn to let go, stay focused, breathe, and allow yoga to do its thing.
In teaching, I had to keep doing the work and trusting that the work would work. I couldn’t force it, and for a former linebacker, lawyer, and social justice activist, that was not easy.
All of this translates into my off-mat life as a much calmer, more lovingly direct, patient, and, I'm just gonna say it, wiser person. I am a better life partner, father, grandpa, friend, and station manager than ever before. Do I have a long way to go? Of course, but the progress shows.
In YTT, there is learning, challenge, and doubt, and there is joy. So much of that. Marianne Williamson said we generally forget the transformative power of bliss.
Here is something I wrote about halfway through YTT for a paper on the Yoga Sutras, contemplating Sutra Chapter 3:
When elephants begin high-fiving planets, I know diving into everything and nothing is finding its depth.
When the stars pop the hoods on their fission engines and my eyes hold fixed and wide to the back of my skull,
I wonder whether all this bending and sitting has led me into dangerous territory.
When I ground my feet, stretch my fingers to the sky, and expand my torso front and side;
when my gaze meets my chest crossing the curving horizon and sees my fingers disappear in deep blue,
I begin to suspect I am onto something.
Yeah, I was on to something. We were all on to something. If you are on your mat, you are on to something big.
Perhaps the biggest thing we were onto in YTT was creating an instant team of great friends — our littermates. People we can be fully open and honest with. That is rare spice in an atomized world.
I will leave you with this. I happen to be married to the most amazing woman on the planet, and no one is a bigger fan of yoga, and especially Namaspa YTT, than my beloved. She has always encouraged me to practice yoga because it makes me a better person.
Before writing this, I asked her if she had really seen positive changes in me since YTT. Her response: "Oh my God!"
After 31 years, we are more in love, and our relationship is deeper and sweeter than ever. She likes yoga teaching and loves me even more because of the changes in me, lucky yoga dude.
PS: OK, one last thing. You know what the best thing about yoga really is?
We get to do it barefooted.
Bruce is currently a teacher on the Namaspa Teaching Team. You can find him on the Redmond schedule Sundays, 4:15-5:15p for Vin/Yin. Bruce has also been our 'summer huckleberry' subbing 45 classes and teaching 359 students since he graduated from yoga teacher training in March 2021. He is also continuing his svadhyaya in the DARE U Advanced Yoga Teacher-Leader Program.