By Amanda Miller
I stood in front of the group, preparing to teach my first lesson in yoga teacher training: just one simple movement. Time slowed and my heart raced. Could I really guide other people toward inner balance when I felt so unsettled? I would be teaching the exact thing I needed to learn most, but maybe this was the only way to truly learn it.
A twenty-six year old struggling actor/writer, I had traveled alone from New York City to India to complete a month-long yoga teacher training at the ashram, Yoga Vidya Gurukul, in order to grow an emotional backbone: to become better at making decisions, move more gracefully through transitions, and kick the endless self-torture. An ashram is designed for simplicity, giving people what they need and not what they want, minimizing external distractions so people can deal with their difficulties head on: to move through them and past them in order to free themselves from their own minds. For three years, yoga was the only thing that calmed me down in the midst of my internal storms so I knew I wanted to bring myself deeper into the practice. I discovered Yoga Vidya Gurukul online and felt an urgent need to get there as soon as possible. But at the time, I didn’t know if I would ultimately want to teach.
"Please stand at the front of your mat and bring your hands to prayer position.” As I spoke, my heart rate slowed and I felt a strong pulse through the tips of my fingers. "Inhale lifting the chest to the ceiling, exhale bending forward with a flat back." My voice was steadying, my focus transferring from myself to the six people in front of me moving along the current of my words. Instructing the motions was becoming a meditation in itself.
"Inhale yourself back up. Return your hands to heart center.” I followed my own instructions, my thumbs digging into my sternum, breath ballooning out my lungs. "Namaste," I said.
"Namaste," they all said in unison. My heart was vibrating against my ribs and a sudden feeling of love toward the people in the room surged through my chest so forcefully, I nearly fell over.
"You have a very warm, clear voice," said my instructor. "You spoke at a nice pace and seemed very present. You're going to be an excellent teacher."
A warm sensation spread through my body. “Thank you,” I said, smiling.
It has been nineteen months since I returned from India and started teaching yoga classes in New York City to people of all ages, from children to senior citizens. At this point, I can’t imagine not teaching, as it has become such a powerful source of healing in my life. It is incredibly gratifying to shift the focus off of myself and onto a room of people looking to me for ninety minutes of reprieve from the chaos of their lives. Their trust in me is a gift I do not take for granted.
I view the physical practice of yoga as a perfect metaphor for how to deal with life. It is about training one’s mind to relax under stressful circumstances, accomplished by deepening the breath to help maintain difficult postures and to move from one posture to another. I think the hardest part is knowing how to care for oneself through this process: when to be strong and when to be soft, when to push and when to let go, how to fall and how to get up. Helping others accomplish this has helped me so much to do the same.
*Teaching Yoga contains excerpts from Amanda Miller’s memoir, One Breath, Then Another, which she is currently seeking to publish. She has taught yoga at Third Root, Yoga Spot, Namaste Yoga Kensington, and the 14th Street Y. She is also a massage therapist, writer and performer. You can visit her online at http://www.onebreaththenanother.com