Go out in the woods, go out. If you don’t go out in the woods nothing will ever happen and your life will never begin. –Clarissa Pinkola Estes
When I arrived in Granada I thought, “This is interesting. I’m in a third world country and I’m teaching yoga.” I recognized that the stark contrast between the rich and poor was quite disturbing, and it became more and more unsettling to be teaching yoga when I felt that I should be out there solving socioeconomic problems, like sex-trade, poverty and homelessness.
Clearly I cannot solve any of these problems. And who am I to think that I even know how? The same issues exist in my own country, but for some reason when it’s more vividly apparent I have a strong desire to make a difference.
I volunteered with UPNicaragua, teaching the young girls about yoga, making beads and hanging out. Within the course of a couple weeks after I extended my stay in Granada, life shifted. Due to conflicting schedules, I was unable to see the girls, which gave me some time to take a good look around and within.
One night I went for a walk down the main street where all the tourists hang out, Calle Calzada. I rounded the corner to see some older women in brightly colored folklorico dresses. The woman in the yellow dress looked up at me and asked for money. We locked eyes and I couldn’t speak. Her eyes were wet. I stared into them for long enough to feel a gnawing on my heart. Red lipstick was smeared around her mouth and blush was smudged on her cheeks like a child had painted her face. She was worn and weathered, sitting hunched over in desperation. The first thought that came into my mind was “You are worth so much more!!!” I wanted to grab her and tell her, but I was frozen inside. I walked away crying instead.
It’s challenging to teach yoga authentically as all of these issues arise. Whether I was dealing with parasites in my belly, feeling broken, or being engulfed by the sound of fireworks, I owed it to my students to teach a fantastic class. It was a true test to be fully present, with myself and my shit as well as holding the space to be present with everyone else’s.
One of my students was in his late forties and made a point to take my class every day, sometimes twice a day. He always practiced in the front of the class, added push-ups and moved through extra vinyasas to get a good workout in. After watching his facial expressions and seeing what appeared to be pain in his eyes I finally said something to him after class. “Tim, we need to talk about your bridge pose…” I told him that I was worried he may injure himself if he continues to press so forcefully into the pose. Whether I reminded him to let go, soften, or release he continued to push.
I learned that the majority of my students were very much like me. I couldn’t keep Tim from injuring himself, but I could adapt my class to cater towards the perfectionists and the strong and motivated. Even in those moments where they were pushing to the very edge, I reminded them to soften their shoulders away from their ears and release the tension in their neck. I challenged them to hold unfamiliar poses, using the core muscles to guide the movements and I challenged them to notice the obstacles between them and stillness. All I really wanted was for them to connect to their bodies, to feel that something might not be right and backing off rather than pushing through it. I also learned that I cannot solve the problems of my students.
Helping other people solve their problems is a noble task, but it doesn’t solve yours. And when you change your environment you’re still in it, so you still have to deal with you. It’s good to be alone. It’s also good to have community. Connecting with people, animals and nature turned out to be the most important aspects of my travels that helped keep me going, and remind me that they are essential to my everyday life.
I had dreamed of finding a place where people gather to watch the sunset every night, and when I found that place in Merida, off the coast of the island of Ometepe, it was true bliss. Even after everyone had gone to eat dinner, I stayed to watch as every layer of cloud parted to show another layer of color as the sky shifted from blue to pink. Every night the sky looked different.
Like you, pieces of my heart are broken. There are cobwebs in the dark places of my soul that I avoid. Sometimes I forget they even exist. And in those in between moments when you’re not paying attention, those broken places may confront you. Be kind to yourself. Create a space for yourself to be where you are, to unravel, to sift through the broken bones and breathe life back into them.